HL Deb 19 May 1978 vol 392 cc603-48

11.5 a.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The problems of our deprived inner areas are deep seated; they have grown in intensity in recent years and it will take considerable time to overcome them. When the Bill is enacted it will undoubtedly make a practical contribution towards alleviating the crucial problem of our inner city areas, which is the lack of employment.

We last debated inner city problems in March 1977 on the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Sandford. We anticipated—as we so often do in this House—the statement in another place by my right honourable friend on the partnership approach to inner city problems and the subsequent White Paper Policy for the Inner Cities. The Bill before the House today is based on proposals contained in just one paragraph of that White Paper. Let us be quite clear that this Bill is only one element of the Government's inner areas policy which should be seen in the context of the considerable range of measures that are already under way.

The White Paper drew attention to the three main problems of the inner areas: economic decline, physical decay and social disadvantage. With the decline of industry and commerce have come the decay and desolation of the local physical environment. Vacant, derelict sites, boarded-up houses, abandoned factories, disused canals and litter all combine to create an atmosphere of despair.

The Bill enables local authorities in inner areas with acute problems of social and economic stress to take a more positive role in developing their local economies. In collaboration with the private sector, authorities will now be able to remove some of the physical symptoms of decline by making loans and grants available for works on land and by setting up industrial improvement areas. In the worst-hit areas authorities will be able to help firms with the high costs that they face, such as rents.

Before I describe the detail of the Bill, I think it is simpler to tell the House of the progress of other aspects of inner city policy, in particular the partnerships. The key feature of the Government's policy for inner city areas is a new commitment to a co-ordinated effort by local and central government. Noble Lords will recall that the three inner area studies—Liverpool, Birmingham and Lambeth—all emphasised the need to co-ordinate the work of the public services. We concluded that if a real impact were to be made we had to concentrate on areas with the most severe problems.

Seven partnership areas were chosen: Newcastle/Gateshead, Manchester/Salford, Liverpool, Birmingham, the London Docklands, Hackney/Islington and Lambeth. In all of them there are severe problems of multiple deprivation: concentrations of social problems, bad housing, overcrowding, single-parent families, problems of unemployment and low income. For each partnership area a three-year programme based on an assessment of the inner area needs and priorities for action is being prepared. This covers all local and central government activities and a concerted approach is being developed which involves Ministers and local authority members. Each area has a partnership committee chaired by a Minister from the Department of the Environment and includes Ministers from other Departments. There will therefore be a hard look at how the policies of Government Departments, their agencies, and local government working together affect the area, whether they are in conflict or whether they reinforce each other.

The Government have allocated specific additional resources to those seven areas. For example, Liverpool was allocated £11 million for immediate spending under the "construction package" in last year's April Budget. It has £2.5 million from the urban programme for this year to get the partnership under way and £10 million per year for succeeding years, and other areas have broadly similar sums. The whole programme is likely to involve £1 billion over the next decade.

In addition, much larger sums are now being spent through the existing central and local government programmes, and the partnerships will review these programmes to see that the money is spent effectively. The initial partnership programmes will be completed by September and reviewed annually. Obviously it will take some time to deploy the extra resources and make changes in existing schemes, but action is already being taken.

If partnership arrangements are to be successful, they must involve local people in developing ideas and projects for their own areas. The partnership committees consist of those elected to make decisions —Ministers and members. But voluntary groups have a tremendous contribution to make, which must in no way ever be underestimated. Indeed, the White Paper stated: Involving local people is both a necessary means to the regeneration of the inner areas and an end in its own right. These words are now being turned into action.

The partnerships have already, each in their own way, drawn on local groups for help and advice. The views of tenants' associations, amenity groups, ratepayers' organisations, local chambers of commerce and trade, local union interests and others, including individuals, are being sought. Special newsletters have been produced, public meetings held. Yet I am well aware that there are criticisms that not enough has been done to involve voluntary bodies. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is going to meet the National Council for Social Services to see what more can be done specifically to involve local people more deeply in the partnerships. This is as much 'a wish of the Government as it is of organisations concerned.

There are other areas in cities with difficult problems that also need to be tackled, and, after consultation with the local authorities, my right honourable friend selected 15 more for special attention. These authorities have been asked to prepare three-year programmes to deal with their inner area problems. They have also been given between £1 to £2 million from the urban programme. These are the areas which are known as "programme authorities".

Beyond this my right honourable friend has recently said that he proposes to give 14 additional districts with serious inner area problems the powers in the Bill. All this together means that 43 local authorities with the most acute social and economic problems in their inner areas, and with a population comprising around 15 million people, will be directly involved in the improvement of the physical fabric of their areas and the promotion of employment.

However, the public sector cannot revitalise these inner areas alone, nor indeed should it. Obviously the private sector has an essential role. The Bill allows local authorities to help local industry and commerce, particularly the small- and medium-sized firms, which fit more neatly into inner areas. Of course the initiative must come mainly from the firms themselves, since only they can find the opportunities for development and growth which suit their particular expertise and capacity.

Large firms have a dual role. First, industry, the banks, retail chains, insurance companies all have considerable existing investment in these areas. If only to protect and develop their own investments, these companies should be looking for prospects in the inner cities. Secondly, larger firms can look at ways of encouraging the smaller enterprises, and some firms are already doing this. Others contribute indirectly through organisations like the Action Resources Centre. Noble Lords, with their many industrial and commercial connections, might consider urging this kind of approach on firms with which they are involved. I know, for example, that the noble Lord, Lord Byers, is doing this already.

Now I turn to the Bill itself. The first clause indicates how selected districts become "designated districts". Each tier of local government for the designated districts—that is the county council and the district council in England, the region and district in Scotland—will be able to make use of the relevant powers; that is, it will be a "designated district authority". Clause 2 provides the first of the new powers. Designated district authorities will be able to offer loans for the acquisition of land or works on land—loans up to 90 per cent. of the value of the security and at commercial rates of interest. This new power will enable the designated authorities to assist industrialists to acquire and develop land where other sources of finance are not readily available.

In last year's debate noble Lords emphasised the importance of rehabilitation. Two particular authorities, Rochdale and Tyne and Wear, have pioneered industrial improvement areas where the aim is to arrest the spiral of decline, to rehabilitate and convert buildings as well as improving local amenities. We have been very much impressed with what these two authorities have done, and Clauses 3, 4 and 5 are designed to provide all designated district authorities with specific powers to declare industrial improvement areas and make loans and grants for improvements to the amenities of their area and to make grants towards the cost of converting or improving industrial or commercial buildings. These two powers —the long-term loans and the industrial improvement areas—will be available to all 43 of the selected districts.

Clause 6 deals with the establishment of partnership arrangements. It is important to give these arrangements statutory recognition, since the Minister's participation in the development of a programme or partnership might be said to conflict with his other statutory responsibilities—for example, those relating to planning or compulsory purchase. Clause 7 provides for the Secretary of State to define partnership areas, here called "special areas", within which the additional powers in subsequent clauses of this Bill may be exercised.

The next three clauses—8, 9 and 10—provide the powers specifically for the partnerships and are aimed at dealing with problems of land and buildings that arise particularly in inner areas. Many vacant or disused sites in inner areas contain the remains of older buildings or have been used for dumping waste, and the cost of new building on these sites is often considerably greater than the cost of using a "green field" site. Clause 8 therefore provides that, in partnership areas, the designated district authorities can make loans for site preparation works and for the servicing of land and the provision of access roads. Although the loans are to be at commercial rates, the interest on them may be waived for up to two years, and this will to some extent compensate for the extra costs of using these sites rather than green field sites.

Firms often have to close when redevelopment forces them to move from old low-cost premises to newer ones with higher rents. Clause 9 will therefore allow designated district authorities in partnership areas to make grants towards the rents of firms taking new leases on industrial or commercial premises, and we hope that this will give an impetus to new development. The Bill does not itself prescribe the maximum amount of grant. That is left to later directions, but we envisage that the maximum should be the equivalent of between one and two years' rent, depending on particular circumstances.

Some firms will want to buy or build their premises rather than rent them. Clause 10 therefore provides that designated district authorities may, in partnership areas, give interest relief grants to small firms that take out loans, from whatever source, to pay for land or buildings or works to buildings.

Clause 11 helps to streamline the planning process for inner areas. At present, local plans cannot be carried to the stage where objections are considered at a public local inquiry until the structure plan has been approved. In particular cases it will now be possible for local plans to be publicised and adopted notwithstanding the absence of an approved structure plan for that area. The full public participation procedures will, of course, be followed. This arrangement will reduce the risk of delay in developing an up-to-date local plan where one may be needed to replace an out-of-date development plan.

