§ Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)
I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 13, line 16, leave out '"£600 million"' and insert '"£550 million"'.
I tabled amendment No. 1 for two reasons. First, it gives us an opportuniy to focus our attention upon a somewhat anomalous part of the Bill—the single clause that deals with the urban development corporations, of which there are only two. I am myself concerned mainly with the London Docklands development corporation. Within the wider framework of a Bill dealing with the new towns commission, the urban development corporations might well be overlooked. That would be a great mistake. It is right for us to seize any opportunities to consider how the urban development corporations are carrying out their redevelopment functions in the London and Liverpool docklands.
Secondly, by changing the figure from £600 million to £550 million we would bring forward the time when it would be necessary for the Secretary of State to seek an affirmative resolution in order to gain for the UDCs the additional sums of money that they will require.
In connection with accountability and the affairs of the UDCs, we should remember that the LDDC, at least, is quite distinct from all the previous new town, expanded town and other corporations set up in the past, especially in that the proposal was from the beginning strongly opposed by the local councils. No agreement was worked out with them, as it was in the case of Peterborough, Northampton or other established towns on to which new town corporations were grafted. Nor can the corporations be compared in any sense with the new town corporations set up in earlier post-war years on green field sites. There is still a strong feeling of resentment within the communities, and people are anxious that Parliament should exercise its powers of scrutiny, whenever possible, over the affairs of the LDDC. This is such an opportunity.
I shall not consider the whole range of the LDDC's work. Its annual report was published last June or July and gave some account—though it was a glossy document designed with public relations in mind—of what the corporation had been up to during the preceding year.
There are some developments that I welcome. I welcome the advance, in agreement with the GLC, 848 towards a light transit system which would greatly improve communications in an area that suffers badly from lack of communications. I am thinking not just of my own borough of Tower Hamlets, but of the adjacent boroughs of Newham and of Southwark and Lewisham to the south.
We would all welcome that development, but other areas are more controversial. For instance, there is the proposed development of the STOLport. We await the result of the inquiry. The findings were set before the Secretary of State some months ago, but I understand that he has subsequently asked certain questions of the parties concerned. Whether by doing so he has made it necessary to reopen the inquiry is a matter on which I look forward to hearing the views of the Minister.
The area of LDDC policy that is of the greatest concern to my constituents in Tower Hamlets and above all to people living in the dock area and Wapping is housing in which there has been a truly remarkable development. New town or development corporations have been set up in many areas, and it is generally been not only the stated claim but the generally accepted view that in promoting house building the corporations were serving the needs of local people. In the case of Wapping, such a claim would have to be seriously scrutinised. It may well be—the situation is almost unique—that of the many attractive and desirable houses that will be built virtually none will be available for the people who live in Wapping or in the rest of Tower Hamlets. The reason is not that people do not wish to buy the houses — which are, of course, overwhelmingly, built for sale. It is that they cannot afford to buy them at the prices that will be demanded.
I have engaged in lengthy arguments with the LDDC's chairman and chief executive about their policy of building houses for sale in Wapping. As a result of pressure brought to bear upon the LDDC by myself and others, it conducted a survey, and a report entitled "Living in Wapping" was published in July 1984. In response to my request that the LDDC should attempt to find out whether people in Wapping would be able to buy the houses which it proposed to build—especially in the Western dock area, the first large tranche of new house building—it carried out a substantial survey. It discovered that 70 per cent. of the people in Wapping would like to buy if they could. Of those, some 47 per cent. would be able to buy if they did not have to pay more than £150 a month. If they had to pay as much as £250 a month in mortgage and rate payments—in that area of Wapping, rent and rates are aggregated together—only 6 per cent. would be able to buy.
One has only to consider the cost of house building in dockland and the price of houses there to see that the people are faced with a major problem.
§ Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)
Will the right hon. Gentleman elucidate one point? How can he say that, in private accommodation, rent and rates are aggregated? If the development is to be a private one, why are those amounts aggregated? If sky-high rates are imposed by an inefficient local authority, of course costs will be high.
§ Mr. Shore
I merely aggregated the amount in the terms of a survey of affordability that takes account of rate payments as well as payments for servicing the mortgage. As today there is a tendency to pay the rent and rates together, the sums were taken together. That is simply a point of explanation.
849 That is the background against which one must consider the prices of the houses being built in Western dock. Although the corporation has done its best to maintain that people are queuing up to buy houses in Beckton and Surrey docks — my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) may wish to comment on that—the corporation admits that in Wapping the situation will be a damn sight more difficult. According to the annual report,because of its location immediately to the east and within walking distance of the City, the corporation has always known that prices in Wapping would be higher and, without action, probably out of the range of the sort of local people who have been buying elsewhere".It can say that again about the houses being out of range.
It is unlikely that a house will be built in the Western dock area for less than £40,000. The corporation uses that figure in its annual report. I am informed that someone who wanted to get a mortgage for £40,000 would probably have to pay 11.75 per cent. interest. Allowing for a tax rebate, that would mean monthly payments of about £330 over a 25-year term. I remind the House that only 6 per cent. of those people who wanted to buy a house in the area are able to afford £250 a month. That should be compared with the £330 a month required to service a mortgage of £40,000. I fear therefore that very few people from Wapping or Tower Hamlets will be able to buy the houses.
That is a scandal and a tragedy. When the docks moved down the river towards Tilbury and beyond and the old enclosed dock systems became available for other uses, the borough of Tower Hamlets and other dockland boroughs were presented with a historic opportunity to deal with some of the worst housing problems in Britain. At last land was becoming available. We had every hope and expectation that such problems would be solved by using a substantial part of the land that had become free. However, we are still saddled with a serious, and increasing, housing problem while the free housing land has been transferred by vesting orders to the LDDC, which is knowingly building houses at prices which are beyond the reach of the people of the borough.
The extra sums of money which are being made available to the development corporations in London and Liverpool contrast most unfavourably with the continued reduction in the residual housing investment programme money for building houses for rent, for repairs and for modernisation which is available to borough councils. At constant prices, the housing investment programme has fallen in the past five years from £20 million a year to £11.6 million a year in Tower Hamlets. That reduction is occurring when there are large numbers of homeless families, often Bengali, who must live in bed and breakfast accommodation and seedy hotels in west London or Islington. We also have vast new problems of disrepair in our housing stock such as have been revealed by the discovery of deterioration in Ronan Point type buildings in Tower Hamlets. Moreover, we have the growing problems of asbestos being found in many buildings while ordinary repairs are being carried out.
§ Mr. Forth
The right hon. Gentleman is drawing a fascinating distinction between the resources that are available to development corporations and those which are available to local authorities in housing. Would he care to relate his comments to the argument that the hon. Member 850 for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) deployed about accountability and discuss accountability for funds that are available to development corporations and their use?
