HL Deb 13 February 1964 vol 255 cc693-750

5.47 p.m.

Order of the day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in moving that this Bill be read a second time, I would suggest that the Bill is of a strictly non-Party nature. I cannot believe that there is any disagreement between the political Parties as to the necessity for, or the desirability of, this Bill. I think it would be entirely appropriate for me at the outset of this debate to pay tribute to the work of the Committee presided over by the noble Lord, Lord Reith, and to the work and vision of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who was responsible for the first New Towns Act in 1946. The experiment which was started then has stood the test of time and is likely to go on to further success.

The Bill before your Lordships is a short one, and its main purpose is to continue the work begun in 1946 by providing authority for further loans of £150 million for the New Towns. The last New Towns Act, 1959, brought the total amount available for the New Towns up to £400 million, and that was the latest of a series of increases from the modest £50 million with which a start was originally made. In addition, I should mention that the 1959 Act provided for expenditure by the Commission for the New Towns. The total commitments to December 31 last were £394 million, although the advances actually made lagged somewhat behind commitments and had reached the figure of £339 million. These overall figures relate to the New Towns in Great Britain as a whole.

The second purpose of the Bill is to simplify the financial procedure in connection with the New Towns Commission. The Act of 1959, which provided for the setting up of the Commission for the New Towns, required that advances to the Commission to meet capital expenditure liabilities taken over from development corporations should count against the £400 million authorised for advances to those corporations. On the other hand, advances required to finance capital expenditure of the Commission on its own account were to count separately against a total of £5 million authorised for that purpose. As a matter of financial administration, however, it is impracticable to make this distinction because when advances are made it is not possible to say precisely how they will be spent.

The Commission employs all its financial resources, whether they accrue from rents or other income, or whether they are advances made by the Minister, to meet expenditure of all kinds. In this way its borrowings can be kept to the absolute minimum with advantage to itself and to the Exchequer. The Commission cannot keep its borrowings in watertight compartments and still make the best use of its resources overall. In any event, the distinction between expenditure on liabilities taken over from development corporations and on liabilities undertaken on the Commission's own initiative is not significant, since both are for the same general purpose of managing and improving the New Towns. The Bill therefore provides that in future all advances to the Commission, as well as to the development corporations, should count against the single authorised total. If this were not being done, it would be necessary to provide for an additional sum for the Commission. So much for the outline of the Bill.

I think we should not let this occasion pass without a brief review of the progress of the New Towns. Crawley and Hemel Hempstead have now passed to the Commission for the New Towns, having reached their target populations. Apart from Skelmersdale and Dawley, which have only been established quite recently, the other New Towns in England and Wales are all well on the way towards their main targets. It is therefore an appropriate moment to look at the financial position, and I think we can claim that this is reasonably satisfactory.

Approximately 80 per cent. of the total expenditure is on housing, and the aim of housing is to make ends meet with the aid of the Exchequer housing subsidies. It follows, therefore, that it would be too much to expect a high rate of return on the total investment. We expect corporations to aim at getting current market value for their factories, shops and offices, but the surplus on this relatively small proportion of the total capital expenditure, when spread overall, will inevitably be quite modest.

On a total capital expenditure in England and Wales of £280 million to March, 1963, there was a net revenue surplus of £360,000. On General Revenue Account there was a surplus of £730,000, but a deficit of £370,000 on Sewerage Revenue Account reduced this to £360,000. Over the whole of the New Towns there was a cumulative deficit at March last of £2½ million. This is gradually being reduced, but it will be some time yet before these deficits are wiped out.

These figures summarise the revenue position shown in the audited accounts of the corporations and the Commission. There has been correspondence in The Times, your Lordships will have seen, suggesting that there is really a much larger surplus, which was arrived at by adding back various transfers to reserve, provisions and other charges against revenue. That is as may be. The accounts have been published, and the reader is free to construe them as he wishes. For my part, I am quoting the final revenue position as shown in the balance sheets. The important thing, whichever way one reads these accounts, is that investment in the New Towns is paying its way. It is right that this kind of investment of the taxpayers' money should be subjected to the normal financial tests to ensure that they are getting value for money. The return is small, it is true, but it will improve steadily. I would remind your Lordships that the figures I have quoted above relate to the New Towns in England and Wales.

The position in Scotland is rather more difficult because of the lower level of house rents which have obtained there in general. The revenue deficits of the four Scottish New Towns totalled £4½ million at March, 1963. This is mainly attributable to losses on housing, offset by returns from industrial and commercial development in the same way as their English counterparts. Nevertheless, it is only right to add that the Scottish Development Corporations are charging rents which are more realistic than those of many of the Scottish local authorities. I should not like it to be thought that, because I have concentrated on the financial picture, the Government are content to judge the success of the New Towns by that criterion alone. I believe that the success of the New Towns programme, considered as a social experiment, is now generally accepted, not only in this country, but throughout the world. I do not think it necessary to take up time in arguing the point, but I did not want it to be overlooked.

The additional amount made available in this Bill for advances for New Towns purposes is expected to cover expenditure during the next three to four years. It might be helpful if I were to say a few words about likely development in the near future. In the South-East, the eight New Towns designated between 1946 and 1949 to accommodate overspill from Greater London, and which had an existing population of under 100,000, have so far grown to nearly 400,000 and are at present planned to accommodate, eventually, well over 500,000 people. Meanwhile, we have had to face the prospect of a very rapid growth of population in the South-East region in the next two decades, the greater part of it arising from the natural increase of the population now living there. The full scale of this prospective increase became apparent only in the late 'fifties. For the past three years a comprehensive study of the planning implications for the South-East Region has been going forward, and the Government will publish the results of this study soon. The matters considered in the course of the study have included not only the possible need to create more New Towns, but also the desirability of expanding the planned population of some of the existing New Towns.

So far as possible expansions are concerned, studies have already been made and published, at the Minister's request, by the Stevenage and Harlow Corporations. A good deal was said about the proposals for Stevenage recently in another place, and I do not propose to go over that ground at this stage. I anticipate, however, that we shall hear a good deal more upon this subject today, and I prefer to wait and see what is said. In any case we have a considerable way to go before final decisions are taken.

There are, however, three general points about the expansion of existing towns which I should like to put forward. First, the time factor. Neither the building of a New Town nor the expansion of an existing one can be started very quickly. In both cases, there are the necessary but time-consuming preliminary processes of consultation to be gone through and much basic planning to be done. But, other things being equal, you can get an expansion under way more quickly because there is an experienced and fully staffed Development Corporation there ready to move into action as soon as the word is given.

Secondly, experience has shown that many of the facilities which people nowadays look for in a town—such as big departmental stores, shops serving special interests, a second cinema, a concert hall, a civic theatre and things of that kind—do not become a commercial proposition until the population has risen above the sort of levels which we had in mind when New Towns were first designated. Thus, a New Town of 100,000 to 150,000 can offer its citizens a fuller life than a smaller town.

Thirdly, it is only when populations of New Towns have reached 50,000 or 60,000 that they have begun to show signs of attracting office employment on a large scale. For example, in Harlow, out of an estimated population of 55,000 in 1961, only 800 people were in office employment. By 1963, when the population was nearly 62,000, the number of office workers had increased by almost a half to 1,150. The great majority of the growth of employment in London is, as we all well know, in offices and commerce generally. Further growth in existing New Towns should, therefore, attract more of them out of London; it is unlikely that a fresh New Town would do so for many years. There are important considerations; but, of course, each town has its own character and its own problems, and there is no rule of thumb which can be applied to all of them. Each must be considered on its merits, and a balance struck between the factors favouring and those working against expansion.

Turning now to the West Midlands, we have Dawley, where the Corporation has been set up and is preparing to receive overspill from Birmingham; and we have the proposal to set up a new town for the same purpose at Redditch, on which a public local inquiry was held recently. In the North-West the position is much the same, with the Skelmersdale Corporation getting into its stride and a decision pending on the proposals for Runcorn. Both of these are intended to accommodate overspill from Liverpool and North Merseyside. In addition, as we know, a New Town is necessary in the Manchester area, and the Minister hopes to make an announcement about its proposed location shortly.

In the North-East we have Peterlee and Aycliffe, both of which are in the growth area defined in the recent White Paper on that region, and both of which it is proposed to expand—Aycliffe to accommodate a further 20,000 people, and Peterlee to provide additional land for industry. A third New Town is proposed at Washington as a contribution to the housing and employment needs of the Tyneside-Wearside area.

To round off the picture, in England and Wales, we have the New Towns at Corby and Cwmbran which were set up to meet local rather than regional needs. Additional land was designated in 1963 for Corby, and the present population of over 41,000 is now expected to grow to 55,000 to provide for the increased labour requirements of the Stewarts and Lloyds' Steelworks; and thereafter by natural increase, to 75,000. Cwmbran, which is planned to reach an eventual population of 55,000, has so far grown to rather over 32,000.

My Lords, in Scotland the population of the first three New Towns—East Kilbride, Glenrothes and Cumbernauld—now exceeds 56,000, and, of course they still have a long way to go. In the fourth, Livingston, which was designated less than two years ago, house building has started and factory building will shortly begin. The industrial success of the New Towns in Scotland was recognised in the recent Central Scotland White Paper which identified all four as major growth areas. Technical investigations are now under way at Irvine, in Ayrshire, which was mentioned in the White Paper as a possible fifth Scottish New Town. These will enable the scope for growth to be assessed, and in the light of the outcome and the views of the local authorities my right-honourable friend will decide whether the expansion of Irvine can most suitably be undertaken under the New Towns Act.

To conclude this review, I wonder sometimes whether the magnitude of this undertaking is always fully appreciated. Already the combined population of the New Towns in England, Wales and Scotland—that is, 570,000—is greater than the population of Sheffield, which is about half a million. Looking to the future, if all the new foundations and expansions now proposed go forward the number of New Town dwellers will eventually equal the combined present populations of Sheffield and Birmingham—1½ million. These figures, I may add, take no account of any new proposals for New Towns which may emerge from the current regional studies.

My Lords, I hope that, in view of the necessity for going ahead with the New Towns programme, and for the expanding of the existing New Towns up to their target figures, and perhaps in some cases beyond, this Bill will commend itself to your Lordships, and that you will give it a Second Reading. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Hastings.)

6.5 p.m.


My Lords, I have no doubt at all that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading. The noble Lord, in replying to the previous debate, said that when he heard the statement from my noble friend Lord Latham he assumed that the Bill was going to be non-controversial and that there would be no criticisms of it. I hope he will not assume that on this occasion. While we recognise the need for more Government money for the New Towns. I think he will hear in the course of the debate this evening a good deal of comment on the way in which it is proposed to spend that money. But, so far as the noble Lord's own speech is concerned, I should like to congratulate him on having made a very able statement of the position, an impartial review of the New Towns and of what they are hoping to do. I would also thank him personally for the references he made to the noble Lord, Lord Reith, and to myself.

The fact that we are about to authorise an expenditure of £150 million on top of the £400 million already authorised, is, of course, a measure of the confidence the Government, and this House, have in the advantages of dealing with social, housing, and other overspill problems by way of New Towns. We recognise to-day that people living in the New Towns are being provided with a healthy and convenient way of life in a new and better environment. The New Towns were started as a social experiment, and I think it is fair to say that they have now gone beyond the experimental stage and are accepted as a successful way of life.