Clause 12 is a small, consequential provision to ensure that these selected local authorities' general powers to spend under existing legislation will not be restricted by the new powers. Clause 13 corrects a minor flaw in previous legislation dealing with derelict land clearance. Grants of 100 per cent. towards the cost of derelict land clearance are available in the assisted areas and in any area where a derelict land clearance area is declared, except for Greater London. My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Industry recently announced a number of new derelict land clearance areas, including inner Birmingham and the docklands area of London. This clause provides that 100 per cent. grants can be paid in this derelict land clearance in London.

Policies pursued since the war involving wholesale redevelopment, high-rise housing and a lack of understanding of the difficulties facing local industry have, unfortunately, contributed to the decline we are now trying to reverse, and we hope local and central government have learned from past failures.

This Bill, together with inner city policy in general, places a much greater emphasis on making the best use of the existing physical environment. The local community will have to be more tolerant of the needs of its own industry and build on the skills of its own people. The central importance of employment to inner city areas cannot be overestimated and is now well understood. This Bill gives additional powers to local authorities so that they can involve themselves more closely in the development and maintenance of local prosperity.

"Partnership" is the word that crops up most often in this policy. Specifically, it means joint involvement of central and local government in the task of reviving the worst-hit areas of our cities, but to be successful our inner city policies require a partnership between local authorities, local industry and, above all, local people. It is this co-operation this Bill seeks to develop and I therefore commend it to the House.


My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, with regard to the county part of this legislation, can she say whether this applies only to metropolitan areas or whether it will apply countrywide with regard to counties, because I can hardly see how it would work as well as the districts?

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, as I pointed out, the designated areas in England apply to county and district, but they are called "designated districts". How it works out in detail I think we shall be discussing further at the Committee stage.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Baroness Birk.)

11.23 a.m.


My Lords, I should like, from these Benches, to give a very warm welcome to this Bill and a particular welcome to the Bill in its amended form. I congratulate the Government and the Minister on agreeing to extend its scope, as they have done quite remarkably in another place. The rehabilitation of the inner cities, coupled as it is to the problem of creating jobs and improving employment, and allied, as we believe it to be, with the future of the small firm, is one in which we, as a Party, have for some time taken a lively interest.

We had a debate in this House on 20th July on the economic situation, and I spent much of my speech on this subject. I expressed the view that over the years we had taken far too many incentives out of our economic system and that we needed to restore them. I drew attention to the alarming rate at which the smaller firms had been disappearing within the inner urban areas, and I pointed to the fact that too high a proportion of our gross national product was devoted to the public sector at the expense of the private sector.

I expressed the hope then that one Minister should be given sole responsibility for looking after the interests of small businesses and the self-employed, because we had come to the conclusion that it is in this field of the small business and the self-employed that one gets the fastest multiplier in creating jobs, and we believe that this is an important fact. We made to the Prime Minister the proposal, on which he acted very swiftly, that Mr. Harold Lever should be given responsibility for this area. This is much welcomed by our Party. I believe that that appointment, and the conferences which he held in London and the Provinces, is already paying dividends. Certainly more people have become aware over the last six to 12 months of what has to be done in the inner cities. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has also accepted, and is implementing, six changes to help small businesses which we have proposed to him. I shall not detail these, but taken together they provide considerable help for small businesses and the self-employed.

I am looking forward to hearing the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Evans of Claughton, who has great experience of these problems on Merseyside and the Wirral. We look forward also with great pleasure to hearing the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady David. Turning to the Bill itself, I do not pretend that the noble Baroness suggested that this one measure will solve the inner urban area problem. Far more than an Act of Parliament will be required, but at least this is a contribution to it which I welcome. It is a well-structured contribution. I do not agree with those who say that the amount of money and financial assistance envisaged in the Bill is so small as to be derisory. Money is important, but what come first are new ideas, new initiatives and imaginative schemes which, with some help, will get off the ground and prove viable. If the people and the viable projects come forward, I believe that the cash will be found. Indeed, it will have to be found, and there is a reasonable degree of hope that it will.

We should remind ourselves of the nature of the inner city problem. In a nutshell, it is that the able and the skilled have moved out of the inner cities—indeed have often been encouraged or forced to move out—and what is left, and what moves in, is the deprived citizen, the unskilled, the illiterate, the inarticulate. There is a high percentage of unemployment, and a high percentage of young and particularly young black unemployed. This is the trend which we have to reverse as quickly as we can. The Bill provides financial assistance and gives powers to local authorities to help and encourage projects which will result in greater employment. This is all to the good, but a great deal more than new powers and financial help will be needed.

I am impressed with the people in the Department of the Environment who are dealing with this problem, and the grip which they already have on it. They realise that real progress in beating the inner city problem will be achieved only by a new attitude being developed in local government towards business and commerce. Local authorities have to learn to understand how business actually works, and what it requires from them to be successful. Some local authorities already have excellent people with this outlook, and they are getting on with it. Others still have to develop it, for, as the noble Baroness said, if anything needs a real team effort, it is the regeneration of the inner urban areas. Above all, what is needed is a long-term commitment to the development of viable commercial enterprises which will give new hope and scope to the urban population.

I believe that the key to fostering this long-term commitment is to establish a firm partnership of local government with practical business people and the voluntary and community organisations in each area. This is the American practice. What is needed now is a forum to bring all these interests together. I say this because I believe we have in this country a great deal of latent talent waiting for the opportunity to develop. I do not believe that there is a single type of project on which the rehabilitation of any one area depends, but I am impressed with the contribution which the workshop type of project can make. A number of these have come into existence particularly in London, but also in other parts of the country, and have met a real need. One example which particularly impressed me, although I saw others—the co-operative at Rotherhithe, and Clerkenwell, Wandsworth, Lambeth—was the Barley Mow Workspace unit at Chiswick. In a former wallpaper factory, offices and workshops have been created, the smallest unit being 10 ft. by 10 ft., and the largest probably 10 times that size.

Thanks to the pioneering work of John Morton, 91 businesses covering more than 200 people have been provided with very good accommodation and many common services, which relieve them of many of the administrative chores and risks which often deter bright young people with good ideas from taking their first steps in the business world. This can be copied, I believe. The only bottleneck at the moment would be the training of managers to give the confidence to a unit like this and to administer it for the first few years at least, so that the risks are taken out of it. But it is a very impressive unit.

Similar enterprises have sprung up in other parts of London and in the Provinces. Common to all of them is the provision of low-rent premises and someone to run the project who has a flair for non-bureaucratic administration and an ability to cut through red tape. Many of these small one-man, two-people or three-people units have already in them the seeds of new, expanding companies which may well in time become household names. It is therefore vital that opportunities should be provided at local level to release the talent of the new caftsmen and entrepreneurs who are coming forward. It is in this area that private enterprise has a lot to contribute. It is the intervention and the interest of private enterprise that will provide the impetus which is needed if real progress is to be made.

The harnessing of private enterprise will take many different forms and be none the worse for that. But as a start—it may well be that this can be built into the existing structure, into the partnership committees, or it may have to be something which runs parallel with them—I should like to see an enterprise forum in which are represented central Government, local government, Government agencies such as the Manpower Services Commission, which has a tremendous job on hand and is doing it very well, and the Training Services Agency getting together with private enterprise, and neighbourhood and community organisations, to identify and smooth out problems, not forgetting the contribution which can be made by local polytechnics, technical colleges, business schools and similar organisations in the area. Often these bright new ideas originate in the polytechnics. I have seen some of them being developed only in the last week or two.

A forum of this kind, which can be an extension of the partnership committees or an additional organisation, can help to assess the viability of new ideas. It could set up small sub-committees with private enterprise people—accountants and others—who can help these people to develop their ideas and take out some of the risks. The private sector in any organisation like this must be represented by top-calibre industrialists who are sympathetic to solving the problem of the inner urban areas. In a number of ways private enterprise can help, and is helping, firms to start up. It can provide expertise, management and commercial skills. It can second people to individual projects to help get them started. It can provide specialised training. It can sometimes provide second-hand equipment, which may be the one item missing to enable a project to get off the ground. It can provide modest finance on reasonable or subsidised terms. It can organise bank guarantees for modest sums. All these things are needed in one project or another.

I should like to see a consortium of top firms in the partnership areas being organised to see how best they can help to get things moving. There is a tremendous opportunity here for private enterprise and the private sector. I am very impressed with the amount of activity already being undertaken in the inner cities. But often good ideas are frustrated by a lack of flexibility in the arrangements which are authorised. This is something we can discuss at the Committee stage. For instance, a building is available from the local authority. Equipment has been provided, perhaps by the Manpower Services Commission. Cash grants will also be available towards the employment of people on the register of unemployed. But nowhere can one find the cash to carry out a viability study, a feasibility study or a market survey. This is the one item missing from the package. This is where flexibility is required.

There is a case where suitable buildings are available for development just outside the partnership area but which will create employment for people living inside the area; but they cannot be used because they are the wrong side of the boundary by a quarter of a mile. Again, flexibility and discretion are required to get things moving. These "Catch 22" situations continue to arise and there must be more flexibility.