§ Mr. Shore
My hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) made the point succinctly. He said that the purpose of public ownership of land and resources is to ensure that its use is accountable and that the matter can be brought before the House. New towns have always enjoyed special status but they are accountable, as are urban development corporations. Some are less accountable than others. Because urban development corporations have no master plan and had no public inquiry before they were set up, they are perhaps less accountable and have gone through less scrutiny than new towns such as Redditch which the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) represents. Nevertheless, we have had opportunities. This is such a one and we must seize it to insist on public accountability of urban development corporations' actions.
There is a need for radical change in housing policy in the LDDC area. There is also a great need for a change in the balance between building for rent and building for sale. The balance is much too heavily tipped towards building houses for sale. Pursuing such a policy in the pretty secure knowledge that negligible assistance will be given to easing the housing problem of people who live in the area is utterly irresponsible and worthy of censure.
I hope that there will be a rethink. We now have a survey and will therefore be able to check the take-up of houses in the Western dock development by people who live in the borough. If, as I suspect, the numbers are negligible, I hope that Ministers, in spite of their almost obsessive interest in private development, will reconsider and give new instructions to the LDDC.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
I endorse everything that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) said about the effect of the London Docklands development corporation. My constituency is not quite as close to the City, but we have had similar experiences. I shall show how the LDDC works to even greater disadvantage in my area.
In this first major debate on the progress of the LDDC since it was set up under the Local Government Planning and Land Act 1980, it is appropriate to read from section 136 of the Act:(1) The object of an urban development corporation shall be to secure the regeneration of its area.(2) The object is to be achieved in particular by the following means (or by such of them as seem to the corporation to be appropriate in the case of its area), namely, by bringing land and buildings into effective use, encouraging the development of existing and new industry and commerce, creating an attractive environment and ensuring that housing and social facilities are available to encourage people to live and work in the area.As my right hon. Friend said, there was much argument about an urban development corporation. There was a three-month hearing by a Select Committee of another place before the necessary statutory instrument was laid before this House. Despite the fact that Newham covers half of the LDDC's area and although I represent half the area, the legislation is so draconian that I was not able to participate in the debate which established the LDDC. The Minister will therefore understand if my remarks take longer tonight.
851 8.30 pm
The Select Committee of another place made a number of recommendations and observations, and its findings were published in paper 198 in 1980. I particularly draw attention to paragraph 8.7 because it exercises an acid test which I shall use later:This leads the Committee to a final point. It is obvious—and the Chairman designate fully recognised—that if a UDC is to be a success it is essential that it establishes and maintains good relations with the local authorities and their officers, and avails itself of their advice and expertise. The Code of consultation, provided for under section 140 of the Act, should ensure that this is so. The UDC must also win the confidence of local organisations. It must always let the Docklands Forum know what it is thinking of doing, so that they can express their views on any proposal and it must make it clear that such views, even if not accepted, are always seriously considered.The Docklands Forum has said that it does not believe that it knows what the LDDC is doing. Indeed, as I shall demonstrate, in many instances I do not know what the LDDC is up to in my own constituency. As the Secretary of State is accountable to hon. Members, he will appreciate that it is difficult for outside organisations to know what is going on.
The Chairman of that Committee, Lord Cross, made some additional remarks—I think in a judicial capacity—when the constitution order was debated in another place. On 1 July, at column 214, of Hansard, he said that the preponderant need in dockland was for publicly owned housing. However, we all know that that is not what the LDDC has in the end emphasised in that area of housing for which it is responsible. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney has already illustrated that in the context of Stepney.
Vast areas of Newham were available for development. That land, instead of being made available for up to 20,000 people in mixed tenancies—about two thirds public to about one third private and housing association—was drastically changed to more or less all private. The terms of the land value transaction were not entirely clear, despite Sir Laurie Barratt's remarks in the Evening Standard, nor have they been since. But I am obliged to the Minister for some clarification of this matter in a letter that he sent me in relation to his reply of 25 October 1984 when I asked what adjustments were made by the LDDC to the market price of land sold to house builders. This is a fundamental point.
The LDDC can purchase land compulsorily and sell to private developers who then sell to freeholders. In his reply by letter, the Minister said:The value of the land was determined by setting prices for the dwellings and deducting development and overhead costs. The residual value was attributed to the land".The Minister may be unable fully to amplify that when he replies, but I hope that he will be able to do so at some stage. Not only was most of that land taken for private development, but the price of the land to the developer was not made clear, at least not to the people of the area at the time, and it has remained something of a question since.
The idea was that many of the people who came into these private developments would contribute to the life of the area, and many have. Many hon. Members and many members of the Labour party own their own houses. We do not disagree with that. But the people of Newham object to the change in the proportion of land to be used for certain development, because the need for publicly owned and housing association dwellings is very great.
852 That need was subsequently increased—the Minister knows this only too well—as a result of the difficulties with Ronan Point and Taylor Woodrow-Anglian blocks.
The LDDC almost reversed the priorities. Had this been changed by 30 per cent. one way or the other, the same concern would not have been expressed. I am glad to say that the LDDC has apparently now offered five acres of land to the Newham borough council. The former chairman, Sir Nigel Broackes, made it clear that he would be willing to give more, provided the council had the cash to undertake the building. That, of course, depended on HIP allocations and so on, as a result of which the council on many occasions was unable to build.
Planning applications, although not overall strategic planning, were in the hands of the LDDC. It was the prime planning authority, and it is here that the borough made its main objection. It said, "The dockland area will be organised by the LDDC but we in Newham want it to integrate that planning with the rest of the borough. We want to balance our shopping and recreational facilities to serve the whole community, and Newham, being bounded by river valleys, commons and the River Thames itself, is very much a community. But if we have two planning authorities operating on different criteria, there will be difficulty." That was one of the main objections which the able chief executive made in his evidence to the Select Committee.
Lo and behold, there have been planning difficulties. The London borough of Newham gave planning authority to supermarkets in the dockland area, and the LDDC has now gone further and given more planning authority in a formerly industrial area for retail markets. That may affect the balance of planning and shopping opportunity in the rest of the borough. I could go on from there, because the criteria on which the LDDC operates will not be that of the borough, particularly in respect of industry.
On 7 June last year, I asked a number of questions about the policy of the LDDC in relation to small firms and industrial relocation. Given the Government's proper emphasis on small private enterprise, one might have thought that the LDDC would have gone out of its way to ensure that any necessary displacement was dealt with sympathetically and that it would lean over backwards to do what it could. It may have done so in certain respects, but it is wrong that a Member for Parliament should—as I was on a number of occasions—be brought in to deal with relocation for small firms in his constituency when the mighty operation of the LDDC was available. Unfortunately, such was the case.