I was also glad to hear that the financial position is, as the noble Lord said, reasonably satisfactory. He referred to some correspondence in The Times in which Sir Frederic Osborn, among others, tried to establish that it is more than reasonably satisfactory. I am not going to enter into that discussion. Which view one takes depends on the way one looks at the figures: and I think that any competent accountant can establish either view. But I am satisfied with the statement that the financial position is "reasonably satisfactory". After all, we have to bear in mind that the financial position of New Towns cannot be compared with a private venture. If this were a private venture there would be a profit on the housing, as well as on the other facilities provided—shops, industry, and so on. But in this case, where 80 per cent. of the expenditure is non-profit-making, it is very satisfactory indeed to find that, as regards the 20 per cent. expenditure, there is a reasonably satisfactory return.

It had been the original intention to develop, as a beginning, some twenty New Towns. I think that fourteen were actually started during the days of the Labour Government and since then we have seen four more started. But still we have not reached eighteen completed. While I do not want to spend much time in criticising the Government for their belated conversion to the idea of New Towns (because it is only in the last two or three years that they have actually decided to designate areas for New Towns), the fact remains that for a very long period nothing at all was done about New Towns. The result is that we are very much behind in dealing with the problems of Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and other of the large conurbations. The noble Lord said that we may expect an announcement about Manchester. But I have heard that for a very long time; as a matter of fact I had hoped to make an announcement myself about Manchester some sixteen or seventeen years ago. I hope that it will not be delayed the same length of time from now.

Quite obviously, we are all now taking credit for the success of the New Towns. But it was not always so, and last night I had the curiosity to look up the Report of the debate on the Second Reading of the New Towns Bill in 1946. I may say that it is the first time I have read that debate since 1946, but I thought that, in view of this debate, it would be interesting to see how the New Towns were received at that time. They were not opposed, but they were received in a very cool and sceptical manner. Indeed; there was only one speaker who came down definitely and strongly in favour of the New Towns, and that was the noble Lord, Lord Molson. I do not know whether even he remembers the speech he made at that time, but he was strongly in favour of the principle, of New Towns and of the Bill. Other speakers were not entirely enthusiastic—even my own colleagues; but they were more encouraging than the then Opposition. But the Opposition, apart from being sceptical about the whole thing, doubted very much whether anything would come of the proposals. However, here we are, and let us all take credit for them; because the New Towns have been developed—initiated under one Government and developed under another—and we are all entitled to a certain amount of credit.

One of the features of the New Towns (I hope the House will not mind my travelling a little wide) was that each one had a separate development corporation, and the purpose of that was to give them a fairly free hand to carry out experiments and to ensure that New Towns were not necessarily all built on the same pattern. And I think that principle has largely worked. Almost every New Town has some special feature which is attributable to the ideas of the particular development corporation concerned, and to its architects and other officers. Just to mention one or two, I think Crawley's industrial area is unique—I should think it is one of the finest in Europe. Harlow's general layout is most attractive; I think it is almost the most attractive of the New Towns. Stevenage has a civic centre which is almost unique and certainly its shopping centre is something that we can feel very proud of. I could go on and say that there is something about each one of the New Towns, some special feature, which I think justifies the original conception of entrusting the work of developing the New Towns to separate development corporations. I am therefore very sorry indeed that this Government departed from the original conception, and are handing over these New Towns to a Commission for management when they are substantially complete. Incidentally "substantially complete" does not mean what it says, because each of the New Towns that has been handed over as being substantially complete is now in process of being substantially expanded; but I will say a word later about expansion.

The original conception—and this was one which was accepted on all sides; indeed I was pressed at the time by the Opposition to ensure it—was that when New Towns were substantially complete they should be transferred to the local authorities. And I still think that that was the right thing to do. I do not say necessarily hand it over lock, stock and barrel without any financial conditions: of course, the nation, which had spent large sums of money, was entitled to be safeguarded in respect of its expenditure, and to ensure that it received back what it had spent. But, subject to that, I believe that it would have been wiser, if it was desired to end the development corporations, to leave the further management and development and expansion of the New Towns to the local authorities. I say that because the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, referred to the new Commission and to the complications in finance which have arisen. I still think that perhaps the day is not too far distant when we shall have second thoughts about that plan and hand the New Towns over to the local authorities as originally envisaged.

We are now coming to what one might call the second generation of the New Towns. We started off with a maximum population for each New Town of 60,000. It was always envisaged (although, of course, the population figures were not known at that time; nobody contemplated so large an increase in our population) that there would be some natural increase in population, and that provision ought to be made for it in connection with the development of the New Towns. One thought in terms of 10,000 or 15,000 additional to the 60,000 population originally planned. I do not think that anybody ever contemplated a vast expansion of any of the New Towns where they had been substantially completed.

With a town like Corby, which was originally planned for say, 15,000, I could understand it if, at an early stage, it were decided to expand it to a much larger population; or Newton Aycliffe, which was designed for the same population. If development has not gone too far, it is possible to expand a New Town to almost any size you like, if other considerations are favourable. But where you have got a town that is substantially completed, where you have virtually got your target population, where you have built up all your services and amenities, your shops and industry, civic centre, educational facilities, your social amenities and all the rest of it; where you have built it up on the basis of a certain population, it seems to me to be thoroughly bad planning then to contemplate increasing the population to more than double its original figure. And that is the position in Stevenage.

I should like to say something about Stevenage. I have a great affection for Stevenage. It was the first of the New Towns, and, to put it no higher, was not very favourably accepted at the time. Indeed, I was taken to the courts, and the case had to come as far as this House before the plans were finally allowed to proceed. To that extent, the progress of Stevenage New Town was retarded. It has more than made up for lost time, however, and I would say that, taking it all in all, it is to-day probably one of the finest of the New Towns that we have. As I have said, all its services, its amenities, and everything that has been provided there, have been geared to a population of about 60,000. It is capable of expansion to 80,000. But to try to expand it to 140,000 or 150,000, as is now contemplated, is, I believe, sheer madness. Indeed, I can only think that the Minister is so exuberated with the success of New Towns that he wants to build super-New Towns, regardless of the local conditions or anything else.

I have in the last week or two gone into the question of this expansion of Stevenage, and I have tried to find out what is the case for it, who is backing it, who are the advocates of the expansion. I have found no advocates for the expansion other than, I presume, the Minister himself. All the local authorities in the area are against it. Every possible planning consultant who has taken an interest is against it. Every individual I have spoken to is against it. None of them is in any way biased. This is not a Party political matter, as the noble Lord will soon find out. This is a matter on which all Parties feel the same. I have taken the trouble to consult my own political friends, as well as my political opponents, and there is no difference of opinion among them.

I have discussed the matter privately with members of the Stevenage Development Corporation. They were asked: Is it feasible? Is it physically possible to expand this town to 140,000 or 150,000? They went into the question, and their answer was: "Yes, it is physically possible". But they were not asked whether they thought it was desirable. Had they been asked that question, they might have given a quite different answer. How is it physically possible? It is physically possible not by adding to the New Town, not by normal expansion, but by building virtually an entirely New Town, separated from the old by a busy arterial road, by the old Great North Road; by industry; by shopping; by a main-line railway, and by various other obstructions of that kind. Communication from the existing Stevenage to the new Stevenage, across all these obstructions, can be only by tunnelling or bridging. If, for instance, it were thought that the existing shopping centre should be used by the new expanded town, people would have to come, either by way of bridges across the arterial road or by means of tunnels, both of which would be expensive. Apart from that, they are most undesirable.

The drainage and sewage disposal services also would have to be new ones. I am not sure about water, but I think that here too there is some difficulty. At any rate, it means virtually building an entirely New Town. It may be called "Stevenage", although that may lead to a good many complications, if a person is asked to find his way to a certain street in Stevenage and does not know which side of the railway or the arterial road it is. So the new addition will have to be given another name. Be that as it may, it cannot in fact be part of one town; there will be two separate towns.

I recognise that the Minister and the Government have a problem in finding accommodation for the increase in overspill population in London, and that they must find accommodation somewhere. My own proposal would be that, now that the New Towns have been established as successful, other New Towns should be started further away from London. As a matter of fact, looking back, I suppose that none of us was courageous enough to go further away from London. We wondered whether people would be willing to travel more than thirty miles away from their existing homes to a new home. We thought of the old folks wanting to visit the youngsters who had gone to the New Towns. We did not want to make it too difficult for them. But, looking back to-day, if one had one's time over again I think it would have been much wiser to go fifty or sixty or more miles away from London and there would have been no difficulty in getting either industry or the population there.

I would suggest to the Government that they are making a terrible blunder in creating this expansion at Stevenage. Apart from anything else, this area is already full of built-up populations. If it is expanded as intended it will be within a short distance of Luton, which itself is expanding, and of other towns. It is already close to Welwyn Garden City, Hitchin and so on, and we are in danger of creating a large conurbation, which is exactly the thing we are trying to avoid. In any case, the idea of having towns built on both sides of an arterial road is abhorrent to all planners, and most of all to the Government themselves. Just imagine a private developer coming along for planning permission to develop on either side of the main arterial road! What would be the Government's or the Minister's view about that, if the Minister had to decide it on appeal? He would dismiss the appeal without hesitation. Yet that is the thing which the Government are proposing to do.

Moreover, this provision for an increase in population is not entirely for an expanding population; it is, as I understand it, intended for commuters. Do we really want to encourage people living in these New Towns to travel to and from London every day? Surely that is the thing we are trying to avoid? Yet the Government themselves are wing to accentuate the problem. I imagine that the noble Lord will tell us that, if the Government decide to proceed with the project, the area of the proposed New Town will be designated by the Minister; that it will be open to objection: that if the objections are serious there will be a public inquiry and then the Minister will decide. In the case of the ordinary New Town, that is the procedure laid down in the New Towns Act, and I think it might be regarded as satisfactory. I think the Minister could be trusted to look at the proposal objectively, even though he initiated it himself. I know that it has been criticised in the past that the Minister himself initiates a proposal and then is the judge of whether or not it is to proceed. And this would be the case here. But this is quite exceptional. This is a case where Parliament ought to have a voice in the matter.

In the case of the ordinary New Towns Parliament is merely informed that a New Town is proposed to be developed in a certain place; there is a public inquiry, and one can trust any Minister to deal effectively with the objections. But this is really a very serious matter of national policy, and I do not think it should be entrusted to a Minister without reference to Parliament. Therefore I would suggest that before the Minister goes any further he should seek the approval of Parliament for this particular proposal. It is so important and has aroused so much opposition that for his own sake he would be wiser to get a full discussion on it, with his proposals definitely on the table so that they can be thoroughly studied, and to take the views of Parliament without putting the Whips on. If he did that, we should probably get a satisfactory result. Perhaps wisest of all would be if he withdrew this nonsensical scheme—



—and did not waste any of our time. I hope that in these circumstances the noble Lord, who I am sure is himself perfectly blameless in this matter, will convey to his right honourable friend what I imagine will be shown to be the feelings of this House about the matter—they have already been expressed in another place—and that wiser counsels will prevail.