I believe that there is so much talent and imagination available but unused that our top priority is to provide an opportunity for it to develop and give it all the help and advice we can. Countries like Germany and the United States have provided these opportunities and have reaped the rewards. We must do the same. I offer a very warm welcome to the Bill.

11.36 a.m.

Baroness DAVID

My Lords, I ask the indulgence of the House on this occasion. I had not thought to make my maiden speech so soon after being introduced to the House, but as a member of a local authority and as a member of the Board of Peterborough Development Corporation, I felt that I had some experience relevant to this matter. This is a modest Bill, but I am glad that it is not quite so modest as when it started. I welcome it as making a real contribution to the enormous problem of our inner urban areas. Any step must be welcome which can help to bring back and regenerate industry and firms, to bring, back jobs to the people there, and I hope encourage others to come back, perhaps a greater variety of people than live there now. I hope that the Bill will achieve these objects and that manufacturers and industrialists will be content to refurbish and return. I am anxious about whether the powers given to local authorities will be used forcefully enough, used quickly enough, and whether the mechanism is right.

This Bill is primarily an enabling Bill. I am not quite clear exactly what will be the powers of the Secretary of State. He may specify designated districts (Clause 1). He may give directions as to the making of grants and loans and impose conditions (Clauses 4 and 8). He may enter into arrangements with council or councils in an area where a special need exists (Clause 6). But he cannot make an order in respect of a special area without the consent of that authority (Clause 7). The whole machinery seems to me a little slow-moving and cumbersome, dependent perhaps on too many people, and not vital enough.

As a good local authority member, of course I do not want to see central Government dictating to local government, but can action be taken speedily enough? I hope that my noble friend the Minister will tell me how she thinks that it will work. From the debates on this Bill in another place it was quite clear that the mechanics of how the Bill would work were a major anxiety and a question that was constantly raised. The idea of partnership between central and local government is attractive, but will there not need to be a strong executive arm to get things moving, an executive arm responsible for land assembly, main infrastructure and site services, new building and rehabilitation?

I am aware that the White Paper discussed "The Agencies for Action" and considered new town style development corporations to tackle inner areas, saying, that they could be expected to bring single-minded management, industrial promotional expertise, and experience in carrying out development". But the Government turned down that idea in favour of the establishment of a partnership between central and local government, while admitting that changes in approach would be necessary. The White Paper said: Local areas with inner area problems will need to be entrepreneurial in the attraction of industry and commerce". I am not sure that entrepreneurial expertise is the foremost characteristic of local authorities, although there may be honourable exceptions. But it is what the chief officers of new towns have developed.

Having seen at first hand how efficiently and effectively the new town arrangements work in partnership with county and district councils, I am a keen admirer of that way of doing things. The New Town Act combines all the powers that a development corporation needs for planning, land acquisition, development, management, disposal, and for the funding of its activities through central Government. It has to get a variety of formal and informal consents and agreements at both local and national levels, but it has independent status and singleness of purpose. Its organisational structure, with a chairman and a small representative board and a chief executive who has full authority and carries full responsibility, is geared to rapid action. There can be consistency and continuity in policies and programmes, quick decision-making and the possibility of being adventurous and imaginative. I hope the arrangement suggested in this Bill will work as well.

I understand the reasons for the Government's choice of the partnership, and the importance they place on accountability to the local electorate, but I should like reassurance on how decisions can be reached and acted on swiftly. If it should not work—and we all hope it will—would the Government think of an Old Towns Act, setting up old town development corporations to get things moving? In this context I think it is not insignificant that Dockland Settlement found no manager as a result of its advertisement, and that two new town general managers—Mr. Thomas from Peterborough and Mr. Roche from Milton Keynes—were later offered the job and turned it down. I am aware that the situation is different there. There are five boroughs, the GLC and the ILEA all to be co-ordinated, but I think one can draw inferences.

I should like to comment on what some see as a conflict between the policies of revitalising the inner cities and continuing with the new town programme. I think there is no conflict, that both are necessary and that they are in many ways complementary. The new towns are now taking a number of the disadvantaged: the low income families, the semi-skilled, the unskilled, and some of the unemployed and single-parent families. They can help in this way. The need for reasonable rented housing is great and this the new towns can provide and, what is more, in green and pleasant surroundings.

The consultants' report on the inner urban areas—the Lambeth section—recognises that what can be done to arrest the decline of jobs in Inner London is limited. Even sizeable expansion in trading will not overcome the mis-match of jobs and skills. There must therefore, it seems to me, be more effective measures to help the less skilled and less affluent to move. These people caught in the housing trap are unable to buy, unable to move, and unable to rent reasonably because of the long council waiting lists. The waiting lists in the housing stress areas remain very long. I am sorry I do not have the up-to-date figures, but last year the number on the waiting-lists was 93,000 in the inner boroughs and 43,000 in six other boroughs with problems, and I do not expect that the figures are very different now.

The new towns can help people to move to houses they can afford and, just as important, they can set up training schemes and skill centres so that those going there can try to acquire greater skills than they have at present, skills which are now very much needed when labour-intensive firms are getting fewer. The consultants in their study say: We do not believe that further dispersal will impoverish London: a less congested London should be cheaper to run". I would ask that there be no further cutbacks on the new town programmes. Whatever is done—and assuming that the policy in the Bill is right, as I trust it is, and that the plans work—inner urban renewal could not, I suspect, begin to have a very significant effect within the next five to 10 years. I see no reason why low-income families living in bad conditions and wanting to move—and between one-quarter and one-third of those who answered questions in the Lambeth study said that they wanted to move—should have to wait for such a large proportion of their lives. I hope your Lordships do not think me guilty of special pleading for the new towns. I just want to repeat that I think that inner urban renewal and the continuation of the present new town programmes should go ahead together in harmony and not in conflict.

I have two questions to ask my noble friend before I sit down. Could the Government give consideration to the problem of excessive land assembly costs? The way land is valued needs examination and I think there should be a new approach. I was interested to read, in speech after speech in the debates on this Bill in another place, anxiety over land values, land being hung on to, land lying idle. My second question is: Are we moving towards a clear, coherent, comprehensive policy in terms of all the areas receiving aid?

11.47 a.m.


My Lords, I am very glad to be the first person in this debate to be able to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady David, on her maiden speech, which I think we would all agree was fluent, well informed and made a very useful contribution to this difficult subject. This subject—the revitalisation of the inner cities—requires all the experience and acumen that can be brought to bear upon it and experience coming from the new towns will be particularly valuable. I wish, as the noble Baroness suggested, that special development corporations for the old towns could have been established. If that were feasible my right honourable friend Mr. Peter Walker would have established one for the docklands in 1970 and we would by now have eight years' valuable progress behind us. I am afraid that anybody who goes to the docklands now can see, unfortunately, that that is not the case. However, even if that solution is not practicable, I think the insights and experience, the acumen and entrepreneurial skills of the new towns are applicable and I hope the noble Baroness will help us to see as the Bill proceeds how they can be brought to bear.

The Bill provides a very welcome change from the long complexities and controversies of the Scotland Bill—which nobody seems to want very much—to a short, simple Bill which I think everybody agrees is most necessary and desirable, and which I should be surprised if everybody taking part in this debate did not welcome. It is a short, simple and agreed Bill but the problems underlying it are as complex and long-lived as any that we have to face. I was therefore glad that the noble Baroness began her remarks by giving a review of the progress that has been made in the past year across the whole field of the inner city policies. As she said, I initiated the debate on this subject just over a year ago. At that time only the summary reports of the inner area studies were out. Now the White Paper and the full studies have both been issued and I think it is useful to make the debate on the Bill an occasion for reviewing progress, as the noble Baroness has done.

I have a few questions but I think I should prefer to leave those to the Committee stage. They are relatively minor compared with the broad span of progress in the inner cities. I think that this Second Reading debate is an occasion more for that. As the noble Baroness says, the inner city policies are only in a minor degree a matter for new legislation. Most of what is needed is to be achieved by administrative action reflecting new approaches. I imagine that Her Majesty's Government would want chiefly to be judged by their own stated aims, the aims stated in the White Paper which, to take paragraph 103, the concluding paragraph, can be divided into four headings.

There is the involvement of the private sector—and the noble Lord, Lord Byers, has already introduced that in full measure —and the steps that can be taken to attract private investment. I think we shall want to hear more as we go along about how that can be done. I am glad that this Bill reflects the valiant pioneering efforts by the Borough of Rochdale and the far-sightedness of the County of Tyne and Wear in getting a Private Bill of their own which conferred on them the powers that will now be available to everybody.

