HL Deb 15 March 1967 vol 281 cc405-15

8.52 p.m.

Order of the Day read for the debate to be resumed on the Motion moved on Monday last by Lord Taylor of Mansfield: That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Sheffield Order 1967 [S.1. 1967 No. 104], laid before the House on 8th February, be annulled.


My Lords, as you will be aware, this is a continuation of Monday's debate, the reason for which was explained by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor at the conclusion of the Division on Monday evening. In these circumstances. I do not propose again to go over the ground which I covered on Monday, but there are a few points that I want to put before your Lordships briefly.

The first one is to draw your Lordships' attention to the resolution of the County Councils Association which was passed on October 26, 1966. Before quoting the words of the resolution, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to the fact—


My Lords, before my noble friend continues, is it much good his calling attention to this matter when the Minister in charge of the Order is not present? How can the Minister reply to what my noble friend says if he is not here?


My Lords, I suppose it falls to me to comment on that suggestion. There are a number of representatives of the Government here. I am sure the Minister in charge will arrive in time to reply, but if he does not, then another Minister will speak.


After that intervention, may I say that I hope the Minister who is going to reply to the debate will be here in due course, because I want to make a reference—and I have given him notice of this—to something that he said on Monday evening.

I was drawing your Lordships' attention to the resolution passed by the County Councils Association in October of last year. Before quoting the terms of the resolution, perhaps I ought to say that the Association is a very responsible, very influential body in the counsels of local government in this country. Whilst I am not acquainted with the exact number of people represented by this body, my guess would be somewhere in the neighbourhood of 20 to 25 million people. The resolution which the Association passed on the date that I have mentioned was as follows: That the attention of Members of both Houses of Parliament be drawn to the Association's view that, pending the Report of the Royal Commission on Local Government in England, there should be a standstill in connection with the creation of new authorities and the large-scale transfer of populations from one authority to another, either of which would prejudice the future position". There is no need for me to elaborate upon that resolution. In cold, candid, forthright language, that is the position which the County Councils Association has taken up.

I am sorry that my noble friend the Minister is not in his place, but I want to make a reference to some of the remarks which he made on Monday evening; and, if your Lordships will bear with me, I should like to quote from the OFFICIAL REPORT of Monday of this week (col. 151). My noble friend was talking about the overspill problem, and he went on to say: What is the best way to achieve this commuter settlement? It can be achieved in either of two ways; first, under overspill procedure, which means many thousands of houses built at Mosbrough but in the County of Derbyshire. Then he went on—and this is the operative sentence to which I call attention: For this to happen the agreement, and not only agreement but the active co-operation and help, of the County of Derbyshire would be necessary. Those of your Lordships who know this history will know that this collaboration was not forthcoming; the County of Derbyshire were not willing to redraw the town map in order to accommodate this overspill in the territory of the county. My noble friend then went on to say that it was not for him to give reasons why, as he stated, this co-operation had not been forthcoming from the County of Derbyshire.

My Lords, I was taken quite by surprise when my noble friend made reference to what I have just quoted. On the information which I have been able to gather since Monday evening, I want to tell my noble friend that that allegation is quite unjustified. I had some correspondence put into my hands which I propose to read. It is true that it goes quite a reasonable way back into the history of what has taken place between the Sheffield City Corporation and the Derbyshire County Council. On August 1, 1953, the Clerk to the Chesterfield Rural District Council wrote to the Town Clerk of Sheffield as follows: My council have been giving consideration jointly with the Derbyshire County Council to the possibility of undertaking the re-housing of some of the Sheffield overspill population in pursuance of arrangements under the Town Development Act of 1952. I am instructed to suggest that if this proposal commends itself to the Corporation a joint meeting of representatives of your Council and my own and the County Council might usefully be called for the purpose of considering upon what terms such arrangements might proceed. So far as sites are concerned my Council are ready to indicate land which they consider suitable for the purpose should the Corporation so desire. That letter was signed by the Clerk of the Council I have mentioned.

