HL Deb 13 July 1976 vol 373 cc252-85

7.21 p.m.

Baroness STEDMAN

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.—(Baroness Stedman.)

House in Committee accordingly.

[The Lord DERWENT in the Chair.]

Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Preparation and contents of transfer schemes]:

Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 1: Page 4, line 23, leave out ("has") and insert ("have").

The noble Baroness said: With the leave of the Committee, I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 2, because these are both drafting Amendments. They ensure that the Bill is consistent in using a plural verb in references to new town corporations in accordance with the normal convention in respect of local authorities and similar statutory bodies. Further similar Amendments will be moved to Clauses 6, 7 and 9 when we reach them. I beg to move.


If this is now to be accepted as a convention, I can only say that the existing Bill as set out reads more happily, but nevertheless we on this side of the House accept the Amendments.

Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 2: Page 4, line 26, leave out ("has") and insert ("have").

Baroness YOUNG moved Amendment No. 3 Page 5, line 5, after ("scheme") insert (",in addition to the matters referred to in section (Right of tenants to purchase dwelling houses) of this Act,").

The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 3 and at the same time speak to Amendments Nos. 4, 25 and 26. We have been round this course a number of times and the arguments will be very familiar. Amendments on this point were moved by my noble friends in another place both at Committee and at Report stage, and in each case the reply from the Government was, first, that the Amendments were technically imperfect, and, secondly, a matter of principle. I suppose it is impossible for me to produce a technically perfect Amendment. I have tried on a number of occasions and I do not think I have ever been successful. But I have had yet another go, and I hope at least these will not be taken out because there is something technically wrong with them. Having read the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, expressed on Second Reading, I hope she will look more favourably on the principle of these Amendments. It is very gratifying that the Government have moved such a long way on this matter on the sale of council houses over the past weeks. On reading the arguments of the right honourable friend of the noble Baroness, Mr. Silkin, at Committee and then at Report, and then reading her remarks, I detect that there has been a very real shift of opinion. I suspect that the shift of opinion is due to the fact that we all know that council house tenants wish to be able to buy their houses. They wish to be able to buy them whether they are fortunate enough to live in a local authority area in which there is a Conservative council which is prepared to allow them to buy, or whether it is a council which is not prepared to allow them to buy their houses. My Amendments are to confer a statutory right on the tenants to be able to buy their houses in new towns.

There is very considerable evidence to show that this is what people want. They want it particularly in an era of inflation, because, of course, a house is a capital asset; it is something they can pass on to their families. A house is something into which they can put their money in an area where they want to live. Of course, it is particularly true of new towns. I am not somebody who criticises new towns; I think they have brought a great many benefits to the country. It is because many of the houses in new towns are desirable residences that I think many people would like to buy and would like to have a statutory right to do so. There is also the admission by Mr. Silkin that if a great many houses were sold it would be a financial gain, and this, I would have thought, at a time of acute economic difficulty is an advantage. When we are all waiting daily for the next round of cuts in public expenditure, this would be one way in which some money might be made which could help other tenants who are less well-off, and could help the development of areas like dockland which are so sadly in need of development. The money could help the inner city areas that we all want to help. It therefore seems to me that there are a great many positive arguments in favour of these proposals, and I hope very much the noble Baroness will consider them now in the light of her own views on this matter. I beg to move.

Baroness STEDMAN

The passage of this Bill to date has been very much concerned with this question of the sale of houses and it has been noteworthy on two counts. First, for the widespread support of its general objectives, and, secondly, for what one might even call the obsession of the Party opposite with the wholly irrelevant issues represented by these Amendments, irrelevant, that is, in the context of this Bill. At every stage of the Bill so far this same issue has been the subject of Opposition Amendments, and debates on those Amendments have lasted no less than five hours, to say nothing of a Supply Day debate in another place which added a further 2½ hour discussion on the same subject. Therefore, faced with diligence and persistence of this order, one is entitled to assume—and indeed the noble Baroness has again left us in no doubt of their view—that this is an issue of real substance, of principle, and of cardinal importance to the Bill. So perhaps I may spend a few minutes considering this view and justifying my contention that these Amendments, far from being of cardinal importance, are in fact irrelevant to this Bill.

First, may I make clear that the Government are in no way opposed to owner occupation, as a brief examination of the record will establish. But neither do we believe that one can put owner occupation upon a sort of pedestal, first and foremost, above all other objectives. A responsible Government must look at the totality of the housing question and must make their decisions in relation to the twin concepts of need and choice. In the field of housing, need is not something that can be measured nationally, nor does it remain constant over time and irrespective of circumstance. Need should be determined locality by locality in the light of housing needs and conditions.

Some noble Lords, and others in another place, have argued that the suspension of sales of rented housing in our new towns was done on a national basis, thus perhaps undermining my argument. But this would be a false presumption. Sales were suspended in all the new towns because in all new towns the gap between the demand and supply of rented housing had reached what seemed to us to be unacceptable levels. We are now in a different situation, and my right honourable friend has already announced his intention to consider a resumption of sales in those towns where the waiting time for rented accommodation indicates that this can be done without prejudicing the needs of those whose only hope of a decent home is a house or flat to rent. I shall return to that later.

The Government believe that a statutory right for all tenants to purchase their houses, whether or not subject to some residential qualification, would remove the essential flexibility required to meet different and changing local circumstances, and this is one of the basic reasons why we are opposed to the principle which these Amendments seek to establish. But let me return to my contention that the Amendments are irrelevant to the present Bill.

The Opposition have affirmed that it is a matter of fundamental importance to establish the right for council house tenants and new town tenants to buy their houses, and that is a point of view which one can understand even if one does not necessarily agree with it. But of what relevance is this to a Bill designed to transfer, at different times over a period of years, the housing stock of a number of separate new towns to the appropriate local authorities? If the principle of the Amendments is accepted, the effect would be that in one of the new towns under the control of the Commission for the new towns, for example, where early transfer of housing can be envisaged, a tenant with the required residential qualification would have a right to buy his house perhaps in 1977 or 1978.

However, this would not help a tenant with the same residential qualification in one of the third generation new towns, where a scheme of transfer might not take place for a considerable number of years. No; that tenant will have to wait; it is apparently not quite so fundamentally important for a tenant in Peterborough or Northampton to be able to buy his house as it is for the man in Crawley or Hemel Hempstead. Or is this where we begin to shed some light on the real objective, which has less to do with the giving of rights to tenants than with the Opposition's determination to deny to the democratically elected local authority the responsibility to manage the rented housing stock according to its perception of the housing needs of its district?