The second strand of the Government's policy is the collaboration with representative groups in the community, and I think there is more to be said about that. The third is the scope for the voluntary bodies to participate, and the fourth is greater sensitivity to the views and needs of the individual citizen in the inner cities. These are the approaches cited as, "the ultimate touchstone of success", to use the Government's own words. Like many other noble Lords—the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for instance—concerned with this topic, I have been up and down the different cities of the country since our last debate, paying particular attention to the City of Newcastle in the county of Tyne and Wear where these powers have been available. I believe that the noble Baroness, too, has been there recently, though looking at other things to do with the heritage.

My special interest in Newcastle arises from the fact that I am chairman of the trustees of a body called "Taskforce North" which, in conjunction with the City of Newcastle, the county of Tyne and Wear and the Manpower Services Commission, is running an enterprise called "Townscape" which is designed to involve the young unemployed and the voluntary bodies in scores of small projects of environmental improvement identified and suggested by local people through their local councils. I think this is auguring quite well, because the right framework for this kind of local involvement has already been provided and the area in question has already available the powers provided in this Bill.

From the rest of the country I receive rather less satisfactory reports. I know that these reports have gone to the Secretary of State from the National Council of Social Service. I am glad to hear from the noble Baroness that she will respond to them, but I think that the House ought to have the gist of them because, if true, they are rather serious.

The NCSS has been monitoring the inner cities programme and these are the salient points which they make: There have been long delays in seeking the involvement of local organisations and community groups. It has not been sufficiently well understood that this needs to take place from the outset to be successful". I think I had better read most of this: The timescale imposed on local authorities by the Department of the Environment for drawing up their inner area programmes for the next three years is so tight that firm proposals are being required by June or July of this year, leaving insufficient time for consultation and involvement. Ministers have not pressed the local authorities to establish an adequate framework for the involvement of local communities and voluntary organisations. Apart from Newcastle-upon-Tyne"— and I can vouch for the value of the fact that it is there— Islington, Leicester and Sheffield … with few exceptions, the quality and quantity of information being made available by local authorities is inadequate for local organisations and local communities to identify opportunities for involvement and make a proper contribution to the planning process". Finally, In most of the areas, local councillors have not been adequately briefed on the background work being carried out …". and one cannot afford to leave out the local councillors in work of this kind.

So the proposal which the NCSS have made to the Secretary of State—and I am glad to know that he will be discussing them with them—is that they should develop adequate frameworks to involve local communities, that the finer points of detail must he worked out locally but guidance must be given. The final point they make is that the experience which has been acquired in some areas must be applied to many others, and the wards and the councillors should be used more extensively. I do not think I need say any more about that; but if the Secretary of State has a meeting with the NCSS during the passage of this Bill I think it will be useful if the noble Baroness can give us some report of progress.

So much for participation. The other aim that Her Majesty's Government set out in the White Paper is to attract private investment. I could not agree more with the noble Lord, Lord Byers, in what he said about that. As he has said it, I do not think I need say much more. I think it would be important if the noble Baroness not only could repeat the many exhortations that there have been about the importance of private investment being attracted but could give us some examples of such success and progress as there has been. We have had some from the noble Lord, Lord Byers, but anything indicating the way in which this can be done, the key to success, would be valuable.

The further strand in all this which the noble Baroness, Lady David, was right to dwell on is the need for a co-ordinated and corporate approach both at central Government level—Whitehall—and at local government level. It would be useful to know a little more at appropriate moments as the Bill progresses about what the progress here is. How does the Whitehall machinery stand now? Have we still a Cabinet committee chaired by Mr. Shore or has that been succeeded by something else, and how is it working out? At the local level, it would be interesting to know what forms of area management ate now proving most useful. This was one of the devices identified as likely to be useful. Experiments have been taking place for many months now. They take a number of different forms. It would be interesting to find which forms are proving most useful and where they are being adopted.

Finally, the question of priorities. I suggested a year ago that the extra efforts, such extra resources as there were available, and the new approaches that are most likely to prove fruitful, should be applied where they will show early results and teach useful lessons on which other authorities which were less advanced and less imaginative could then draw. At present I do not see too many concrete results or very many useful lessons. If they are there, let us hear about them during the passage of the Bill and let us have them published. Rather I see an ever thinner spreading of resources over a score or more of partnership and programme cities, with 14 more in the pipeline, and rather too few signs of new and imaginative approaches. Here I would very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Byers, that it is these new and imaginative approaches and ways of doing things which really must come first before huge extra resources are applied to problems which so far have just cropped up whatever has been made available.

I hope we can obtain an encouraging response to questions like these from the noble Baroness as the Bill goes through. I think we are all very grateful for the information she has given us so far.

What we have to guard against is a feeling which I am afraid exists and which must not gain ground. The opportunities really to make some progress in reviving the inner cities which appeared last summer must not be allowed to fade away. If this does happen, I think that the disillusionment which is already so widespread and which is such a weighty factor in the whole problem of dealing with the inner cities will be perilously compounded. I hope that that will not happen.

12.1 p.m.


My Lords, I crave even more than the customary kindness and indulgence and, indeed, patience which I believe your Lordships' House gives to maiden speakers, first, because I have the good or bad fortune to have followed a maiden speech of such high standard from the noble Baroness, Lady David, that it makes it very difficult for me to follow her, and secondly, because I have spent the last 21 years in the hurly-burly and the rum-bustuous politics of local government on Merseyside. I suspect that the translation to your Lordships' House will engender the sort of feeling that a lay preacher would have on being asked to preach a sermon in St. Paul's Cathedral.

I do hope, however, that the experience which I have gained over these many years in local government at most levels may be of some help to me in debates in your Lordships' House. I hope that you will forgive me if, in moments of great excitement or emotion, I descend to the patois of local government and possibly describe the noble Lord on the Woolsack as "my Lord Mayor" or some such title. I hope that I shall be forgiven if that does happen from time to time, as I believe has happened in another place.

I thought that the debate on this Bill was a suitable opportunity for me to make my maiden speech, since I have been involved in very much of the action on Merseyside County Council and on Wirral Borough Council during the consideration of the White Paper and the introduction of the Bill and the promotion of the Merseyside County Council Bill, which I believe is at present before your Lordships' House. Many clauses in Part 2 of that Bill seek to deal in different ways with the very problems that this Bill tries to remedy, namely, problems to do with inner urban regeneration.

In addition, I have for many years represented an inner urban area of Merseyside ill Birkenhead called Claughton on the county council, on the old Birkenhead County Borough Council and on Wirral Borough Council, and I have had first-hand experience over a great number of years of the kind of inner urban deprivation with which this Bill seeks to deal. In fact, the division I represent has within it the nationally notorious Oak and Eldon Gardens—a block of 214 high-rise houses built only 18 years ago and now being demolished because of their unsuitability. Indeed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, has said, I have personal experience of extremely high levels of unemployment. There is a level of unemployment in Merseyside as a whole of 14 per cent., but in areas of the kind I represent that very often gets up to 20 to 25 per cent. I have experience of closures of small businesses through slum clearance and through the removal of non-conforming uses under the Planning Act. In very many cases the opportunity for employment, if there is any at all in the area, means a long and extremely expensive journey for the person who is seeking employment to an area perhaps 10, 15 or 20 miles away from his home.

In general, therefore, I welcome the proposals contained in the Bill, strengthened and broadened, as my noble friend Lord Byers has said, during its passage through another place. In particular, I welcome its extension to commercial developments. I must say, however, that my enthusiasm is limited to two cheers rather than the more customary three. One thing has been a disappointment—and this had been touched on. Those of us who have been engaged in local government over many years have grown more and more depressed by the erosion of the powers that local government can wield by the considerable decrease, during the years that I have been in local government, of the powers that local government possesses; by the ham-stringing nature of the financial arrangements so that fewer and fewer councillors at county and district level feel that they are doing a useful job, with a consequent reduction in the number of people willing to come forward to take part in local government and a lowering in the standard of councillors generally. Whatever Party we belong to, we must recognise that it is a fact, in spite of reorganisation, that the erosion is reducing the interest and enthusiasm of the kind of community leaders who used to take a great part in local government.

I fear that the Bill itself to a certain extent erodes the freedom of action of local authorities. It continues this process. Noble Lords will perhaps recall paragraph 54 of the White Paper, which states: The Government intend to introduce legislation to enhance the powers of local authorities with serious inner area problems to assist industry". The Bill does not do this in those terms. Before local authorities can enjoy these enhanced powers, they have to follow a sort of municipal "Pilgrim's Progress". The first problem is to become a designated district—a distinction which is granted by the Secretary of State. The next obstacle is to have an industrial improvement area within that designated district. Again, the Secretary of State makes that decision. The final hurdle—the top of the pile—is to become a "special area" within a designated district and within an industrial improvement area. That special area status is again a matter for decision by the Secretary of State.