On August 6, five days following, the Town Clerk of Sheffield wrote to the Clerk of the Chesterfield Rural District Council to this effect: I duly received your letter of the 1st instant which is receiving consideration and I will write you further in due course. My information is that nothing further has been heard of that particular correspondence. May I just briefly recite one or two of the incidents which have taken place and which run counter to the allegation that was made by my noble friend on Monday evening? In August, 1952, the Derbyshire Development Plan was submitted to the Minister of Housing and Local Government. I will not go into all the details of what that Plan contains, except to say that in principle it deals with the provision of land to take the overspill population of Sheffield. Nothing more was heard of that until the Plan was approved by the Department in 1958, six years afterwards.

In 1960, the first review of the West Riding Plan was submitted, and sites were offered for taking 20,000 of the overspill from the City of Sheffield. This offer was rejected by the Sheffield Corporation. In October, 1960, certain other provisions were made to take the overspill of Sheffield up to the year 1971. Objections to this were raised by Sheffield on the ground—and this must be said in all fairness—that the number was not large enough; they estimated that instead of the figure being 43,000 it should be 84,000; and then, that the period should be extended beyond 1971 to 1981.

Then in July, 1962, a meeting took place between the Sheffield and Derbyshire representatives. Your Lordships will see that the reason I am quoting this is to indicate that there has been no lack of co-operation by the Derbyshire County Council, as was suggested by my noble friend. At that meeting in 1962 the two authorities agreed to the officers' meeting, and Sheffield were notified of applications which might prejudice the interests of the county in a specified area. Then on July 6, 1963, there was a further meeting between the Sheffield and the Derbyshire representatives and they agreed to set up a working party of officers and for Sheffield to submit a report. Even as recently as March, 1964, there was again a meeting between Sheffield and Derbyshire and the divisional road engineers to discuss the various roads problems.

In view of these facts, I submit that there has not been a lack of either cooperation or collaboration on the part of Derbyshire County Council so far as this particular problem is concerned. It may be that the great point of difference between the two authorities has been regarding the future; and, as I said on Monday night, that this difference is over whether there shall be peripheral building to meet the needs of Sheffield overspill or whether there shall be regional development with a view to the setting up of a new town. Again I would repeat that, so far as the eastern side of Britain is concerned, no new town has been established between Corby, in Northamptonshire, and Peterlee, in County Durham.

My Lords, I could go on for quite a long time, but I think I ought to quote this to indicate the degree of co-operation that has been exercised by the Derbyshire County Council. For instance, extensive areas of land have been offered both by the County Council and by the West Riding County Council to house the overspill of population, but there has been no attempt by the City Council to make use of these offers. I am informed that a statement has been published that it is the declared policy of the City Council that they are not prepared to consider such housing until these areas are brought within the City of Sheffield itself.

My Lords, one other point. It is that, in connection with the first review of the West Riding Development Plan which provided for the reception of 25,000 of the Sheffield overspill at Whiston, the City Council have not been prepared to follow up this proposal. I think that is all I want to say at this hour of the night, but I wanted to put forward those three proposals and to challenge what I think was the unjustifiable allegation made by my noble friend respecting the lack of co-operation and collaboration on behalf of the Derbyshire County Council.

9.9 p.m.


My Lords, I do not propose to make the same speech that I made on a previous occasion, for which I have no doubt your Lordships will be duly grateful. I rise only to draw attention to the fact that there was so little enthusiasm for this Order that it could not be annulled on the occasion when it was on the Order Paper last Monday, notwithstanding that it had been on the Order Paper for some time and Peers had had due notice of it. That is the extent to which there is support for the Government on this Order. It seems to me that if for an Order of this kind it is necessary to put on a three-line Whip to ensure that there is sufficient support, that speaks very little for the merits of the Order. It speaks only for the determination of the Government to get this Order through, whether it is a good one or not.

I would repeat that I still think this is not a good Order. I think it was unnecessary. I think that the Sheffield overspill could have been dealt with if Sheffield had been in any way co-opera- tive to the Derbyshire or even the West Riding County Councils or both of them, and therefore the Government are most unwise to proceed with this Order. In other words, the body which stands out against co-operation is to be praised and to be given the benefit and those which are willing to co-operate in order to deal with what we all admit is a serious problem are to be castigated and their views thrown into the dustbin. That is virtually what the Government are saying so far as Sheffield is concerned, and, in the long run the West Riding have said it also. In these circumstances, I have no option (in spite of the exhortation of the Government, and I fully appreciate their desire to get the business through irrespective of its merits) but to go into the Lobby against the Government.