The Minister has given some figures on employment, but he will know that a great deal of employment in the dockland area is brought in from outside—for example, in the constituencies of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney and my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo). I am told that, in the enterprise zone, rents have evened up to take account of the fact that there are no rates.
Therefore, the landlord gains. In the debates on the enterprise zone legislation, some hon. Members predicted that if the magic of the market operated, that would happen. Sure enough, it did. Therefore, the employment figures are not as good as they seem. When the Minister replies, I hope that he will give his estimate of the number of genuine new jobs that have been created which 853 otherwise would not have existed. It may be a small figure; I have yet to hear any estimate from the LDDC or the Government.
If one wishes to make one's views known as a resident of Newham and not as a privileged Member of this House, to whom does one go? The Secretary of State appoints the LDDC board. Whatever its members' experience, occupation or office, they sit on the board as his nominees. Some continue and some do not. They are hired and fired by the Secretary of State. Sometimes we are not given a great deal of notice about who those gentlemen are.
Both the leaders of the London boroughs of Newham and Tower Hamlets participate, albeit differently. A press release on 12 November named a gentleman, whom I shall not name but who is no doubt an admirable person, who was being appointed by the Secretary of State to the LDDC. It is precisely five lines and tells us little about him except that he is involved in electronics and computers. I am not saying that there should not be someone with those qualifications on the board, but I complain that that is all we know about him.
It is not adequate for an organisation with planning powers of considerable strength, powers of compulsory purchase and powers of vesting of land—during the past six months there have been propositions which have been difficult for the communities to sustain — to meet in private and to publish an annual report which is partial. The annual report did not even quote the basic statute to which I referred earlier. Therefore, it is difficult for people to have confidence and trust—that word was used in the Select Committee's report—in such an organisation.
Sometimes it is difficult for hon. Members to have confidence and trust even regarding routine matters. In the past I have had the privilege to coach London youngsters on the river Thames. For seven years I coached rowing and water sports. When I went to Newham I thought that we could use the docks. The Port of London Authority provided difficulties, but when the docklands joint committee took them over I thought we were on our way. We had an Amateur Rowing Association regatta in 1983. The London borough of Newham and the LDDC got together and decided to have a young people's boating centre on the west part of the Royal Victoria dock. Negotiations went ahead for leasing a shed there. Everything went well, until I happened to visit the Library and while idly looking through Motor Boat and Yachting saw a familiar scene in an advertisement that stated:The London Floating Boat Show … comes to the Royal Victoria Dock, London, May 3–6, 1985.The illustration showed the shed where I thought my young people were to have a boating centre. I checked the matter and indeed the plans had been changed. As I understand it, the London borough of Newham was to hear of that through my happening to see that advertisement in the Library.
That is not the right way to proceed. I know that another centre, perhaps an even better one, on another part of the dock has been offered. I hope that it will be both good and permanent. The water is there and is fine. But that is not the way to proceed.
What is worse is the position of the voluntary associations in Newham, which are the responsibility of the LDDC. When the dockland joint committee operated, 854 there was assistance to organisations in and adjacent to the area, such as the Mayfair youth club. When the LDDC came into being, that was restricted. Some of the grants made by the LDDC were reduced and the London borough of Newham picked up the tab.
Despite the injunctions of the Select Committee report, there were reports that an outside organisation was being interviewed and requested by the LDDC to organise voluntary activities in the area. It was said that about £200,000 would be available, which was the amount being provided by the LDDC to existing voluntary agencies in Newham. I wrote to the chief executive of the LDDC to find out what was happening because some of the voluntary agencies, under a well-arranged voluntary agencies council in Newham which has a docklands committee and has been in contact with the LDDC for many years, were distressed. I have not yet received substantive information from the LDDC.
I also wrote to the Minister. In his letter of 2 January he stated:There have been some recent meetings between LDDC, the London borough of Newham and Newham Voluntary Agencies Council. I gather that the results of these are that Newham are to write to the Corporation setting out their views for consideration by the Corporation's Executive Board when the project application is discussed. If the project is approved, LDDC intend to seek the views of the Newham Voluntary Agencies Council on each scheme that Inter-Action put forward as part of their consultancy.Consultancies have a place in life, whether in civil engineering, housing or publicity. There is certainly plenty of consultancy in publicity. In a written answer on 3 July 1984, the Minister told me that the LDDC provision for publicity provision was £1,857,000.
Consultants for local voluntary organisations are a different issue. Some may argue that the matter has not yet been agreed and that, if it is agreed, individual projects will be submitted. Today I received a folder entitled:The Inter-Action Community Calendar 1985. London Docklands Young People Look At A Computer Future.Attached to it was a paper called:Inter-Action Trust, Royal Victoria Dock, London.It is complete with telephone number, and is divided into headings including, "Resources", "Training and Consultancy: General"., "Computers: Training and Consultancy".
Many other things are going on, with which local organisations already deal. It appears that projects are already in train. They are apparently unknown to the Minister because he said that, if consultancy was agreed and if projects went forward, they might be put in train. If that is so, why has that folder been printed and distributed in my constituency? The matter is out of control.
The leader of Newham council is criticised for being involved in the LDDC. The concept is not without controversy, but what does he do? It puts him and the Minister in a difficult position. The voluntary agencies council has not been consulted on the way in which money for voluntary activities should be distributed in the area.
Are the exhortations of the Select Committee being followed? I suggest not. The objectives that it set may be followed in some respects, but bearing in mind the enormous resources available, the LDDC has not behaved in a way deserving of the trust and co-operation of the local people.
§ Mr. Ian Mikardo (Bow and Poplar)
My right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) drew attention to the anomaly that spatchcocked into a Bill nearly all of which is about new town corporations there is a clause dealing with urban development corporations. That anomaly shows clearly the muddled thinking about urban development corporations that has been characteristic of the Government's attitude towards them since they were proposed. The Government have never been able to draw a distinction between setting up a new organisation with wide powers in a green field, where there is no population whose wishes must be taken into account, or enlarging small villages such as Milton Keynes and bringing in a new population, and setting up a development corporation with enormous powers in an area that is already densely populated. Many people live there cheek by jowl, some of them in rundown housing. They have many problems and strong views on what should be done about their problems, but they have discovered that they are being ruled by a body that is not in the least accountable to them.
The great change in the lives of the people who live in the area covered by the LDDC is that, in the past, if they did not like what the people who ran their area were doing, every few years they had a chance to chuck them out and to bring in some new people. They have now been deprived of that right. The body that governs them can ignore their wishes, and does, can evade all responsibility to consult them, and does, can treat them almost with contempt, and does, and they have no sanction. They can do nothing about it.