The problem, therefore, as far as I am concerned is, first, that the Secretary of State controls the whole apparatus, and secondly, that the Bill is based on a broad-brush approach. If "designated", all is well; if not "designated", all is lost. I can think of many districts which are largely areas without inner urban problems but which have within them small towns which perhaps have serious inner urban problems but which are not designated and cannot therefore hope for the advantages of the Bill. I apologise if I bore noble Lords, but, again, take Merseyside. Four of the five districts of Merseyside are designated. Liverpool is a partnership area. Wirral is a programme area. Sefton is largely an urban residential area but has an inner urban area problem in Bootle and is therefore designated. St. Helens is designated. But there is a fifth district, Knowsley, which has no inner urban problems because it is very largely a new town—a new area. However, it has problems equal to those of the inner urban areas except for the fact that it has modern slums rather than old slums; it has modern factories which are running down rather than old factories which are running down.

One of the things which concerns me about this Bill is the fact that all kinds of provisions, incentives and carrots are given to the building of factories in inner urban areas which will then attract—because of the grants given, the rent-free periods and so on—the owners of factories in outer urban areas to take on a factory in an inner urban area, leaving the factory in the outer urban area vacant and without any incentives for it to be reoccupied. So, while the Bill deals with inner urban areas—and, as other noble Lords have said, one gives a welcome to it for going a long way to cure the problems of inner urban areas—I suspect that before long your Lordships will be called upon to consider a Bill to cure the outer urban problems which will flow from the success of this Bill. This is not a joke; it is not an exaggeration. This is a real problem which already exists in certain parts of the country that I come from, and I suspect that we should really be considering—and I hope we shall—making it possible to extend the benefits of the Bill to outer areas which do not at present qualify as inner urban areas, but which have exactly the same problems because of modern dereliction. I thank your Lordships for your patience in listening to me.

12.11 p.m.


My Lords, I am very glad to have this opportunity of congratulating the makers of the two maiden speeches in this debate today, both my noble friend Baroness David and the noble Lord who has just addressed your Lordships. Both of them clearly have very considerable experience in local administration, and they are to be congratulated on having seized this very early opportunity on a very appropriate Bill to demonstrate to your Lordships what experience and ability they have. They have already enriched your Lordships' House and we shall look forward to hearing them on this kind of subject, and indeed others, in the future. I feel almost as though I am making a maiden speech myself. Although over the last two years I have inflicted dozens of speeches on your Lordships, this is the first time that I have addressed the House without that expert advice that I used to receive, and indeed to need and appreciate, when I stood at that Box.

This is a Bill which, like the other speakers in the debate have said, should be very warmly supported. Over the last few days I have been asking myself what is the reason for the warmth that I have felt when I approached the Bill, and my mind went back to what I think was one of the last speeches that I made in another place some years ago. I was then speaking on a local employment Bill which provided grants for development areas and intermediate areas, or "grey" areas as they were then nicknamed, and at that time I was representing a dockland constituency in East London which had entered upon difficult times. I shared that area with the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, and I hope that some of the remarks that I shall make will receive his approval.

I suggested in another place that it was unwise to provide assistance only for the extensive geographical regions in the North of England and in Scotland which were categorised as development or intermediate areas. I pointed out that the South-East of England was regarded as being prosperous and not warranting special aid, but that within such a region, generally prosperous, there could be quite sizeable, though relatively small, areas just as much in need of help as the major areas of industrial run-down. It seems to me that the central purpose of the Bill that we are now considering is to take note of just that kind of area. Whether it is in London, in Liverpool or in Birmingham, or in any of the major urban areas, and whatever the overall prosperity of those particular cities, it is recognised now that there are these black spots which need special treatment. It seems to me that the Bill provides a more discriminatory instrument of assistance than some of its predecessors. Therefore, in making my contribution to the debate today, I want to pursue those thoughts that I expressed in another place, and I should like to draw on my experience in East London, and earlier on in Essex beyond London. I hope your Lordships will forgive me if, in two or three sentences, I indicate the scope of that experience.

If I can go back to the Election of 1950, I was Parliamentary candidate for the Billericay constituency, much of which has now been developed as the new town of Basildon. At that time, in the early 1950s, it was an area which presented a very real social problem. It was neither town nor country. It was a sprawling mess of semi-development. People had gone there after the first World War; they had bought plots of land and built their own, most inadequate, homes without any amenities, with no roads, no sewage plant, no electricity supply, and much of the area was, therefore, capable of being described as a rural slum. It was this that in course of time the new town of Basildon was to replace.

Subsequently, for a period of nearly 20 years, I represented the southern half of the borough of East Ham, which was to supply much of the population which took up the houses in the new town of Basildon. During that period I witnessed the serious decline in our own area; a decline in the industry, in the size of the population, in the skills that were available and in the general economic and social strength of what had been the formerly thriving town of East Ham and its neighbour, West Ham. I hope that this Bill will provide the means of restoring health to those areas which had been denuded of their strength under earlier arrangements.

What I like about this Bill in particular is that it raises no great slogans, it provides no panaceas and it offers no shibboleths. It does not pretend to bring sweeping changes throughout vast areas, as some earlier Acts have done. It is discriminatory. It is selective and, I belive, it is capable of bringing help to the districts which need it most. That, I suggest, is a welcome change from much that has gone before. Both in town planning and in industrial development large imaginative ideas and new miraculous techniques, very often the bigger the better, have too often been the order of the day, and all too little regard has been had for the social consequences of implementing those big ideas. I suggest, if we look back over the post-war period, that two things together —the adoption of too sweeping administrative changes on the one hand, and the uncritical exploitation of modern technology on the other—have more often than not created new problems in an attempt to solve old ones.

Let me give an example. It seemed clear to us in the immediate post-war situation that areas like East London were unsatisfactory places in which to live. They had been bombed; their industries had been damaged; their homes were in any case old and had then subsequently suffered war damage, and in many areas, of course, slums had developed. What then seemed to be the solution? It was to move the population out to the new towns which were initiated by the first Labour Government. And, in addition to the new towns, of course, progressive local authorities had their out-borough estates. Applicants for houses were told that there was little opportunity for rehousing in the town of their birth, but if they were prepared to move out into the areas of new development then it would be possible to find them a house. Many a time in my advice bureau as a constitutency Member of Parliament, I listened, as many, all indeed, of my colleagues listened, to pathetic claims for rehousing, and we had to tell that story: No, there was no chance of rehousing within the borough, but there would be a chance of getting a house outside, either in the borough properties in outer Essex, in my case, or in the new town of Basildon.

I was perhaps helping to solve individual family problems, but I was, willy-nilly, at the same time helping to denude the borough which I represented. What we were in fact doing was moving out the younger elements of the population, the newly married couples; often moving them away from existing jobs in the hope that there would be jobs in the areas to which they moved. We were leaving behind the elderly, the grandparents, and the unskilled. That is what has happened in the inner urban areas and that is why we need this Bill.

I am by no means suggesting that the building of new towns or of out-borough estates was wrong. I should not like to leave that impression. It was necessary that many people should move out of overcrowded cities into better homes and a better environment. What I am suggesting is that the emphasis was wrong. The movement outwards, which was inevitable and correct, should have been counterbalanced by equal and parallel concern about—and an equal expenditure on—the social problems that the outward movement left behind. We are legislating, in this Bill, with the benefit of hindsight. We are trying to put the clock back—or, rather, to get the pendulum to swing back. It is a sad reflection that the mistakes we now all recognise were allowed to be made in the first instance.

But it was not only in housing policy that the emphasis was wrong. The Bill provides for aid to industry in the inner urban areas. Here again I can illustrate what went wrong—or, rather, what was allowed to go too far—in respect of industrial development in the past. We were too ready to exploit on a large scale what was new and wonderful in technology, without due regard to the residual problems that were being created as a result of that exploitation.

May I give two examples from the area to which I have already referred. When, in 1955, I first went to East Ham, I visited the vast Beckton Gas Works, which was considered to be the largest in Europe and supplied much of London's gas—gas derived from coal. It also had an important products works as a subsidiary undertaking. It was not long before North Sea gas became available. This led to the rapid transformation of the Beckton Gas Works. It was no longer necessary to bring coal to change it into gas and therefore no longer necessary to have the products works. All that was required now was to distribute the gas which flowed from the North Sea or was brought in tankers from even farther afield.

No doubt those who were responsible for the technical change were advised, in a sense rightly, that the change would be economic; that it would be much cheaper to use North Sea gas than to make gas out of coal. But, as has so often happened in the various problems in our national life over this period, one major element of the equation was left out. What the accountant cannot take into consideration in deciding what is more and what is less economic is the social cost. The jobs of those who worked in the products works would be no longer available. Valuable plant was no longer to be used. That area of my constituency was to become derelict, as it now is—a depressing monument to a new technology which was right in a sense, but which was too ruthlessly and rapidly pursued.