9.11 p.m.


My Lords, it is with no great pleasure that I rise to take part in this short debate. I have been in national and local government for well over forty years. I appreciate as much as anyone the necessity for loyalty and group working. It is for that reason—perhaps a cowardly reason—that I was missing from the House when the previous series of Orders was before your Lordships' House. I was missing on Monday evening. I disagreed with those Orders, all except the Teesdale Order. But, my Lords, now a three-line Whip has been put on, and may I say to the noble Earl the Leader of the House and to the Chief Whip that I resent it very, very much indeed.

This is not a matter of policy. The Government have not got a policy. I wish they had. There have been a series of inconsistent decisions which conflict one with the other right the way through. Not only have I been missing on previous occasions, because the Orders ought not to have been supported, but we have the Liberal and the Tory Benches empty, with the exception of the courtesy presence of those now occupying the Opposition Front Bench—I am sorry, I had not noticed that we had Scotland represented here as well. It is another "takeover bid" I expect.

Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, can deal with this point. If he will read the wording of the Minister's decisions on the Rotherham Order, on the Doncaster Order, and on the Lincoln Order, he will see that every decision of the Minister, or the words of the Minister, as to those three Orders, could be applied equally to the Sheffield Order. In my view they ought to have been applied to this Order as well. Not only is this a doubtful Order on the basis of local government boundaries, functions and transfers of population and the rest; it is decidedly a bad planning Order. It was the Labour Governments of 1945 to 1951 which brought in the New Towns Act and the Town Development Act.

May I say to the Minister that I was not at all impressed by his statement on Monday in regard to the inability of Sheffield industry to move outside the boundaries of the Borough of Sheffield. That could be said of every town. A number of times it was raised even in regard to industries moving outside London, and this is not the first time we have had the problem in regard to out-borough building at Sheffield. When I was associated with the Ministry which the Minister has the honour to serve, we had to deal with this question in relation to the urban district of Wortley. This decision creates a worse state of affairs, which will have to be cleared up later. The decision will create a further conurbation with a new and young population of child-bearing age so that in a few years time there will have to be further expansion.

Having been associated with local government for over forty years, and still being associated with it, I am not one of those who believe that all is well in the field of local government. Far from it. I am delighted that the Royal Commission has been appointed, and I am delighted with its terms of reference. I think that the only sensible thing to do was to abandon the Local Government Commission. Its continuance in office was inconsistent with the existence of the Royal Commission. That decision having been made, the Royal Commission should be allowed to do its job and we should reconstruct local government in the light of its findings. If my noble friend takes this matter to a Division, I will certainly vote with him.


My Lords, since the noble Lord was good enough to mention me personally, I will say this. I am not going to reply to his arguments, which no doubt will be dealt with effectively by my noble friend Lord Kennet. As the Chief Whip is not here, may I say that the three-line Whip was sent out with my entire approval. That was the only possible course for the Government to take in the circumstances. As an ex-Minister, the noble Lord is perfectly well aware of that.


My Lords, I can only reinforce what has already been said. If it becomes necessary to send out a three-line Whip on a matter which is not one of policy, it does not say much for the decision that has been taken.

9.16 p.m.


My Lords, I must apologise first of all to my noble friends for being absent at the beginning of the debate. I was in a place where the public address system does not penetrate and the Bill debated before took less time than I thought it would. My noble friend Lord Taylor of Mansfield has said that it was unjustifiable to say that there was insufficient co-operation from the County of Derbyshire in this matter because in 1953 there was an offer of collaboration from the county to the city in its housing plans. A little later he said that in the 'sixties there had been collaboration on road proposals between the county and the city. I do not deny it. The point I was making when we last discussed this Order was that, unfortunately, there had not been collaboration on the housing problem of the city in recent years. What was done fourteen years ago is unfortunately not relevant to the present situation. We have a concrete problem now in this decade, and I think that we should not dwell too long on the experiences of former days.

