HL Deb 29 March 1977 vol 381 cc791-800

4.17 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This is a short Bill. On 12th May 1976 my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland announced in another place that the development of the new town at Stonehouse was not to proceed. This Bill is a consequence of that decision. The Bill is necessary because existing provisions in the New Towns (Scotland) Act 1968 for winding up a new town apply only where its development has been completed.

My Lords, there were three major reasons for the decision to cancel Stone-house. First, population growth estimates in the West Central Scotland Plan showed that a major motive for the development of a new town at Stonehouse—the need to relieve population pressure in Glasgow —had in large part been met by the other new towns in Scotland. Secondly, both the Plan and the Strathclyde Regional Report revised downwards the employment projections of previous forecasts and showed that there was enough housing and industrial land in West Central Scotland without Stonehouse. Thirdly, both central and local government, recognising that changed circumstances required new policies, have shifted the emphasis of their social and economic policies towards urban renewal in West Central Scotland.

When my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland took his decision, development at Stonehouse was just beginning. Only 96 houses were under construction and work on the first industrial site at Canderside was at a very early stage. To have continued development would have entailed major expenditure on infrastructure, which, for the reasons I have given, was not considered to be justifiable.

Cancellation of the new town, however, does not halt plans for industrial development at Stonehouse. In his announcement on 12th May last, my right honourable friend invited the Scottish Development Agency to take over the main industrial site at Canderside for development. The Agency, in conjunction with Strathclyde Regional Council, have looked very carefully into this proposal, and on 14th December last announced that they would purchase the site and hold it for use by a single major incoming industry at a later date. Nor does the cancellation of Stonehouse imply any lessening of the Government's support for the continued development of the five established new towns in Scotland; they have a substantial contribution to make to the Scottish economy in providing employment and relieving housing stress.

The Bill has three main provisions. It makes possible the dismantling of the legal and administrative structure of a Scottish new town within five years of its designation. It provides for the appointment of a development corporation or other statutory body to wind up the terminated new town, to sell off the property acquired for its development, and to meet the liabilities and claims for compensation arising from initial development. It also provides for the closure of the new town's accounts once the wind up of the new town has been completed, with any surplus being paid into the Consolidated Fund and any deficit being met out of monies provided by Parliament.

I shall now give a brief outline of the provisions of the Bill. Clause 1 empowers the Secretary of State, after consulting any interested local authorities, to make within five years of the designation of a new town in Scotland an order discontinuing its development. At present it can apply only to Stonehouse as the other Scottish new towns are considerably older. The termination of the new town is achieved by revoking the Designation Order and by revoking or varying the Development Corporation Order which establishes the new town's managing body. The assets and liabilities of the defunct new town will be transferred to a winding-up body which may be a development corporation or other statutory body. In the case of Stonehouse, the East Kilbride Development Corporation, as it will become, will be the winding-up body. The order will be subject to the Negative Resolution procedure.

Clause 2 specifies the duties and powers to be given to the winding-up body. The winding-up body will be required to manage and maintain the assets and meet the liabilities and obligations of the former development corporation and to conform to any instructions the Secretary of State may give to sell property to particular bodies or individuals. This is to ensure that the industrial site at Canderside may be sold to the Scottish Development Agency and the 96 houses which the development corporation have built to Hamilton District Council. These assets will all be sold for the best terms which can be obtained—the normal disposal terms for development corporations.

In Stonehouse the assets to be disposed of—Canderside and the 96 houses apart—comprise mainly agricultural land and some private houses. The Bill provides that previous owners will be given the opportunity to repurchase their land or property on terms approved by the Secretary of State and the Treasury, before it is offered for sale to a third party. Only if they decline to repurchase, will their property be offered to Government Departments and public authorities, and thereafter to the public at large, on the best terms which can reasonably be obtained. This is the normal procedure for the disposal of surplus Government land. To enable the winding-up body to carry out its function, it will be given the powers of a development corporation, and the Secretary of State is empowered to specify the date on which the winding-up is to be completed.

Clause 3 provides for the payment of compensation to members and staff of a development corporation of a new town which is de-designated. No compensation will be paid to members of the East Kilbride and Stonehouse Development Corporation, however, as the corporation will continue in being as the East Kilbride Development Corporation, and the compensation regulations for staff, which will be subject to Negative Resolution procedure, will follow the standard practice for such circumstances.

Clause 4 empowers the winding-up body, subject to the consent of the Secretary of State, to meet certain claims for compensation. These are, first, claims from a local authority or statutory undertaker for expenditure incurred in carrying out work for the development of the new town which was rendered abortive. Secondly, persons may claim the reimbursement of the legal and other professional expenses incurred in negotiations with the develop- ment corporation where these have been terminated.

Clause 5 requires the winding-up body to keep accounts and other records in respect of its activities, and provides for a final settlement when the winding-up is complete. The financial controls are the same as for a development corporation and the accounts will be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny. Clause 6 makes consequential Amendments to the Licensing (Scotland) Acts of 1959 and 1976, so that the Licensing Planning Committee for a new town shall cease to exist where a new town is cancelled. Both the 1959 and the 1976 Acts are referred to as this Bill may be enacted before the relevant provisions of the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976 come into effect. Clause 7 is the formal interpretation clause.