More than 50,000 people live in the area covered by the LDDC. When the development corporation was set up, 25,000 people were living on the narrow strip of land from Tower bridge to the Blackwall tunnel, including the Isle of Dogs. They had many problems, because it is a rundown, poor area. Unemployment there is as high as it is in the worst areas of Scotland, the north of England and Wales, and is almost as high as it is in Northern Ireland. Many of the inhabitants live in council flats which were built more than half a century ago, and which are, therefore, rundown. Many others live in private properties which were built a century ago and which are also rundown.
The development corporation is supposed to enrich the lives of those people, but it does nothing of the sort. The two things that are vital, not merely to enrich their lives but to provide a decent standard of living, are the provision of homes and the provision of jobs. I need add little to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney said about the provision of homes. Such homes as are being provided are being sold to people who come from outside the borough—people who are not included in the 25,000.
My right hon. Friend mentioned the cost of the houses and flats being built in the area. He quoted from the corporation's report of about six months ago. I shall update his facts. I have a cutting from the local newspaper, the East London Advertiser, of 5 January 1985, from which I shall read a short passage:In…Tower Hamlets, docklands, property prices are comfortably into six figures, with top-of-the-range riverside penthouses commanding a heady £350,000.That sounds good to my constituents who live in rundown Shadwell gardens, either unemployed or working for relatively low wages.
856 The article continues:Four-bedroom houses in St. Katharine's Dock costing up to £125,000 look modest compared with properties along Wapping High Street. Three-bedroom flats on St. John and King Henry's Wharves cost £295,000 and penthouses on Gun Wharf a sky-high £350,000.I draw attention to the next paragraph, which includes a fresh point which I shall develop because I believe that the Minister should take it into account. It states:Gun Wharf is the first property in a wall of private homes built in Wapping, a wall cutting off the local community from the river.We have here a riparian community which, for as long as I can remember—I have known the area for more than 60 years—has been denied access to the river. That stretch of the north bank has always been used commercially much more than the south bank. They were cut off by docks and, where there were no docks, they were cut off by wharves. There was little access to the river, and the little that was provided was very much welcomed and very much used.
When the docks went downstream and those wharves shut down, there were to be fresh developments, and a corporation was set up to make life rich for the people of the area. One expected that the first piece of enrichment would be that they had access to the river, but they are denied access to the river by what this newspaper rightly calls a "wall" of private housing giving access to the river only to the privileged people who have £200,000 to spend on a riverside property, and cutting off all those 25,000 inhabitants from their access to the river.
In our last debate I was able to refer only briefly to the Shadwell basin development. I was in the time-limited part of the debate, unfortunately. Perhaps I might be forgiven for mentioning it again, because another wall that is being built, in addition to the wall round Gun wharf, is the wall round Shadwell basin.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) spoke with feeling, because he was personally involved in the project, of the desirability of river sports and access to the river for young people. The Shadwell basin project is tremendously exciting, and 2,000 people are taking part in it. To give due credit, Shadwell basin was developed with the help of the docklands development corporation and others, including the borough council, as a water sports area, and 2,000 people use it. It is by far the biggest water recreational exercise and training area in London. People sail there, they canoe, they windsurf and so on.
Now the corporation has proposed a project, which has been fiercely rejected locally, to build high-rise flats—some four storeys high and some five storeys high—round the edge of this project, not only to cut off access to the basin, but to cut off the wind. It stops more than 50 per cent. of the wind getting into the basin, so there will be little sailing and no windsurfing. This terrific project, which is of so much value, giving so much exercise, pleasure and training to 2,000 people, will be destroyed if this vandalistic corporation gets its way.
So much for homes, but what about jobs? The corporation makes great claims about the employment that it has created. I have my criticisms of the corporation, but it is terribly good at one activity. I have never found any institution in my long life so good at pinning medals on its own chest. If the members of the corporation were half as good as they think they are, they would not need to 857 spend nearly £2 million a year on public relations and consultancies. Good wine needs no bush. A man who pins medals on his own chest generally does it because his valuation of himself is a good deal greater than other people's valuation of him.
The claims that the corporation makes of providing employment put in everything but the kitchen sink, and then put in the kitchen sink. The corporation counts in all the jobs in enterprises whose introduction into the area was created by its predecessors, the London Joint Docklands Committee and the council of the London borough of Tower Hamlets. It adds in the employment in the Daily Telegraph in Billingsgate and in News International, but the docklands development corporation did not bring those into docklands. They would be there now regardless of whether the docklands development corporation was set up, but the corporation still counts them and claims credit for them. It claims credit for all other relocations. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South said, many of the jobs that it says it has created are relocated and not created at all.
A few weeks ago the Poplar jobcentre had a youth week. I pay tribute to the staff of that jobcentre. They did a splendid job in getting the local community, employers, schools and everybody else interested in the problems of employment for young people in the area. I talked to careers officers there. They said that the corporation was a dead loss and that nearly all the youth jobs were relocated.
I have received today a reply from the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir George Young), about how many jobs were created and how many were relocated. He probably does not remember his answer at this moment. It is partial and out of date, but despite those two defects it still shows that relocation accounts for a great part of what the corporation claims as creation.
I said just now that if the corporation were half as good as it says it is it would not need to spend so much money saying so. If it were half as good as it says it is at job creation there would not be today, as there is, 30 per cent. unemployment on the Isle of Dogs, its main industrial area. The proof of the pudding is in the starvation in relation to jobs on the Isle of Dogs. That is the real test of the London Docklands development corporation.
The corporation's relations with the local people are appalling. It has the same idea of consultation as a Pittsburg iron master. It decides what it wants to do, then tells people that it is going to do it, and if they kick it is too bad because it can claim to have consulted them simply by virtue of having said something to them. The only consultation it ever does is ex post facto. It only ever discusses the shape of a die after it has been cast, and never before the casting process.
I beg the House to believe that it is no exaggeration to say, as I did a little while ago, that the corporation treats the 50,000 people in the area — including those in Newham and Bermondsey—with something approaching contempt. It gives a certain amount of largesse to social projects in the area, and that is welcome. I, for one, am glad of it, and so are many others, but it would be better if it consulted the people about what objects of largesse they would like to have, instead of deciding that in its cosy little offices. In any event, the giving of a bit of social 858 largesse to the local population does not compensate for the corporation's failure to consult them and to take their wishes into account. It is like a father who spends no time with his children for 364 days of the year and gives them a present on Christmas day. That is not good fatherhood, and it is not good social behaviour for a public corporation whose decisions affect the lives and welfare of 50,000 people.