Having said that, my Lords, I want to conclude by saying that there is, of course, no objection in principle to a proper expansion of the existing New Towns. They must be reasonable and bear relationship to the old population and to the services which have been provided, so that such services are not overburdened in relation to shopping, social amenities and all the rest. Subject to that, I recognise that there is a problem which must be met, and none of us would wish to put undue difficulties in the way. But the case of Stevenage is really a piece of thoroughly bad planning, and I hope we shall have heard the last of it in the course of the next week or two.

6.34 p.m.


My Lords, I welcome the proposal in the Bill to raise the amount of advances to development corporations and to allow the Commission for the New Towns to have a new limit of £550 million for capital expenditure. Four of the New Towns are in the diocese of St. Albans, and in the twelve and more years I have been Bishop I have seen these towns grow, not only physically, but in their sense of responsibility. I have no doubt at all that those who live in the New Towns have opportunities for fuller lives before them than they enjoyed in their previous homes. As the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said, they provide a fuller way of life. I consider that the Government who sponsored the New Towns Act of 1946 and all who have developed this work deserve our gratitude. I should like to express my own grateful thanks to the noble Lord who has just spoken for his powerful speech. He addresses this House with great authority and knowledge on this subject.

Last week the Church Assembly was debating the Leslie Paul Report, The Deployment and Training of the Clergy, and I greatly hope that a Measure may later come before Parliament providing for a new parochial form, for a major parish (unless some more suitable description is found), to be run by a college of clergy, all of whom would enjoy incumbent status and all of whom would work together under a leader who would properly be called a dean, and that at last one might have a town dean to distinguish him from a rural dean. If a Measure on these lines is approved, then I can see that, even if a New Town reaches a ceiling figure of 160,000, it would provide in this century an opportunity for a unique experiment in pastoral care, with a dean in charge, say ten incumbents in his team, and all of them co-operating in the one ecclesiastical unit.

These New Towns have certain great advantages and, as has been mentioned, there are financial gains. Nevertheless, within New Towns much needs to be done for neighbourliness, and here the Churches have played a distinctive part. Our policy in the diocese has been, so far as possible, not to split up these areas into new parishes, but to have a rector or vicar and under him assistant curates; in each neighbourhood unit a church and a parson—but only one church, one parson—for 10,000 people. This is inadequate, but it is all we can afford in terms of men and money at present. This pattern of parochial work, as informal observers have said, has helped to build the different neighbourhood units into one community. I have heard members of the development corporation remark that, even if their town has greatly to increase in size, they hope in the future that it may still be treated by the Church of England ecclesiastically as a single unit.

I should now like to turn from New Towns in general to say a word or two about Stevenage. There are three points want to put before the House. I know there is a feeling among clergy and ministers in the area that some expansion is inevitable and that we must provide more homes for our younger people. But the population of Hertfordshire having been increased more rapidly than in any other county, we in Hertfordshire face an enormous special problem in housing our young couples as they grow up in these New Towns and housing estates. Reference has already been made to local opposition to the proposals for Stevenage. I respect the force of the argument submitted by Hertfordshire County Council, that they will amend their development plan to take any increase in population which is shown to be necessary but that they oppose the expansion of Stevenage and insist that it is for the local planning authority to decide where the increase can be best accommodated.

Speaking in another place, the Minister of Housing and Local Government said that the Government had in mind to raise the population to 100,000 and to reach this total by 1981. I welcomed Lord Silkin's comment that this was thoroughly bad planning and, in his judgment, sheer madness. The Minister has admitted that, though he sees expansion to the 100,000 figure as the sensible course, it would have been desirable to await the publication of the South-East Study, so that public opinion and Parliament could see the background as a whole before this expansion was begun. I endorse Lord Silkin's plea that Parliament should be consulted.

The Minister said that his trouble was that if he deferred this decision, the momentum of Stevenage could run down and valuable staff and the cohesions of a team in a few months could be lost. I wonder how far this conclusion of the Minister of Housing would be generally supported. There are those well able to judge who maintain that there is no sign of slackening momentum in Stevenage, where expansion to whatever the approved figure may be is awaited with keenness and anticipation.

The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, told us that there is a considerable way to go before final decisions are taken, and I submit three reasons for urging the Government to allow further time for reflection. First, there is strong local feeling against any expansion West of the Stevenage by-pass. We have already been reminded that this is not a political issue; Conservative and Labour are of one mind. I am told that all Hertfordshire Members of Parliament oppose their own Minister on this proposal.

Then there is an unbalance in this plan. Bedfordshire is about to lose Luton when it becomes a county borough. Bedfordshire would welcome an increase in population. The Bedfordshire County Council is to-morrow to consider a plan for expanding certain areas in that county. Would it be possible for a New Town perhaps to be sited in Bedfordshire? Certainly, the country between Stevenage and Luton on the West contains thriving villages, listed villages allowed a limited expansion for their own needs, and these villages could be swallowed all too easily. Here is attractive rolling country, good for farming, and the Hertfordshire executive committee of the National Farmers' Union is reported to have described the proposals as a disaster to agriculture in Hertfordshire. And, my Lords, if Stevenage were to expand too rapidly it could overgrow its strength—and it has a proper pride in its strength and in being the first New Town.

I believe that when you live in a place with a population of over 1,500 you lose your sense of community. Nevertheless, there are community groupings at work. There are societies and organisations connected with schools and youth work and various recreative activities, that all weld a place together, and this welding should be seen to be done before a further load of population is added. In this work the Churches are active and, as Christians share common concerns and are alive to others' needs, there is an unfreezing and a mixing of people taking place. Let this go on!

If I may, I will make two points before I close. I consider that the Church's work in future years would be greatly helped in certain New Towns—and here I do not have Stevenage specially in mind—if more facilities were available to householders to buy their houses. This would deepen people's roots. If some men only rent their houses they feel they have no real stake in the town. Further, we could do more in some New Towns if the authorities were less demanding in their building standard for churches and church halls. We are finding that a well designed but inexpensive church hall, adequate for our needs, is rejected because it does not come up to New Town specifications, and churches cannot compete with those who can draw on the public purse. Stevenage expanded to 140,000 people would be within four miles of Luton, and there is no comparison between this situation and the three miles between Hemel Hempstead New Town and Watford. I find it impossible to believe that Stevenage and Luton would not become one big sprawl before the end of this century.

I have made a few down-to-earth comments on a matter that concerns our use of Mother Earth. I am sure, from my knowledge of Hertfordshire, that the county would gladly accept its fair share of increased population provided its county council is taken into close consultation with the Ministry, and there is general agreement where the newcomers shall be housed. I believe that to pause now, to consult now, to wait now for the South-East Study, before taking this decision about Stevenage's future size, would be wise tactics and make for good will. But, my Lords, whatever may be decided, this to me is clear: the Christian community must do its utmost to serve the newcomers wherever they are from and however many there be.

6.45 p.m.


My Lords, I almost feel it is incumbent upon me to start with an apology for trespassing in Stevenage, because although the remarks which I have to make are not directed to Stevenage at all, I have no doubt that in their general application they might have some bearing there, also. I am particularly pleased that I should be following the right reverend Prelate, because I should like to say that in Scotland we have found that in the New Towns one of the biggest single factors contributing to the establishment and building up of the community spirit has been the part played by the new churches built there. We have found, as appears to be the case this side of the Border, that people coming from older communities, where they may not have taken a very active part in church life, seem to regard it as part of the new spirit, that they should become not merely members of the Church but active members of the Church. And, together with clergymen, they become very active in building up that new spirit.

The second thing I should like to observe about New Towns is that it is surprising how very quickly a community spirit develops. One hears people who have sometimes come from very far away talking within only a few months about "we"—"what we have done"—and about "our town", as if they had lived there all their lives. A New Town is really for a very long time quite an artificial thing, and it needs all the encouragement it can get from everybody concerned. One of the difficulties is that amenities, which have sometimes grown up naturally over very many years in older communities, have to be created artificially in a New Town. The local government body is very often the smallest body—I do not know the designation in England, but in Scotland it is a district council—with very limited functions. The local authority having responsibility for the area is more generally the county council. They have very large problems placed on them by the very fact that a New Town is being built in their area. They have to provide a great deal of new roads and sewers; they have to provide a considerable expansion of their school building programme; and very often they have to do so in the teeth of opposition from other parts of their area who feel that this section of the community is being favoured at the expense of the older areas. It is surprising, therefore, that the existing local authorities have in fact done as much as they have done, and one cannot blame them for leaving other aspects to a later date.

When I was in conversation with the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, earlier in the day on this subject he reminded me of the change that has taken place in the Government's attitude to spending for amenity; that New Towns, in Scotland at any rate, have the power of spending up to £2,000 a year in revenue on the amenity side of things; that they have authority to spend up to £4 per head of the projected population as a contribution to capital developments. I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, talking about the larger population which enabled a second cinema to be constructed. In Scotland we cannot get a first cinema, because with the change that has taken place it is no longer a commercial proposition for anyone to put up a cinema. We have been trying for a very long time to get the Scottish Office to permit us to do it ourselves because, strangely enough, a cinema is one of the things which the New Towns are very keen to have in their midst.

It may well be that the commercial interests are as wrong in their attitude to a cinema as the Church might have been if they had been timid in relation to building new churches. Because just as people who were not accustomed to taking an active part in church life in an older community become active church members in a New Town, it might well be that people who had ignored a particular kind of amenity such as a cinema might not ignore it when they came into a newer community. I do think that the Government ought to be, not merely empowering the development corporations to spend money on capital projects, but going out of their way almost to compel them to use this money ahead of requirements.

One of the difficulties in a New Town, if it is growing fairly slowly—and I should imagine this has a bearing on the Stevenage problem—is that if the process goes on for a very long time there is the rather artificial condition that the town consists very largely of people in particular age groups—almost entirely in, say, the 25 to 40 or 45 age groups, because it is generally the younger people with children who tend to go into the area. If the development is expanded so that another ten or fifteen years is added to the growing period of the town, then you add another ten or fifteen years to the time during which these almost artificial conditions exist. In the New Town with which I am particularly associated we have, for a variety of reasons, deliberately sought to import old people into the town. We have done so because we have felt that a town without old people is not a natural community. But old people are not necessarily going to find jobs in a New Town.

Quite a number of the folk who have come to work in Scottish New Towns have come from South of the Border. One way we have found of encouraging them to do so, and of helping the better aspect of the New Towns, has been to encourage them to bring their elderly relatives with them. If a man has a widowed mother whom he lives near in, say, Manchester, Liverpool or Newcastle, or even in London, he might be reluctant to go 300 or 400 miles away from her. But in such a case we have found that by saying, "If your father or mother or your parents would like to come up also, we will put a small flat at their disposal, and they can still live near you", we have encouraged these people to come all that distance, and, at the same time, it has helped us to have this better-balanced community.