However, if I may anticipate what noble Lords opposite will say, surely the Amendments must be encompassed within the framework of the Bill, and that itself imposes these limitations? That might be a valid argument had the noble Baroness, Lady Young, not herself put down an Amendment to extend the Long Title of the Bill in such a way as to facilitate the creation of precisely the right to which her Party is so wedded. The fact that the noble Baroness has found it necessary to do this is itself an indication that the Bill has nothing to do with these Amendments. The fact is that a statutory right for tenants to buy their houses has no relevance to the transfer of housing to the local authorities, and to try in this doctrinaire fashion to marry the two things together merely demonstrates this through the illogicalities which can result.

The only effect of the Opposition Amendments is to prevent each new town local authority from making its own decision, in the light of its own local circumstances, whether it wishes to sell these houses, and that is a second fundamental reason why we are opposed to these Amendments. Let me remind noble Lords that these Amendments give no right to tenants until transfer to the local authority is imminent, and we are entitled to draw our own conclusions as to the reason for this.

I have spent some time on issues of principle, and I make no apology for so doing, but I cannot conclude without some comments on the details of the new clause which is the subject of one of the Amendments which are we considering. First, the reference to 'a dwellinghouse managed by a new town corporation is presumably intended to limit the period during which the right to buy may be exercised to the period during which the tenant is actually a tenant of the new town rather than of the local authority. If this statutory right is so important, one wonders why the movers of the Amendment feel it necessary to make the distinction. The Government have, of course, argued consistently that one should not pre-empt the local authority's decision nor impose a decision on that authority, but since the Opposition are apparently committed to the view that council tenants should also have the statutory right to buy, that would not be an argument of any great weight with the draftsman.

Secondly, the Amendments tie the residential requirement to the particular house in which the tenant happens to be living at the time of the transfer scheme. This, I submit, is wholly against the interests of good housing management and the most effective use of the rented housing stock. What prospect would a new town corporation housing manager have of maximising the use of his stock if a change of residence for a tenant carried with it the penalty of total loss of his "residential qualification"? Thirdly, subsection (2) of the new clause does not appear to impose the lower limit of historic cost on the additional, time-related discount, thought it does in relation to the basic 20 per cent.; and neither is it clear whether the period of 30 years is additional to, or inclusive of, the three-year qualifying period, so that the total discount may be either 47 per cent. or 50 per cent., in either case irrespective of the original cost of the dwelling.

I mentioned on Second Reading that my right honourable friend would be meeting the chairmen of new towns on 12th July for a wide-ranging discussion of new town matters including the question of the resumption of sales of rented dwellings. The discussion took place yesterday as planned and in this particular respect achieved its purpose. It demonstrated to my right honourable friend that the concept of resumption of sales in towns where certain social conditions are satisfied is regarded as a sensible one and that such resumption need not jeopardise the achievement of the new town's objectives. There was stimulating discussion about such matters as waiting periods and qualifying periods of residence—the latter being something on which the movers of the Amendment have taken an arbitrary decision and wish to see enshrined in legislation.

I hope it will convince your Lordships of our good faith in dealing with this question of sales of rented housing in new towns if I tell you that in the light of his discussions my right honourable friend now intends to write to the chairman of each new town corporation and to the chairman of the Commission for the New Towns setting out the guidelines on which he would be prepared to consider requests from corporations to make rented houses available again for purchase by tenants.

The first and most important point is that my right honourable friend will be prepared to consider such a request only from those towns where the waiting period for the main categories of applicants for rented housing is less than three months. Apart from this, the terms and conditions of sale will be basically the same as those which applied before sales were stopped in 1974. The only changes will be as follows. First, there should be consultation between the Corporation and their district council or district councils. In any case where there is disagreement between the Corporation and the council about the resumption of sales, my right honourable friend will reach his decision in the light of the points put forward by the two bodies. Secondly, the Department will monitor the position quarterly to ensure that the waiting period for rented dwellings does not lengthen unduly as the result of sales.

Thirdly, with regard to discounts my right honourable friend does not rule out the possibility of allowing sales to tenants with no specific qualifying period of residence. The provisions for buying at a discount might then apply where the prospective purchaser has been a development corporation tenant for a minimum period of perhaps four years. The discount provisions will otherwise be the same as those which previously applied; namely, there will be a 20 per cent. discount off the current market value with vacant possession, subject to no dwelling being sold at less than cost. If the purchaser resells within five years he will have to pay back to the Corporation the appropriate proportion of the discount, as set out in paragraph 6(ii) of New Towns Circular 179. I can say no more at this stage, except that it is our view that Corporations should be allowed to make any rented dwellings, including flats if they wish, available for sale, with the exception of old people's dwellings and those dwellings designed for the disabled.

When we discussed the Bill on Second Reading my noble friend Lady Phillips specifically raised the question of housing in the new towns for those who are phyiscally handicapped. Although this is not strictly relevant to the Bill, I am pleased to be able to tell noble Lords that at yesterday's meeting new town chairmen declared their wholehearted support for my right honourable friend's intention to see that the new towns play a full part in housing the disabled. Tenancy allocation guidelines for the London new towns have already put this inention into effect, and similar guidance will be issued to the other towns. The Government will also be encouraging the provision of both mobility housing and wheelchair housing in all the new towns and will be monitoring the extent of the provision that is made.

The Amendments would have the effect of giving to some tenants in some towns at widely different times a right to buy their houses at discounts not limited by the historic cost of provision unless they had, within the three years preceding the somewhat random securing of that right, moved to a dwelling particularly suited to their needs. As such, they are divisive, illogical and irresponsible. They cannot even be regarded seriously as an attempt to implement the Opposition's declared commitment on this issue. I ask your Lordships to reject them and, in doing so, to have regard to the statement that I have just made about my right honourable friend's intention for the resumption of sales in a way which has proper regard to the varying social conditions which obtain in different places at different times.


I support the Amendment which, I thought, was moved extremely well by my noble friend Lady Young, particularly remembering that she and I have been sitting here on the Front Bench since 2.30 this afternoon. I thought that my noble friend was in wonderful voice. I approach this subject first of all from the point of view of principle. We beieve it is not only in the interests of the tenants but in the interests of good business and good management that the Bill should include the provisions set out in the Amendment. The noble Baroness Lady Stedman, used the initial argument of irrelevance, and she stressed that several times in particular ways. Perhaps I might return the compliment by reminding her that in regard to another measure, the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, the inheritance provisions of tenancies were wholly irrelevant, but on that occasion the Government sought to persuade us that a relevance for them could be found. Perhaps, therefore, on this question of relevance or otherwise we can say that we are fifty-fifty.