We have all too little power to call the corporation to account. We have little opportunity even of talking about it in this place. But, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney said, if the amendment is carried the corporation will have to come along a bit sooner than it otherwise would to ask for some money, or the Minister will have to come along to ask for some money on its behalf. Then we can start asking questions about what is being done with the money, in a way that the local people cannot. We could even begin to fulfil our duties as Members of Parliament. Our rights and duties are severely limited by the great autonomy given to the corporation and by its unwillingness to impart information.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South described how he was treated in his search for information, not for his benefit—as he will not get anything out of it — but for the benefit of his constituents, and that showed just how the democratic rights of people, as expressed by their right to make and unmake this House, have been eroded by the corporation, its powers and the way in which it exercises them. I for one do not want glibly to give money whenever it is asked for. If the local authorities had been provided with the money given to the corporation, they would have done all that the corporation has done, and much more, without spending £2 million a year saying what good fellows they are. The corporation should give an account of itself and I am glad of this opportunity to demand some account from it.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
When the Under-Secretary of State replied to the Second Reading debate, he confirmed that one purpose of the clause that allowed the urban development corporations to have more money was to be able to hold this debate. He said: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."— [Official Report, 20 November 1984; Vol. 68, c. 231.]I welcome and support all the comments that have already been made and now complete the quartet of Opposition Members who are all elected Members of Parliament and who represent between them all the area of the development corporation in London. I sincerely hope that our comments will at least elicit from the Minister tonight an acceptance of the fact that most of those who live in the areas that we represent and that are covered by the corporation are desperately concerned. The corporation set up by the 1980 Act does not have the confidence and trust of the people, and is not properly accountable either through Ministers to the House, or to the people for whose benefit it was set up.
The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) rightly quoted the words by which the corporations were given their mandate. They were given the most simple of mandates. In section 136, they were given as their object the securing of the regeneration of their areas. As the hon. Gentleman said, that was amplified with examples. One 859 of the duties imposed on them was to ensure that housing and social facilities were available to encourage people to live and work in the area. Surely the first obligation must be that those facilities encourage the people already there to live and work in the area.
It is no good encouraging people from outside if the communities already there are driven out. But the whole effect of the corporation's activities has been to bring in people and to ignore the people, communities, traditions, and employment and social characteristics of the areas covered. I am not saying that they have not learnt or that the individuals concerned are malicious or malevolent. I am not saying that the community officers are not trying to listen to, and to communicate the concerns and aspirations of, local people, but they are not achieving that communication.
I shall give some examples that worry our communities. I shall ask Ministers to think again about some of the matters that the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 allows them to think about or to pass on our concerns to those running the docklands corporation. Some of the points have been touched on. We have all been speaking specifically about the London Docklands development corporation because that is the one we are concerned about and about which we know most. The value of land on both sides of the Thames has escalated enormously. The LDDC has vested land which belonged to other public authorities; in every case it has been vested without the consent of those authorities. We accept that the value of such lands is established by the district valuer.
I shall give the example of the Cherry Garden site by Cherry Garden pier, which is the subject of present discussion. In December, the LDDC chairman told me and other local community representatives that the corporation will insist that that land he sold at a price that will take into account the cost of sharing the river wall, adding in approximately £1.5 million to make the resale value over £2 million, although it was bought for less than £1 million. If the docklands are to be regenerated, expenditure on river banks and walls should not necessarily be passed on as part of the cost to anyone who wishes to develop housing, if it is in the public sector, by a housing association or by a voluntary agency. Yet that is what the corporation is insisting on as an on-sale cost.
Nothing in the Act requires that. Nothing in the Act defines what should be added to the land valuation. Nothing in the legislation passed by the House defines that. The Government should, informally — or, under their powers in the Act, formally—give directions to the LDDC that, if it is to meet the housing needs of the docklands communities, it should do so in a way that does not impose unjustified costs on them.
The problem is that the Government's attitude has always been that development should take place in the private sector because of statistics from the census. In my constituency, for example, council occupation was over 80 per cent. and owner-occupation was only 2.5 per cent. I do not know the statistics in the constituencies of my neighbours. The Government's attitude is illogical. It depends on what people need, want and can afford. The Under-Secretary quoted figures. A few hundred people who were council tenants in Southwark bought the first houses. The hon. Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) quoted prices of £300,000. In my constituency, 860 flats which command wonderful riverside views are going for over £225,000. That is the going price of the river view that used to be and should be, as it were, the heritage of those who worked on the river to make the city great. It means that, if the people want to buy under a shared ownership scheme, a form of co-operative occupancy, or housing association development, they cannot have it. There was one one-off scheme. The World of Property Housing Trust, as a special deal, built houses to transfer tenants from downtown estates, but as yet there is no commitment to more.
There is no way we can control the operation of this wretched corporation, because it is out of anybody's control. There are no criteria to define how it should work apart from the generalised provisions in the legislation. We urge the Government to ensure that it must first meet the housing needs of the communities. If the people want to stay and buy, that is fine, but it should be at prices they can afford. The corporation is examining ways of doing that more sensitively under its new chairman than under his precedessor. It is considering giving loans to local people. I hope that these will not have to be paid back, because they would act as a charge on the sale price of the house in the same way as happens on the break-up of a marriage. In reality, a person always has the house for as long as he wants it. If the price is £50,000, £60,000 or £70,000, a small loan will make no material difference. The 1980 Act allows the Government to intervene if they wish. The docklands corporation is also allowed to intervene. We urge that intervention.
There was a boom in the cheap, build-for-sale properties. Houses in the Surrey docks and on the north side of the river went like hot cakes, primarily to local people. However, the second phase of the development involved much more expensive property. The cheaper property was the taster, and now, in places such as Elephant lane in Bermondsey and in Rotherhithe, houses are much more expensive. The figures do not present the case accurately.
I urged my predecessor, the vice-chairman of the corporation and chairman of its housing committee, to do what he could to bring prices down, but I have to come here for action. People of all political parties in my constituency and elected Liberal representatives and those not of my political persuasion believe that the only way that we can make the docklands corporation meet the needs of the people — until we can amend its constitution so that it is more accountable—is to ask that, under section 136(5), the Secretary of State shouldcontribute such sums as he with the Treasury's concurrence may determine towards expenditure incurred … by any local authority or statutory undertakers".The housing authorities — Southwark council in my area and Newham and Tower Hamlets—have a statutory duty to house local people. The docklands corporation has the power, with the Secretary of State's consent, to use the £600 million which it can borrow to house local people. I refer in particular to young local people and to one of the two riverside estates. Over 1,000 young people have applied for single bedroom accommodation and are on the waiting list of one of the districts concerned.
I urge the Government to think seriously about whether, since they have always smiled benignly on development corporations, money can be set aside to provide local housing at a cost that people can afford.