For these reasons, although the town with which I am particularly associated is still only 15,000 in population, it is a remarkably well-knit community, with a real sense of community life. But it has taken us from 1948 up to this date to reach this figure of 15,000. Our target population figure has recently been increased to 55,000, but I think it would be a disaster if we were to proceed from 15,000 to 55,000 at the same rate. In fact we are taking steps to see that the rate of progress is at least three times as fast as anything that has been accomplished in the past. I think it is important to avoid spreading this wholly unnatural sort of thing over many more years than is absolutely necessary. It would seem to me, if I might be forgiven for intruding into Stevenage for just a moment, that to seek to take it from the figure of 80,000 up to 150,000 and to extend its development to 1981 is to inflict on a community which will be relatively complete, and which has perhaps got over all its initial difficulties, the same difficulties all over again by grafting on to it a recurrence of its initial problems. I think the Government will be well advised to look at that aspect also before committing themselves too far on the matter.

But hope that the Government, in so far as they function from St. Andrew's House, will give every encouragement, even to the extent of bringing pressure to bear on the New Towns in Scotland, to their making use of the monies which are available for the development of amenities; because without that being done by a development corporation, it must wait until the local authorities take over in due course, some years ahead, whether it is handed over to them directly or not, and a great deal of the advantage of living in a New Town can be lost in the interval.

6.55 p.m.


My Lords, this New Towns Bill which we are discussing this afternoon is, at a first glance, in one sense, a very simple and straightforward Bill. It is different from many of those Bills with which your Lordships have been concerned during recent weeks, in that it consists of only two clauses and covers only two quarto pages. I will not say that it is a small Bill, for even in the days in which we live no Bill that asks Parliament to vote over £150 million can be called small; but, at the same time, it does appear, as I have said, short and straightforward. In fact, however, I believe, with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that it requires a great deal more examination by Parliament than might at first sight seem necessary; and that that is the general view of all Parties in this House is shown, I think, by the number of Peers who have put down their names to speak this afternoon, including the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, himself, who is, after all, the creator of the original New Towns Act, and who has spoken with such force and such wisdom this afternoon.

I think it is not surprising that this should be so, for, after all, we really have been told terribly little except generalities about the purposes for which these very large sums are required. It is, indeed, I am afraid, yet one more rather disturbing example of the growing practice of Governments of all Parties to govern from outside Parliament. They come to Parliament with some Bill of apparently quite unexceptionable character but drawn in very wide terms, and, having got extensive powers under that Bill, they exercise them in an extremely far-reaching manner without further reference to Parliament at all.

What, after all, does this Bill in effect say? It says, first, that Parliament has already approved in principle the creation of New Towns. Then it says, secondly, that, in accordance with that policy which Parliament has already approved, the Government have now spent the full amount, or practically the full amount, that Parliament sanctioned. Now they ask Parliament for an additional £150 million to carry further that policy which Parliament has approved. "Please give us this money," they say, in effect, "and we will spend it as seems to us best for this purpose". It is apparently regarded as a matter for Government and Government Departments alone, and not for Parliament.

Of course, it may be argued that in any case it is not a matter for your Lordships' House, for this is a Money Bill and, since 1911, matters of finance are outside our sphere. We therefore could not in any case, as I understand it, vote against the Bill, even if we wanted to. But I suggest that in this particular case the question of how the money is to be spent is a matter not only with which we in this House can properly concern ourselves but in which we have a definite duty to concern ourselves, for we have an equal responsibility with another place to ensure that the principles and purposes of the original New Towns Act of 1946, which we in this House helped to pass into law, are not infringed, much less set at naught, by subsequent legislation. That is always a danger, and I think it is especially a danger in this particular case. Like the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, I am not an opponent of New Towns. I was a friend of Sir Patrick Abercrombie, from whose Greater London Plan the whole idea of New Towns originally derived. I think it was a fine idea; and I think the practical experience of nearly twenty years has amply confirmed this. I live on the very edge of a New Town myself, so I can speak with personal experience.

But the success of Sir Patrick's conception—and I am quite sure the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, will agree with this—depends entirely on the recognition by everyone, from Governments downwards, that the New Towns must remain limited, to some extent, in population, and must cover only a limited area. He was concerned, as was the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, to check the sprawl of London (already growing wider and wider) over the whole surrounding countryside. It was an integral part of his conception, as I understand it, that not only London itself, but the New Towns also, should keep within bounds, or the whole principle underlying his Plan would be entirely nullified. And that, too, as I understood it, was the principle underlying the New Towns Act, 1946. Indeed the noble Earl, Lord Listowel—who is not here at present—in a speech in which he moved the Second Reading of the New Towns Bill on July 11, 1946, emphasised this. He spoke Of [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 142, col. 323]: a long-range programme for the establishment of new towns, of moderate size, where people can live … in healthy and pleasant surroundings. Going into rather more detail subsequently, he referred to the population of these towns as varying between 30,000 and 60,000.

That I would suggest is the broad principle—I am not talking of exact figures—which must govern all legislation relating to New Towns. And as I see it, it is the duty of Parliament, when voting money in relation to them, to obtain as much information from the Government of the day—whichever Party they may represent—to ensure that this essential principle to which I referred is not vitiated. This seems to me to become particularly important in the case of the present Bill in view of certain statements made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing on the Second Reading of the Bill in another place, which, I must say, rather alarmed me, and I feel may well have alarmed other people also.

I will quote what the Minister said. It is rather a long quotation, my Lords, but it is necessary to give it fully [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 687 (No. 34), col. 727]: … there seems to be an assumption … that there is necessarily something sacred, something finite, in the originally designated area of a new town. Obviously, when a new town is designated, successive Ministers of Housing and Local Government make their decision on as long-term a basis as they can on the population and other data currently available to them, and the same applies to local planning authorities when they are preparing development plans and town maps. But none of these people, whether they be Ministers—not even Conservative Ministers—civil servants, or local planning officers, are prophets, and if planning is to work at all it must be on the basis of a considerable degree of flexibility—in other words, of changing plans to meet changing circumstances. My Lords, the Minister obviously regarded that as a platitude, almost as a truism, and everyone must agree. Indeed, at first sight it seems full of sweet reasonableness. But, in fact, if one examines it further, it drives a cart and horses through the whole great basic principle underlying both the Greater London Plan and the New Towns Act, 1946. There are, apparently, in his mind—and, I suppose, in the Government's mind as well—no limits to the possible growth of the towns created under the New Towns Act. It is merely a question of expediency, of what seems convenient to the Minister of the day and to his Ministry at any given time; and neither Parliament nor anyone else can do anything to stop it. Once Parliament has voted the money, the Minister can do what he likes. That is surely something very alarming in principle, and, I think, yet more alarming when the curtain is lifted for a moment and we can see what the Ministry actually have in mind to do with the money we are now being asked to vote.

Of course, I cannot speak with personal knowledge of the greater part of this country—the industrial Midlands, the North and Scotland—to which the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary equally applies. I cannot, therefore, follow the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, in the most interesting remarks he made this evening. But there is one county about which I do know something, and that is Hertfordshire, which happens to be one of those counties where we have been given just such a peep into the Ministry's future plans: and that gives one, I think, no reassurance at all.

What I have in mind is, of course, Stevenage, which has already occupied a considerable part of our debate. When I remember Stevenage first, it was a small, sleepy, country town with a population of 6,700 people, through which there happened to run both the Great Northern Railway and the Great North Road. It was for that reason, I suppose, chosen to be one of the New Towns under the Act of 1946, with a target population of 60,000; although I gather it was already recognised that that figure might have to be expanded to 80,000. But that 80,000 has always been accepted, until lately, as the largest population compatible with general planning for the county, as envisaged under the Abercrombie scheme.

It was therefore with a serious sense of shock that the county authorities—and I imagine everyone else in Hertfordshire—heard a little over a year ago that the Ministry now contemplates this much larger increase to 140,000. This is more than double the figure which hitherto had been regarded as the limit of ordinary good planning under the Act. I should like briefly to present some simple figures to your Lordships—they have not been given before—in order that the House may appreciate what this new and startling proposal will mean for Hertfordshire. By 1973, just under ten years from now, if this plan goes through in its present form, Stevenage (which will have a population of 140,000) will be within four miles of Luton and Dunstable, of which the estimated population by that date will be 212,000. It will be three miles from Welwyn and Hatfield New Towns, by that time with an estimated population of 73,000; and it will be, I gather, only 1½ miles from the conurbation of Hitchin, Letchworth and Baldock which, by that time, will have an estimated population of 72,000.

That must mean that if the Stevenage proposals go forward in their present form, there will be, between all these towns concerned, no longer any countryside in the real sense of that word, but only a kind of suburban "no man's land" between the various towns—and that can be narrowed every time the Minister changes his mind; and what, under the original New Towns Act, was intended to be an imaginative scheme for increasing the population of Hertfordshire but preserving the countryside will end by spreading a vast sprawl of housing over a hitherto relatively untouched area of rural England. That is what it means.

Moreover, I suggest to your Lordships that what is proposed for Stevenage itself is not even based on the principle of good urban planning. For, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has already said, it will create a community, one part of which will be cut off from the other by the double barrier of a main railway line and what will be rather ironically called "the by-pass". I have been told—with what truth I do not know—that the Government have been advised by planning experts that that will not interfere in any way with the unity of the community as a whole. Well, I can only say that that has not been our experience at Hatfield. We, too, have the Great Northern line running right through the town, cutting off the part on the East side of the line from the part on the West, and I could almost say that they are still different worlds. I am quite certain that it would be the same thing, in a much greater degree, in Stevenage. Why, then, with these other experiences before us, are we asked to fall once more, quite unnecessarily, into the same error?

I have dealt, I hope at not too great length, with some of the wider issues raised by the Minister of Health's new plans, and I have instanced the case of Stevenage. They have aroused, as the Government knew before and as they have been told this afternoon, the widest opposition in Hertfordshire. The County Council are against them, the local authority of Stevenage are against them and the Hertfordshire Society are against them. It has united sections of the population which could not, I suspect, see eye to eye on any other question. And what worries them most is that they have the disagreeable feeling (if I may use so vernacular a word) that they are being "bounced".

Although the present Bill makes no mention of Stevenage, yet, after it is passed into law, not even Parliament, as I have already said, will have any further say in this matter. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, if I heard him aright, said that he was not going to say much about Stevenage at this stage; but what other stages are there for us? I cannot see any stage in which he will have an opportunity of developing this point.


My Lords, I meant to say that I was going to keep it for winding up, after I had heard the noble Marquess.


My Lords, the later part of the present stage. And what is more, a very dangerous precedent for other areas will have been created. I fully realise that the Government spokesman, the noble Lord, may retort to those of us who have criticised the Government policy, "That's all very well: but what is your alternative? It is all very well to criticise; but what, faced with the same problem, would you do?" I think that that is a perfectly valid point and I must try to give an answer to it. And my answer, before I heard the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, would have been this. First, I would say—I do not know what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, would say after the inquiries he has made—that according to all my information there is plenty of room to accommodate a population up to 100,000 within the existing designated area of the New Town of Stevenage merely by developing fully the eastern part of the area. I understand that that could be done, because it has not been fully developed yet, without overcrowding and without going anywhere beyond the designated limits of the town.

That should deal with a prospective population of up to 100,000. That leaves still a gap of 40,000, and surely that could be bridged by building, not outwards, but upwards, by building higher houses to accommodate the larger population which is now envisaged. That, I should have thought, could be done without any injury to the Abercrombie Plan or the New Towns Act. I do not say that higher houses are an ideal solution—those great massive residential towers reaching up into the upper air. We have one at Hatfield. I cannot say that I am greatly enamoured of it. But these towers do maintain the balance between the town and the countryside, which is now so gravely threatened and which would be more gravely threatened if the present scheme for Stevenage went through. What is more, I believe that they are not unpopular—that, at any rate, I understand is the experience at Hatfield with those people who live in them.