Perhaps I should declare an interest when I say that I speak with some experience of property management. It is an interest not in regard to new towns but in regard to managing property, and I think it has been everyone's experience, in the last decade and possibly longer, that the deterioration of property, owned either by a municipality or some other body, has been a matter of regret. However, at the same time it has been almost impossible for local authorities to avoid carrying out the necessary repairs. Crawley New Town has been mentioned and I dare say that the same has occurred in Peterborough, a new town which is well known to Lady Stedman. Deterioration occurs at a far more rapid rate than any local authority would wish, and it must be put right either at the expense of the local authority or of the tenant, according to the obligations of the various parties to the tenancy agreement.

In my submission, in view of the enormous number of properties in a new town which, after a very brief number of years, will require a high degree of care and attention, it is a far better bet for local authorities—as would be the case under the Amendment—to sell those dwellings at a much earlier date. The owners would not only have the satisfaction of owning their property, but would undertake the obligations at present cast on the local authority or, as at present, the new town authority. The terms of the Bill as drafted undoubtedly concern the transfer in a proper and orderly manner of the housing stock in the new towns to a local authority. We do not dispute that at all. What we commend is that imported into the Bill should be further provisions which would enable the total stock to be managed in a better fashion; namely, through owner-occupation.

I was glad to hear what the noble Baroness said about housing for the disabled. There is no point of disagreement between the Front Benches about that. Her remarks about her right honourable friend's agreement on this matter were most welcome and I am sure will receive approbation in all quarters. The noble Baroness said that her noble friends agreed with owner-occupation, and this we do not doubt. However, it is a rather later conversion and we have had ample opportunity to observe the views of the Party opposite on this subject, for example in terms of the Community Land Bill and other measures. When talking of conversion, I would remind the noble Baroness of a short poem written of the Hapsburgs: It is the curse of our proud dynasty to move half-heartedly, to stop half-way, to adopt half-measures hesitantly.

Baroness YOUNG

I was grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, for her remarks. As my noble friend Lord Sandys said, I have had quite a long spell sitting here on the Front Bench, considering one Bill or another, for well over four hours. I was utterly stimulated by her remarks, so much so that I feel that I have a second wind and will be able to keep going for a very long time on this subject and other issues connected with the Bill. I was extremely amused to hear the noble Baroness adduce the argument about its being irrelevant under the Bill to sell council houses. I was, of course, fascinated to know what arguments would be produced against us this time and I must congratulate her on producing something new.

Having debated throughout the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill the fact that Part II was quite irrelevant to it unless the Government amended the Long Title, I have made certain that my Amendments amend the Long Title to ensure that everything is in order. I was touched to learn on the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill that at the end of the day the Government realised it was necessary to amend the Long Title, if not exactly on the points I raised, in any event as a result of my having drawn their attention to the difficulties. Naturally I did not intend to fall into the same trap, so I tabled all my Amendments to include this one as well.

I could produce all the statistics that are required on the gap on supply and demand in new towns, but I am sure the noble Baroness is as aware of them as I am. Of course I could not possibly accept the argument that having a lot of rented houses makes for flexibility. The noble Baroness must know that there is no more inflexible system than council housing. The great argument for the poor council house tenant is that, once in a council house, one is stuck for ever. I do not know how many transfers there are between one authority and another, but let us take the authority of Crawley. Suppose you are a new town tenant in Crawley and you would like to move somewhere else. You would immediately find yourself at the bottom of the council housing list in any other authority to which you chose to apply. You are stuck in Crawley until, by the mercy of Providence, you advertise and perhaps somebody in Peterborough, Northumberland, South Wales, Birmingham or where-ever it is you want to go agrees to exchange with you.

To argue that council housing is flexible will not do, therefore. It is the most static system of housing and, in my view, it is one of the contributory causes of unemployment because one simply cannot move to get another job because one cannot change one's house. In a very recent publication, council housing has been referred to as the "plight of the council serf". In fact, council house tenants are as effectively tied to the area in which they live as the serf was tied to the manor house. Whatever else the system may be, it is not flexible.

Therefore, one of the few ways of breaking the log jam is to allow people to buy their houses. However, I do not despair. The great thing about the debate in Committee in another place and the debate on Report in another place and, I am sure, the debate this evening is that they mean that, by the time the Report stage comes, the Government will have moved a little further. I thought it was splendid news about the meeting yesterday. It seemed to me that we have made great progress and I am really encouraged in this matter, which is really why I have got this second wind and could go on for a long time. The noble Baroness has actually said that the Minister is interested in selling council houses in new towns where the council agrees. I feel that this is very good news and much to be welcomed. Clearly, our arguments are having effect.

As I understood the noble Baroness—and I shall, of course, have to read Hansard to make sure that I have got it correct—the sales would be as before, in 1974 when the Conservative Government were in power, so naturally I could not possibly disagree with that. I am quite happy for the Department to monitor the position, and I am sure that the noble Baroness and her colleagues will find that more people will want to buy their houses because every public opinion poll taken on this subject shows that that is exactly what people want to do. I am quite certain, therefore, that if neither I nor my honourable friends in another place can convince them, the public will do so and, of course, there is nothing like the power of the ballot box to convince anybody. I am certain that the results on May 6th have contributed enormously to Government thinking on this matter. They will now see that this is what people want and what they will get in a large number of places.

I am only very sorry that the Government are not prepared to accept my Amendments on new towns. The Bill provides an opportunity to look at the sale of houses in new towns. However, I realise that there are technical defects in my Amendments and I shall of course read with great care what the noble Baroness had said to see if I can put them right.


Before the noble Baroness withdraws the Amendment, may I as chairman of a new town and taking a properly neutral stance, ask the noble Baroness, Lady Young, or my noble friend Lady Stedman why there should be 20 per cent. off? This was a figure which, as far as I can judge, was culled out of the air by Mr. Peter Walker five or six years ago. It has been repeated in the policy statements from everybody since. It is in the Amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and, for the life of me—or, rather, perhaps not for my life—I cannot understand why it should be 20 per cent. Why should it not be 10 per cent., 25 per cent. or any other amount? May I be enlightened on this point?