861 I ask the Minister to invoke two other provisions in the 1980 Act. The Secretary of State can require the development corporation to exercise powers to ensure that its primary duty is to retain employment and to facilitate the housing of existing communities. I also ask the Secretary of State to take another step which has not yet been taken. We have asked the LDDC to provide housing for local people. It argues that it is not a housing authority. It says that it can spend money on environmental improvements but not on an estate such as the Swan road estate.
Hon. Members may have visited the Mayflower pub, near the site from which the pilgrim fathers' ship went to America. That site cannot be refurbished with money from the LDDC because the LDDC is not a housing authority. The most that it can do is renovate the outside. That is no consolation to people with flats which need to be repaired inside. A building which looks beautiful across the river is no consolation to the resident of a substandard property. I ask the Minister at least to undertake that he will consider, with his colleagues, invoking the powers in that Act to allow the LDDC to become a housing authority.
One other aspect has been mentioned by colleagues from the dockland boroughs. The lack of accountability has some appalling implications. An architectural competition was held for the development of Cherry Garden pier site. The contract was awarded to the developers who came third in the competition, in which there was a joint second prize and no first prize. There is an enormous protest. The hon. Member for Bow and Poplar said that a wall is to be erected on his side of the river. Under the Cherry Garden development, we were to have seven seven-storey blocks of flats where there is now space and a view of and access to the river.
So far only one significant concession has been made, as a result of a request for recommendation by Lovell Farrow, the developers. Of course, the LDDC is its own development control authority. It asks itself for permission. If it is not happy, it can advise itself on how to ask for planning permission. Then permission is granted and the development goes ahead. The only concession is that there will be one fewer block of flats. There will be less crowding on the site. However, the nature of the development will be substantially the same. Not only is it dishonest to hold an architectural competition and give the contract to the winners of the third prize, but only the third prize winners have had a chance of submitting another planning application.
Assurances were given to elected members of the local community that no further steps would be taken until there was further consultation, but we have discovered that an application for another site has been submitted and planning permission has meanwhile been given. That has happened despite a request by me and others that we be given notice of planning applications. I made that specific request and received a letter saying that I would get notice of planning applications, but I have heard no more. The hon. Member for Newham, South and the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) and, I have no doubt, the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar have the same problems. We are not being told what is going on. If elected representatives, whether borough councillors, Greater London councillors or hon. Members, are not being told, what accountability is there?
862 The situation is highly unsatisfactory. The intention to regenerate those communities is not being fulfilled. Jobs are not being created — the new jobs are mainly relocated jobs. The net result so far, some three years into the development corporation's life, is that it has not stemmed in any way the drift away from central London of families and communities. In my constituency, 20 per cent. of those people moved out of inner London in the 10 years before the LDDC was set up. That trend has not changed. People still are not able to stay; their needs are not being met and communities are being broken up. If what the Financial Times called the greatest piece of real estate left in Europe cannot have a better destiny with more imagination and humanity than that, it is a sad lot and a sad day.
It is not yet too late, but it will soon be too late. The speculator and the investor will have moved in and the jobs and the people will have gone. The old communities will not be regenerated. In part, there may be a different community, but the form of change is not something that any accountable and democratic group of people can permit without severe protest. Whatever good intentions the Government may have had, the expectations have not been fulfilled. They must sit down with the LDDC and all hon. Members who have spoken in the debate and think about the strategy. I say, I believe on behalf of all of us, that we would be happy to enter into a regular and more accountable dialogue to make sure that the people whom we represent in the part of London whose heritage we fight for get a good deal and not the poor and ever-worsening deal that they have got over the past few years.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Sir George Young)
The amendment, moved rather unusually from the Back Benches by the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore), has provided a useful opportunity for a wide-ranging debate about the LDDC, although the clause also relates to the Merseyside development corporation. I cannot help noting a paradox in that the bulk of the Bill is about new towns, and there the thrust of the Opposition's criticism is that we are winding up too quickly those publicly created bodies accountable to Ministers. They say that we should have more new towns and allow the existing ones to continue for even longer.
When we come to the UDCs, which are, in effect, new town corporations in the inner cities, the criticism is the reverse—we should not have set up those bodies and we should not continue their operations. Opposition Members have an inconsistent approach to those two matters.
The second paradox is that we are always being asked by Opposition Members to spend more public money; to invest in the infrastructure, and to do something about the inner cities. Clause 12 does that. We are increasing the financial limit available to the urban development corporations. To have listened for the past one and a half hours to the debate, which has been unmitigated criticism of the Government, one would not think that that is what the LDDC is doing. It is investing in the infrastructure of a decaying part of the city; it is reversing decades of decline; it is creating jobs and homes; and it is succeeding where the local authorities' conventional structure has completely failed.
Despite what Opposition Members have said, we do not intend to arrest or reverse the excellent progress that has 863 been made by the LDDC. They say that they speak on behalf of their electors, and I am sure that they do, but the former Member for Bermondsey, Mr. Bob Mellish, takes a view that is diametrically opposed to that of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) when it comes to the way that we should tackle the problem in docklands. It is not for me to adjudicate upon which of them speaks the truth. It shows that there is an element of doubt as to whether the view put forward by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey is the only view.
I have spent a great deal of time in docklands and have talked to the people who live and work there. The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney said that there was a strong feeling of resentment there. That view is changing. If one talks to the people in the boroughs involved, one finds that their initial view of complete hostility is now being tempered as they see what is happening. They are shopping at the Asda store that has been built at the Isle of Dogs. Some of them have jobs in the firms that have been set up. I detect a shift in public opinion in the boroughs involved as a result of the excellent progress that has been made by the LDDC.
I shall pick up some of the points that have been made. I take seriously some of the criticisms. First, there was one about housing made by the right hon. Gentleman, which was picked up by his hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo), that the new housing was not available to those who live in the area. At Nelson's reach five phases of new housing have been released for sale since July 1983. Each time people have queued overnight. More than 90 per cent. of the 118 homes have been sold to or reserved by local people, and at Mayflower court, a competition-winning scheme by the riverside, the pressure was so great that the developers decided to release the whole scheme within days. Of the 76 homes, I understand that 18 have been reserved by council tenants. The picture is not as dramatically one-sided as was put forward by the two speakers.
If one studies the structure of housing in Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Newham, one sees that there is a dramatic imbalance. It is far too heavily weighted against owner-occupation. There is a preponderance of publicly owned stock there. In 1981, only 5.3 per cent. of the houses in docklands were in owner-occupation. The figure is now 12 per cent., and the target is 30 per cent. That represents a shift in the right direction. It would be wrong for there to be further investment in public sector stock in that area. We are moving towards a much fairer balance which will encourage people to live and work in the area.
