HL Deb 07 December 1978 vol 397 cc299-311

4.28 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, if we may revert to the West Yorkshire Bill, may I start by saying that I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Saint Oswald. I know that he has had a very hectic life in the last few days, but he was kind enough to give me notice of his intentions and to explain to me what he had in mind. At this stage of the debate on his Amendment, therefore, I think that it would be appropriate if I tried to explain to your Lordships what was in the mind of the Select Committee when they disallowed these clauses. May I also say that I very much welcome the opportunity that these Amendments give to me. So often proceedings on Private Bills do not attract much attention in this House. Sometimes, as on this occasion, they raise extremely important issues.

These clauses—and, indeed, the clauses concerned with aid to industry generally— gave the Select Committee much their hardest task in coming to a decision. While, on the one hand, we were extremely sympathetic to the desire of local councils to help themselves in coping with their unemployment problems, we also attached great weight to the view of the two Departments who expressed views to us— the Department of the Environment and the Department of Industry—that, to be effective, aid to industry has to be selective and priorities have to be decided on a national basis. They argued that to give every local council powers to aid industry would detract from the ability of the Government to bring help to the worst areas of unemployment.

We considered very carefully the evidence that was given to us by the county councils and we considered the views of the Departments. We did not give an immediate decision; we took several days to consider the matter. When we came to a decision, we made this statement: The Committee had great difficulty in coming to a decision on these clauses in the light of reports from Government Departments. They are of the opinion that powers to assist industry at national and local level should more properly be contained in public rather than private legislation". The conclusion that we came to on the general clauses to do with aid to industry was that, despite the doubts expressed by the Departments, they should be allowed, but we restricted them to giving aid to small firms, which we defined as firms employing not more than one hundred people. We felt very strongly that policy decisions of this nature which established the dividing line between what is done by central Government and what can be done by local government should be taken by Parliament and should be contained in public legislation, but on these clauses of aid to industry no such legislation existed, and so we came to a conclusion and we drew the line at allowing local councils to give aid to small firms. This did not seem to us to be likely to overlap or to dilute national priorities.

I mention this attitude of the committee in connection with aid to industry in the four Bills because I want to make clear to your Lordships the very sympathetic attitude that we had to the points that were put to us in evidence by the county councils. Those were our decisions on the clauses which were common to all four Bills but, as the noble Lord, Lord Saint Oswald, has explained, in the West Yorkshire Bill there was a further group of clauses in Part II to give powers for the designation of industrial improvement areas. In this instance the situation was exactly the opposite. We did have public legislation—it was not actually on the Statute Book, but it had passed through the other place and it had passed its Report stage in this House. At the time this was the Inner Urban Areas Bill, now the Inner Urban Areas Act.

Section 1 of that Act gives the Secretary of State power to specify districts having areas of special need as designated districts for the purposes of that Act. Sections 4 to 6 and the Schedule to the Act give power to those designated district authorities, subject to control by the Secretary of State, to establish improvement areas. The clauses which we disallowed and which the noble Lord, Lord Saint Oswald, seeks to reinstate, give the same powers to districts to establish industrial improvement areas but without the need for the Secretary of State first to specify the district itself. The Amendment therefore, if allowed, would result in Leeds and Bradford being specified by the Secretary of State (who has already expressed his intention of doing so) and hence being able to establish industrial improvement areas under the Public Act, and Calderdale, Kirklees and Wakefield being able to establish the same type of industrial improvement areas under a Private Act.

This evidently did not give any qualms to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby; but if your Lordships are prepared to take any advice from me on the subject of private legislation, it is that I really would deplore the use of a Private Bill to try to change the effect of a Public Bill. That is in effect what I think the noble Lord was advocating, that because these districts had been excluded by the Secretary of State's decision in a Public Act, therefore it was right for a Private Bill to change that position and put them back into the position that they would have been in. If I may respectfully advise the noble Lord, I would suggest that what he and the noble Lord, Lord Saint Oswald, and others who wish to see help given to these other districts, should be doing is putting pressure on the Secretary of State to designate them under the Public Act and not to try to include them in a Private Act.

The noble Lord, Lord Saint Oswald, has very fairly already read out the report of our decision on this matter, and I shall not repeat it. We expressed again our sympathy with the underlying objects of the clauses and again our firm belief that these are matters which are of national implication and should be enacted by public general legislation. In this case this legislation existed in the Inner Urban Areas Act, and it would make nonsense of the underlying purpose of that Act if local authorities in general had similar powers to those of the Secretary of State. There can be no doubt that other districts will follow suit. This is one of the earlier Bills in the whole succession of local authority Bills which is bound to follow under the 1972 Act, and if all the districts of West Yorkshire were to be given this power I can predict with certainty that other local authorities promoting Bills in the future would follow suit. I echo there the words, which I thought were very persuasive and forceful, of the noble Lord, Lord Sefton. I thought he put the case extremely well. On this matter Parliament has made its decision. Parliament has given the Secretary of State powers to specify districts having areas of special need; Parliament did not give this power to local authorities, and in my view it would be inappropriate to do so by Private Bill.

