HL Deb 28 October 1970 vol 312 cc109-11

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they adhere to the last Government's target date of 1980 for the clearance of derelict land in the country.]


My Lords, with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, I do not think the target set by the last Government is exactly as described in his Question. In April, 1970, at Stoke-on-Trent, Mr. Crosland expressed the hope, and in May, 1970, in their White Paper, Cmnd. 4373, Her then Majesty's Government announced the target of clearing and reclaiming derelict land in the areas worst affected in ten years—that is, by 1980. Any local authority able to do the job by this date, or even sooner, will be given our fullest support and encouragement. We are considering with the local authorities how more realism can be imported into our targets and into their own particular local targets.


My Lords, while fully appreciating what the Minister has said, may I ask him whether the Government at least accept the target set out in Cmnd. 4373?


Yes, my Lords; we do accept that target. We have every intention of tackling this problem vigorously, and already schemes are being approved at an increasing rate. The rate of grant will be maintained at its present high level and increased funds will be made available.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether the Government will now reconsider the recommendation of the Hunt Committee, rejected by the last Government, that a national reclamation agency should be set up?


No, my Lords. We have considered this. We do not think at the moment that this is the best way of tackling the problem. The Central Group for the Reclamation of Derelict Land, proposed by the previous Administration, which had not met at the time their White Paper was published, is now meeting. There is indeed a tremendous backlog to make up, and I think it would be right for your Lordships to know that at the rate of progress which we inherited, according to the latest figures which we have available, for 1969, it would have been well towards the year 2000 before some authorities—such as the County Councils of Lancashire and Durham and the County Borough of Stoke-on-Trent—could have cleared their derelict land.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware how much we appreciate the observations he has made in this connection? But is he also aware that this is a complete change from the gross neglect that took place during the whole of the past years when the Tories were in Government previously? Would he assure the House that in this particular project of the future financial assistance from the Government will continue and that in this new look at local government expenditure the expenditure incurred in clearing these derelict lands will not be curtailed in any shape or form?


My Lords, I am not sure whether the noble Lord quite caught what I was saying. I said that we have every intention of adopting this target; that the rate of grant is being maintained at its present high level; that schemes are being approved at an increasing rate and that increased funds will be available.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, in spite of the initial nit-picking of his answer, the final clear affirmative is most welcome to all sides of the House; and that if the Government are able to answer with an equally clear affirmative to all the proposals in Cmnd. 4373 of this year the entire country will be in their debt?


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord one other question about the central body to which he referred just now? Is it considering the technical feasibility of pipelining colliery spoil for the reclamation of land in the shallows by deep waters in our estuaries?


My Lords, I think that that is rather another question.


My Lords, while fully appreciating what the Minister said with regard to the Central Group for the Reclamation of Derelict Land, may I ask him when that Group met? Also, may I ask him whether he feels that his comment was quite fair, since Cmnd. 4373 was issued only in May? It would be extremely interesting if he could tell us when that Group first met since the election of the new Government, and how many times it has met.


My Lords, to the best of my recollection it first met in July, and last met in September.


My Lords, would the noble Lord consider a rather better use of English when referring to the previous Administration, which he referred to as "Her late Majesty's Government", when what he really meant was, "Her Majesty's late Government"?

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