There is also the new proposal—new, at any rate, to me, which was put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, this afternoon, to build yet newer New Towns yet farther out. That is clearly something that deserves most serious consideration, and I should like to think it over before coming down on one side or the other. But with regard to the outer limits of the existing New Towns, at any rate, beyond which they must not encroach upon the countryside, they surely must remain virtually inviolate. Otherwise, all we have sought to achieve in the last half century of town and country planning would be steadily eroded, till finally, almost without our knowing it, the battle might be irretrievably lost.

I do hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, who is to reply, will be able to assure the House, therefore, that he will report what has been said in your Lordships' House to-day to his right honourable friend the Minister and that he will particularly ask him to give an assurance that before matters have gone any further—I was going to say, before the Committee stage of the Bill—he will consider further, before it is too late, this plan for Stevenage, which seems, I think to the whole House, to infringe every principle of good planning. I also hope that he will adopt the proposal made by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, this afternoon that this scheme, which has such very wide implications, should be submitted to Parliament for its approval before any final steps are taken to implement it.

7.16 p.m.


My Lords, I find myself, I think almost for the first time in my life, in most hearty agreement with the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury. I only hope that it will not give him any doubts of his own rectitude in this matter of Stevenage. I hope that there may come out of this impending disaster a useful lesson—that is, that it is always likely to be attractive to Ministers, of any Party, to expand an existing town rather than become involved in all the expenditure necessary to supply what is called nowadays the infrastructure of another New Town. But, as the noble Marquess said at the end of his speech, another New Town is the real answer to the problem of Stevenage.

And it is the answer not only to the problem of Stevenage but also to the problem of the country as a whole. I have seen a list of 25 proposed sites for New Towns drawn up by a planner, and 25 New Towns is what I think we shall need in the not very distant future, because we have already in our cities half a million certified slum dwellings and another couple of hundred thousand which will have only another five years' existence. If we are to deal with a problem of this size, then the answer is the creation of more New Towns, because there is not the accommodation within the towns where these people are now living.

I agree with the noble Marquess that, when a New Town is founded, a fixed population ought to be settled. I do not think that the noble Marquess, any more than I, would wish to be too firm about the figure, though no doubt we should be anxious when we caught the Minister wobbling. What I think is not always realised is that every town, big or small, if it is to be a success, must have inherent in it the ability to house its second generation. Every New Town will come to a stage, within 25 years or so, when a considerable increase in size is essential to meet this, amounting to a good 50 per cent. Therefore, when planning a New Town, allowance must be made for this aspect.

I thought that my noble friend Lord Silkin, who was so largely responsible for New Towns, was very restrained in his criticisms of the Government, and I am going to follow him in restraint; but even at the cost of sounding as if I were indulging in recrimination, I cannot but mention the falling of in the construction of New Towns under the present Government. The Labour Party founded fourteen New Towns. The Conservatives during their twelve years of office have founded only four New Towns, and of those, two (one of which is not yet designated), Runcorn and Redditch, are not in the strictest sense of the word New Towns. I assure your Lordships that I am not saying I do not desire the towns of Runcorn and Redditch, because I have no doubt that they are admirable sites for the purpose for which they would be built. But they are not New Towns: they are satellite towns, which is something different. As I say, the present Government have designated only this limited number of towns. The result will be, I fear, that we shall find the construction of New Towns in the future considerably more difficult, because the people who have worked in the original New Towns, seeing no prospect of further New Towns, will have tended to go into other employments and taken with them their all too rare skills. This is a difficulty which inevitably the New Towns corporations will come up against when they need to establish New Towns.

This seems to me to be extremely serious, and I do not see how it can be got over. What is more, I feel that there is another trouble which will make the work of the new corporations extremely difficult, and that is the lack of adequate statistics and research. It is true that a certain amount of information is given by the Registrar General, but by this time there ought to be an immense fund of knowledge available from research made into these towns which would enormously facilitate the foundation and development of others.

I have tried to point out the urgency of this question. I hope that the Government will go ahead now, and I hope and pray that they may not again decide to put up the red signal and say "Stop!" Let us now go forward with a practice of whose success we are assured, and not only shall we thereby be doing good to our towns and finding dwellings for their inhabitants, but we shall be saving our countryside, because the alternative is sprawl.

7.24 p.m.


My Lords, even in 1964 there appear to be miracles. I never expected to see the noble Lord who has just spoken on the same side as the noble Marquess who spoke before him. It is almost a case of the lion lying down with the lamb—although I should not like to say which is which. Last July, your Lordships will remember, the last time we had such co-operation between both sides of the House, some of us voted against the Government and defeated them on the Peerage Bill, which, incidentally, enabled us to have our present Prime Minister. So anything may come out of this debate, although, this being a Money Bill, we shall not have the pleasure of voting either against or for the Government this time.

I was most interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said, because, as we all know, he is really the father of Stevenage. And from what he said this afternoon he looked almost as if he might be the father of twins. Many years ago there was another famous pair of twins who lived at Stevenage. They were well-known poachers called Albert Ebenezer Fox and Ebenezer Albert Fox, and from time to time they used to come up for poaching offences before my father, who was chairman of the bench. Both of them had committed over 100 poaching offences, and when one had too many, his brother used to go and act for him. Incidentally, my father used to tell me that the way he could tell them apart was because one had three creases at the back of his neck and the other had only two. I would suggest, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, thought that the twin new towns of Stevenage might have to have names, one might be called Ebenezer and the other Albert.

To come to rather more serious matters, I should like to say that I am speaking this evening as Chairman of the Hertfordshire Society, an office which I have had the honour to hold for 28 years. I would say that, since I became Chairman of the Hertfordshire Society 28 years ago, I do not remember any proposition which has resulted in more opposition than this extension of Stevenage. I have been approached by the Chairman of the Hertfordshire Branch of the National Farmers' Union, who came to see me; and to quote the local Stevenage and Herts Express, the heading says: Expansion Across A.600 Would Be 'Disaster for Agriculture'. Stop this dastardly ruination, say N.F.U. That is the sort of heading that is appearing in the local papers. Another heading, in the Herts. Advertiser, is: Ministry planning to grab rural strip? Farmers shocked to hear of plan. I will not quote more from these newspapers, but I should like to say, from the agricultural point of view, that this enormous spread of Stevenage from its present site right across to the West, within four miles of Luton, would cut Hertfordshire in two. It is not easy in these days to farm in Hertfordshire because of the competitive wages in industry. But I feel that if Stevenage is to grow to 150,000 population, and other towns such as Luton and Dunstable, which are also twin towns now and are expecting a population of 200,000, in addition to, as the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said, Welwyn and Hatfield—another pair of twin towns, expecting a population of 73,000 or 75,000—we in Hertfordshire are going to become like Southern Lancashire, where we have all the towns of Bury, Oldham, Bolton, Wigan, Leigh and so on, almost joining each other.

I feel that Lord Silkin's advice to the Minister who will be replying, either to refer the matter to Parliament or to withdraw the scheme and not waste any more of our time, is very good advice. But it is not advice that the poor noble Lord, Lord Hastings, can take personally, although it is advice which I hope he will transmit to the right honourable gentleman, the Minister of Housing and Local Government (as I believe he is now called although at one time the Department was called the Ministry of Town and Country Planning). I feel that it might almost be suggested, if the Stevenage plan goes on, that it should be called the Ministry of Town into Country Sprawling—we have heard so much of the word "sprawl" this afternoon.

I should like to say a word or two about the Hertfordshire County Council. I do not think that the Hertfordshire County Council have had fair treatment in this matter. I was on that Council for fifteen years, from 1931 to 1946; and I was also on the Town Planning Committee in those days. On November 26 last the Hertfordshire County Council published a little booklet called Representations on the Expansion of Stevenage. In that booklet, on the first page, about halfway down, occur these words: The County Council have now carefully considered the technical appraisal by the Stevenage Development Corporation and have consulted all the county district councils concerned which all oppose very strongly any expansion of Stevenage above 80,000. That statement is most interesting, because the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, told us that the Stevenage Development Corporation was asked for its opinion on feasibility, but not on desirability. This calls it "Technical appraisal", which is almost the same thing as feasibility. It is interesting, in this connection, that the Stevenage Urban District Council are against this scheme, as are all other rural councils and urban district councils in the County of Hertford. I should like to suggest that the question which was asked should have been rather extended, because Stevenage Corporation have done a good job, and I think they would have been able to express an opinion to the Ministry, and if the Ministry had taken their advice as well as that of the County Council, we might never have got to this stage.

This afternoon we have heard some excellent arguments against the extension of Stevenage put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury: and also, I am glad to say, the Church has come to the aid of the State. We have heard from the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of St. Albans more excellent reasons against this expansion of Stevenage. But I feel there are two other reasons against it: the questions of water supplies and drainage. Some noble Lords may be aware that in 1948 I had to start an action (which I won in due course, after eight years) against Luton Corporation for polluting the River Lea. The Luton Corporation spent, I think, £600,000 or £700,000 on their sewage works at the time and the use of the River Lea was the only possible way in which the Corporation could get rid of their effluent. It still comes down the Lea, although the situation is greatly improved, apart from the effect of the Surf, Tide and Daz, which froths where we have a waterfall or mill, as it does in so many other rivers. It was suggested that Luton Corporation might pipe its effluent to the sea. That proposal would have been far too expensive. In 1948 they said it would cost £30 million; in these days £70 million.

As regards Stevenage, the Hertfordshire County Council memorandum called Representations on the Expansion of Stevenage goes into the question of water supply, and also drainage. I should like to quote from page 11 of their memorandum. They, of course, quote the words of the drainage consultants, and these words occur: Moreover serious difficulties are known to exist at the present time at Rye Meads on the treatment of sewage, particularly purification, and the Metropolitan Water Board and the Lee Conservancy Catchment Board are deeply involved in the results of treatment and the Catchment Board have urged that the whole question of sewage treatment and disposal should be very fully investigated in consultation with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and before any decision is made on the expansion of Harlow and Stevenage. The same applies to the cost of extensions to the Rye Meads works in that the implication of further expansion of towns other than Stevenage and Harlow does not seem to have been taken into account. I regard that as a very serious statement regarding the sewerage question.

If we come to the water question, a little further down this document says: The Lee Valley Water Company's report shows that some of the short-term and all the long-term water supplies required would not be obtainable locally and would involve the provision of impounding reservoirs (to conserve winter flows) and trunk pipe-lines on a scale and to a cost not hitherto contemplated. This would inevitably increase very considerably the cost of water supply. At the very bottom of that page, the last paragraph says: The County Council are therefore strongly opposed to any expansion of Stevenage over 80,000 for all the reasons advanced above. As this document runs to eleven pages, a good many other reasons are given, though I have not quoted them. I feel that this is a most serious document, and that it should be given the publicity which it deserves.

