HL Deb 10 February 1970 vol 307 cc818-25

3.5 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Delacourt-Smith.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]

Clause 1 (Intermediate areas and. functions exercisable in relation thereto):

LORD BEAUMONT OF WHITLEY moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 2, line 5, at end insert— ("() Without prejudice to the foregoing subsection, on the coming into force of this Act all receiving districts as defined by section 2 of the Town Development Act 1952 which have entered or at a subsequent date enter into agreements with the consent of the Minister of Housing and Local Government in accordance with section 8 of the Town Development Act 1952 or which have received appropriate consents or approvals of the Minister of Housing and Local Government in accordance with sections 2, 4, or 5 of the Town Development Act 1952 shall be deemed to be localities specified as intermediate areas under the said subsection and the provisions of this Act shall have effect accordingly.")

The noble Lord said: This rather daunting looking Amendment has in fact a simple purpose. It is also, I believe, quite important and I have some hopes that it may be received with sympathy by the Government. Under the 1952 Town Development Act provision was made for the recognition, with the approval of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, of various areas as receiving areas for population. In fact the Act itself is entitled: An Act to encourage town development in county districts for the relief of congestion of overpopulation elsewhere. The object of this Amendment is to put these receiving areas on the same basis as intermediate areas for receiving industry.

I think one can say with assurance that the results of the Town Development Act 1952 have been extremely beneficial. The continuing process of making certain that great conurbations do not become too congested and overcrowded, of clearing slums and of re-establishing populations in new town planning areas has been extremely worth while. These are areas which, by their own actions, have prevented themselves from becoming intermediate or grey areas, as mentioned in the Report. They are areas which are building up thriving communities in partnership with the conurbations from which they receive their people. One in particular of which I have personal knowledge and experience, Winsford, in Cheshire, is doing a great job in building up a new community on an old community without any of the difficulties which often affect the making of new towns. These areas have often managed to build up a very good balance of industry and residents. Sometimes they are near enough to the old conurbation to enable a large number of jobs to be found in the conurbation, but very often that is not the case; the receiving areas are some considerable distance away and they must produce their own industry. These are worthwhile developments and are, indeed, part of a worthwhile form of town and country planning and industrial movement which I think all your Lordships would applaud.

When the Hunt Committee came to consider those areas they fully recognised the claims of Such areas for special treatment. In paragraph 329 of their Report the Committee say: We recognise that to date there has been really little difficulty in securing an adequate supply of industry and most of the new and expanded towns are growing very fast. However, all the Economic Planning Councils in the main regions affected by the overspill programme have expressed concern that, because of the high level of development area incentives, the flow of industry to the overspill areas may no longer be sufficient. With the possible exception of Telford and some of the less successful town expansion schemes, this is basically a concern for the future, when, given the present overspill programme, the outward flow from the two conurbations will have to be much more substantial than in the past.

At paragraph 336 of their Report the Committee go on to say In our view the present Government policies for dealing with physical problems arising from congestion, that is the creation of new and expanding towns, must be matched by equally positive policies for the location of industry. Then, in paragraph 338, they say: On balance, therefore, we concluded that a more liberal I.D.C. policy towards the new and expanded towns is needed so that policies for building up employment are more closely integrated with policies for population and housing. And in paragraph 490 they say: We recommend, therefore, that a firm wishing to move to an overspill location should be permitted to do so, provided that the Board of Trade has advised the firm of the incentives and attractions of the development areas and provided that the movement is within the planned growth programme of the overspill location.

So far, this recommendation of the Hunt Committee has not received any attention from the Government, and so far as I can see in the course of the various discussions on the Bill here and in another place it has not been mentioned as one of the points on which the Bill appears to differ from the Report of the Committee. It is for this reason that I rather hope that it is an accidental lapse on the Government's part rather than a deliberate policy move. Indeed, I should be most surprised to find that it was a deliberate policy move, for it cannot possibly make sense to start discouraging this extremely worthy development.

We are not asking for any specially soft treatment for these areas. If this Amendment is successful they will take their place in the hierarchy of priorities for development. First would come the special development areas, then the development areas, then the intermediate and receiving areas together. Indeed, in paragraph 49 of the Hunt Committee Report, it says: In making this recommendation we are not creating a 'soft option'. The overspill areas must rely on their inherent attractions. They will not qualify for any of the incentives available in development areas, which, we believe, will not stand to lose a significant share of mobile industry by this recommendation. So much for the Hunt Committee's recommendations, which I believe are right. As I have mentioned, in a large number of cases the expanding towns are some distance from the exporting authority, and in these circumstances the offer of housing accommodation to people moving out of the big conurbations is valueless without the provision of adequate employment opportunities.

In addition, considerable capital expenditure in the public sector is involved in implementing town expansion, and it would seem only logical that the creation of capital assets in pursuance of national policy should be given the maximum coordinated support. Since the timescale involved in the provision of housing and amenities is much longer than that involved in individual industrial movement, unless some reasonable assurance of continuing industrial support is forthcoming expanding towns, some of which already find themselves with houses left empty, will be faced with a continuous state of uncertainty and be faced with the problem of abortive capital expenditure.

I believe that if town expansion schemes are to succeed in their objectives, which have been officially approved as part of national policy, they should have the same statutory recognition and priority as the intermediate areas. There is, of course, only a limited amount of mobile industry, but if expansion schemes can have a similar statutory recognition to intermediate areas, leaving the choice of location within this whole category to the industrialist, the status of the town expansion schemes would be established within the machinery of allocation in a manner which would give effect to the expressed intent of providing a more flexible policy of industrial movement. Often"— we are told in paragraph 336 of the Hunt Committee's Report— by the time an industrialist had considered and rejected a location in the development areas he had, not infrequently, decided as a result of frustration to develop in or on the periphery of the congested area, possibly in second-hand premises, or in certain cases to abandon plans for expansion altogether. This was obviously not desirable, and I suggest that the widening of the intermediate area category will also widen the choice in a most satisfactory way for mobile industry itself.