Since the announcement of the cancellation of Stonehouse on 12th May 1976, there has been much uncertainty over the planning status of the area. Only when the Bill is enacted will local interests be able to re-acquire their property, will regulations be made awarding compensation to staff, and will local authorities and others be able to claim compensation for abortive expenditure. It is to remove this uncertainty and to clarify the administration of planning and licensing in the area, that I commend this Bill to your Lordships as the necessary consequence of the decision last May to halt the development of Stonehouse New Town.

Moved, that the Bill be now read 2a—(Lord Kirkhill).

4.27 p.m.


My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, for explaining clearly and concisely the purposes of the Bill. I recognise that he personally was not involved in this sad story until very recently, when he became Minister of State at the Scottish Office. It is a sad story, because it is most disappointing that we should have to look at this Bill at all.

It is a Bill to wind up the new town of Stonehouse in Lanarkshire, upon which over the past 10 years many in that area have placed their hopes. Briefly, I should like to remind your Lordships that it was in the later 1960s that a Labour Government first indicated that a new town in the Stonehouse area would be desirable. We took that up when we came into office in 1970, and in 1971 the new town was designated. It was applauded on all sides. So far as I can remember, not a voice was raised against it. All were in favour, whether they were concerned with housing, employment or industry, and so were the people in Lanarkshire and, so far as I know, in the Glasgow area as a whole. If there was any opposition, it was invisible. At the time I was Secretary of State for Scotland and I remember it because the fact that there was no opposition was not an every day occurence. It is not often that a Government make a proposal and receive unanimous approval. It is certainly an experience which the Secretary of State for Scotland does not meet every day.

Further, the nearby East Kilbride Corporation was given the task of being the corporation for this new town. That was very appropriate because East Kilbride was the first and is the oldest new town in Scotland. It has been exceedingly successful and the work of the corporation is gradually being reduced. Here was new work for an exceedingly experienced team led by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Campsie, who was then the chairman and who has been recently succeeded by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, who I am glad to see here today. The general manager, Mr. Young, also had great success in bringing industry to East Kilbride and in the general running of that new town.

The town of East Kilbride has had tremendous success in the selling of its houses. Thousands of the houses have been most successfully sold, many being built for sale. This helped the housing situation in the area and brought back money to the corporation and the Government. In September 1974, after a change of Government, the then Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr. William Ross, said that the Government would continue with the new town of Stonehouse. I am not being cynical when I point out that that was a month before the last General Election, but none the less it was. Therefore, we wonder why a counter-decision was taken and announced in May of last year.

The Minister of State in another place, Mr. Gregor Mackenzie, gave the same reasons as the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, gave today. Let us just consider them. It is stated that the employment projections fell short of previous forecasts. That I regard as an euphemism for the highest unemployment in Scotland since the war. I recognise that there is a situation of very high unemployment, but I still do not think that that is a reason for giving up this new town scheme. Then, another reason repeated today was a changed emphasis in Government policies to urban renewal. That is simply a way of saying that the money is no longer available. I accept that public expenditure has to be reduced, and no doubt in another place the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be expanding on this theme at this moment. But let us recognise what is being done. Why not call a spade a spade and simply say that the Government have decided to reduce public expenditure in this area. We know that the IMF has prescribed the need for a reduction on this scale, but it does follow directly this Government's policy of 1974 of letting inflation get out of hand, in order, some would say, to stay in office.

I must say, because I feel strongly about this, that when I and my colleagues were in Government in late 1973 and early 1974 our principal aim was containing inflation, and we made it our first priority to reduce it. This was not some kind of confrontation, as some have stated, but it was largely to protect and preserve schemes such as these—major schemes which we knew were vulnerable, and indeed might prove impossible, if inflation got out of control and was rampant. Of course, with the 26 per cent. inflation that was later reached, a scheme like this has to disappear. May I give another example, with which the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, will be familiar. In Scotland, the Kessock Bridge, a major project which would take the road North of Inverness to the North of Scotland, cutting out a ferry and 15 miles of road round, was another victim of runaway inflation. There was a reasonable estimate for that about four years ago; now it is several times more, and that scheme has been postponed. Now this new town is a similar victim.

I mentioned that the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, is with us, the present chairman of East Kilbride Corporation. It is still called the East Kilbride and Stonehouse Corporation. I am aware that the Addison Rules probably prevent him from taking part in this debate, but I am sure that he must be disappointed, too, that this has had to happen. Certainly the right honourable Lady, Mrs. Judith Hart, made it absolutely clear, speaking in another place when she was on the Back-Benches two or three months ago, that she was completely in opposition to this Bill, and she is a Member for Lanarkshire. Since then she has rejoined the Government, which has meant that her opposition was muted at the final stage of the Bill. However, she was certainly on the record as being completely against what was proposed by the Government from the point of view of the people she represented in Lanarkshire. This is because many people knew that jobs were coming to Stonehouse; jobs that would go to Stonehouse but not elsewhere in Scotland. That is the important point. Stonehouse was able to offer by its geographical situation and other conditions, sites and proposals for industry which could not be replaced elsewhere in Scotland. We know of at least one major project which has gone South of the Border because Stone-house can no longer take it as a new town. Many people in Lanarkshire have had high hopes for at least 10 years, and they have now been dashed.