I have little more to say, except that I am assured by the Hertfordshire County Council that the number of inhabitants of Stevenage could be increased to between 90,000 and 95,000, on the land which is at present designated, without going to the west of the main road or the main railway. A good deal of in-filling could be done. And I would point out here that it is a fact that people do not like living too far from the main shopping centre. The noble Marquess has suggested what I was going to suggest, that the buildings should go up instead of outwards. I live near Welwyn Garden City where there is a wonderful new hospital, but I am told that the patients, when they can walk about from the hospital, and also the employees, find that this hospital is a long way from the centre of Welwyn Garden City. The fact is that people like living near the town centre if they can, and I think they would prefer to live in a building which goes up, such as a block of flats near the town centre, rather than miles away from it.

I should like to talk for a moment or two on this question of how far the New Town should be from London. It was stated the other day that Stevenage, which is 28½ miles by train from King's Cross, might become what is called a commuters' paradise. That is not the purpose of New Towns. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, the late Government and the present Government did not put New Towns further from London. I am sure that New Towns as near London as Stevenage do encourage commuters. I am definitely in favour of planning in these ways, although I sit on these Benches, and I am sorry that such a large extent of office building has been permitted in London. I am told that there is room for 400,000 more commuters to come into London to work in the office buildings which have been put up. That is a very large number, and we do not want them to have to live 28½ miles from their work. In fact, one of the only good reasons put forward for the expansion of Stevenage to the west of the main railway and the main road was that Dr. Beeching, who is a very ingenious man, thought that it might enable British Railways to make a profit on that particular line to King's Cross by baying more commuters going up to London every day. That is certainly not a sufficient reason for this expansion.

Perhaps I may quote one or two more figures. In 1946, the area of agricultural land in Hertfordshire was 69 per cent. of the total acreage. From 1946 to 1964, 300,000 extra inhabitants had been absorbed into Hertfordshire, and the area of agricultural land, as against built-up land, had been reduced only to 61 per cent. I think that is very satisfactory. I feel that much of that is a result of the good town planning of the Hertfordshire County Council and the other local authorities. If we could be assured that the Minister would consult with the Hertfordshire County Council and ask them to produce alternative plans, a lot of the population which the Minister and the Ministry appear to think are likely to come into South-East England could be absorbed in other parts of Hertfordshire without this extension of Stevenage.

There is only one other fact that I should like to bring to the attention of your Lordships. We have been told that it is essential to increase productivity, increase employment, and to encourage people to live in and not come away from such areas as the North-East, about which our former Lord Hailsham, now a Member of another place under another name, has produced a report in order to try to help that part of England. I hope that this urge to allow people to come to the South-East will not have a bad effect on employment and productivity in the North-East, the North-West, or even in Scotland. I feel that this is really a national matter, and I am delighted that this debate has not gone on Party lines in any way. I have not made any political remarks—they are remarks from my experience of Hertfordshire, and also my views of planning, which in many ways correspond more with those of Lord Silkin's Party than with some of my own. I hope that, when the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, replies, he will be able to say (if he cannot say what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, would like him to say) that this matter will be referred back for further serious consideration.

7.40 p.m.


My Lords, so many admirable speeches have been made in the course of this debate that it is almost superfluous to add anything. The main reason and excuse for my intervention is that I have taken a lifelong interest in planning and I have been concerned with the problems of planning, both in office and as a private Member in another place and here; and it is from the planning point of view that I wish to intervene. I can do so more briefly than would otherwise have been possible because the main facts have been so excellently stated in a memorable speech by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. My experience in dealing with planning in office, though far less important and distinguished than his own, was, in fact, even earlier, because 22 years ago I became the first Minister to be concerned wholly with this subject of town and country planning, and many discussions did I have with my friends, Patrick Abercrombie, William Holford and others. I intervene now because I believe that this proposal, and the evils which are implied or likely to follow, will prove one of the most serious setbacks that has taken place to the cause of planning in this country.

The objections to the expansion of Stevenage beyond the motorway are so enormous that one does not know where to start. But I am not going to say anything at all technical. I am going to call attention to one fact which must be obvious to any layman, even if he has never studied town and country planning at all: that it is not a very good idea to put a motorway designed to take traffic from London to the North of England in the middle of a town. That proposition is so simple that, really, I think it should not be lost sight of: nor should we accept ridiculous answers to it.

In another place, my Lords, believe it or not, there was a passage in the Minister's speech suggesting, in answer to those who had raised this objection, that, after all, Professor Buchanan's Report had made us familiar with the idea of motorway standards in cities. Has there ever been a greater misunderstanding of Professor Buchanan? The title of Professor Buchanan's work was Traffic in Towns. He came to the conclusion, quite rightly, that, for the sake of internal traffic in some of our existing cities, modern conditions might mean that we had to perform rather difficult and painful acts of surgery. But there is not a syllable in Buchanan's work, from beginning to end, which suggests that a motorway, designed for long-distance traffic, is the proper thing to put into the middle of a town. Really! The fact that the Minister should have included a passage raising such a point in another place makes one doubt the intellectual calibre that lies behind the proposal to put this New Town on the other side of the motorway. Since I have the greatest admiration for the present Minister and his capacity, I am bound to say that I do not think he has received good advice, and I hope that he will look at the proposal again.

My Lords, I have never known a proposal against which there has been quite such a consensus of expert opinion, in both Houses of Parliament and in the country. When, in 1946, the New Town of Stevenage was started, there were respectable arguments on planning grounds for considering that the place should not have been selected at all; and that it was too near London. But there were very powerful arguments on the other side, too, and I think that those of us who studied the problem could have felt a good deal of sympathy for the then Minister (now the noble Lord, Lord Silkin) when, anxious to make a start, he decided that this was the place at which to do it. But what I am quite certain of is this: that, had he been told that that New Town was to be a town of 150,000 people, or thereabouts, he was far too good a planner to say that this was the place to put it. He would have done nothing of the sort.

Passing for the moment from the impossible conditions in Stevenage itself, let us look to the area on which it is proposed to put this other New Town—because, of course, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, is quite right; it is, to all intents and purposes, another town, however much it is linked with the existing one. That area is outside the existing Metropolitan Green Belt, but it is within what has been called the "Extended Green Belt", which was proposed as long ago as 1956. Successive Ministers of Housing and Local Government, or successive Ministers of Planning, by whatever title they have been called, have made it their policy to prevent development within that area just as though it had been the Green Belt. Now, that Green Belt, which is of the greatest importance to other places in Hertfordshire, and is extremely important to Luton, is to be invaded on the proposal, not of any planning authority outside London, but on the proposal of the Ministry itself. The Ministry itself that wished to protect this Extended Green Belt is taking the lead in destroying it. It was suggested in another place that it might still be possible to separate this extended town from Luton. I wonder for how long. My Lords, in this House we are all old enough to remember when Luton and Dunstable were separate. Look at them now!

I shall not labour the point of how bad the planning is that is involved, both in Hertfordshire and in Stevenage itself. I turn to the only defence and explanation that has been advanced. There has been no real attempt to say that what is proposed would not be disastrous for many good causes, but it has been said that there is a great increase in population and that this great increase renders this action necessary. Let me say at once that I think the Minister is right to attempt to be far-sighted and to take population into consideration. Where he seems to me to have gone so far wrong is in assuming that he is the only planner who considers population. What does he suppose the Hertfordshire County Council do? The Hertfordshire County Council happen to have as their planning officer a Mr. Doubleday, who was one of the advisers in the original Ministry of Town and Country Planning and who will be well known to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, both in his ministerial days and afterwards. Of course the County Council have been considering the increase of population, immediate and more distant, and what should be done about it. But the County Council were not consulted at all. Why not?

Why was it so important to ask the Corporation, "Will it be possible to expand up to 140,000 or 150,000?", but not to ask the County Council, "What do you think about it? What are your plans for dealing with an increased population?"? I have always held, and hold to-day, that there is a lot of physical planning in town and country in which the Ministry in London must be closely concerned; but I have never thought this involved not consulting the county councils in this matter. The reason why the County Council were not consulted, I suppose, was based on administrative convenience. It is easier for a Ministry in London to deal with one single Corporation, and to arrange an enormous increase in population with that Corporation alone, without bothering about what anybody else thought. It is easier to do that than to ask the County Council, who have devoted so much time to studying this problem. It is easier, my Lords; but is it tolerable?

I come to the point that has been made, I think, by several of the previous speakers, and in particular by my noble friend Lord Brocket; that, of course, expansion, and large expansion, of population in Stevenage is possible without increasing the area at all. There is no question that a population of 95,000 at least could be accommodated. I am not saying necessarily that it ought to be accommodated, but it could be accommodated within the existing boundaries; and more compact building which would make that possible would not only do no injury but, in the opinion of most architects and planners, would greatly improve the quality of the place, and would do so without the sacrifice of open space and amenities. I beg the Minister to think again and not to persist in a plan so injurious to Stevenage, so injurious to Hertfordshire and so injurious to England.

What appals me is the power of the Minister to proceed with what we, unanimously, I think, judging from the speeches, believe to be a disastrous scheme, without any Parliamentary control at any stage. As I have said, of course these things are administratively convenient; but administrative convenience is no ground whatever for treating the County Council in the way that this County Council have been treated and in the way in which it is proposed to continue to treat them. One of the Acts I helped to conduct through another place, when I was a Minister, was precisely an Act to give planning powers to county councils, because up to that date the planning powers had been vested in authorities far too small. I little thought that the time would come when the county councils to whom we transferred these planning powers, county councils that were using them and planning to save their countryside while providing more houses would be overridden entirely as is now proposed.

I expect that the Minister, when he comes to reply, will say that nothing has been finally decided yet. Of course it has not. But the Minister has shown his affection for this scheme; he has got the Corporation to say that it is feasible, and he could go ahead, when this Bill is passed, without any vote of either House at all. I have no doubt that there will be a public inquiry, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said. But the public inquiry, whatever the inspector reports, will not bind the Minister. I do not believe that this is the way to make town and country planning, which is so necessary for the immediate future of England, either easy or tolerable. I beg the Minister to think again.

7.58 p.m.


My Lords, so much has been said in your Lordships' House this evening about the Stevenage plan that I would only seek to add my voice to the objections which have been put up to it. It seems to me, from what I have been able to study on this subject, that the difficulties from both technical and policy viewpoints are so acute that my right honourable friend the Minister really must look at this again, and preferably drop it altogether. But what I did think might be convenient would be to take the opportunity of this Bill to raise the subject of the inquiry procedure, if such an inquiry into a draft designation order for a New Town should come about, which has in the past caused a great deal of difficulty. It may be that I ought to have known about the developments that have taken place, very largely, I think, as a result of the Report of the Franks Committee and the most enlightened interpretation that the Government have put upon that and the measures they have brought in since.

I asked my noble friend Lord Hastings about what the procedure would be, hoping that a great change had taken place since the days of the case of Franklin v. Minister of Town and Country Planning, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. I am glad to have had his assurance that this is so, and that a very different method of procedure is now adopted, but I feel it is not very widely known, and I should be very grateful to my noble friend if he could repeat for the benefit of the House, and for the public of this country, who may come as objectors to one of these local inquiries, what the up-to-date procedure is. Because it seems to me that it fulfils everything that the Franks Committee reported and recommended, and it gives a very fair chance indeed to an objector at one of these public inquiries properly and fully to deploy his case and bring all the arguments that he can conceivably wish to bring before the Minister and his Inspector. I hope, therefore, that my noble friend will be able to give the details of this new inquiry procedure to the House this evening.