On unemployment there was a debate as to whether the jobs created in the area—some 4,129—were new jobs or relocated jobs. The economy in London is very mobile. Docklands has not been getting any jobs—either new or relocated ones. As a result of the enterprise zone firms are setting up in the Isle of Dogs, where they were not setting up before. I should have thought that that ought to be welcomed by those who represent the area.
As for Inter-Action, I shall write to the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). The LDDC has contacted my Department for a decision, but a decision has not yet been made. I shall write to the hon. Member about the advertisement that he mentioned.
As for voluntary organisations, again one would not have thought, from listening to the debate, that the LDDC actually spends £750,000 each year on these organizations 864 and that the Government have recently increased the maximum that it can spend. I have a long list of organisations in Newham which receive funding from the LDDC. For example, the Beckton park residents association receives £1,500 and the docklands canal boat trust receives £5,000. So it is not the case that the LDDC is not doing what it can to help voluntary movements in the area.
§ Mr. Spearing
I think the Minister will agree that I did not say that it is not doing so. I said that the LDDC is not taking account of certain matters. In order to put the record straight, I do not believe that I quoted an advertisement in respect of Inter-Action. It was in relation to the boat show. The quotation related to a programme sheet which purported to show that Inter-Action is already committed to programmes in the docklands area. No permission has yet been given and no moneys have yet been voted.
§ Sir George Young
I believe that that is the correct understanding. The corporation has submitted a project application to my Department, but we have not yet taken a decision on it.
The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney asked me about the STOLport. As I believe he knows, the reopening of the inquiry is a matter for litigation, but the Government will take whatever steps are necessary in the light of court proceedings.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to houses in Wapping about which he has spoken in the House on previous occasions. The corporation is pledged to ensuring that a substantial proportion of the housing schemes on its land is within the means of people earning average London incomes. On the other hand, the corporation has to ensure that it does not set house prices so artificially low that those who buy them can make a windfall profit by selling them on at their true market price. The corporation has introduced shared ownership schemes in order to bring housing within the reach of people on average incomes, but at the same time has tried to ensure that they do not sell them at artificially low prices.
§ Mr. John Fraser
What will be the final proportion of houses to let in shared ownership schemes on the one hand and houses for sale — figures amounting to up to £330,000—on the other?
§ Sir George Young
As I said a few moments ago, the objective of the LDDC is to ensure that roughly 30 per cent. of the homes in docklands are owner-occupied, as against about 5 per cent. when it started. Even 30 per cent. would be under half what it is for the country as a whole. Therefore, I cannot accept the criticism that it will move to a position where owner-occupation is at too high level. The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney welcomed the light transit railway system. I wonder whether we should have had that system had it not been for the LDDC. I wonder whether Tower Hamlets, for example, and the other boroughs through which it runs would have found the money to go ahead with the railway. The GLC had the resources, had it so wished, to go ahead with the light transit railway system but it did not do so. The LDDC is putting up half the money for that system. London Regional Transport is finding the other half. I wonder whether that scheme would have gone ahead had it not been for the establishment of a single-minded 865 development corporation such as the LDDC with a commitment to the area, which has taken the decision to go ahead.
§ Mr. Mikardo
May I make two points to show that what the Minister is saying is nonsense. First, the main initiative came not from the London Docklands development corporation but from London Transport. Secondly, the proposal was put forward by the docklands joint committee before the LDDC was formed. If it had had the money that the LDDC has received it would have done the job.
§ Sir George Young
The argument for a body such as the GLC is that it can take strategic decisions on projects that would take a relatively small proportion of its budget. The GLC did not do that; half the money came from London Transport and half from the LDDC. My view is that we would not have got the project without a body such as the LDDC.
§ Sir George Young
We shall have to agree to disagree.
Much of the argument has been about accountability and answerability. The criticisms of Labour Members have been the same as those that I hear from my hon. Friends about the new towns—that they are appointed by Ministers, that they do not have to answer questions, and so on. If one sets up organisations such as the LDDC or the new towns, it is inevitable that there will not be the same accountability as there is with a local authority. Against that, the local authorities could not have coped with the new towns development and did not and could not have coped with the problems in docklands. One has to accept the downside — less accountability and answerability—for the upside, which is the progress that has been made in docklands and the revitalisation of the area.
Hon. Members did not speak to the amendment, which would reduce to £550 million the financial limit at which a further debate in the House would be necessary. The arrangements in the Bill are in line with previous arrangements for the new towns and the LDDC. It is reasonable to calculate the limits so that such debates occur, on average, every two or three years.
The limits were originally set in 1980 and we have had one debate on the order to increase the limit. We are now debating the primary legislation, which will increase the limit and renew the power to increase the limit. That will give rise, on present plans, to another debate in about three years. That is reasonable and I see no reason to advise the House to accept the amendment.
If I have not answered matters raised in the debate, I shall write to the hon. Members concerned.
§ Mr. Gow
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
The Bill provides for the completion of the winding up of the new towns programme in England and Wales. It changes the purposes for which the Commission for the New Towns exists. While retaining its task of making the best use of the property transferred to it, the commission is given the new primary function of disposing of that 866 property as soon as it considers it expedient to do so. The Bill also provides for the winding up of the commission when its purposes have been substantially achieved.
Some features of the Bill contain nothing novel. The Labour Government wound up new town development corporations when their tasks were done. They set target dates for the winding up of others, and some of the dates set by the Labour Government when they were in power were earlier than those to which we are working.
Since 1979, we have continued the task of bringing the new towns to completion. Four development corporations—for Harlow, Stevenage, Corby and Bracknell—have been wound up and, as the House knows, five more—for Northampton, Redditch, Skelmersdale, Basildon and Central Lancashire—are planned to be wound up this year. I will announce shortly a final decision about the north-east new towns, two of whose distinguished representatives are present on the Opposition Benches.
The Bill enables us to build on what has been achieved and to take the process through to completion. The Commission for the New Towns has done, and is doing, an outstanding job, both in its general task of disengagement and, as we have seen at Corby, in its role of promoting a town that faced special difficulties. I wish to pay special tribute to the work of the chairman of the commission, Sir Neil Shields.
The Bill gives the commission a remit for completing all its tasks, both in the towns that it currently manages and in those where it has yet to assume responsibility. It also puts the remaining development corporations on a sound financial footing. There will be no forced sales of assets, nor any sales contrary to the best professional advice. The decision made by the Under-Secretary in the case of Redditch is proof positive of that. Our aim is an orderly and responsible disengagement at a pace consistent with the market, to the magic of which I again pay tribute.
Once the commission has completed its tasks, there is no reason why it should remain in existence, so the Bill provides for it to be wound up when that stage is reached. For the reasons that I have just given it would be wrong to put any fixed time limit on that event, but I can assure the House that we will progress as quickly as we can, with responsibility, towards that goal.