Here again, let me make it clear that I am not a Luddite. I do not believe that a fundamental mistake was made in utilising North Sea gas. Of course it was right to take advantage of nature's bounty. What was wrong was to ignore the gap that was being left in the social structure as a result of the change of technology. We should have ensured that resources were pumped into that part of the social structure that had previously been served by the coal-based gas works and by the products works. That was the time when new industry should have been encouraged to replace the old in that inner urban area. We are doing it now through the Bill, but it would have been better done 10 years ago.

My second illustration has become particularly topical and threatening these last three weeks. It concerns the Royal group of docks which I shared with my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack. These also were a major part of the life in that part of London, but whereas when I first became acquainted with that area the docks were full of ships, very few ships now come that way. Basically, this has, again, been in response to a new, modern, wonderful technology—the development of containerisation, which is particularly associated not so much with the Royal docks but with the Tilbury docks further down the river. We were discussing this in the House a few days ago. Now we read in the report of Mr. Cuckney, the chairman of the Port of London Authority, the ominous words threatening that the retention of the upper docks cannot be justified much longer. Of course, I recognise the reasons for the decline in the viability of the Royal docks. It is a history that I need not go into. But I cannot believe that it is right that that important physical asset, which the Royal docks certainly are, should be closed down and that the area around them should simply be left to stagnate and die.

We read in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to the Bill that it will enable the Secretary of State to enter into partnership arrangements, as my noble friend has described, and that one of the partnerships relates to the major programme of urban renewal for the London docklands area. That programme is set out in great detail in the publication, the London Docklands Strategic Plan. In includes provision for 8,000 houses on the land immediately North of the Royal docks. It was derelict land and we wished it could be used for houses. For technical reasons that was not possible. But the proposal now is to put 8,000 houses in that area.

What folly it would be for one public authority to go ahead with that housing development and for another public authority to abandon a major source of jobs for many of the people for whom the houses are intended. When we talk of jobs, it is not just the dockers we have in mind, but the craftsmen, the boilermakers, the carpenters, the transport workers and many others whose livelihoods depend on those important docks I hope that the Government—I hope my noble friend will convey this message—will count the costs which do not appear in the balance sheet of the Port of London Authority. Otherwise a very bad mistake could be made.

The major lesson that we should learn from experiences of the kind that I have referred to is that it is people who matter. I was glad to hear some such phrase in my noble friend Lady Birk's opening speech. So often, both before he died and since, a famous phrase of Dr. Schumacher's has been quoted in debates such as this, that "small is beautiful". That was the thought-provoking title of his book. But what is less famous, but even more thought-provoking, is the sub-title of that book. He called it not only Small is Beautiful, but "A Study of Economics as if People Mattered". I notice the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, in his place. He first taught me economics. He, I hope, will agree that we ought to have more study of economics as though people mattered.

It should be our constant endeavour to legislate here and in another place as if people mattered, and I am not sure that we always do. But I have no doubts on that score in relation to the Bill. I believe it is designed to bring industry to the people, to bring jobs to the people, and to bring a better environment to the people; not moving people out to the green and pleasant land, but to make the environment in which they live in the inner urban areas a pleasant place to live. That is why I give the Bill my warm support.

12.32 p.m.


My Lords, if the noble Viscount who follows debates with such assiduity will forgive me, I propose to take no more than two or three minutes, after listening to this excellent and informative debate, and a few seconds to say how delighted I was to listen to the noble Baroness's speech, and also to the melodious speech of, I think, a fellow-Welshman. I have been a baritone, and I think that together we could render "Watchman, what of the night?", one tenor and one baritone, if the House should ever need it.

A noble Lord: Why not now!


The noble Lord had better be careful—we might do it now. I am delighted, and say, if I may, with all sincerity, that I am sure we have two valuable additions to this noble House.

Now, having been forgiven by the noble Viscount, I will intersperse the small point I thought was worth making, although it may be more important at the Committee stage. The noble Baroness who opened so ably mentioned, in passing, canals. I am interested in our canals commercially —I do not mean financially, but in their commercial use—but more especially in their use. The old artefacts and the old technology should be kept alive, and where they come in the 43 areas and in our inner cities I hope that there will be a lobby that will intelligently use the Bill to keep alive canals in those areas. They are part of the nation's social furniture, which should not be "Beechingised" completely. I do not mean by that that they should all be left open, willy-nilly, but they give comfort, succour and exercise. There are 3 million fishermen, for a start, and now more young people than ever are taking trips on the canals. In places like Stoke-on-Trent, to convey clay and pottery canals are being used commercially; but they need financial help. And in the inner cities, if we are making them anew and offering help, this is somewhere where capital and engineering technique and know-how can be used.

I have taken two minutes. That is all I wished to say. I may enter into the Committee stage. I thank the House for my having usurped the position on the sheet, because I was too lazy to put down my name.

12.35 p.m.


My Lords, my first and very pleasant task is to join in the congratulations to the three maiden speakers. To the noble Baroness I say that it seems that for distinguished ladies in local government there is no surer step to your Lordships' House than to join the Peterborough Development Corporation. She now comes in the wake of the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, and brings equally sound experience with her.

To the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, I simply say that there can perhaps be no more apposite moment for somebody from Merseyside to join in your Lordships' debates. It was certainly in Liverpool that my eyes were first opened, through some of the voluntary organisations, to what the inner city problems looked like and felt like on the ground. He will be able to tell us more about this and direct us aright on the Bill as it proceeds, and on many other topics as well.

To the noble Lord, Lord Oram, all I can say is that he sails just as well under his own colours as he did under the Government's. What he has done is to deliver a most interesting and penetrating analysis of some of the misguided and short-sighted policies and decisions which we, alas! have all taken in the past and which have given rise to a great part of this problem, the result of which is a multiplicity of social problems of unemployment, of crime, of misery and hopelessness, with the attendant strains that they place upon the police, social workers and many other public services, all of the kind that the noble Lord, Lord Byers, listed earlier.

It has seemed to me for a while, and I am glad to say that it has seemed to those on these Benches for even longer, that this was wrong. That is one of the reasons why my right honourable friend the Member for Worcester, Mr. Peter Walker, when he was Secretary of State, instituted the inner urban studies to which we are now so much indebted. It always seemed to me personally, since I started looking at this problem, that it was madness to allow industry, commerce and housing to spread out into the countryside and take thousands of acres per year from agricultural use while we left in the centres of our towns areas of useless dereliction and ill-begotten environmental horrors.

I would say to the noble Baroness, that now that we have the new structure plans before the Department of the Environment for consideration and approval we may have an opportunity to do something about this. I was recently looking at the Surrey Structure Plan in draft, and that indeed says something about the opportunities for redevelopment, even in the towns of Surrey, which are not notorious for their dereliction. At the same time she would, no doubt, like to pass on for general use the suggestions made by the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, about a little more tolerance for nonconforming users, even in residential areas, the departure of which is rightly blamed for many of the losses of jobs. This was the topic on which I spoke in my noble friend Lord Sandford's debate about a year ago.

In the light of the useful explanation that the noble Baroness gave of the provisions of the Bill, and in the recognition that it forms a small part of the jigsaw that the White Paper explains in full, I too should like to join from this side of the House in welcoming it. The Government will then be judged on their implementation of their policies as a whole, and how well they work out.

I would say in passing that, although the noble Baroness commended to us Clauses 9 and 10 as being helpful towards the real problem that either the dis- possessed or the new firm often finds it difficult to buy or rent properties, there is apparently no relenting on the Government's side as regards the refusal to allow local authorities to dispose of freeholds in a general way, because they insist on their Community Land Act problem. That does not help in this respect.

A number of points have been suggested to me through representations made, and I find that all the local authority organisations are at one in deploring that the Bill has to be discriminatory, and that they cannot all join in the powers and opportunities that it gives unless they are like Tyne and Wear and Rochdale, which promote their own private legislation. I understand and sympathise with conscientious local authorities all over the country which wish to take positive steps in this direction. I also join with them in the hope that there will be opportunities for further candidature to join the 43 local authorities already named. Now that the criteria for inclusion on the list have been spelt out more clearly, particularly at the Report stage of the Bill in another place as well as in the White Paper, I imagine that they will have the opportunity to argue their case. I suppose that it is purely a matter of coincidence that so soon after the right honourable Member for Blackburn argued in favour of the inclusion of that town in the list, lo and behold, when it was published in May it appeared to have been included. I am sure that other Parliamentary and extra-Parliamentary pressure can be brought to bear by those who would wish to come in.

I understand their aspirations, but equally I can see that if the Government are not prepared to make available more than the £80 million between now and 1981, then we shall almost inevitably have discrimination; because I very much agree with paragraph 81 of the White Paper that in the course of this exercise we must aim "at early and demonstrable results". It is no use on this task if we do not show that we can succeed. Everybody will lose heart and we will achieve nothing. In that context, if the money is not sufficiently generous there will have to be discrimination. I stress, with the noble Baroness, Lady David, the need for quick and successful results, because otherwise there will be disillusionment.