Baroness YOUNG

So far as my Amendment is concerned—and I cannot of course speak for anybody else in this matter—it was a figure that was felt to be reasonable for the discount given to a sitting tenant. The fact is that the house is not available for sale to anybody else and, if the sitting tenant is there and has the option of remaining there for life and cannot buy the house until he has been a sitting tenant for three years, that was felt to be a reasonable proportion to allow in view of this fact, with the proviso that if he had been a tenant of longer standing the discount would have been even greater. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 4 and 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 [Effect of transfer schemes]:

7.55 p.m.

Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 5: Page 8, line 20, leave out ("except that") and insert ("but— (a) the Secretary of State may direct that any land shall not be so treated if, in his opinion, it is inappropriate to do so; and".

The noble Baroness said: This Amendment, and Amendments Nos. 14 and 20 which are consequential upon it, have been tabled in response to the view of the local authority representatives on the Finance Sub-Group of the Official Working Group on the Bill. Clause 6(6), as presently drafted, requires that all buildings or other land transferred to the district council or managed by them shall be treated as having been provided under Part V of the Housing Act 1957. The objective of this provision was to ensure that the expenditure in respect of the property was charge able to the council's housing revenue account and thus qualified, where appropriate, for subsidy. However, it has been pointed out that some of the housing related assets which may be transferred or managed under the terms of the Bill are not eligible for housing subsidy and, had they been provided by the district council, would not necessarily have been included in the housing revenue account. Examples are meeting halls and recreational facilities. To require the district council to include them in their housing revenue account could be contrary to their normal practice and could create anomalies in administration. I beg to move.

Baroness YOUNG

I should like to thank the noble Baroness. I believe that this meets a very real point which was raised on Second Reading and I am very happy to support the Amendment.

Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 6:

Page 8, line 23, at end insert: ("( ) Where an interest in land is so vested, any installations on other land which are transferred by the scheme and are of a kind which could have been provided under Part V of the Housing Act 1957 shall, unless the Secretary of State otherwise directs, be treated as having been so provided.").

The noble Baroness said: This Amendment has been tabled because it became apparent on further study of the Bill that the present Clause 6(6) dealt only with land which was being vested in the local authority and not with property such as sewers and water mains which is not land. Accordingly, development corporations would have remained responsible for any housing related installations which were situated in or on land which was not itself transferred by the scheme.

For example, an area of housing may be at some distance from the nearest trunk sewer or water main and the connection to it may run, perhaps by means of an easement, over intervening land which is not housing land. This Amendment corrects that omission by providing that transferred installations, such as electricity cables, gas, water and sewerage pipes shall be treated in the same way as land. No comparable arrangements can be made with regard to installations serving land in a management scheme because management schemes cannot relate to property other than land.

The Secretary of State is given power to direct that such installations on other land (that is, land not transferred) shall not be treated as having been provided under Part V of the Housing Act 1957. This is a safeguard to prevent a local authority from being made responsible for expenditure related to installations which cannot reasonably be regarded as an essential adjunct to the transferred housing. I beg to move.

Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 7: Page 8, line 25, leave out ("so managed the district") and insert ("managed by a district council in pursuance of management arrangements, the").

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 6 provided for the insertion of an additional subsection (6A). The present Amendment is a purely drafting change made necesssry by that insertion. I beg to move.

Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 8: Page 8, line 31, leave out ("is") and insert ("are").

The noble Baroness said: This Amendment is similar to those Amendments already moved to Clause 3 to ensure that throughout the Bill a plural verb is used in reference to a new town corporation. I beg to move.

Clause 6, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 7 [Nomination of tenants for transferred and managed houses]:

8 p.m.

Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendments Nos. 9, 10, 11: Page 9, line 35, leave out ("is") and insert ("are"); Page 9, line 40, leave out ("is") and insert ("are"); Page 9, line 45, leave out ("is") and insert ("are").

The noble Baroness said: Amendments Nos. 9, 10 and 11 are also similar to those moved to Clauses 3 and 6 to ensure that the plural verb is used throughout. I beg to move.

Clause 7, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 8 agreed to.

Clause 9 [Financial arrangements]:

Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 12: Page 10, line 30, leave out ("has") and insert ("have").

The noble Baroness said: I hate to be repetitive, but the same applies to this Amendment as to the previous Amendments. I beg to move.

Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 13: Page 10, line 37, leave out from ("relevant") to end of line 39 and insert ("portion (for the time being determined) of the corporation's total capital loan debt (so determined)").

The noble Baroness said: With the leave of the Committee, in moving Amendment No. 13 I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 16, 17, 18 and 19. Nothing in these Amendments changes the basic principle behind the financial arrangements of the Bill; namely, that assets will be transferred on the basis of outstanding loan debt. Their purpose is to clarify the detailed application of that basic principle and to remove some doubts which have been expressed by representatives of both the local authorities and the new towns. These doubts stem from one fundamental problem; namely, that development corporations do not formally allocate their borrowing to specific purposes. During any one year a corporation may, for its general development requirements, including housing, receive a number of separate advances from the National Loans Fund, each repayable over a fixed term of 60 years at a stated rate of interest and by equal annual instalments of principle and interest. The amount spent on housing in that year may therefore derive from several different loans, and this process continues from year to year. Thus after, say, 30 years' work the total spent on housing will derive from a whole range of different segments of borrowing.

For subsidy, rent and other purposes, however, the annual revenue consequences of that expenditure must be determined, and each development corporation therefore maintains a housing account under rules laid down from time to time by the Secretary of State. In this account loan charges notionally reflecting the year's housing capital expenditure are debited at interest rates based on the average rate of borrowing during the year. This account therefore gives a fair picture of the annual cost to the development corporation, but it is based on notional figures, rather than specific attribution of each segment of borrowing used for housing purposes.

Because the total accumulated housing capital debt, which under Clause 9 is to form the basis for the determination by the Secretary of State of the annual amount payable by the district council, is in fact made up of all the various segments referred to, doubts have been expressed whether the use of the concept of "proportion" would require detailed examination in every year of each segment of borrowing, taking account of the period of that particular segment of loan remaining outstanding compared with the total. It has also been suggested that the use of the word "attributable" might actually require such a detailed examination of historic borrowing. A further complication in relation to attribution of debt is that the proceeds of houses which have been sold by development corporations have not, generally, been used to redeem the original capital borrowing. Instead they have been used to finance further development, which may or may not have been housing. Thus the original segment of "housing debt" remains, but the monies which it now represents may have been "recycled" for other purposes.