I should like to make one further remark about the Tyne and Wear Bill which has been. cited as a precedent. It is perfectly true that a clause of this sort appears in the Tyne and Wear Bill, but of course it was put into the Bill at a time when this public legislation did not exist and therefore it was appropriate to a Private Bill because they were showing a need which was proper to them; but what I do not think is right is that subsequently, when there is a public Bill which has been argued through Parliament, giving certain powers, we should then try to enlarge those powers by means of a Private Bill.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me, I should have thought, with great respect, that if a local authority wished to include in a Bill something for which no provision had been made at all in general legislation, that is a much stronger argument for saying that it should be general legislation. My argument was that there is general legislation applying the principle of the matter—all experimental— and this will probably do good, to give a special area with special problems special powers.


My Lords, I am afraid the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, has not studied the Inner Urban Areas Act and what is proposed by this Amendment because they are identical, except that it would bring in three more districts which have not been designated by the Secretary of State, which is the whole purpose underlying the Inner Urban Areas Act. However, we can agree to differ on that. I only say that what we did in the committee was not done for any lack of sympathy; I think all in the committee would be delighted if the Secretary of State were to designate these districts; all we are saying is, please, not in a Private Act.

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, I thought it might help the House if I were to intervene at this point, to give the Government's view on the relationship between the existing legislation, the Bill before us, and the Amendments which the noble Lord, Lord Saint Oswald, is proposing. I start by saying that I support entirely the line that has been taken by the Lord Chairman.

The Government appreciate the concern of local authorities to play a greater role in the development of their local economies. In practice there is much that they can do within their existing powers, particularly by sympathetic and effective planning procedures. But as the Lord Chairman has pointed out, the dangers of wider powers proliferating among local authorities can be very great if Amendments of this sort are accepted. May I remind the House of the main point of Act II of The Gondoliers in the words of the Duke of Plazo Toro—or was it Don Alhambra? I am not sure—" When everyone is somebody, then no one is anybody ". My noble friend Lord Sefton of Garston put his finger directly on this issue when he pointed out that if West Yorkshire had these powers there is no reason why they should not be given to each and every local authority, and in that way they would cancel out the possibilities of the inner area policy working at all.

This House spent a good deal of time in the summer considering the Inner Urban Areas Act, and for the first time in general legislation this Act gives a structure to the provision of powers for local authorities to intervene in the local economies. The Act allows selected authorities to set up improvement areas and within these to provide loans and grants for the improvement of land and buildings. The Inner City Partnerships have extended powers to grant-aid rents and site preparation works and to offer relief on interest payments for the acquisition of property and building work.

The Amendment now before the House, even with all the good intentions behind it, would in fact mean reversing the policy of the Inner Urban Areas Act. I cannot think that the House, on consideration and after having listened to the Lord Chairman, would want to accept the present Amendment, particularly after it had spent so long in careful and detailed consideration of the provisions to be included in the public legislation in the Inner Urban Areas Act. Noble Lords who are interested in that Act will recall the insistence of the House that designated local authorities should be permitted to help commercial areas as well as manufacturing industry, and this I accepted on behalf of the Government.

My Lords, there are also some serious weaknesses in the clauses the noble Lord, Lord Saint Oswald, would like to see restored to the Bill; this is apart from the general principle that I have been discussing. First, the proposed powers would not be subject to any controls. Secondly, the local authorities concerned would in practice be competing with each other for investment in the country area. Thirdly, there would be a distinct likelihood of inefficient competition and counter-bidding between them and the risk of public money being wasted, which I know is the very last thing that he would want to bring about. The Inner Urban Areas Act in contrast gives powers to central Government to prevent wasteful competition between authorities, including limits on the scale of subsidy to be given to firms and on the number of improvement areas declared.

Above all, the Amendments, if carried, would weaken the Government's inner city policies and priorities. Resources are limited and public expenditure needs to be restrained. My noble friend Lord Houghton mentioned different parts of Yorkshire, which I also know, but of course that could be reflected by noble Lords in this House or honourable Members in another place talking about various parts of the country. The trouble is that with limited resources you have to try to direct them where you feel they are most needed. It is quite true that until resources improve there will be areas which will suffer; we are aware of that and we are not at all complacent about it. This means that the extended powers which are being sought by the noble Lord could be not supported by extra resources from central Government.

