HL Deb 17 June 1975 vol 361 cc843-60

6.21 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. It is the responsibility of the Government of the day to bring before Parliament from time to time Bills to meet the borrowing requirements of new town development corporations throughout the country, and of the Commission for the New Towns, for the ensuing years.

The immediate increase being sought at this time is some £250 million raising the overall limit on advances to new town corporations and the Commission from £1,500 million to £1,750 million. This sum will be committed virtually in full during the 1975–76 financial year, but the Bill also includes provision for further increases to a total of £2,250 million, which can be made by order of the Secretary of State and subject to an Affirmative Resolution in another place. The use of Affirmative Orders is not the only change in procedure provided for in this Bill. Clause 1 also ensures that only the net debt outstanding at any one time should count towards whatever overall limit in advances may be set by Parliament. This will do away with the present situation in which any advance made since 1946 must count towards that limit, regardless of whether or not it has been repaid. Our new proposal will be more logical in that it makes allowance for the repayment of debt and, furthermore, brings the arrangements relating to new towns into line with the arrangements for most other public bodies which are financed by borrowing from Exchequer sources.

The other chief provisions of the Bill are contained in Clause 2. This clause provides for pensions to be paid in certain circumstances to the chairmen of development corporations, and also for the payment of members of local committees appointed by the Commission for the new towns to look after their interests in towns where the Commission have taken over assets from development corporations. There are three such committees at the moment; for Crawley, Hemel Hempstead, and jointly for Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City. Noble Lords may welcome some further information on how these provisions are likely to be applied in practice.

A pension under the terms of this Bill can be paid only with the approval of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and of the Minister for the Civil Service. It is my right honourable friend's intention in general, subject to the agreement of the Minister for the Civil Service, to look favourably upon any case where a chairman expresses an interest in pension arrangements being made for her or him. In common with arrangements throughout much of the public service, these pensions would be on a contributory basis, with a contribution amounting to some 6 per cent. of a chairman's salary. Because of this, it would not generally be possible to award pensions for all service prior to the enactment of this measure, although, of course, it would be open to any chairman to enhance whatever pension she or he might become entitled to by buying-in previous years of service. This particularly applies to those years prior to 1st April 1973, from which date it was decided to make, subject to the necessary legislation, pensions available for part-time service on public boards provided the people concerned are required to work at least two days a week and carry executive functions.

The provision in Clause 2 for the payment of the Commission's committee members is a measure designed to remove an anomaly. At the moment both members of development corporations and members of the Commission itself are paid for their services, and the chairmen of these local committees also receive an allowance in respect of their service on these committees. What we propose in this Bill is to put the members of these committees on an equivalent footing to those who serve on the Commission and on the development corporations. I cannot, at this stage, be precise about the rate of remuneration the Committee members are likely to receive; it will fall to the Secretary of State, in agreement with the Minister for the Civil Service, to determine the appropriate figure. Whatever figure is eventually settled will, of course, have to take account of the sum paid to members of the Commission, at present £1,000 a year, and of the sum paid to the members of development corporations, at present £700 a year.

My Lords, I am sure that there is agreement on all sides of your Lordships' House that the funds we are seeking are an exceptionally worthwhile use of public money. New towns are not merely a means of providing new houses and jobs for people. They attempt to provide an environment and social system in which people are happy to spend their lives. In this they have been spectacularly successful. Against the ever present background of the need for public expenditure restraint, some of our hopes for the future may take longer to realise than all of us would wish. But the success of new towns so far is such that I have no hesitation in commending this Bill to your Lordships. I beg to move.

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

6.27 p.m.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, for introducing this Bill, and for the clarity of his explanation of it. Although it is a short Bill of only three clauses, nevertheless it is an important one. It is important for two reasons: first, for the proposals about the limits on borrowing by New Town Corporations and the proposals for pensions to certain chairmen and, secondly, because it gives us an opportunity to look at new towns and particularly the consultation document issued by the Department of the Environment last December. Indeed, the two must, to a certain extent, be taken in conjunction, for paragraph 4.17 of the consultation document states: This Paper makes no firm proposals with regard to finance or to the terms on which any transfer of assets might take place. The Bill says something about finance. In this Bill new towns are to be given power to borrow sums of money for this year up to £250 million, with further provision for subsequent years.