These complications would render a detailed attribution of actual use of borrowed money an immensely complicated task, and it has always therefore been the intention that there would be an arithmetical attribution of capital loan debt for the purposes of Clause 9, and that the annual payment by the district council would be based on average rates of interest. The result will be that the annual payment by the district council will, so far as historic debt existing at the date of transfer is concerned, be a fixed sum until such time as the first loan repayment period ends, which will not be for 30 years from now.

There is one final point. Under the provisions for management arrangements there may be new borrowing by the development corporation after transfer and this will clearly affect the portion of total debt to be attributed to the housing assets. But this new debt will be readily identifiable and these Amendments will mean that it can simply be added, year by year, to the "historic" figure, instead of involving a full recalculation of the proportion of total debt attributable. I beg to move.

Baroness YOUNG

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, for explaining the Amendment to us. This is a very complicated Part of a Bill and I would not say that I have fully understood all that the noble Baroness has said. What is important to try to understand—certainly from the point of view of the local authorities—is that as a result of this they will not be worse off, as they would otherwise have been. As I understand the position, taking the basis of the financial arrangements of historic debt is a procedure which has been accepted. If I have understood subsection (5) correctly, if the local authority finds itself to be worse off there will be a further subsidy coming to it to meet the difference.

I am saying this to make quite sure that I have understood the point. As I understand it, the whole purpose of new towns was to build houses as rapidly as possible, far more rapidly than a local authority would have done. Can the noble Baroness assure me that the Amendment will not alter this general principle, but will simply alter the book-keeping arrangements within the local authority by which the debt is apportioned?

Baroness STEDMAN

The Amendments are moved to the advantage of the local authorities, and there is the necessary provision that if there is any burden on the local authorities they can come back for further subsidy.

8.7 p.m.

Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 14: Page 10, line 42, after ("charges") insert ("the housing element of").

The noble Baroness said: With the permission of the Committee I should like to speak to Amendment No. 20 at the same time. Noble Lords have already, by virtue of Amendment No. 5, provided that the Secretary of State shall have power to determine that such assets as he may specify, which are included in the scheme, are not to be regarded as having been provided by the district council under Part V of the Housing Act 1957. The significance of this in relation to Clause 9, is that expenditure by a local authority under the said Part V falls to be debited to the authority's Housing Revenue Account. As Clause 9(3) stands at present, it requires that the whole of the annual sum paid by the district council for the transferred dwellings, the related assets transferred and the land and buildings being managed under management arrangements, shall be debited to the district council's Housing Revenue Account.

This will of course include such part, if any, as is payable in respect of assets which, because of a direction of the Secretary of State made under Clause 6(6) as amended, are not part of the district council's housing provision. That part of the payment by the district council which relates to those assets should not of course be debited to the Housing Revenue Account, and these Amendments secure this by restricting the operation of Clause 9(3) to the "housing element" of the annual payment under the transfer scheme; that is, the portion of it which relates to the assets which are deemed to have been provided under Part V of the Housing Act 1957. I beg to move.

8.10 p.m.

Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 15: Page 11, line 5, leave out ("relevant proportion") and insert ("housing element of the relevant portion").

The noble Baroness said: This Amendment combines two drafting changes which noble Lords have already considered, and this also refers to Amendment No. 20. It substitutes "relevant portion" for "relevant proportion" in exactly the same way as Amendments Nos. 13, 16 and 17, some of which noble Lords have already agreed to. It introduces the words "housing element" into the reference to the annual sums payable by district councils for assets transferred by the scheme or managed under it in exactly the same way as Amendment No. 14, to which noble Lords have just agreed, introduces such a reference into Clause 9(3). I beg to move.


I think it is remarkable that we have so many minor variations in the text, but a total reluctance on the part of the noble Baroness to accept the principles behind our main Amendment. We have innumerable Amendments such as, "leave out 'is' and insert 'are'", and a whole variety of very minor Amendments. I think we on this side of the Committee accept them, but it seems to be really remarkable on the part of the noble Baroness that she has chosen to bring these before your Lordships.

Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 16: Page 11, line 30, leave out ("proportion") and insert ("portion").

Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 17: Page 11, line 31, leave out ("proportion") and insert ("portion").

Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 18: Page 11, line 34, leave out ("to be attributable") and insert ("it is reasonable to attribute").

Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 19: Page 11, line 39, leave out ("to be attributable") and insert ("it is reasonable to attribute").

Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 20: Page 11, line 44, at end insert ("and "housing element", in relation to any sum or any portion of a debt, means so much of that sum or portion as is determined by the Secretary of State to relate to anything treated by virtue of section 6(6) above as having been provided, acquired or appropriated under Part V of the Housing Act 1957.").

Clause 9, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 10 agreed to.

Clause 11 [Information for occupiers about proposed or final schemes, etc.]:

Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 21: Page 12, line 21, leave out from ("whose") to ("is") in line 22 and insert ("land is transferred by the scheme or").

The noble Baroness said: With the leave of the Committee, I will speak to Amendment No. 22 as well. For the sake of clarity may I explain that we have the word "whose" occurring twice in the same line and that I am referring to the first "whose" at the beginning of line 21. These are purely drafting Amendments. Clause 11(2) and (3) are concerned with: land … transferred by the scheme", and "transferred land" is defined in Clause 1(2) of the Bill as: land an interest in which is transferred by the transfer scheme. Accordingly, the present references to transfer of "an interest in land" are incorrect. In the context of conveyancing of land, I understand that the term "land" has a meaning which includes interests in land, and that the normal conveyancing meaning is used in the Bill in appropriate contexts. I beg to move.

Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 22: Page 12, line 28, leave out ("an interest in").

On Question, Whether Clause 11, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?


May I speak for one very brief moment about Clause 11? We are moving rather fast at this stage thanks to the Deputy Chairman of Committees, but are we to understand that under this clause statutory undertakers take over their rights of occupation of such sites as affect their particular works? Are we to understand that this is the point at which gas, water and other services take over?

Baroness STEDMAN

Yes, that is my understanding of it.

Clause 11, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 12 agreed to.

Clause 13 [Protection of employees]:

On Question, Whether Clause 13 shall stand part of the Bill?

8.15 p.m.


It is not my intention to object to Clause 13 standing part of the Bill, but I am rather anxious to obtain some assurances on staff matters. My noble friend Lady Stedman, when speaking to this Bill on Second Reading, said, in effect, that the Government's objective in relation to the staff of the development corporations was to restrict redundancies to the minimum, and that in this local government generally could have a part to play. That part would be in addition to the more detailed provisions which operate between the parties to the transfer schemes.