I therefore fear that the powers he seeks might in practice really have the effect of weakening the existing policies to help Leeds and Bradford, which on any basis I think do have priority needs. If inner city policy is to work, then the public sector's limited resources must be concentrated on the areas of greatest need. In the case of West Yorkshire that must mean the inner areas of Leeds and Bradford, certainly at the present time. I accept, and, as I say, I know personally, the problems facing other West Yorkshire areas, but I do not believe that they would be nearer solution if these Amendments were accepted. Passing Amendments is not going to produce the resources or the results that are wanted; I am sure the noble Lord is well aware of that.

The Inner Urban Areas Act has been on the Statute Book for only five months. I consider it must be given time to prove its worth. I again repeat what the Lord Chairman and my noble friend Lord Sefton have said, going back to the original idea of trying to rationalise legislation in the various private local government Acts, that really this is a matter for public legislation, which we now have. I hope the noble Lord will withdraw his Amendments.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, it is my intention to intervene only very briefly in this debate. I have listened very carefully to all that has been said. I have been approached by a number of people over these Amendments to the West Yorkshire Bill, and I should like to begin by saying that I have very great sympathy indeed with the aims of the Amendments and with the point that my noble friend Lord Saint Oswald was making. I have myself moved Amendments from time to time on local Bills where I have thought this to be right. In this case, I have considered the matter very carefully indeed.

Perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, would confirm my understanding of what she has just been saying about the financial implications involved. It seems to me that one of the difficulties about these Amendments is the financial implications. I understand that were these Amendments to be carried the effect would be that the money available for the inner urban areas, which we all want, would simply be spread that much more thinly; there would not be extra resources available.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, there would not be extra resources available. What has been allocated to Leeds and Bradford would not be spread more thinly; it would remain the same. But what would happen would be that Calderdale and the other areas the noble Lord included would be competing for investors. They would have to raise their own rates to find the money. The whole policy would be weakened, and, as the noble Baroness said, it would be spreading the allocation more thinly. But I want to make it clear that it would not spread the actual allocation of the Government more thinly, because it would not be able to go there. It would mean that they would have to find personnel and investors, and it may well be that Leeds and Bradford would be worse off because of the competition from the other areas. They may have to pay more out of their grant for specific services or help needed to attract investors than would otherwise be the case. It would topple the whole thing.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that explanation. My concern is that ultimately it would have the effect of increased expenditure, and it would have the second effect which I think the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, has made very clear. Those of us who took part in the proceedings on the Inner Urban Areas Act were somewhat sceptical about the length of the list of places already being helped by it; it did grow longer as the Bill proceeded through both Houses of Parliament, not surprisinginly because everybody who had a problem wanted some of the help. At the end of it all the jam was being spread fairly thinly. I think, therefore, one has to take a view about this, and although everybody wants to help these three districts, I am not certain that putting this Amendment back into the Bill will meet the case.

I have, however, a second difficulty, which has not been touched on at all, and perhaps my noble friend Lord Saint Oswald would comment on it. I refer to the clause on page 2, Power to carry out improvements. One of the proposals is that the local authority should carry out improvements themselves, which, of course, implies direct labour. It is not my intention to raise this matter in a debate at this time, but it is one on which I and my colleages would be very concerned if the clause were agreed to. Should the noble Lord carry this Amendment, this would be a matter which I would ask my honourable friends in another place to look at. I think we would all be very sympathetic to the reasons behind the Amendment. I think it is one of the tragedies of our economic situation today that we are able to do so little for those places which need so much help.

4.50 p.m.


My Lords, before the mover of the Amendment replies, I think that, as a member of the Committee, I ought to take the opportunity of supporting my noble friend the Chairman of Committees. I do so under two headings. First, there is the question of aid by local authorities to industry in general. Secondly, there is the particular question which is before the House. I should like first of all to deal with the general question of aid by local authorities to industry. We considered this matter because we had before us clauses common to all four bills. We had to bear in mind various considerations. First, was it wise that local authorities should give aid to industry in competition with each other? Alternatively, should aid to industry be given by national government on the basis of national priorities? That was the first decision that was required to be made. Personally, I felt that it should be a question of national priorities and aid by national government, rather than having local authorities in competition with each other.

The second consideration was that certain technical skills were required in administering this kind of aid, otherwise money would be wasted. For example, it is easy to give money away on the assumption that it will increase employment when in fact, it does nothing of the kind, but merely moves employment from one firm to another firm within the locality. We heard about cases where I am quite sure that was what happened when the local authority made the grant.