We have already had a year since the White Paper was published, a year in which to look at the experience of the arrangements that the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, has spelt out for us and into which the pattern of this Bill fits. Of course, it has not all gone smoothly. I will not disrupt the harmony of this debate by listing again the various factors which the Government have stirred into the economic soufflé, which have had such a disheartening effect on private businesses. I suppose that everybody would know, except perhaps the noble Baroness, the disincentive of the development land tax at the rate at which they insisted on introducing and continuing it. But I do not want to sour matters which have so far gone so smoothly by rehearsing those, although they are matters into which my right honourable friend the Member for Henley went and where we think that we could make significant changes for the better. But one point is quite right: with the noble Lord, Lord Byers, I join in the emphasis that has been placed on small businesses during this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Evans, also referred to this subject. It is no monopoly of the Liberal Party to take this stance. My Party has been stressing the importance of this for a very long time, and it is only to the good that the Socialist Party has at last come round to our opinions.

There is one slight disadvantage under this Bill which has been drawn to my attention: It is that, although we have this £80 million to be distributed largely under the urban aid programme under its new shelter in the Department of the Environment and the Office of the Secretary of State for Wales, by contrast—and this will particularly harm the other local authorities which are not to be designated or to have partnership arrangements under this Bill—there has been a savage cut in the borrowing limits which have been allowed for local authorities in the locally determined sector. The figures are startling. In 1975–76, the amount allowed was £484 million; but in the last year it went down to £233 million. Those who are better at arithmetic than I are able to tell me that in real terms, taking account of the value of money, that is a drop of 60 per cent. Those other local authorities will have these much more limited resources with which to do the kind of work that we are talking about today, whereas the lucky ones will have the money under this Bill. So it is not by any means a universal success story.

I join in what has been said about the volunteers. My noble friend Lord Sand-ford has read out the letter from the National Council for Social Service, and I too was perturbed by it. So I commend the wisdom of the Secretary of State, as announced by the noble Baroness today, in going to see that body in order to try to make sure that these failings are put right. If I can give any advice at all from first-hand experience on this matter, the National Council for Social Service, with its links with local councils for social service, ought to be able, if anybody in the voluntary world can, to help the Government to direct aright the sort of emphasis that they should place in each individual town on the role that the volunteers can play. I think that is the route through which the most helpful contribution by the volunteers may at any rate be identified by the Government. It is always a difficult task for Government to see which voluntary organisations in the field are the ones which ought to be courted and brought into the co-operative exercise. I was very pleased to hear the noble Baroness stressing that aspect and I hope that the negotiations will be speedy and successful.

There is an aspect of this Bill which worries some who are interested in the housing situation. Whereas I am happy to see that jobs are to be encouraged not only as the Bill originally stood in terms of industrial jobs but now, by a change in another place, in the commercial world as well, we are not, at least in this legislation, doing anything about the housing problem which is a feature, as the noble Lord, Lord Oram, explained, of the inner urban problem. One special problem that I have heard about which gravely affects those who wish to buy private houses and rehabilitate them in the inner urban areas is that with the arrangements as they are at present the local authority cannot give an improvement grant to a person until he is the owner of a house, but unfortunately that person cannot get a mortgage to buy the house and become its owner while the house is unimproved. There is a vicious circle here which must militate against the rehabilitation of inner urban substandard housing. Now that there is this emphasis by the Government on rehabilitation rather than complete clearance and rebuilding, this might be something at which the noble Baroness and her Department would like to look.

The other day I went to a seminar in the City to try to explain some of the advantages of investment in London. I had only 24 hours' notice and I did not have time to do as much research as I should like. I will not bore your Lordships with what I said because that was insignificant; but I want to tell the noble Baroness and the House what the investors said. There are only two points which I think are of interest at this stage. The first is that they were, to my eyes and ears, anxious to assess the opportunities for investment in inner areas and, on that occasion, the inner areas of London about which we are talking. They had money for industrial investments and other commercial investments of that kind. Indeed, some of them are already co-operating with the Grater London Council and the London borough councils in this field. So that is encouraging. But they did say that one of the disadvantages of the inner urban areas, particularly inner London, is the problem of transport, especially getting their vehicles with the goods to and from the factories and warehouses that they would contemplate putting up.

I was therefore extremely pleased to see that at the end of the annexe to the White Paper, in paragraph 33, there is this emphasis on the necessity to bring into collaboration the transport authorities as well. I hope that no oversight will allow that aspect of the matter to be disregarded. They also said—although I think that this is not such a problem in the provincial cities—that the level of rates in London is a great deterrent to people who contemplate investing here. That is also a matter for the Department of the Environment.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Sandford and with the noble Baroness that investors are important and that we must make sure that we also identify their needs and see what we can do to help them. I come back in the end to the essence of this matter in which I so much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Oram. This is an exercise for people; it is not an exercise for the benefit of local govern- ment or central Government. It is a method whereby those bodies may help the people who live in these areas and of course, as I have said already, they will be powerfully assisted by the voluntary organisations. I believe that it was the voluntary organisations which first identified the impossibility under the system of some years ago of getting co-ordination between the multiplicity of departments in local and central Government which must, as the White Paper now recognises, be drawn together before one can get a coherent solution to these problems. It is no use if the Parks Department will not speak to the Housing Department, which will not speak to the Transport Department or whatever it may be. Here we have the source—or so I was told at first hand—of the despair and disillusionment of these areas.

I believe that we now have the machinery to put this right. We have heard of the way in which the committees have been structured under the partnership arrangements, with a Minister in charge, and how all the various bodies get together. But I believe they will need not only to have the help of the volunteers, as has been so much stressed, but will also have to ensure most carefully that what they are doing is what fulfils the aspirations and wants of the people who live in the areas in question. It is no use planning for them: one must plan with them.

In this context, perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness one question about Clause 11 of the Bill, relating to local plans. This matter was not very much discussed in another place, but it seems to me that if an opportunity is being sought in this measure to bring forward the time when a local plan can be considered, so that one does not necessarily have to wait for the approval of the Structure Plan, there are at least two advantages, and perhaps the noble Baroness can spell out more. First of all, there will be an opportunity in the course of the consideration and formulation of the local plan for public participation to identify the sort of things that people want done in their area. I was very interested to see the sort of things that have already been selected to be done in the dockland area described in an interesting Press notice from the noble Baroness's department. There is nothing like the exercise on a local plan to give people the opportunity to choose which way they would like their area to be fashioned, so far as local plans can do it. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why this clause is in the Bill.

The other point seems to me to be this: once a local plan is approved, there will be powers under the Town and Country Planning Act for local authorities to acquire land in accordance with the plan and in order to fulfil it, which they will not be able to—except on the chance occasion under the Community Land Act as it now stands—without the local plan being approved. This again may help to speed up the development of the right sort of advance in these areas. I should be grateful if the noble Baroness could tell us a little more about this.

I should like to end by saying that although this is a small Bill it is part of what could be a really valuable and imaginative set of measures to enable the heart and the morale to be put back into the inner urban areas. We shall never succeed unless we persuade people that they are good places to live in and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Oram, that they must be made pleasant places to live in, so that people can be proud of their local area and can be proud to have their place of business there or to work there. They should be places where the morale of the whole community is raised from the depths where it now sometimes lies to the heights that will make it attractive, make it buoyant and make it successful. Then we shall have no further need of intervention from Government because from there on the matter will go ahead entirely under its own steam. That must be what we are all seeking. We do not wish perpetually to try to get this matter right; we must get it right first of all so that after that it can go ahead on its own initiative and of its own volition. If this Bill helps in that direction, then I am glad to welcome it.

12.51 p.m.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, may I first pay my tribute to the two maiden speakers who have contributed to this debate in such an outstanding way today. It is very interesting that a debate of this sort which takes place at an inconvenient time on a Friday morning should have attracted two maiden speakers of such quality. I think it gives extra prestige to the Bill. My noble friend Lady David showed such clarity, knowledge and thoughtfulness in her contribution that it is quite clear we have a welcome addition and support to our Benches. She has also learned very quickly, I am afraid, the art of asking not just pertinent but very awkward qusetions. The noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, spoke with great experience, humanity and understanding about one of the partnership areas we have been discussing today. It is always a pleasure in the House to have people who speak directly from their own experience.

We have had not only a wide-ranging and useful debate but an extremely good-humoured one, covering all the general questions of inner city policy, as well as the Bill itself. I cannot tell your Lordships how pleased I was to hear the word "people" used so often and to have humanity coming into a Bill such as this which is mainly a structural device. I was particularly pleased that there was such a general welcome given to the Bill, and even though Lord Evans gave it two cheers rather than three I will not hold that against him. I am also very grateful for the tribute paid to my Department by the noble Lord, Lord Byers. What has been said has demonstrated the concern of noble Lords for the inner areas and the people who live and work in them. They showed a very deep concern and interest.