As I understand it, Clause 14, with the Government's proposed Amendment, is designed to make the transfer of staff as painless as is humanly possible. The particular aspect of all this that I am interested in, however, is the protection of the interests of employees under Clause 13 of the Bill. The protection of employees was a matter to which we, from the Opposition Benches, had a particular regard when the Local Government (Reorganisation) Bill was going through the House in 1972. What I am after at this stage of this Bill's progress is an assurance that the provisions to be made under Clause 13 will be no less generous for the affected staff than were made under Sections 259 and 260 of the 1972 Act.

On my first consideration of this matter I thought of putting down an Amendment on the lines of Section 260 of the 1972 Act. That section wrote into the Act a statutory provision enabling a specified category of affected persons to elect to be dealt with under that section rather than under the general regulations to be framed under Section 259. Section 260 resulted in generous provision for early retirement in lieu of compensation for loss of office, and I gather that it was so attractive that, of some 10,000 of the senior staff eligible to take advantage of it, some 3,000 elected to accept the provisions under Section 260. I think it must be the case that the Government of 1972, when framing the staff provision for the redundancies made inevitable by reorganisation, had in mind that thousands of the staff would be immediately affected—a fact which would add to the problem of the absorption of the displaced staff. Although the effect of this Bill will be nothing like that of the 1972 Act, the existing economic situation and the resulting pressures on the finances of local government are bound to have an effect on the employment situation in this field. Obviously, the number of staff likely to be affected by this Bill is bound to be small by comparison with that under a major local government reorganisation; but, many or few, the result may be no less disastrous for the affected persons.

I am of course aware of the terms of Clause 14, and I would be grateful if I could be told if, in their consideration of the effect on the staff of the transfer schemes, the Commission would regard it as coming within their remit to advise the Minister to make regulations for early retirement along the lines of Section 260 of the 1972 Act; or, alternatively, would the Commission be regarded as being competent to suggest some other exceptional provision for early retirement if the Section 260 provisions are not regarded as suitable? I am bound to say to my noble friend that I would expect a Labour Government to be no less generous in an important staff matter than was the Tory Government of 1972. I am anxious to hear what my noble friend has to say on this matter. This may decide my attitude on a possible Amendment for the Report stage.

Before I sit down perhaps I should tell the Committee that I have consulted NALGO about the staff matters; but, of course, I am speaking for myself in the matter. I hope for a suitable reply from my noble friend.

Baroness STEDMAN

I am grateful to my noble friend for having given me some notice that he was going to raise this point and of his fears. I can assure him and others in the House that my right honourable friends and I attach the greatest importance to the protection of the interests of all staff whose employment is affected by a transfer scheme—staff both of new town corporations and district councils. Indeed, we are so concerned about this that, in addition to the general framework which will be laid down by regulations made under this clause, my right honourable friend will be examining the staffing arrangements of each and every transfer scheme before he approves it. Noble Lords will have noted in this connection that Clause 3(5)(d) requires that every transfer scheme shall: contain relevant information about the effect of the scheme on the existing staff of the parties concerned and state proposals for staffing arrangements immediately after the transfer scheme comes into force and the protection of existing staff. This then is a measure of the significance we attach to the matters covered in Clause 13. It may be helpful to noble Lords if I explain in some detail what we are proposing under this clause. Subsection (1) imposed a duty on my right honourable friend to make regulations for the protection of the interests of staff affected by a transfer scheme. These will cover staff in district councils as well as new town corporations, and will apply not only to staff in the housing departments of the parties concerned, but, for example, to staff in the architects, finance and personnel departments who may also be affected by transfer schemes.

Subsection (2) of Clause 13 requires my right honourable friend to make specific provision in his regulations to protect the terms and conditions of employment of staff who enter new employment as a result of a transfer scheme—whether it be with another party to the transfer scheme or with the same employers. And the officer's remuneration and other terms and conditions of employment shall be no less favourable, taken together, than they were before transfer, so long as the officer is engaged in reasonably comparable duties; and even where he is not engaged in reasonably comparable duties, the terms and conditions of employment other than remuneration are, taken together, not less favourable than those he enjoyed in his old employment.

As noble Lords will understand, no legislation about statutory reorganisations of public bodies could ignore the problem of redundancy. Of course we hope that redundancies will be kept to the minimum compatible with efficient and cost-conscious management by district councils, and that the wishes of staff who opt for redundancy will be taken into account as far as practicable; but it would be unreasonable not to expect there to be some officers who must suffer loss of employment or loss or diminution of emoluments as a result of transfer schemes. It is therefore essential to make provision for fair compensation for such people. Subsection (4) of Clause 13 achieves this by imposing a duty on my right honourable friend to make regulations for compensation under Section 24 of the Superannuation Act 1972, which is the power generally in use nowadays for providing compensation for public service employees.

My right honourable friend could have relied entirely on Section 24 of that Act, which, by itself, confers sufficient power for him to make regulations. However, he considered it would give reassurance to staff if a positive requirement for him to make such regulations appeared on the face of this Bill. As I explained during Second Reading, the Crombie Code for compensation will be used for these regulations which will thus be on the same lines as the Local Government (Compensation) Regulations 1974, which constitute one of the most recent examples of the code of compensation made available on statutory reorganisation.

I have explained subsections (1) to (4) of Clause 13 in some detail as they provide the key to the whole framework for the protection of staff. Subsections (5), (6) and (7) can be mentioned more briefly. Subsection (5) ensures that the rights relating to the giving of a minimum period of notice of dismissal and the rights of employees concerning unfair dismissal are not jeopardised by a transfer scheme; subsection (6) ensures that the change of employment as a result of a transfer scheme is not treated as a dismissal for the purposes of Section 1 of the Redundancy Payments Act 1965; finally, subsection (7) provides that the regulations made under Clause 13 shall be subject to Negative Resolution procedure; that is, subject to annulment in either House of Parliament.

I hope that noble Lords will agree that all these provisions are necessary if we are to offer full and fair protection to all staff affected by transfer schemes. Without the provisions of Clause 13 we should be left with the New Towns Staff Commission working, as it were, in a vacuum, with no certainty that any regulations would be made to implement their advice. We attach the greatest possible importance to the role of the Staff Commission and to their widespread consultations with representatives of the various staff interests as well as the employers. I shall shortly be moving Amendments to Clause 14 which will further strengthen the measures to protect staff by enabling my right honourable friend to give directions to the parties to a prospective scheme to implement advice given by the Staff Commission. However, I am sure my noble friend Lady Fisher, a member of the Commission, would admit that she and her fellow Commissioners would find their position very much undermined without the framework provided by Clause 13 and the regulations which will be made under it.