We must therefore ask, at a time when resources are short and are likely to become more so, whether this increased borrowing requirement is justified. It will mean that the new towns will incur ever heavier debt charges and, ultimately, far higher rates on the cost of the consequent revenue expenditure which will flow from the capital costs. I understand from what the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, said, that the extra amount of borrowing for 1975–76 is already expected to be taken up completely. Perhaps he will confirm that I have interpreted this correctly. The question therefore is whether this increase is in fact necessary. I accept all the arguments about inflation and what that does for local authorities and New Town Corporations alike.

I think it is worth looking at the consultation document. I do not wish in any way to denigrate new towns, which are places of interest, even of envy, to foreigners. Many incorporate most interesting architectural features and, as they are planned as an entity, they ought to meet foreseeable demands and problems. However, as is so often the case, housing is a major weakness. I understand that owner-occupation in new towns is only about 25 per cent. of the houses. This compares with the average of about 52 per cent. for the population as a whole and, as all the evidence shows that most people want to own their own homes, it seems that the Government's policy of not allowing new towns to sell off their council houses to sitting tenants, is both doctrinaire and against the wishes of the people. However, their failure to do so makes the borrowing requirements for new towns the greater, because they cannot raise any capital that they may have done by selling their houses.

I should have thought it not unreasonable in the present financial circumstances that the same proportion of owner-occupation ought to be encouraged in new towns as in other parts of the country. Apart from the desire of people to own their own homes and the money that such sales would raise in these difficult economic times, the fact is that the owner-occupier is the only mobile member of society. At a time when we are trying to encourage the maximum economic growth, the policy of encouraging yet more council tenants means that the country becomes an increasingly immobile and static society. The fact is that it is almost impossible to move from one council house to another, unless by publishing an advertisement you are fortunate enough to find somebody in a council house in another area who wishes to make a direct exchange with you.

My Lords, now we are being asked to approve extra borrowing for new towns, it is all the more important that the evidence of the local authority associations on the consultation document should be borne in mind. I am bound to say that I agree very much with the memorandum from the Association of County Councils, which states that it really is not good enough, in the consultation document, to commend to new towns the principle of partnership with the local authorities in whose area they happen to be placed. There seems to me to be a need for the closest possible working relationship both with county councils and with districts. We cannot afford costly overlapping of responsibilities of staff so that the resources of manpower are wasted. It seems to me right that new towns must be integrated into the structure plans of the counties (and to their transport plans) in which they are situated. Furthermore, new towns lay a heavy stress on the education and social service functions of counties. It seems clearly wrong that we should have set up by local government reorganisation new, larger and more powerful local authorities and then not see that they work in an integrated and coherent way with the new towns. I think this is particularly important against the economic background that confronts local authorities and the new towns themselves. I urge the Government to look at this matter very seriously and see if they can find some way of making a better system of working together than is proposed in the consultation document.

I have no quarrel with the principle of paying pensions to some chairmen of new town corporations, except that it is an added commitment at a time of acute economic difficulty for local government generally; although I appreciate that there is a contributory pension scheme. There is only one general comment that I wish to make and that is how very few women there are on new town corporations. I will leave it to the noble Lord's noble friend Lady Stedman to elaborate the point in detail; but when we see that there are 17 new town corporations with 110 men members and 21 women members, we realise that this is a matter that I should raise under the Sex Discrimination Bill.

My Lords, we on this side of the House will not oppose the Second Reading of this Bill, although I do not think it is true to say that we are entirely happy about the proposals in it. We hope that as it proceeds through this House the Government will be able to give us the assurance that the money that they expect to be borrowed by the new towns will be well used.

6.35 p.m.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, it is not often that we take time to consider how the new towns are developing or how they are financied. I accept the Bill as it is now before us, but I want to take the opportunity of this Second Reading to draw attention to the financial problems of the areas which contain new towns, in the hope that my noble friend might he able to influence his right honourable friend the Secretary of State. I speak as a member of the board of the Peterborough Development Corporation, and also as vice-chairman of my own county council of Cambridgeshire. The consultation document produced by the Department inevitably concentrates on the provision of houses and jobs, but just as "men not walls make a town" so do those men, women and children in the new towns require health centres, schools, community centres, recreational facilities and so on in order to enable them to live a full and happy life.