I am sure, having listened very carefully to everything that has been said, that this Bill will be of considerable help. It is not, as I said originally, a complete panacea or completely comprehensive, but it will be of considerable help to local authorities in overcoming inner area problems. We have seen what authorities such as Rochdale can do with an ingenious application of existing powers. With the custom-made powers in this Bill I am sure that much more can be done. I think this is where the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Byers, on the need for flexibility and imagination is very applicable, and I agree with him entirely. I also agree with my noble friend Lady David that we must always look out for cumbersomeness and clumsiness in administering these measures.

One of the problems is that when one is dealing with complicated policies it is extremely difficult to get them as streamlined and as swiftly carried out as one would like. It is also true that when one is implementing policies of this sort in a democracy one of the prices we pay is a certain slowness in execution. But I think she will agree it is a price worth paying.

The noble Lord, Lord Byers, and the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, both stressed the importance, as did the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, of the private sector and, certainly, of small businesses. So far as industry generally is concerned, I do not have a great many examples to hand at the moment, but from memory I know that Marks and Spencer have made a great contribution, as have IBM and BP, and there are various efforts all over the country. I take the point very much of the noble Viscount on the importance of transport and, in fact, the whole of the infrastructure that is needed to back up these endeavours.

The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, and the noble Viscount referred to the criticisms that the NCSS have made of the way in which voluntary groups have not been sufficiently involved in the partnerships and elsewhere. I indicated at the beginning of this debate that the Government were concerned that local organisations, whether voluntary or representing business and commercial interests, should be fully involved in the work of each partnership as it prepares its programme of action, but I have to repeat that we also think it right that the final decisions on the programme should rest with the democratically elected members of the local authorities and the Government, who really are the only people who can be charged with this sort of accountability. But as I said, and I am glad that the noble Viscount responded so well to this, my right honourable friend is aware of the criticisms and proposes to discuss them with the NCSS.

I said, and I repeat, that we were all very much impressed by the way that my noble friend Lady David brought to the House her experience in local government, particularly when she was discussing the new towns and old towns and suggested that maybe one day we would need an Old Towns Act. I think the point here is that a new town is established in an area with a relatively small population and the prime job is to get houses, factories, shops and schools built. The development corporation concept, with this single-minded purpose, is very well suited to getting the new, large-scale development under way, but in inner areas it seems to me we have a complication and plurality of a number of problems. We have sizeable populations, we have existing local authority responsibility for many of the services, such as social services and education, that determine the quality of life in the area. It is right, therefore, that local authorities, with their accountability to the local electorate, and also their history and tradition in the area, should be in the lead in measures to improve our inner cities.

The measures that are necessary not only involve physical development but also improvements to all the major public services. Local authorities have the power, if they wish to use it, to delegate many functions to officers or subcommittees, if they wish to ensure that action is taken as speedily as possible; but the decision is theirs. The Government are firmly of the view that this is right, that the elected representatives should have the principal voice in determining the future of their areas. But I certainly agree with my noble friend that we need to ensure that speedy and effective action is taken. We also need to balance this against the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford. His point was that we were working to too tight a timetable, so we must find the right balance between these different views.

I think I should emphasise here that we intend the three-year programmes to include the practical proposals that my noble friend Lady David seeks. Those programmes will be completed by the summer and Government decisions will, I hope, follow, swiftly. It was also suggested that land prices in inner city areas are artificially high and that this may deter developers. Naturally, it is sensible for all land owners, whether in the public or private sector, to dispose of surplus land at the best price reasonably obtainable, given the conditions of the market and the purpose for which it is being disposed. This may mean disposal below the cost at which the land was originally acquired.

Local authorities, like anyone else, may sometimes be reluctant to sell land below the cost of acquisition because they, after all, have to balance their books; but they are not bound by historic costs, and many dispose of land at market value, taking into account the current prospect for development. We are encouraging them to do this. We also have encouraging evidence that a number of local authorities in inner city areas are already adopting this approach, and that as a result demand may be picking up.

The noble Lord, Lord Evans, in his very practical contribution to the debate stressed his concern for local government to have greater freedom of action. The Bill in fact brings a significant extension of the powers of local authorities and I think, again, some of the points he touched on really extend, quite rightly, even further than this debate and are concerned with the results partly of the Reorganisation Act, which I personally think was absolutely catastrophic, in 1972. It also raises a very difficult point. As the powers are more comprehensive, the matters that local authorities have to deal with are not only larger in scope but require far greater expertise, knowledge and time. This is a very real problem which the Government appreciate, and Ministers in my department spend considerable time discussing and thinking about it.

The noble Lord also raised the point of the powers being available only to the selected designated districts. It is, in my view, important that resources and cash be concentrated in the inner urban areas, and also in those which have the highest needs and the greatest priority. On the other hand, the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, was rather worried that the butter was being spread too thin; so it is, again, a question of trying to get that balance right. We recognise very well the problems of the outer development areas, and for Kirkby, for example, its special development area represents just part of the Government commitment to Merseyside, as the noble Lord is well aware.

My noble friend Lord Oram, in what the noble Viscount referred to as another maiden speech, demonstrated, as I think he was saying, how release from Front Bench responsibilities allows a widening of the horizons. When he referred to not being able to have help from the Box, at least he can keep his eyes ahead—as the pigeon arrives it does make one have to keep one's eyes down. His account of the processes of change in the East End, and his very considerable knowledge of his own constituency area, showed just how our inner areas have suffered from the individual decisions of families; and I thought his interesting description of the outward movement of population emphasised the importance of people having confidence in the future of their inner areas, which I believe is the key to the prosperity of these areas.

I am pleased to be able to tell my noble friend Lord Davies of Leek that we have already improved the Bill during its passage by including a power to assist with the cleaning and refurbishment of canals. So, his social furniture is not going to be "Beechingfied". I was pleased to hear the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, accept the need for discriminating measures in favour of inner city areas and, as he was speaking from the Front Bench opposite, this was, if I may say so, an extremely helpful contribution. But I am not going to let him draw me—


What I said was that if there was going to be a limitation on the amount of money, then inevitably there would have to be discrimination.

Baroness BIRK

That was obviously not only implicit but said, and I was taking that into account. This is one of the criteria on which we are working. But I am not going to be drawn by him on development land tax or the Community Land Act, particularly as we discussed it—and I took the debate myself—only recently. I decided then that I would not discuss community land religiously every Friday because it was very bad for my health.

I accept that the LDS allocation has been restricted, but that reduction keeps public expenditure within bounds which is so important for our economic policy and also reflects the extra use of current funds by authorities for capital expenditure. This is a financial problem with which we have to live at the moment. On the housing improvement point which was also raised by the noble Viscount, I can say here that there is nothing we can do about this through this Bill. I heard several "Hear, hears" from behind me and from beside me, from my noble friend Lord Strabolgi, and I will carry back his query to the Department for consideration.

The noble Viscount also asked about Clause 11. If I may repeat what I said on opening, I think he is quite right that we should have this on the record as it was only barely touched on, if at all, in the other place. The provision allows local plans to be prepared to reflect the new policies for inner areas. The points that he made were, I am sure, legally correct but, if necessary, we can look at them again in Committee.

My noble friend Lady David and the noble Lord, Lord Byers—and, differently in one way or another, I think every noble Lord who has spoken—stressed the need for early and demonstrable results. This, frankly, is what we are aiming at so long as we do not rush too rashly into errors. The Bill is designed to give local authorities effective powers to stimulate and encourage their local economies—this is what it is all about—and our endeavour to see that they get on with it as quickly as possible. Authorities have many ways of helping industry indirectly through planning, provision of housing for key workers, and also through transport schemes. They are all now well aware of the importance of taking the needs of industry into account. This is a running theme all the time. But, for the first time under general legislation, they will be able to assist industry and commerce more directly.

Again I emphasise, as noble Lords have done throughout the debate, the potential role of the private sector which must take initiatives and seek out opportunities for development in the inner city areas. The noble Lord, Lord Byers, and the noble Viscount again stressed the importance of the small businesses strategy on the financial side which is not covered in this Bill but which is entirely complementary to it. I will refrain from making a political point over this. Let us say that the great thing is that the strategy is agreed and the policies are being carried out.

With the backing of the local authorities and the private sector, these areas should once more become good places in which to live and work. The test of success, as we are absolutely all agreed, is whether we can create a working and living environment which attracts people back to the inner cities. I can only say how it filled me with glee and raised my spirit and morale to hear noble Lords on all sides of the House emphasise that all these measures can come to nothing unless they are for the people as well as about the people, that they really put heart and morale into them and do not merely remain on the drawing board. I honestly believe that this is one measure which would help us to achieve this, and I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.

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

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