There is one point, however, which I should emphasise about the provisions for staff. My right honourable friend has all along made it clear that we do not intend to make any provision for voluntary early retirement in lieu of compensation along the lines of Section 260 of the Local Government Act 1972. I think noble Lords will know that the application of that provision has been the subject of substantial criticism. In any case, the circumstances of the present transfer involving relatively small numbers of staff, affected at different times over a period of many years, are quite different from those associated with local government reorganisation where 1,200 authorities were reduced to about 400 in one day. Moreover, an appropriate alternative for the staff over the age of 50, particularly at senior levels, is retirement with immediate pension, together with Crombie Code compensation as on the lines provided for in the Local Government (Compensation) Regulations 1974. For people in their upper 50s or so, whose further prospects of employment may be limited, Crombie Code regulations are as a rule more generous than Section 260 terms.

Finally, I ought to say that we are very much aware of the particular anxiety felt by staff of the Commission for the New Towns at this time. My right honourable friend did, however, make it clear during the Third Reading of this Bill in another place, that we see an important ongoing role for the Commission in the management of the commercial and industrial assets of new towns. It will be a new-style Commission. As my right honourable friend pointed out, most of the first-generation towns were in the South-East, and since then others have been established in the West Midlands, the North-West and the North-East; so the Government must look at the organisation of the overall task and at the constitution of the Commission, bearing in mind the regional location of the assets it will manage. I know my right honourable friend has this very much in mind.

To return, however, to the terms of the Bill, we believe that in Clauses 13 and 14 we are making the right statutory provisions for staff protection in the housing transfer situation. But it is true that the Statutes are cold comfort for the individual who, at the end of the day, is redundant or is not as content with his job as he was before. It is extremely important that the representatives of the various staff interests should be closely involved by the parties to a prospective transfer scheme from the outset, and that all concerned should approach the housing transfer situation determined to work together in a common effort to resolve the problems which arise, and to resolve them in such a way that those concerned genuinely feel that the outcome was fair. There should be no lingering sense of grievance. It is very important that these aspects are dealt with properly during the first transfers so that each transfer in the future is not viewed with suspicion and apprehension.

Baroness YOUNG

I do not know how far the noble Lord, Lord Champion, is going to pursue the point he made. The question of staff is extremely important. Unless this is satisfactorily resolved it is unlikely that any of the schemes will work very well, quite apart from the effect on the individuals concerned. I should like to ask the noble Baroness two specific questions. She said that the proposal will be brought in by regulation subject to the Negative Resolution procedure of the House. This makes it difficult for any of these matters to be effectively debated because a vote against one of them would be a vote against all the proposals, which no one would want to see. I do not think that is a particularly satisfactory aspect.

Secondly, if I understood the noble Baroness correctly, the arrangements for staff are not as generous as they were in the reorganisation of 1972, and in one particular point it has been decided to discontinue the principles which were allowed under the 1972 Act for early retirement. The noble Lord, Lord Champion, made this point. There have been many aspects of reorgnisation which have been criticised. It would be only right to have it on the record for the sake of the staff, who of course face a much more difficult situation now than they faced in 1972. I think it would be very difficult for a man or woman over the age of 50 to find alternative employment, and it is rather more necesssry now than it was in 1972 that the compensation arrangements should be generous.

Baroness STEDMAN

I take the point on this. We are determined that we shall have a satisfied staff at the end of the day in so far as is humanly possible. The New Towns Staff Commission are already aware that the Government have decided not to make a provision on the lines of Section 260 of the 1972 Act. The regulation-making powers in Clause 13(1) are wide, but it seems unlikely that the Staff Commission when formally set up, if and when the Bill receives the Royal Assent, would seek to make recommendations as to compensation when Parliament had explicitly indicated a limitation on that compensation. We feel, working the Crombie code of compensation, that those who elect for early retirement will find that they are perhaps more generously treated than would be the case under Section 260. I will consider the point the noble Baroness raised and write to her before the Report stage so that we may discuss it further. We intend to be as generous and helpful as possible to the staff.


I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for the support she has given me on the point I raised regarding the staff, and I am grateful to my noble friend for her careful, lengthy and considered reply. I will of course look at that carefully between now and the Report stage. I must admit that I still have a sneaking feeling that something ought to be done about early retirement. I am hoping that my noble friend and my right honourable friend will give further consideration to this matter between now and Report stage. If they decide to do something about that, perhaps they will let me know so that I do not put down an Amendment which may be worded less satisfactorily than their Amendment.

Clause 13 agreed to.

Clause 14 [New Towns Staff Commission]:

8.35 p.m.

Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 23:

Page 14, line 25, at end insert: ("(1A) If the Secretary of State accepts any advice given to him by the New Towns Staff Commission under this section which he thinks should be brought to the attention of all the relevant authorities (that is to say, every new town corporation and the council of every district within which any part of the area of a new town is situated) or to one or some of those authorities, he shall notify the Commission of his acceptance and shall direct them to take such steps as they consider appropriate to bring the advice and its acceptance to the attention of all the relevant authorities or, as the case may be, such of them as may be specified in the direction.")

The noble Baroness said: The effect of the Amendment is that if the Secretary of State wishes any advice given to him by the New Town Staff Commission to be brought to the attention of the new town corporations and of the district councils within whose areas a new town is situated, he can direct the Commission to take such steps as they consider appropriate to bring the advice, and the fact that it has been accepted by the Secretary of State, to the attention of the authorities. He can then require that all such authorities be notified of the advice or specify certain authorities who are to be told.

This Amendment removes a slight deficiency in the provisions of Clause 14 by providing that where the Secretary of State so directs, the New Towns Staff Commission shall bring to the attention of new town corporations and relevant district councils advice which they have given to the Secretary of State which he has accepted. It is expected that the Staff Commission will probably do this by issuing circulars, as did the Local Government Staff Commission. This will enable the Staff Commission to promulgate to the corporations and councils the detailed recommendations which my right honourable friend expects to receive from them for the protection of staff affected by transfer schemes. The Staff Advisory Committee—the Staff Commission designate—have been undertaking extensive consultations with representatives of employers and employees about the effect on staff of the transfers and have been giving top priority to the question of "ring fences" (that is, restrictions on recruitment) and arrangements to minimise staff uncertainty. When my right honourable friend has received the Commission's recommendations it will be clearly helpful if he can then direct the Commission to bring these recommendations to the attention of the relevant authorities.