In the present economic climate, my county council of Cambridgeshire, like many other counties, has decided that the current capital programme should provide only for new schemes determined by population growth. This means that over the next four years a disproportionate share of my county's resources will have to be spent in the new town area of Peterborough, since over 60 per cent. of the capital expenditure that we have forecast will be in the designated area of this new town. The presence of a new town within a county of itself generates demand for other provisions within the other parts of the county. Because of economic pressures, my county council has already this year cut out from its capital programme £5 million worth of schemes of which £4¾ million came from that part of the county outside the designated area, and only some £300,000 was within the area of the new town of Peterborough. This aggravates our problem considerably.

All counties with new towns within their boundaries are facing the same problems. We have been meeting together to try to prepare and present a case which we hope the Department might accept. From these meetings, it is evident that we all believe that we should be able to look to Central Government for assistance to enable county councils to keep within Government growth targets—especially when the growth in population, which leads to these irresistible demands for more services, has been brought about by decisions of central Government to designate new town areas.

Many of us are becoming increasingly convinced that if the necessary services are to be provided and developed in line with the growth of population in the new town areas, there ought to be a capital allocation from central Government for the services which the counties have to provide to meet the expansion of their new towns. If I may quote from the paper giving the views of the chairman of new town development corporations on the consultation document, they refer to the provision of statutory services, of schools, health centres, social and recreational facilities, roads, transport, policing and fire protection and their paper reads, These call for separate capital allocations by the Government for the expansion of local authority services in pace with each new town's planned population and housing growth; and provision for development corporations to contribute to the costs of advance provision so as to prevent any undue burden on the ratepayers as such. Peterborough was one of the first of the new "partnership" new towns, and the old Huntingdon and Peterborough County Council prepared a case, which was accepted by the then-Minister of Housing and Local Government, that special financial arrangements were necessary; and an agreement was drawn up specifically related to the cost of county roads and the provision of education within the new town areas. With the advent of local government reorganisation, this agreement is now under review but any less favourable terms to the new county of Cambridgeshire will have to be resisted and could lead to a slowing down in the housing and expansion in Peterborough.

The remit that the Peterborough development corporation had was to carry through the expansion of Peterborough in partnership with the county and city councils. By fortunate chance, the Minister over the years has appointed the Leader of the City Council and the Leader of the Opposition, together with the chairman of the county council and his vice-chairman, also from the two major Parties, with the result that a spirit of joint endeavour pervades all our joint working arrangements and our partnership is a reality in every sense of the word. We have extended those joint working arrangements to include the area health authority and, so far as programming purposes go, the Anglian Water Authority. This, too, is proving of real value to our area. The health authority is now involved in detailed discussions about pooling limited resources to secure joint planning and provision of educational, health, social and recreational facilities at the lowest possible cost. We hope this will help us to reach the standards that we want to maintain without having to pay too dearly for it.

Another valuable point is that this experience of working together has highlighted the incongruity of separate budgeting and financial allocations by Government Departments for essential services. For services within the Environment Department's responsibility, arrangements are made for a direct additional allocation to the Anglian Water Authority for any works they have to carry out in the new town area and resources for transport, water and sewerage for the new town as such; and therefore allocations for these services to other parts of the county are not being depleted. I could only wish that other Departments would adopt the same attitude as the Department of the Environment and that we might have the same kind of grants, outside the support grant, for the services of the new town from the Social Services, Health, and Education Departments.

Either Government Departments must make special allocations to new town development corporations or the development corporations must have more flexibility within their budgets to enable them to contribute much more towards advance provision for the newcomers. In the fields of education, health and social services, something more has to be done to ensure that these services are available to the incoming population. My county is £700,000 short this year in our school-building programme for roofs over heads in our new town area, and unless some immediate help is given we shall be in serious difficulties over school places by September 1976—so much so that we may be driven into the ludicrous position of being able to take children into nursery schools at three and then have to tell them at five years old that there is no place for them in the primary schools. That is absolute nonsense.

Next month the Peterborough Development Corporation will be putting forward its proposals for its third and final township of Castor before the county planning committee. I have a very real fear that my county council may well say: "We are pleased to support and accept the plans that you have for 30,000 people to come into a new township of Castor, but we must advise the Development Corporation and the Government that the county cannot undertake the provision of any statutory services without additional resources being made available by Central Government to enable us to do that."

Our detailed budget forecasts for next year are now being worked out and local authorities are being put in an impossible position. They are being urged not to spend, in real terms, anything above 1¼ per cent. If we keep to the Chancellor's guidelines and try to provide even a comparable service in the new town area, it can be done only at the expense of the rest of the county, whose services will have to be cut back—and I mean really cut back, my Lords. We are taking in the population from overcrowded areas and trying to provide them with a good environment and good services.