My Lords, I gave the figures for unemployment, which are unacceptably high. Therefore, it would not be a question of stealing labour from one factory or industry to bring it to another: it would mean employing people who are at present unemployed.


No, my Lords. I shall give your Lordships an example of a case where it does not create new employment. A grant was made on the assumption that it would create new employment, but in fact it merely transferred employment from one firm to another. There were several cases where that occurred and in particular there was the case where money was given to assist the building of a restaurant. All the evidence indicated that all that would happen would be that the trade would be drawn from other restaurants to the one in question—in other words, there would be no new employment; it would merely be a transfer of employment from existing restaurants within the locality to the new restaurant. That, in our opinion, would be money wasted.

There was a third consideration regarding the general issue of aid being granted by local authorities. As a member of the Committee, I took the view that aid to industry should be moved as far as possible away from local authorities and that, if aid were granted locally, near to the people concerned, it might become a question of who one knew rather than whether one had a good case. I felt that the decision ought to be made at a distance from the locality so that that kind of influence could not be brought to bear. Those were the kinds of consideration that came up as regards this matter.

As regards the particular clauses which are the subject of the Amendments, we had the following problem: this was not a matter which had been neglected by Parliament and the Government. As a matter of fact, there was at the time a Bill, almost nearing completion, dealing with inner urban areas. Therefore, it was not a situation which called for experiment because it was being ignored.

The Inner Urban Areas Bill did not deal merely with the general principle of authorising public expenditure on aid to inner urban areas. It also laid down how the priorities should be decided. The effect of the clauses submitted to us was to make alterations to a decision which had been made by Parliament in general legislation. We felt that it was quite wrong for that to be included in local legislation and that was why the Committee made the decision which it did.

The Earl of ON SLOW

My Lords, first, I should like to apologise to your Lordships for not being present to hear the start of the debate. It seems to me that one point that arises out of the Bill— not only as regards these Amendments but also as regards the contested clauses which were dealt with by the Committee on which I had the privilege to sit—is the muddle that is being created by local government bodies having different powers.

The sooner it is laid down by general legislation that local government bodies either should or should not have the power to define their own areas of special need, the better. It should be done in a general Government Bill. It seems to me that this cannot be said too often. It has been said frequently by practically everyone, including the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and it appears not to have impinged in any way upon the hierarchy of Her Majesty's present advisers. In my view it is very important that this should be done. Indeed, it is almost worth voting for something which could possibly make a nonsense of the Bill in order to make somebody think again about including the whole gamut of local authority legislation in a general powers Bill which will give everybody the same type of discretionary powers which they will be free to use or not. Otherwise, there will be an even bigger muddle than there was before local government reorganisation.


My Lords, the noble Lord has picked a very bad example to suit his case, because only this year the question has been dealt with by public general legislation.

The Earl of ONSLOW

My Lords, I think that the noble Lord has not quite followed what I was saying, with the greatest of respect to him.

Several noble Lords: Order.

The Earl of ONSLOW

Am I out of order, my Lords? In that case, I shall apologise and sit down.


My Lords, first, I should like to express my gratitude to all those who have shown such interest in the Amendments—indeed, interest which they deserve. I am afraid that I cannot agree with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, who has spoken on behalf of the Government. I do not believe that the Amendments seek to reverse the intentions of the Inner Urban Areas Act, but merely augment them and give assistance to those outside who have been excluded.

The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and his committee expressed sympathy for the case made but they did not, in fact, implement that sympathy. Therefore, although everyone was extremely grateful to hear the sympathy expressed and knew it to be well deserved, if it was not implemented it did not help a great deal.

The arguments which have been made against the Amendments seem to me to be made from the position of the bureaucrat in the manger: if some deserving areas are deprived of these powers, then all deserving areas ought to be equally deprived. I simply cannot agree with such an argument. Each case is worth considering on its merits and in my appeal I set out to outline the merits—not in detail—as I see them on the spot. After all, this is my own area of the country and the merits are very considerable.

We are told that God helps those who help themselves. The sponsors of the Bill are not invoking God in any direct sense, but they are being asked to be able to invoke the help of investors. In reply to my noble friend Lady Young, the implications of direct labour had not entered my mind, I had assumed that these very small works would be carried out by contract labour. As I have said, these are very small powers. They are permissive and not mandatory. The decisions would be made by people who know the area best and who will put their limited funds to the best use.

Resolved in the negative, and Amendments disagreed to accordingly.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass—(Lord Aberdare.)

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.