It will not, however, be appropriate for the Commission to circularise all their advice. For example, my right honourable friend will be seeking their advice on the contents of the regulations he is to make under Clause 13, but such advice is unlikely to be appropriate for general circulation by the Commission. In these circumstances it is more likely that my right honourable friend would refer to this advice when himself writing to the new town corporations and district councils about the regulations. So the Amendment provides for the Secretary of State, when notifying the Commission of his acceptance of advice, to direct them to bring it to the attention of relevant authorities where he thinks it right for this to be done. Finally, this Amendment links with Amendment No. 24 which gives my right honourable friend power to direct authorities to take steps to implement advice which they have been given by the Commission under the present Amendment. We expect both of these Amendments to be welcomed by staff representatives in both the new town corporations and the district councils. I beg to move.


This Amendment, far from satisfying the Staff Commission and far from remedying the situation as the noble Baroness has advised the Committee, will provide a tangle. It provides for only one set of circumstances. In our view it could even be bordering on the sinister. It provides for the Secretary of State to accept the advice; it does not provide for the Secretary of State to differ in his opinion or offer alternative suggestions. It ties the situation up very much too tightly. It could well be that the noble Baroness is promoting an Amendment which her right honourable friend may wish to alter, vary or regret at some later stage.

We will not seek to divide the Committee on this issue at this stage. We believe that by tying the hands of the Secretary of State very much more tightly than was initially intended, circumstances will occur in which he will wish to have a far greater range of activity. We recognise entirely what the noble Baroness said about Clause 13. We agree with her that Clause 14 is by no means entirely satisfactory, but we feel the Government may eventually regret what they have set out in these two Amendments.

8.40 p.m.

Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 24:

Page 14, line 31, at end insert: ("() give directions to any relevant authority whose attention has been drawn to any advice under subsection (1A) above requiring them to take such steps as may be specified in the directions to implement any of that advice so specified ").

The noble Baroness said: This Amendment removes a slight deficiency in the provisions of Clause 14 by providing that, where the Secretary of State so directs, the New Town Staff Commission shall bring to the attention of the new town corporations and relevant district councils the advice they have given to the Secretary of State which he has accepted. It is expected that the Staff Commission will probably do this by issuing circulars, as did the Local Government Staff Commission. Where the advice is given by the New Town Staff Commission and has been drawn to the attention of relevant district councils and new town corporations, the Secretary of State can issue directions to any of these authorities requiring them to take such steps as may be specified in the directions to implement any of that advice.

On Second Reading I indicated that we were considering an Amendment on these lines, and Amendment No. 24 means that where the Staff Commission have notified relevant authorities of advice that has been given and which the Secretary of State has accepted—for example, arrangements for ring fences or for the restriction of recruitment—and it becomes clear that a particular authority is reluctant to implement that advice, my right honourable friend would be able to use his power of direction under this Amendment to require them to do so. The Government hope that the mere existence of this reserve power would help to persuade the authorities to follow advice which the Staff Commission have brought to their attention, and therefore in the event it may not be necessary to use it.

The proposed power is well precedented: in each of the enactments dealing with the local government and National Health Service reorganisations there were similar reserve powers. It further strengthens those provisions in the Bill designed to ensure full and fair protection of the interests of staff of both the new town corporations and the district councils who may be affected by transfers. We know that this will be welcomed by the staff representatives of both types of authority. I beg to move.


Once again we are in a situation in which, if I might refer to my Latin primer, one prefixed a question with the word "nonne" if one expected the answer "yes". In Clause 14(2) this Amendment is going to create once again a nonne situation. I believe, once again, that it is unsatisfactory. The noble Baroness suggested that the Staff Commission would welcome it, but I think entirely the same arguments which I rehearsed to her a few moments ago apply to this matter. She has provided for a nonne situation in both cases and not a num one.

Clause 14, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 15 [Increase in maximum number of members of development corporations]:

On Question, Whether Clause 15 shall stand part of the Bill?

Baroness YOUNG

I should like to ask about the substitution of the number 11 for the number 7. It seems an extraordinary provision. I recognise that it is permissive and not mandatory, but at a time when the Government are considering economies right across the board, to make such a provision in this Bill seems to be wrong. Of course it is a relatively small amount of money, but all these people are paid out of the public purse, and I would not have thought this an appropriate time to increase the numbers. Perhaps the noble Baroness will say why she thinks it is necessary and whether or not she believes, as I do, that this is the kind of economy which could be made without hurting anybody at all.

Baroness STEDMAN

I referred to this clause in some detail on Second Reading, where we drew the attention of the House to the need for much closer working with the local authorities and the fact that in many cases 7 would still be adequate. We are not necessarily proposing—because we in the DOE are very cost conscious—to up the number to 11 as from the day this Bill becomes law. But in some new towns we have difficulty, and in particular in the Central Lancashire New Town, where there are three district councils involved in the area of the new town corporation. There are three district councils and local planning and housing authorities, and they provide a number of environmental services so that they clearly need to be associated with the work of the Corporation. It is in such cases that we felt 11 would be a more adequate number in order to give a proper local representation from the authorities. I can give the noble Baroness an assurance that we shall not up the numbers unless it is to meet a situation as in Central Lancashire, where we do not have sufficient representation from the district councils within the area of the new town corporation.

Baroness YOUNG

I appreciate that the noble Baroness is using the same argument about this as was used in another place when the matter was raised, but I believe the economic situation to be more serious than it was a month ago and therefore there is every reason to return to the matter. We have both had experience of local government and, I am certain, have both had experience of trying to fit the right number of representatives on to a given number on a committee. It is often a difficult exercise, but I do not believe it is beyond the wit of either the Central Lancashire New Town Corporation or of the Department of the Environment to find ways of getting all representatives from the relevant local authorities within the number 7 on this new town corporation.

This is a matter the Government might well look at again. It is the kind of thing people clearly understand, and it is an issue on which there has been a great deal of public criticism as regards the amounts of money paid to people who serve on public corporations. I do not necessarily accept the criticism as justified, but I am stating it as a fact. The noble Baroness has herself just said there has already been public criticism about some of the retirement provisions under the Local Government Act 1972. Under that Act and in this Bill the transfer provisions are not quite the same. If we are looking for savings in public money, I believe—and I offer this as a constructive suggestion—this is one that could usefully be made. However, we can return to this matter on Report.

Clause 15 agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with the Amendments.