I believe the New Towns Act was an imaginative piece of legislation. I have seen partnership authorities working together in a heartening way. I have seen elected representatives from the rest of the county outside the new town area, up to this point of time, accepting that ser- vices have to be provided for the newcomers. But the rest of the county is beginning to ask for better social provisions, for more road improvements, for their old schools to be replaced or modernised, for a better library and museum service, and so on. Yet, with the 2½ per cent. inbuilt growth for loan charges and commitments we have already undertaken, counties just cannot cope without more specific help towards the provision of education, health and social services in our new towns.

This Government have rightly put the provision of decent housing as a first priority. The county councils are now caught between the restrictions imposed by the Treasury on the development corporation's freedom to contribute towards the expenditure of local authorities and the avowed and worthy intention of the Department of the Environment that the housing programme should continue unchecked. The objectives of the two Departments appear to be irreconcilable at the moment, and the county council is the body which is trapped between the two.

The Peterborough Development Corporation has an all-in building target from the city council, from private builders and the development corporation, of 2,600 houses a year for the next eight years. It is no good building houses at that rate and moving in families at that rate without the necessary services and facilities also being available. Several counties have accepted, perhaps with varying degrees of enthusiasm, the planned population growth. My county accepted it willingly, but unless some of these financial problems are ironed out, and quickly, there will be a reaction from the rest of my county area against anything in the foreseeable future going into the new town. They can see everything at the moment coming into the new town area at Peterborough, and there are no crumbs falling from the table to help the rest of the county. In short, what counties like mine are now saying to the Government is that population growth which is planned by the Government must be paid for, to some extent, by Government funds.

6.48 p.m.


My Lords, we have in some way got wrong the whole conception of the purpose of new towns. I listened with the greatest interest to the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, whose town and area I know so well, as she does. Incidentally, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Young, on reading her brief, of which she clearly did not understand a word so well that some day she should be elevated to the position of a Minister on these Benches.

The point about the new towns is that we were trying to break out of the straitjacket of there being too many people in the so-called "golden triangle", and we were going to take work with them and, therefore, services with them, and develop the entire country. If the noble Baroness, Lady Young, had known anything about the problem, this is what she should have attacked; and this is what the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, was referring to.

In the conception of creating new towns, we are falling behind, creating the idea of a country where we relocate people, we relocate industry arid we develop the services in a different direction. This is what I think in a way is wrong with this Bill. It almost identifies new towns as two dirty words. New towns are not to be taken and dumped down in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire or the Isle of Ely, with an attempt to mix them in with the folk who already live there. The whole intention was that we were trying to make this country one entity. When I had the honour to be the Minister responsible for economic development in this country in 1965 that was the great idea we all had. We have here a large island and we should use it. It is not a question of treating a place as if it were a Tasmania where people were trans-shipped. One opened up and developed an area that was not developed before.

I want to say to the Minister answering this debate that this is what we are not doing. We are not—I thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, came near to saying otherwise, and therefore I should have had to dissociate myself from her at least on this point—asking for more money from the Department of the Environment. I know as well as everybody else in this House tonight, I trust, that it is not available. Indeed, I am one of those who say we have to stop now. But what we are asking for is that we develop the whole of our island and encourage people from the South and the South-East to go to the North and North-East, or it may be to go to those bleak lands from which Lady Stedman comes, the Fenlands. They can be awfully bleak, but they can be very friendly too. What we are trying to do—this is what the whole purpose was about—is to people the whole land. All we have to do is to ensure that wherever in these lands we go the services will be available. Then there would not be a problem, as Lady Stedman said, with what she called "her county council" as against "the" new town. This is the situation we must above all try to avoid. We are trying to develop the land and there is a lot of land here to develop, with a lot of opportunities. It costs us the earth to try to use the South-Eastern triangle. It is so much cheaper to use East Anglia, which is in any event much nearer the Continent; it is so much cheaper to use the North-East or the North-West.

I wanted to intervene only because I did not think the noble Baroness, Lady Young, got the point of what it is all about, and I had a little hit of worry about my noble friend Lady Stedman. It is not a question of giving special facilities to something called the new town; it is question of relocating our people so that the whole island is used, so that the culture is spread everywhere, and so that we can do what I once hoped as Minister of Economic Affairs to do: to develop this country regionally. If we spread 50-odd million people across this island regionally it will be so much less expensive; it will be so much better culturally, and we shall get industry there. In giving my personal support to the Bill I want to say to my noble friend the Minister in charge of it: please see it that way. You are not doing good to somebody. You are not asking for money from somebody—I know what the Seccretary of State, who was once my Minister of State, is thinking of. We are trying to develop the whole of Britain in what will be a much less expensive way.