The Bill also allows the two UDCs to press on with their task of revitalising their areas after years of delay and neglect. The neglect that there had been in the areas where the two development corporations are now in operation is a massive condemnation of years of Socialism in those areas. The Government are building on the well-tried approach of a development corporation. Our approach is sensible, practical and consistent—precisely what one might expect from Her Majesty's present Ministers. The two UDCs have already made substantial progress in tackling the problems, in co-operation with the private sector. The Bill enables further progress to be made.
The Bill provides a sound basis for the completion of the new town programme and the further important work of the development corporation, and — at the earliest sensible moment—the dissolution of the commission. I commend this enlightened Bill to the House.
§ Mr. Harry Cowans (Tyne Bridge)
I do not think that I have heard a more modest speech in all my years in the 867 House. In reality, the Minister is in danger of becoming black and blue all over from throwing bouquets at himself. I seem to have heard the phrasethe magic of the marketabout a hundred times. It is indeed a magic market place that cannot find work for 4 million people. The word "magic" can just mean a trick. Sometimes the trick requires help. A volunteer joins the magician on stage and the magician makes one of his possessions—not one of the magician's— disappear. That picture sums up the meaning of the phrasethe magic of the market".I am a super-optimist. I had hoped that in Committee we would make some progress and bring about some alterations to the Bill, but it was apparent from the beginning that there were substantial differences between the two sides, and that is even more apparent now. I have heard nothing tonight to change my opinion. I agree with the Minister that when the new towns were set up the intention was that they would be wound up when they had completed their tasks. However, one of the fundamental distinctions between the Government and the Opposition is over the stage at which the new towns can be considered to have completed their task.
I want to tell the Minister about a situation of which I have just been informed. Had I known about it when the Bill was in Committee, I should have told him about it then.
I apologise to whoever is the hon. Member responsible for Hemel Hempstead. I understand that the hon. Member is a Conservative. Hemel Hempstead used to be a constituency in its own right. I have tried to find out where it is now and whose constituency it is in, and I have singularly failed. I apologise to the hon. Member concerned. Had I been able to establish who represents Hemel Hempstead, I should have informed the hon. Member that I intended to refer to it.
I return to the business of having completed a task. I quote:When the Hemel Hempstead new town was planned, a brand new hospital was promised and 24 acres of land purchased by the Development Corporation to pass to the Health Authorities when they were ready to build.Hemel Hempstead new town was taken into the commission in 1962. Presumably it was thought that the new organisation would continue what the new town had started. Part of the hospital was completed, but now money to complete the hospital and to buy the land on which to build it is not available because the Department of the Environment insists on the full current commercial price. I suggest that the new town had not completed its task, because the hospital had not been completed. If the new town had not been wound up, the problem would not have arisen. That is just one example.
Labour Members of the Committee can congratulate themselves on their religiously latching on to the argument about new towns' close co-operation with local authorities. We argued the case of the company town. I am grateful to Councillor Walter Stranz of Redditch, who has written about the proposed sale of assets by Redditch development corporation. He said thatthe best start to the New Year we could have hadwas the news that it would not become a company town.
I pay credit to the Minister. My problem is that he is administering just what Labour members of the Committee advocated. The only difference between us is that we want such action to be written into the Bill. The 868 Minister would not allow that. With regard to Redditch, he has, for the time being, stopped it from falling into the trap of becoming a company town. However, I have one or two quarrels with the Minister. It is not too late to put these matters right.
An article of 28 December said:The Minister, who is responsible for new towns, said the bids had been carefully examined but it was felt that they were not acceptable.That is our point. Nobody tells us why they are not acceptable. We cannot challenge the Minister on the Floor of the House. We wanted such provision written into the Bill but did not get it, and yet the Minister is doing exactly what we want. I applaud that, but the sting is in the tail. Mr. Norman More, the director of Redditch development corporation, has said that he is not happy with the Minister's views and will be back in the new year, presumably to try to change his views. That, too, will not come before the House.
There would have been no problem if what we had asked had been written into the Bill. If the Minister is doing what we ask, there can be no harm in writing such actions into the Bill. It is not too late. The Minister obviously believes that this is the right approach, so why will he not write such action into the Bill? He might not be here next time. Someone quite different might adopt a completely different attitude.
It is not too late to do this in order to safeguard the situation— [Interruption.] If at this stage the Minister wants to say that he will do it in another place, I shall be delighted to give way to him. There seems to be some frivolity about this, but if that leads to an amendment in another place, I shall laugh with everyone else. However, there is no forward movement to the Dispatch Box to suggest that it was anything other than frivolity. It is not frivolous for those outside this House.
Another fundamental difference in Committee related to the powers in the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) referred to this in the context of urban development and said that it was muddled thinking. I have news for him — it is all muddled thinking. There are many double standards.
The Minister has rightly written into the Bill provisions to prevent the Commission for the New Towns from doing certain things, but he has inserted another clause which allows him to do so under special powers. That is a nonsense in any terms.
We warned about the number of occasions when the powers of the House and of Members of Parliament are taken away and left purely in the hands of the Secretary of State. I again warn that such powers are available to any Secretary of State, not just to the present holder of that position. Again, it is not too late to alter this provision. It means that the Secretary of State will become the sole arbitrator of practically everything in the Bill. Whether or not the new towns have completed their task, he will become the sole judge, jury and executioner.
The Minister mentioned in passing the position of Washington, Newton Aycliffe and Peterlee. He did it so quickly that one of my hon. Friends dashed to the Opposition Front Bench to check whether he had mentioned it. I assured him that the Minister said "northeast", after which his remarks became clouded. We are, however, grateful for the fact that these new towns still exist. They are vital, and even this Government are beginning to realise that, but it must be apparent to the 869 Minister that without some decision on their future, all those who live and work in those areas must do so from day to day.
On a number of occasions my hon. Friends the Members for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes), for Easington (Mr. Dormand) and for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster) have received promises that some kind of decision would be forthcoming, but the Government have not said in which year that promise would be kept. If the Secretary of State were now to say that these new towns will continue for the next 10 years we would be grateful, but some decision is necessary, and he should realise that the continuation of these new towns is vital to the areas affected. So far we have had promises, and it would be nice if we had a final—we hope, positive—decision.
Both in Committee and on Second Reading great concern was registered about the job creation functions of the new towns. They are vital. Although the Minister may think that a new town has fulfilled its function, for example, towards housing and building, there are classical cases where he could not take that view about its present job creation function. That is particularly relevant to Washington, Newton Aycliffe and Peterlee. Obviously other new towns will be in the same position.
In Committee the Minister kindly provided me with a letter which he had promised me. He honoured that promise.
It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.