8.0 p.m.


My Lords, I suppose that any uninitiated person reading this debate would think that some miniature Frankenstein had come across the House of Lords and deliberately sabotaged what appears to be a relatively innocent Bill. But anybody with any knowledge of the background of what is planned for Stevenage would surely have a very different conception, whether or not he was an expert on town and country planning. I have a great many local ties with this area. From my early childhood until my late teens I lived in the town of Baldock, and I still have relations and close friends in the Baldock and Stevenage areas and in the areas approximating towards Luton. So I feel justified in taking up some of your Lordships' time in adding my protest on these extraordinary proposals.

I do not intend to go into the technicalities of the planning side of this matter, because I am not an authority on that, but I wish to say a word or two about the principle of the whole thing. Granted there is a shortage of housing for people who want to work in or near London. Granted, too, that there must be a solution to the present pockets of unemployment. But there are a number of alternative areas, not so far from London, which could have been chosen for this increase of conurbation. For example, there is Huntingdon, where a large L.C.C. development plan is already taking place. Is that not a possible alternative solution? Then there is Peterborough. There is a good deal of land in that area which would help in regard to the allegation that the British Railways commuting service between Hitchin and London is losing money. Housing could surely be diverted to the Peterborough area, because it takes just about as long to get from Hitchin to Peterborough as from Hitchin to London.

In any case, I do not accept the premise that only a few people travel from Hitchin to London. I used to travel on that line a great deal. I now use it only occasionally, when I go to the area visiting friends or speaking. But, travelling back to London during the morning rush hour, I observe that the compartments on the trains are relatively full, so I do not think that that argument can be put forward. In any case, one has only to travel in the conditions which those living in Surrey, Sussex and Kent endure, to the City of London or the West End to see what could happen if these proposals regarding Stevenage go forward. The public transport is already stretched to the limit. Stevenage and Baldock stations and all the others are small, and whilst the train service is reasonably adequate at the moment, it would have to be considerably increased to take the large, increased number of commuters (if one can use that word) if this plan goes through.

As has been said, all this discussion has been on non-Party lines. I know that my honourable friend the Member for Hitchin has had messages of support from all sections of the community, from the Letchworth Young Socialists to the leading landowners of Hertfordshire. I should like to pay particular tribute to the Hertfordshire Express. Speaking for myself, it was from that source that I got my first intimation of this scheme. As has been pointed out by other noble Lords, there seems to have been little or no consultation with the Hertfordshire County Council, or the Hitchin Rural Council or any other responsible body.

I should like to quote briefly from what the representative of Kimpton, which is part of the Hitchin Rural District Council, said in a recent edition of the Hertfordshire Express: The Housing and Town Planning Committee of this Council (the Hitchin Rural District Council) have today refused permission for eight houses to be built in Kimpton because this is a restricted village. But now it seems it is good planning to have a housing estate of about 150,000 people within three miles. That seems to me to be pretty fair comment on what will happen if this scheme goes through.

There is also the point that when the New Town of Stevenage was designed, the factory area was placed on one side of the Great North Road and the housing area on the other. It seems to me that if this plan goes through we shall have an extraordinary conurbation of factories and houses, which is a quite appalling piece of planning. The present New Town of Stevenage, with its compact shopping centre, with every safety precaution taken for children, with its new community centre and its new Locarno ballroom, seems an altogether compact outfit for the mainly young population which it serves. It is surely ordinary common sense to see, from the fact that many of its residents are young people, that they will themselves have children—the birth rate in Stevenage is high, as it is in all New Towns—and therefore, if this greatly increased conurbation takes place, an enormous strain will be put on the hospital services and all the welfare services.

Equally, from an æthetic point of view, some of the loveliest countryside within 70 or 80 miles of London is going to be uprooted. Good farmland will be lost. I know that in ministerial circles that might be ruled out as a parochial and sentimental objection, but already there is the cry that agricultural land is diminishing. Truly, this proposal is going to make it far worse. It might be said that a public inquiry will take place. Certainly, it will. But even those who have limited knowledge of the law must realise that public inquiries are lengthy and costly. Surely the fact that there has been so much righteous opposition to this scheme is grounds alone to make the Minister think twice.

I suppose that on these things I am getting a reputation as a rebel. There was a certain matter over the London Government Act (as it is now) over which I rebelled, and I make no apology for it; and I shall certainly make no apology for rebelling here. My own childhood memories, and even present-day memories, of this area are of an essentially happy community with its services geared to a proportionate number of people. On grounds of amenity—hospital facilities, clinics, children's facilities, transport and everything else—this is nothing short of a crazy scheme.

Having said that, I would add that in principle I support this Bill. We certainly need New Towns. I have always supported the idea of New Towns because they mean that young people have more chance of getting a decent home; but conurbations of this kind add to the problem rather than help in its solution. I join with other noble Lords in urging the Minister to think again very carefully before carrying out a proposal that is opposed by countless thousands of people.

8.12 p.m.


My Lords, those of your Lordships who know me will know that nothing but the strongest feelings would have induced me to make a speech in the middle of dinner. I know that most of your Lordships will feel the same. Therefore, although I promise your Lordships that I shall be as brief as is humanly possible, I should like your Lordships to realise the sincerity with which I speak.

I am here to-night basically because for most of my life I have lived within eight miles of Stevenage, in North Hertfordshire. Therefore, because I am deeply in agreement with all other noble Lords who have spoken tonight, I felt that I had to add my support and voice my protest against what I can regard only as a completely deplorable proposal. At this stage in the evening, especially in light of the number of speeches we have had (and weighty speeches, too: for such speakers as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, should not lightly be disregarded in matters of this kind; and others of your Lordships who have taken part in the debate have spoken with knowledge either of planning or of Hertfordshire, sometimes of both), I should like briefly to sum up the views of my noble friends who have spoken against this proposal.

First, on the matter of principle, I do not think a single voice has been raised against the principle of New Towns, nor have we considered—even had that been possible—any opposition to the voting of money for this purpose. What we have felt (and I think this was voiced by my noble friend Lord Salisbury) was that it was becoming a matter of increasing anxiety to many people that, having voted the money for this general purpose, neither Parliament nor any local body, so far as one can see, has any further say in the matter except by way of a public inquiry. The Minister himself is directly responsible for New Towns, and in the normal way the procedure of a public inquiry is not entirely unsatisfactory. The planning authority usually puts up a proposal; there is an objection by local interests, and the matter comes un before an inspector and is eventually adjudicated upon by the Minister. But in this case the Minister is judge and jury in his own case. In this particular case, as my noble friend Lord Conesford mentioned, he has consulted nobody. He has not consulted the planning authority. He has consulted his own creature, the development corporation, I do not know why—possibly for motives of convenience. That is the first principle.

The second principle is this. The Ministry must make un their minds on which leg they stand. Either they believe in the Green Belt policy or they do not; either they believe that New Towns should be subject to Green Belt policy or they do not; either they believe the English language means what it says or they do not. We cannot build bypasses in 1962 (and the word means that the roads should by-pass towns) and then, in 1963, say that motorways should go through the middle of towns. The Ministry must set out their ideas about this. The Ministry on the one hand tell the local authorities they must preserve the Green Belt, and they then tell us that they are taking elaborate steps to make sure that the preservation of the Green Belt is impossible.

I dare say that I shall be told by the noble Lord who is to reply that, by administrative action, having expanded Stevenage in this way they are going to stop the erosion of the Green Belt. I do not believe any capable planner would believe that a Green Belt of four miles could be sustained, let alone a Green Belt of one-and-a-half miles. This is the sort of proposition we are going to be faced with in Hertfordshire. I believe the thing is completely and totally untenable. We shall have erosion and within a generation we shall have another Lancashire in North Hertfordshire. As regards the detailed planning of Stevenage, the matter was adequately dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and other noble Lords, and there is little more that one can add. On the face of it—and I do not pretend to be a planning expert—the whole scheme was a travesty of good planning. I should also have thought it was unworkable.

There is one further point which has not been very much aired this evening, and that is the educational aspect. As the Under-Secretary said in another place, these New Towns have a very high proportion of young people—as, indeed, I think was their purpose. And the Minister said that in Stevenage over 70 per cent. of the population in 1961 was under forty years of age, compared to the national average of just over 50 per cent. The natural corollary to that is, presumably, that they have young children. Therefore, the educational provision that has to be made in New Towns is a great deal more complex and elaborate than is needed in some of the older towns. One of the great disadvantages of this particular plan for Stevenage is that educationally this could well be appallingly expensive or unworkable—or both.

My noble friend Lord Conesford, in his admirable speech, said that this scheme was bad for Stevenage; and I agree with him. He said that it was bad for Hertfordshire; and I agree with him. At the moment we have to drive something like 20 to 25 miles before we in London get into anything like real country. If this sort of scheme is persisted in, I believe that somebody in the metropolis will have to drive something like 45 miles before he gets into country. When one considers other capitals, such as Paris, Rome, Bonn—even New York—this is an appalling thought. London will become worse than anywhere else in the world, and I believe that there is nothing more important than to avoid this ghastly conurbation. There must be Green Belts; that is the most important thing of all.

I think I have said enough on this subject. I would say to the noble Lord who is to reply that I do not entirely envy him his task. His right honourable friend seems to me to have got together an almost unique body of people, as has been pointed out. It is the first time in my memory that all the local authorities in Hertfordshire have ever agreed about anything. The Hertfordshire Society, the farmers, agree with the people who live in the towns. That is most unusual. The right reverend Prelate has added his voice for the Church. There is practically nobody, so far as I can see, who is a friend of this scheme. Every Back-Bench Member in the House of Commons takes this view and, so far as I can remember—I have not been here for every speech—I do not believe there has been a single speech in your Lordships' House to-night in favour of the Minister's proposal. If I may say so to my noble friend Lord Hastings, I do not know whether this constitutes a record, but it seems to me very near it.

I hope that, in the light of this feeling, the Minister will really think about this matter again. I know the noble Lord will say that nothing is decided, and I hope, indeed, it is not. But we have made our protest this evening because, as has been pointed out, this is the last chance we shall have in Parliament of making a protest. It was therefore most important that we should make it, and I hope that the noble Lord will think the protest has been clear enough and loud enough. Incidentally, I may say that the noble Lord has had a very bad Press. This is the first time for a very long time that I have seen the Daily Telegraph and the Observer agree. This is an unusual conjunction.

I should just like to quote to the noble Lord the last paragraph of a leading article in the Observer. This says, rather pessimistically, I think: It will probably be done."— this was a reference to the scheme— Regional protests of this sort are mouse squeaks in Westminster. In fact, the new appendage will solve less than 1 per cent. of the Ministry's southern housing problem. It seems a high price to pay for so small a relief. We have had our "mouse squeak" in your Lordships' House. I thought the noble squeak was a very good squeak, and I hope that it has been a loud enough squeak to reach my noble friend's ears. I can assure him, having lived in Hertfordshire for many years, that there is really deep feeling on this matter and that if the Minister pursues this particular policy he will find himself in real trouble, both nationally and locally.