6.57 p.m.

Viscount AMORY

My Lords, I was not quite sure whether the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, was attacking my noble friend Lady Young or paying a tribute to her, but in either case I want to say the same thing, which is, first of all, to claim in the first alternative case, and to confirm in the second alternative case, that my noble friend Lady Young knows a very great deal indeed about this subject; and secondly to say how much I personally would like to be associated with what she said just now. Also I would say how much I should like to be associated with the very practical points raised in the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman. I thought that the point she made about the importance of the finance of these towns now it is very essential indeed to make because it all runs into very big figures.

The story of the new towns is a success story. A great deal of credit must go to the development corporations over the years. My noble friend Lady Young raised the question of the proportion of women. As a very timid bachelor I would hesitate to say what is precisely the right proportion. We might work out what is the proportion in this House, to start with, and see what that looks like. But there is, according to my calculations, either, at worst, one statutory woman per corporation or, at best one and a quarter statutory women per corporation. I will not follow that.

This is not the occasion for us, I realise, to discuss the consultation document. If it had been there are some things I think many of us in local government or associated with local government would have liked to say. That document rightly appeals for co-operation and partnership with the elected authorities. At some point that co-operation and partnership will need spelling out. There is an inclination in the document to talk as if the district councils only were interested; but of course the county councils are very interested in the new towns, with their planning and transportation responsibilities. In general, I think the view of many people in the elected local authorities would be that now, in view of the reform of local government, the integration with the elected authorities could be, and ought to be, closer and to take place more quickly, perhaps, than the consultation document has made out. I hope we shall have an opportunity on some other occasion to discuss the consultation document more fully.

Finally, I should like to apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, that an engagement that I have to depart for will make it impossible for me to listen to his reply, unless it is very brief, but I promise that I will read it with great interest. I propose to listen to the first seven minutes of it with the very greatest interest.

7.0 p.m.


My Lords, we have had a fairly long and certainly very interesting debate on this short Bill. My noble friend Lord George-Brown may not be asking for any more money for new towns, but as he will know from this Bill the Government are doing so. I can confirm to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that we estimate that the immediate increase being sought, the sum of £250 million, will be virtually committed during the 1975–76 financial year, but as she knows the Bill provides for a further £500 million to be made available.

Reverting to what my noble friend Lord George-Brown said, if I may say so my impression of the development of new towns is rather different from his. My impression is that some of the older new towns were located in what he referred to as the "golden triangle"—I am thinking particularly of Stevenage and Welwyn Garden City—but that many of the newer new towns, particularly Runcorn which I visited recently, are located in the area of the country where he particularly wants to see new towns being built. They are not relieving the pressure so much on the South-East, for which a great deal has been done and where the standards of life are a great deal higher than in other areas of the country. In Runcorn, for example, a great many people who lived in appalling housing conditions in Liverpool have been rehoused in really marvellous modern housing in that new town. I am very grateful to my noble friend for his support of the Bill.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, questioned our policies about the disposal of rented housing to sitting tenants. The reasons why my right honourable friend decided to stop the sale of rented homes in new towns pending the general review of new town policy which he put in hand when taking office from us, were emphasised again and again in the debate on Second Reading in another place. I am sorry that the noble Baroness has thought fit to raise it again. This Government could not tolerate a situation in which houses for sale in new towns were standing empty, as they were when we took office, but some of those houses were originally built for rent and the waiting period for renting houses was growing all the time.

I hope that the noble Baroness will accept that our concern for those in greatest housing needs dictates our action in this respect. This Government are certainly not against home ownership, but we must maintain the provision of housing for rent to ensure that the right degree of priority is given to meeting the demand for rented housing from those who cannot afford to buy their own houses. In most new towns there are still waiting periods for rented housing. We have not ruled out a further look at our present policies once the waiting period for rented houses is at what we regard as an acceptable level. We believe that it is wrong to allow a reduction in the stock of rented housing in the public sector which would inevitably lead to a greater shortage of such housing than that shortage which already exists.