In another place, there has been discussion in detail about provisions in the Bill, which I shall not go into now and I do not think at the later stages that we need go over those details again. However, I should like to draw attention to one point, on which a great deal of time was spent in another place, because it is important from the point of view of the citizen; that is, that the Government did eventually put forward an Amendment which was accepted, to provide for proper arrangements to enable the former owners of land to have reasonable rights and terms for the repurchase of their land if they wished to buy it back.

It is especially disappointing for me, as I am sure you will understand, because I was Secretary of State for Scotland at the time of the designation of the new town, that this Bill should be before us. I was aware of the enthusiasm of the East Kilbride Corporation, and of the enthusiasm of all in that area who saw not only a new community which would help the very densely populated area of Glasgow but also a way in which more employment, which was much needed, could be brought to Lanarkshire.

4.36 p.m.

Viscount THURSO

My Lords, I have one worry about this Bill. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, I see that there may well be a need to stop or to dismantle a new town corporation even after work on creating a new town has started. However, the one thing that worries me—and I do not see anywhere in this Bill provision for dealing with this situation—is how, where work and plans have started to create something which is very much larger, where perhaps farms have been cut in half and partly built on, where housing has been put up, where factory sites have been created, it is practicable to plan to return this to something of a smaller size.

It seems to me that it is very difficult to take a project of a large size on which work has started, stop it, and then turn it into something which does not involve an increase. There is a planning problem here. There seems to be very little provision for passing on this planning problem to the surrounding local authorities, and a passing on of the powers and perhaps the finance necessary to round off developments which have been started in such a way, so that you do not simply leave an uninhabitable eyesore on the face of Scotland. This is a big query in my mind. I do not see it dealt with anywhere in this Bill, and I should like to hear what Her Majesty's Government have to say about the problem.

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has expressed his sadness at the Government decision to de-designate Stonehouse New Town. Of course I recognise very clearly that it was under his Secretaryship of State for Scotland that considerable initiatives in this direction were taken. But I would put it to the noble Lord that in the past five years there has been a material change in the whole of the circumstances of the West Central belt of Scotland. Although he has said that he thinks that the projection now of a population graph downwards is merely a euphemism, I have to say to the noble Lord that it is a fact.

Further I have to say to the noble Lord that the Government have taken account of the Strathclyde regional report, which has shown clearly that there is already in the West Central belt of Scotland sufficient industrial land available without continuing with the development of Stonehouse, however desirable such a development might be were funds almost wholly available for every desirable project. But the fact is that at the present moment Government expenditure is being carefully and closely monitored. In my opinion the new Government emphasis on regenerating the Glasgow East End project is the beginning of a new impulse in the West Central belt of Scotland. In that area we do not have mobility of labour; yet already we have schools and houses there, and the people there are becoming even more disadvantaged with each passing year.

The Secretary of State for Scotland is just about to give £1 million to that project. I do not think that is a cut-back of any kind in Scottish public expenditure. I suggest that it is re-zoning of some of the expenditure because the Secretary of State is taking a different emphasis. In my view, he is entitled to take that view in the circumstances of the day. I understand of course that Mrs. Judith Hart would have had an interest in making the representations she made; she represents the constituency and I think it was a vested interest that was made by her. For the noble Lord to mention Kessock as a further example of Government cutback of expenditure in Scotland was grossly unfair. The Kessock position, far from being postponed, is under very careful review at this time.


My Lords, the noble Lord seems to have misunderstood what I said. I said it was a victim of 26 per cent. inflation. I agree that the Government have had to make reductions and cut-backs, but if we had not had inflation on that scale, the estimate for the Kessock Bridge would not have reached the height where the Secretary of State for Scotland had to reject it.


My Lords, it was the Administration of which the noble Lord was a part which in my opinion led to the raging inflation of 1974. He will not agree, but that is my view. The figure which came in for Kessock, of almost £30 million, was a figure which no Secretary of State—I submit that this would have applied to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, had he been Secretary of State at the time—would accept, and I believe that events will prove the previous Secretary of State right in his hesitation in granting that particular contract. The one point I wish to emphasise—Lord Campbell made no mention of this—is that Canderside, which is the industrial estate, will come under the aegis of the Scottish Development Agency, so there will be many jobs in the Stone-house area; there will be job regeneration in the Stonehouse area despite the fact that Stonehouse New Town is to be de-designated.

As for the points which were put to me by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, I would want to give those consideration. I will have to go through the Bill very carefully and I will either reply to him in writing or we can have some conversation. If that is not enough for him, then of course the matter can be raised at a later stage.

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