My Lords, I rise to say two things. First, the Town and Country Planning Association, of which I am President, is firmly convinced that these proposals with regard to Stevenage are thoroughly bad planning. Secondly, I have been asked by my noble friend Lord Salter, who was my predecessor as President of the Town and Country Planning Association, to say that he much regrets that a previous engagement prevents him from being here to-night, for he would have expressed the same view.

8.23 p.m.


My Lords, we have certainly had a most stimulating and impressive debate, if only for the unanimity of the views expressed on one aspect of the Bill before us, which is to authorise further loans of £150 million for all the existing New Towns, including the recently designated ones. And here I would express the hope that the main purpose of the Bill will not be forgotten by your Lordships.

Before coming to the main topic of Stevenage, I think I need refer to only one matter with which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, dealt in a general way; and that was his regret that the New Towns were being handed over to the new Commission instead of to the local authorities. As he knows, we changed our mind about that, and did not hand the two towns over to the local authorities. The noble Lord seemed to admire the independence of the development corporations and the way they were able to get on with the job, and I should have thought the same thing applied equally to the new Commission for New Towns. After all, it has local committees, a local manager and staff on the spot. I do not think I need say any more on that point. I was grateful for the interventions of the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, on Scottish affairs, and of my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross, who has given me an opportunity to clear up a point which I think is well worth clarifying for the greater confidence of the public, not to mention that of noble Lords behind me.

To turn now to this question of Stevenage, so much has been said about it, that I feel that, to put the matter into proper perspective, I should explain the present position precisely. In view of the forecast by the Registrar General of a very much greater growth of population than had previously been envisaged, the Government early in 1962 put in hand a thorough study of the problems of the South-East of England. This, of course, is already well known. But from the beginning of this study it was apparent that there would have to be substantial growths of many towns in the South-East. The Minister therefore invited Stevenage and Harlow, which seemed to be the New Towns most capable of further growth, to make technical studies of the feasibility of further expansion. The report from Stevenage was submitted to him early last year and was published by the Development Corporation at that time.

I think it is just worth pointing out, in view of what has been said about the feasibility only being investigated, that when it reported the Corporation did say that the expansion would be advantageous. So far, the Minister has neither accepted nor rejected this technical report. He has had the report examined, and has also had a number of other possibilities explored. This he is entitled to do; indeed, he would be open to serious criticism if he did not investigate such an issue very thoroughly before making public any proposals. He has not yet, however, made any formal proposals for the expansion of Stevenage. Criticisms and comments on anything other than the Stevenage technical report are therefore based on no more than speculation and rumour. If and when the Minister is satisfied that there is a clear prima facie case for expansion of Stevenage, and he has specific proposals for expansion in mind, then he will consult the local authorities formally on them, as he is required to do by Statute.

The noble Lords, Lord Brocket and Lord Conesford, in particular, referred to the fact that the Hertfordshire County Council had been ignored, had not been consulted and had been badly treated, and that they had had technical investigations carried out of which the Minister has not yet taken any notice. My Lords, the Minister must first carry out his own technical investigations, and must come to some conclusion on whether or not this expansion is a reasonable scheme. When he has done that he will go to the County Council and have the full consultations which noble Lords wish him to have. At that stage, of course, any technical investigations the Council have carried out will be tabled and comparisons can be made. Does the noble Lord want to say something?


My Lords, what I do not quite follow is this: if there is this problem of population, would it not be relevant to ask the County Council at the same time what are their plans for housing this increased population?


I shall be coming to that point a little later.


My Lords, would it not avoid doing it twice if the Minister obtained their advice first, before making up his mind?


I do not think it is quite so simple as that. Unfortunately, there are always procedures to be gone through. If after this consultation the Minister still thinks he ought to proceed, he will publish a draft designation order which can be the subject of a public inquiry. This part of my speech is important, and is in answer to the queries of my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross. At this public inquiry a representative of the Minister will be present to explain and defend the proposals. In addition, the Ministry representative will be open to cross-examination on matters of fact and expert opinion, but not, of course, on questions of ministerial or Government policy. The person appointed by the Minister to hold such an inquiry is not normally, in the case of New Town inquiries, a Ministry inspector but someone from outside the Department. He has power to make recommendations, and, indeed, would be expected to do so. Finally, the report of the inquiry will be available to those interested.


My Lords, could my noble friend also say whether or not it is true that the Ministry will make available beforehand to those who are interested in the public inquiry a statement of a fairly wide-ranging nature of the proposals which the Minister has in mind and the reasons for them?


Yes, that is quite true, my Lords. The Minister will make available such a statement in writing before the inquiry, and the representative of the Ministry will attend the inquiry to explain that statement and to be cross-examined upon it in the way I have indicated. Therefore I think the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, is going beyond what is justified when he says that the Minister is judge and jury in his own case. That is certainly not so. Only after a very full public ventilation of a scheme will the Minister decide finally whether the plan should proceed. The decision is by no means a foregone conclusion, and that must be fully realised.

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, referred to the problems of expansion.


My Lords, before the noble Lord passes on, I am sorry to intervene again but he referred to my speech. I think I must ask this: if there is an inquiry and the Minister is not judge in his own case, then who is? The Minister is the ultimate arbiter. The noble Lord said that I was inaccurate in what I said. I do not quite understand why. Perhaps he will explain.


He certainly is not jury in his own case.


I withdraw the word "jury", but he is the judge.


My Lords, my noble friend is using the word "jury" in a curious way, because if the Inspector is called "the jury", the Minister can completely ignore the "jury", which normally a judge cannot.


The Inspector is an independent person. We all know the Minister has power to take the decision, but the decision will be taken with an objective report before him. That is really the point I wish to make. There is every possibility of deploying the case in opposition.

I was talking about the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, on the problems of expansion of New Towns whose services and amenities are based on a known population of 60,000 or 80,000.


My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves the point about the inquiry, I did make the point—and so did the noble Marquess—that in the very exceptional circumstances of this case (it is the first time that there has been a proposal for a large expansion of this nature), ought not. Parliament to have the opportunity of expressing a view before even it went to a public inquiry, and ought not Parliament to be in possession of all the facts? I am not asking the noble Lord to say, "Yes" or, "No" now. I realise that this is a matter which must be considered, but I hope that it will be taken very seriously.


I had not overlooked the point; I was coming to it in precisely one minute, I think, or half a minute. I was referring to this question of the problems of expansion from a known base to a different target altogether. I feel sure that such matters will be considered at the inquiry to which I am referring. The right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of St. Albans made a most interesting and constructive speech about the community spirit—which was echoed in a slightly different way but none the less echoed, by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes—and how a community spirit can be achieved gradually; but then, with a sudden expansion of population, it may be lost and has to be refound and he dealt with the problems of pastoral organisation. These things are all part of the consideration of a proposal for an expansion such as this.

The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, who also spoke upon this particular matter, quoted my right honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary in another place. This brings me to the question of national policy, which the noble Lord opposite first mentioned and which has been referred to by other sneakers: that because this is not merely the establishment of a New Town but an expansion or almost doubling of an existing New Town it is therefore such a special case that it assumes the nature of an issue of national policy about which Parliament should be consulted. I will certainly draw the attention of my right honourable friend to this opinion of your Lordships' House, but I would suggest that even if such a procedure as that proposed were eventually to be followed by my right honourable friend, possibly a public inquiry, where all the facts would be threshed out in much greater detail and at much greater length than we have been able to do this afternoon, and the results of which would be available to Parliament might help the consideration of this matter as one of national policy.

To go on from there, I just want to say that the arguments which have been put forward this evening have been broadly grouped under three heads: first the growth of Hertfordshire—the argument that the County will be taking too great a share of the growth in the South-East; secondly, the risk of coalescence and the running together of the various communities in the area; and, thirdly, the effect on Stevenage itself—that further growth, particularly if it takes place west of the A.1 motorway, will spoil Stevenage as a town.

My Lords, the share of the further growth in the South-East which ought to be taken by Hertfordshire is a question which can be considered properly only in the light of the full South-East study. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said, "Why not put the New Towns further out?"; the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, said that we should need many more towns—he spoke about twenty-five or so. Then the right reverend Prelate asked, "In any case, why should not a local planning authority—that is to say, the county council—decide about where the populations grow?" I can only say to noble Lords that this study will be published soon and I am afraid I must ask noble Lords to wait for it. It is extremely difficult to discuss this problem without having seen the study and all the arguments that are put forward. When this is possible, perhaps noble Lords will appreciate better the great difficulties of the situation.

Of course, the purpose of the study is to aid local planning authorities in deciding where to put the bulk of the population, but noble Lords will find that the likely increase in population is such that we shall have to have a number of New Towns. As noble Lords know, decisions on such matters would be outside the scope of the local plan- ning authorities. But there is no question of neglecting the place of the local planning authorities when the facts and results of the South-East study are published. The Minister has given assurances that if he should decide to start the process of consultation on Stevenage to which I have referred—consulting with the county council and local authorities before publication of the study—the inquiry itself would certainly not take place before the study is published or before all the arguments in the study are known by all concerned.

The right reverend Prelate asked why we had to take the decision now even to go ahead consulting, but we do not see any reason to postpone such a decision or to waste any time. Among other matters, it is important for the Development Corporation of Stevenage to know where they are—they have of course a population of some 55,000 now and according to present plans they would stop building when they reached 60,000, which would presumably be next year. Then we have to allow for natural increase which will bring the population up to 80,000. That meets the point of the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, who was talking about making an allowance in a designation order for natural increase. That is done. The building by the Development Corporation will stop at 60,000 and then over the years natural increase will take the population to 80,000 as it is now planned. So obviously the moment is coming now when the professional and expert staff of the Corporation, not to mention the building force, will be leaving Stevenage if a decision on possible expansion is not taken one way or the other; and that is why we shall go ahead with consultation at any rate.

There are arguments about spread—I think the noble Marquess called it the suburban "no-man's-land" when referring to the coalescence of one town with another—and about the policy of the Green Belt to which my right honourable friend is firmly wedded: he has constantly stated he is a firm believer in the Green Belt. There were technical arguments about the motorway, about the A.1. My Lords, at this time of the evening I need not go further into these arguments. They will be gone into very much more thoroughly if there is a public inquiry on this question of expanding Stevenage. All I would say is that there are arguments on the other side; that the case has been rather overstated in regard to the A.1 motorway, and that there would be great difficulties in expanding Stevenage up to 100,000 or so entirely on the East side of the motorway, as has been suggested, for it would create serious traffic and road problems for the people travelling to work on the present industrial site. These are matters which will be threshed out in detail; and I think I have said all that I need at this moment.

I ask noble Lords to believe that we are examining the whole proposal most carefully. No decisions have been taken yet, no proposals have been made; but my right honourable friend will certainly consider deeply, and study deeply, what has been said and the feelings of your Lordships' House. I am sure your Lordships can go home feeling that my right honourable friend and the Government are not committed to anything. Having said that, I hope you will not resist a Second Reading of this New Towns Bill which is designed mainly to carry on the good work in some 18 or so New Towns, both existing and designated towns where building will shortly start.

On Question, Bill read 2a; Committee negatived.