The consultation document to which the noble Baroness referred made it clear that the present ban on sales need not be regarded as a permanent prohibition. It is in any event obvious that we are not against owner-occupation in new towns. The bulk of the demand for houses for purchase, as I am sure the noble Baroness will agree, will rightly continue to be met by the private sector although the development corporation will be able to build a proportion of houses for sale themselves. I might add as well that we see no reason why the principles of the licensing system, which will be recommended to local authorities as part of the community land scheme, might not be applied in new town areas and the development corporations encouraged to license private builders to build houses on development corporation land. The freehold of the land could be retained for direct conveyance to eventual owner occupiers. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, also raised some questions that were, in effect, questions about the cost effectiveness of new towns.

The Government have been in power for only 15 months, and in that time we have recognised that insufficient work has been undertaken to establish the comparative cost of new towns compared with the cost of other forms of urban development. Accordingly, work has been commissioned in this area and has been undertaken by the Urban Planning Division of the Building Research Establishment. It is not easy to recruit the right kind of expertise but a start is being made. Furthermore, we are attempting to assess the significance in this context of the fact that the population in some parts of the region—in London in particular—is declining, possibly therefore leaving some capacity under-utilised. But I think it is vital to recognise that the policy on new towns is not governed, and never has been governed, wholly by cost considerations. We have to have regard to the social implications about which my noble friend Lord George-Brown spoke at some length, and try to judge the results in terms of the quality of life of the people who live in them and relate that to the quality of their lives if the opportunities provided by new towns had never been there.

The noble Baroness and the noble Viscount, Lord Amory—whom I am glad to see is still here, and I am speaking as fast as I can—both raised the question of county councils. This is a point which has been made strongly to the Government and which is certainly accepted by my right honourable friend. I am sure that in considering partnership arrangements the local authorities may suggest that my right honourable friend should look favourably upon the idea of including county councils.

The noble Baroness raised the contentious issue of sex discrimination: may I say how delighted I am that this Government's Bill will give her the opportunity of questioning us further on this. She will have heard the excellent reply given by my noble friend Lady Birk at Question Time today on a very similar point. As my noble friend said then, we must all accept that not enough has been done in the past and we must hope for better things in the future. As the subject has been raised and I have been given the opportunity, may I say that my personal view is that appointing women to boards is undoubtedly very important but it is really starting at the wrong end of the stick. What is far more important is to get some children's books written where the "mum" instead of being a housewife, is the chairwoman of a development corporation.

My noble friend Lady Stedman said that my Department's aspirations were irreconcilable with the Treasury restraints on public expenditure, and I think we have that in common with every Government Department which spends any public money. To some extent the views of the two noble Baronesses who spoke were irreconcilable. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, queried the fact that we were asking for more money, while my noble friend said that we were not giving local authorities enough. As my noble friend will know, six county councils, led by Northamptonshire, have recently submitted to my right honourable friend a study of local authority finance with regard to the burdens placed on local authorities by new towns in their areas. I understand that in this Report they have argued that the size, speed and mix of development in new towns imposes a burden upon them that is not met either by the rate support grant system or from special help from the development corporations. These counties also feel that the restrictions on the growth of public expenditure will affect them adversely, particularly in 1976–77. My right honourable friend has agreed in principle to meet a deputation from these six counties and has suggested that in the first instance there should be a meeting at official level to probe the detailed calculations in their fairly detailed report.

The main points for consideration with the counties will be the possibility of financial contributions by New Town Corporations. These can be made under Section 3(3) of the New Towns Act 1965 subject to the approval of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and the Treasury. Indeed, the Northampton County Council have already been paid £716,000 by the Northampton Development Corporation in respect of the undue burden on their finances created by the development of the new town. There is also an agreement which my noble friend mentioned, under which Cam- bridgeshire County Council is likely to receive a contribution from Peterborough Development Corporation this year, and the Department have already accepted the principle of contributions by Telford Development Corporation to the Shropshire County Council if it can be proved that an undue burden exists in that case. Meanwhile, proposals for sharing county road construction costs in new towns generally are being discussed with the local authority associations. If accepted, these new arrangements should materially benefit county council finance over the next few years.

I should like to thank my noble friend for her kind remarks about the Department of the Environment. We shall certainly undertake to pass on to them her comments about other Government Departments—not just because she was polite about the Department of the Environment.

In spite of the doubts of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, which I hope I have now laid at rest, the Bill has been given a general welcome by your Lordships' House and I hope that it will be given a speedy passage through its remaining stages.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.