To sum up, the adoption of this Amendment is essential to the effectiveness of the expanding towns policy. I cannot see any doubt about that. The only possible reason for rejecting this Amendment would be that expanding towns were no longer necessary. This surely cannot be so since the whole of the expanding towns policy has had the effect of making much more thriving a number of areas which might have become intermediate areas. To help the intermediate areas and to kill the expanding areas at one and the same time would certainly be to rob Peter to pay Paul. In addition to this, the Department of Economic Affairs, in its Progress Report for May, 1969 (the industrial and regional section), commenting on the Hunt Report, says on page 6: It is intended that all approved schemes for new and expanding towns should be properly supported by employment opportunities. That is the way to do it. I sincerely hope that the Government can see their way to accept this Amendment. I beg leave to move.

3.15 p.m.


I think that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, has, in a very valuable way, drawn our attention to the position of the expanded and overspill towns as part of the whole problem of the location of industry and population with which this Bill is concerned. However, I hope that in the light of the points which I shall be able to make, the noble Lord will agree that perhaps we should not be justified in amending the Statute in this way.

As the noble Lord has said, the effect of this Amendment would be to extend intermediate area status to all those areas which are at present, or may in the future become, what are described as "receiving districts" within the meaning of the Town Development Act 1952. These are, as he has said, the "expanded" or "overspill" towns in England and Wales— because the Town Development Act does not apply to Scotland. I should further make clear that the Amendment would not affect the position of the new towns which, of course, are covered by quite different legislation.

Throughout the preparation of this Bill, the Government have had to be very conscious of the fact that the supply of what is known as "mobile industry" is limited, and I think the noble Lord himself conceded that point. We have further had to bear in mind the continuing need, and the urgent need, too, of the development areas for new employment opportunities. As we saw in the Second Reading discussion, the Government have had to limit the application, at any rate initially, of the new category of intermediate areas, precisely to try to ensure that we should not spread the available mobile industry so thinly as to bring little help to the intermediate areas where, as the present Bill indicates, the need is felt to justify the special treatment.

What this Amendment proposes is that we should in fact extend intermediate area benefits to a large number of expanded towns, because the total list of expanded and overspill towns is very long. Many of them are close to London or close to Birmingham; and the great majority of them not already within either the development areas or the proposed intermediate areas are in fact areas which are relatively prosperous, with unemployment around or below the average for the country as a whole. In the view of the Government it would not be in the national interest to seek to divert industry to such places. Their claims are not as strong as those of the proposed intermediate areas; indeed, in this respect they do not have as strong claims as some of those areas which have argued that they ought to be treated as intermediate areas but which it is not proposed to designate as such. Indeed, there may well be occasions where designation would scarcely be in the interests of the expanded or overspill towns themselves since, with the intermediate area benefits in addition to their natural advantages, they would be a very attractive option to mobile industry, perhaps to such an extent as to outrun the supply of housing available.

It is intended, as is made clear in the Bill before us, to designate by order the areas which are to be regarded as intermediate areas. The benefits which will arise are a good deal more substantial than more favourable consideration in respect of industrial development certificates, and I think the noble Lord will agree that his Amendment goes a good deal further than the recommendation of the Hunt Committee on the towns in question.

However, I should like to give two assurances to the Committee in regard to the point that the noble Lord has raised. We have the needs and problems of the expanded towns very much in mind. If, at some future date, the circumstances of one or more of these towns justify their designation as intermediate areas, they will be so designated by order under the Bill in its present form. A number of new and expanded towns are already within the development areas or within the proposed intermediate areas. Secondly, may I give an assurance—and this particularly bears on the point on which the noble Lord concentrated—that the needs of the expanded areas will continue to be borne carefully in mind in the administration of the industrial development certificate control. In the light of the information which I have been able to give your Lordships, and after the assurances which I have also been able to give, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the Amendment.


My Lords, I should like to thank the Minister very much for the sympathetic way with which he has dealt with this Amendment and with the case that I put. There is only one point of his argument which I should like to pick up, because on the whole I have enormous sympathy for those dealing with the whole problem of dividing up the limited amount of mobile industry. Obviously, the claims of the development areas and of the intermediate areas are extremely high.

I think the one point which should be taken up is the fact of these towns very often being in areas where there is not very high unemployment. That, in a way, is exactly my point. These towns are investing in more and more houses with the kind of capital investment which goes with that. At the moment they are keeping up, because they are attracting industry at about the same rate as they are building and filling houses. But if they are to continue to build these houses in which they have already invested, they must have more industry.

Although I am a little disappointed that the Government will not go further on this matter, I very much welcome the two assurances which the Minister felt able to give, and therefore I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?


May I ask the noble Lord a question on Clause 1, which I am not entirely clear about? Where it appears to the Government that the economic problems in part of what is now a development area are not so acute that all the powers conferred by the Local Employment Act and the Industrial Development Act should be used, will it be possible for the Minister to downgrade, so to speak, that part of a development area to an intermediate area? It is not clear from the Bill whether that will be possible, particularly in view of subsection (5) where the drafting seems to imply that only a development area as a whole could be downgraded to an intermediate area.


My understanding of the position is that under this clause it will be possible for part of a development area to change its status and to be designated as an intermediate area.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

Schedule agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment; Report received.