HL Deb 12 August 1966 vol 276 cc1928-36

11.24 a.m.


I am busy this morning, my Lords. I beg to move that the Control of Office Development (Designation of Areas) Order 1966, copies of which were laid before this House on July 20, be approved. I do not intend to make a long speech, but I must explain what is in the Order.

This Order, which came into operation on July 21, extends the control of office development beyond the Metropolitan Region and the Birmingham conurbation, so that it now covers the whole of the East Midland, West Midland, South-East and East Anglia economic planning regions. The Order is not retrospective. Office developments for which planning applications had been made before July 21 do not require an office development permit, though some of them may be affected by the impending reduction to £50,000 of the limit above which building control will apply. The effect of the Order is that applications for planning permission made on or after July 21 for office developments in excess of the exemption limit of 3,000 square feet have to be accompanied by an office development permit to be effective.

I need hardly remind the House that the extension of the office control was one of the measures announced by the Prime Minister in another place on July 20. These measures were designed to reduce the general pressure of demand on the economy, and to restrain less essential work in both the public and private sectors. In the private sector, it was announced that when the Building Control Bill had received the Royal Assent the Minister of Public Building and Works would make an Order reducing the cost limit above which a project is subject to control from £100,000 to £50,000. It was then said that this measure would be supplemented by a tighter control on office building. This tighter control is introduced by the present Order.

The extension of the geographical area subject to the office control means that more projects will be subject to control than if the extended building control alone had been relied upon. Office projects costing £50,000 (and thus subject to building control) are usually above 10,000 square feet in size, while those covered by the Control of Offices Order can be as small as 3,001 square feet. Office buildings which receive an office development permit will be exempt from the building control, so that there will be no duplication of control, except where an office development permit is granted for a mixed development. In a mixed development, only those buildings which contain more than 3,000 square feet of office space will be exempt from the building control.

Now, my Lords, the reason for the Order. The Order extends the office control to areas surrounding the congested areas of the Metropolitan Region and the Birmingham conurbation, which have already been controlled for a year or more. Up to now, it has been possible to develop offices just outside the Metropolitan Region or the Birmingham conurbation if an office development permit within them has been refused. By this considerable widening of the area in which a permit is required, we are intensi- fying the relative priority accorded to the development areas. Moreover, it also allows us to ensure that those office developments which must take place within the controlled area do not occur in places which are already congested, or where labour resources are already strained. The area to which the office control now applies is virtually the same as the area in which the control of industrial development is most comprehensive. In this area, industrial development certificates are required for smaller industrial development than elsewhere. It is logical, at a time like this, to control office development throughout the same area.

By operating these controls—I should like to emphasise that they are not bans—we can, over a wide range of industrial and commercial activity, ensure that regard is paid to the various priorities which are established in the national interest. The distribution of employment, the expansion of exports, the encouragement of productivity and economy in the use of resources are all relevant in operating the control of office location, just as they are in operating the control of industrial location. The measure is designed to improve the balance of our economy as a whole, and I hope that the Order is acceptable to the House.

My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Control of Office Development (Designation of Areas) Order 1966, be approved.—(Lord Rhodes.)

11.30 a.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord has introduced this Order with his customary lucidity, and we are naturally grateful for the clear explanation he has given of the way this Order is intended to work and the reasoning which lies behind it. I could not help but reflect on these matters during the last few minutes and remind myself of how the Socialist so-called thinkers of the post-war period have always had a pathological hatred for three things: cinemas, petrol stations and offices. Their writings and speeches are studded with exuberant attacks on Odeon luxury cinemas where hospitals should be built, and on luxurious petrol stations where houses for the people should be built, and, of course, we have always known that they just hate the sight of offices. So we know how much they enjoy passing through a control measure of this sort—which is not even a ban, as the noble Lord has pointed out, but a control—so that everybody must come cap in hand with "Please may I have my little office?". And everybody can pontificate about it and graciously give permission or not and keep busy handing out or refusing permits.

This is the Socialist system as applied in Britain, and it is as well that we should be aware of this creeping Socialism which is coming about. To-day we are dealing with only a relatively small Order, but it is one more example in the ever-lengthening list of Socialist measures which are being applied to this country. The fascinating thing about it is that while the Socialists hate offices, they love the paper work that goes on in offices, and are always creating more and more paper work, so that, not altogether surprisingly, they are in the position of restricting offices but increasing office work. And something will have to give. The Government, being true to themselves, are naturally all the time increasing the number of civil servants. The number is now something like 11,000 above that when we left office.


It is 15,000 up.


It is now 15,000—it goes up very quickly. We are told that it is because they are all doing necessary work. They are doing work made necessary by a Socialist Government. It has been estimated that one civil servant normally creates office work for five other people in municipal offices or business offices or professional offices of one sort or another. So, if I can get my sum correct, 14,000 civil servants have automatically created some 70,000 extra jobs, all of which have to be performed in offices.

I have mentioned one or two of these. There are those concerning office development permits themselves, industrial development certificates, the working out of investment grants; there is the enormous amount of office work generated over the country in connection with the selective employment tax, collecting it and then the even more complicated arrangements to be worked out for getting refunds, to make sure that one firm is not getting too much and another too little. A vast army of people will be involved. There is no escaping this additional office work in arranging for refunds and then checking firms' returns to see that they have not cheated, and so on.