On March 29, 1962, the then Minister made a decision on the Derbyshire County Council's proposals for a Green Belt in North-East Derbyshire and asked that the town maps should be adjusted to these proposals. In that decision he said that most of an overspill of at least 90,000 from Sheffield in the next twenty years after that date—that is to say up to 1981—should be accommodated in Derbyshire in a community centred on Mosbrough, and in that decision he invited the county council to start work immediately on preparing new town maps with a programme of development to provide for a population of 41,000, in addition to what the existing town maps provided for. We know that if a county is going to accommodate overspill from a city it must revise its town maps. If it does not do so, this is tantamount to a refusal to accommodate the overspill. Since March 1962 the county council have not prepared the new town maps.

I turn now to the report of the local inquiry into the objections to the Local Government Commission's proposal for the extension of Sheffield. In his Report, the inspector referred to parts of the transcript of evidence dealing with discussion of the Mosbrough question. He quoted the following passage: Counsel for Sheffield City Council: As far as I am concerned, Sir, I would be more than happy if witness would agree with me that the reason why there is at the moment no Town Map for the extended Mosbrough is because the County Council were doing everything they could … to fight a rearguard action. The reply to that from counsel for Derbyshire County Council went as follows: I am most happy to accept that entirely, Sir, on behalf of the County Council. With great respect, I do not think it could have been put better or shorter or more forcibly. So by their own admission the county council were fighting a rearguard action on this point.


The noble Lord will forgive me for interrupting. Were they fighting a rearguard action against an extension of the boundaries of Sheffield, or was it a rearguard action against any development of Sheffield in Derbyshire?


With my noble friend's agreement, I will come to that point in a moment. It comes to the same thing.


Oh, no!


My Lords, if I could just run through the three legs of my argument, Sheffield has 80,000 or 90,000 people who cannot be housed in the existing city boundary. Should there be a new town? We have the advice of the inspector charged to investigate the whole matter that there should not be a new town, because the industry of Sheffield is not like the industry of other cities. If you subtract workers from it—


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend, and I am grateful to him for giving way. That has been the Derbyshire County Council's stand, and it was reinforced only last year by the Yorkshire and Humberside Economic and Planning Committee, as I said on Monday night, for a new town to accommodate the overspill of Sheffield.


There is a conflict of view between the Derbyshire County Council and the Sheffield City Council. The Sheffield City Council say that it should be done in one way, and the Derbyshire County Council say that it should be done the other way. We sent an Inspector to hear both sides of the case, and he submitted a Report which says that it should not be done by way of a new town, for economic reasons. Therefore, it must be done by a commuter settlement. Will the county council accept the commuter settlement on its territory? It is unfortunately the fact that it has refused to re-draw the town map, which is a necessary step in effecting the commuter settlement. Therefore, the only alternative is an extension of the city boundary.

In the recent decision letter on the Sheffield extension, the Minister stated that Derbyshire County Council had been asked to prepare a new town map for Mosbrough on the basis of the 1962 letter. But this had not been done. He said that the need had become progressively more urgent, and the County of Derbyshire, because of the beliefs which they firmly and sincerely held, have shown themselves unwilling to take the steps necessary to meet this need. The county council have not since this decision letter challenged this statement. This is the situation. Eighty thousand people have to go somewhere, and this is the conclusion recommended by the Government. May I remind the House once again that this conclusion arises out of a recommendation from the Local Government Commission, which has taken seven years to formulate and go through the statutory hoops, and I doubt whether it is desirable that it should trip up at the last moment in this House.

My noble friend Lord Lindgren said that the Government had not a policy in these matters and that he wished they had. I will not detain your Lordships again. The Government have a policy, and I have stated it four times. I stated it on the Torbay Order; I stated it on the Hartlepools Order; I stated it on the Teesside Order, and I stated it for the fourth time, on the Bill for the Termination of Local Government Reviews only two days ago. My noble friend might criticise that policy, but he did not do so: he said that we have not got a policy. I do not think that this is a justifiable position.

9.25 p.m.


My Lords, I do not want to take up much more time. Let me say, first of all, that I accept the apology of my noble friend the Minister for not being here at the beginning. What interests me is the question taken up by my noble friend Lord Pargiter; namely new town maps. It has been said that the Derbyshire County Council have been fighting a rearguard action; but according to the information