There is no point in saying that a lot of this work can be transferred to the development areas, for it cannot, because the firms in the South must do their office work near their own headquarters. If this control is to mean anything, it may well mean that many people will not be able to have the office space they require. But we know also that there is a first-class and massive deflation on the way. That means that there will be some restriction of activity. The interesting thing we are going to observe in the coming months is: which is going to win the race? Will the increase in the paper work be greater than the extent of the Government deflation? We may find that nobody wants to build new offices because the deflation is so great. On the other hand, the inflation of Government-inspired paper work may create a great demand for office space in the very areas that are now to be controlled by this Order.

I thought that your Lordships would not object to my making these observations on the general principles which lie behind this Order. I would not suggest that we divide the House in protest this morning, but I should at any rate like to register a protest on behalf of noble Lords on this side of the House in regard to this further example of bureaucratic Socialism.


My Lords, it would be inconsistent for me not to vote for this Order, because I was one of the Members who took a leading part in voting against my own side on the question of development of offices in London where there was not sufficient transport. But I believe that this is closing the stable door long after the horse has bolted, because the damage has been done; the offices have gone up; the local authorities have all built their new palaces, and so on. In my view, it will not be long before we have a complete collapse of the housing programme and the Government will be praying for people to put up offices to employ the builders, to give them something else to do.

My noble friend detailed one or two objects of detestation by the Socialists. I should like to turn for a second to the other side, and mention a sacred cow, that is, hospitals. In my own county, in the City of Brighton, every consultant and doctor in the place, and most people who have studied the scheme, have taken very strong objection to the proposal by the Regional Hospital Board to spend vast sums of money on the redevelopment of existing hospitals, preferring to put in its place a much less costly scheme—and one which, they claim, is much better—next to the new university. Debates have been held on this but the Ministry of Health seem absolutely deaf and blind to all protestations. I merely instance this as the opposite of the office policy.


My Lords, noble Lords on this side of the House are accustomed to having three objects of detestation: one, offices; two, cinemas; and the third, petrol stations. May I add that many of us have also a peculiar detestation of betting offices, casinos and bingo clubs? Therefore our detestation of cinemas is peculiarly directed to cinemas which have been turned into bingo clubs. We regard this, I think I may say, as a heritage of a Conservative Government with which we believe the Government in power will, in due course, deal.


My Lords, may we have a statement of Government policy that they are going to close down all the bingo halls?


My Lords, following the remarks of the noble Baroness, could the Minister tell us whether betting offices are included in the definition of office development under this Order? Secondly, following my noble friend Lord Erroll of Hale, may I say that I, as someone living in one of the more distant parts of England, am only too glad when I see any effort made to distribute industry and other services—including offices, important Government offices like the office of the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance—all over the country, instead of having the whole lot concentrated in or near London. There is sense in that. But what noble Lords must remember is that offices, in order to work efficiently, depend on the Post Office and the postal services; and in this country, unfortunately, the postal services are getting steadily worse.

As any noble Lord who lives in the North of England knows, it is now quite impossible to rely on a daily service between the North of England and London; it is impossible to rely on delivery the following morning of even a letter (I am not speaking of parcels) posted the previous evening. Because of this state of affairs, a great deal of the effort which is now spent in trying to move offices out of London will be completely outweighed by the fact that the people manning these offices have to use messengers in motor cars to carry their mail, because they cannot rely on the Post Office. I would urge the Government to pay particular regard to the efficiency of the postal services, because it goes hand in hand with what they are now trying to further. If they do not maintain an efficient postal service all they are doing now will be disadvantageous and not an advantage to the country.


My Lords, I shall not attempt to follow the noble Lord, Lord Erroll of Hale, in what he said about cinemas; but, if I may, I would take up with him one of the objects which he said that Socialists detest, cinemas. The noble Lord, Lord Erroll of Hale, has been a distinguished President of the Board of Trade and I am sure he will remember that one of his distinguished predecessors, the present Prime Minister, helped to put the cinema industry on its feet again after the war by setting up the Eady levy, the National Film Finance Corporation and so on. As a result, and with American co-operation, this country has become, some twenty years later, one of the most important centres of film production in the world.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether this Order which he has announced covers the building of offices for universities? I am about to embark on the construction of a block which might reasonably be designated as a block of offices for the dons. Will it, or will it not, come under the Order which my noble friend has announced to the House?


My Lords, I listened with delight to the noble Lord, Lord Erroll of Hale, and I am sure that he now feels better. I felt better for having listened to him. Up to that point I was getting ready for a rest. I can assure the noble Lord that I have no hatred in my bosom at all, and I do not know that I ever have had. I have on occasions been controversial, but not to the extent to which the noble Lord went. Nor am I going to follow him and make categorical accusations of what the Tories did or anything like that. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, that if we had not had the controls we should just not have had any open stable door—the stable walls would have been down. In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, I would say that I do not claim to know anything about the Post Office, except how much it costs for stamps, and so I cannot answer the point he raised. The noble Lord mentioned betting offices; they are in, but they are generally below 3,000 square feet.


My Lords, can the noble Lord assure me that he is not going to decant all the London betting offices into the North of England?—because London can keep them for itself.


My Lords, I do not think this problem would have been anything like the size it is had it not been for the extension allowed by the Government before ours.

I am obliged to the noble Baroness, Lady Stocks, for rallying to my assistance, and to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, for dragging in the question of cinemas during the few brief minutes before we sit down to await the Royal Commission. I am only sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Willis, is not here to add his voice to the general appeal. The answer to the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, is, Yes, universities are in. With those few brief observations and answers, I hope that noble Lords will permit this Order to proceed on its way.

On Question, Motion agreed to.