§ 2.58 p.m.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY of STATE, DEPARTMENT of the ENVIRONMENT (Lord Bellwin)
My Lords, I beg to move that 1126 the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Bellwin.)
§ Baroness LLEWELYN-DAVIES of HASTOE
My Lords, I feel that the time has come when the whole House must ask the noble Lord the Chief Whip some questions about the further conduct of this Bill. I do not want to delay the Committee. In spite of sitting during the night until nearly three o'clock this morning we still have a very long way to go. We have about 169 amendments before us and many debates on whether clauses shall stand part of the Bill. We really must ask the Government how they propose to deal with this.
As everybody knows, we on this side of the House violently disagree with a great many parts of this Bill, and our misgivings have been shared in all parts of the House. We have never obstructed it in any improper way, and we do not propose to do so now. Nevertheless, the discussions which all the usual channels have together about business arrangements, which normally take place in the background and in private, I feel now have to be carried out in public. The House is not being allowed by the Government to discharge its proper functions of revision. We are supposed to, and always do, revise Bills with infinite care on all sides of the House. But with this Bill we are being asked to rush helter-skelter through most important questions which affect local democracy.
As the Bill has proceeded it has grown. It is about six Bills in one, and the longer we debate it the larger it gets. I should like to give the House just one example. The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, tabled eight amendments after the first Marshalled List was published. Only yesterday he tabled two extremely difficult, technical amendments. How is the House to be able to consider and debate the Bill as we should?
Because the Bill has grown as we have gone on with it and because the Government have had to give us an extra day on Committee, necessarily the Report stage will grow. We shall need at least three, if not four, days on Report and we shall 1127 further need longer time than has been assumed on Third Reading. How the Government expect to do all this with the printing difficulties of which we are all aware, I simply cannot imagine. Does the noble Lord think we are going to debate the Third Reading without a printed Bill before us and with no manuscript amendments allowed?
I feel very sad to speak in this way to the Government, but I must tell the House quite honestly and openly that we first warned Her Majesty's Government at the beginning of the Session that their programme was impossible. We repeated it in July before we rose, and we said that their plans for the overspill could not be done, however constructive the discussion was. I must again tell the House that we on our side warned the Government again last week that we could not see how these Bills could be completed and debated properly and constructively.
I am very sorry to raise these questions in this manner. Normally we do it all amicably and each side tries to help the other, although of course our duty is to oppose what we think is wrong. But I think the whole House requires a clear answer from the noble Lord as to how he proposes to carry through the increasing length of this Bill.
§ Lord DENHAM
My Lords, I fully understand the desire of the noble Baroness to raise these very real difficulties in this way on the Floor of the House and I am grateful to her for the clear and moderate way in which she has made her point, and indeed I am grateful to her for having given me notice that she intended to do so.
I do of course appreciate that the Committee of the Whole House on the Local Government Bill was asked to sit until a very late hour last night. Indeed, I cannot deny that the Government are asking this House to consider a long and complicated Bill within a tight timetable. I acknowledge this here and now, and would not for one moment accuse noble Lords opposite of deliberately delaying the Bill. I must say, however, that, in view of the progress that we did in the end manage to achieve yesterday, the Government will be hoping that the 1128 Committee Stage can be completed today. I hope that noble Lords will do all that they reasonably can to ensure that this is the case because I really believe that it would be in the interests of the House as a whole. We will keep a careful watch on progress this afternoon and I can assure your Lordships that I will make a further statement today, perhaps at the dinner adjournment.
I have, of course, taken careful note of what the noble Baroness said about the remaining stages of this Bill. I can say now that we will do all we possibly can to ensure that the House is given an opportunity for proper consideration on Report. So far as the noble Baroness's general remarks on this legislative programme are concerned, I do not wish to follow her at this stage on a post-mortem into what might have been, but of course I regret the pressure under which the House has been working. We have before us, however, legislation to which the Government attach the very greatest importance, and I am sure the House will recognise the need to get this programme through.
§ Baroness LLEWELYN-DAVIES of HASTOE
My Lords, I welcome the fact that the noble Lord will consider during the day the progress that is made on the Committee stage and that he will let us know how far he thinks we shall get tonight. I must repeat again: 169 amendments and debates on Clauses Stand Part. I think he will be a genius if he gets this through without driving us all mad!
§ Lord DENHAM
My Lords, I think that Chief Whips have to be mad to start with, though possibly not geniuses!
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The LORD ALPORT in the Chair.]
§ Schedule 20 [Land: miscellaneous amendments]:
§ 3.5 p.m.
Lord AVEBURY moved Amendment No. 227:
Page 193, line 14, leave out paragraph 9.
§ The noble Lord said: may I say, first, how very much I welcome the interchange which has just taken place between the two Front Benches, as a Back-Bencher who has to endure the long hours which are inflicted upon us by the Government, frequently without any knowledge of their future intentions and without the ability to try to plan one's diary or time table. I think that if more of these exchanges could take place in the open between these two Front Benches so that the rest of us can listen to what is said and thereby glean whatever we are able to from the statements made by the Government Whip, it would be an enormous improvement. I hope that the precedent set by the noble Baroness, Lady Llewleyn-Davies, will be continued, and I look forward very much to the statement which has been promised for the dinner hour by the Government Chief Whip so that we may know roughly where we are going and whether we can expect to remain here until three o'clock, as we did this morning.
§ I was rather tempted, when the Minister announced that we were to have dinners this evening, to ask him whether he would agree to provide breakfast tomorrow morning as well, because if we are to give adequate consideration to the large number of clauses which we still have to examine to complete the Committee stage, as the Government hope, before we rise, then that would certainly be necessary.
§ I do not want to rub it in, but most of the talking that was done last night was in fact on that side of the House, as one could see by the rebukes that had to be administered to certain Government Back-Benchers, who were particularly long-winded. But I leave that aside for the consideration of the Government Chief Whip, whose business it is to get the timetable through.
§ I come to the first amendment this afternoon, which deals with a very important matter for a great many Londoners; that is, the preservation of the green belt. It is a matter in which I have been personally interested since I had the honour of representing the constituency with the largest land area in Greater London and the largest amount of green belt open space within its boundaries. We very jealously safeguarded the beauties that were available in my constituency for 1130 the whole of the citizens of Greater London and which they enjoyed in very large numbers from the time the green belt policy was first decided before the war. People came out on the number 47 bus to Farnborough and then were immediately in open fields that could have been very many miles from the outskirts of the metropolis. They had the benefit of the open spaces and the unspoilt countryside which our predecessors so wisely safeguarded in the legislation which was first introduced before the war.
§ Therefore anything that waters down the power to keep these open spaces inviolate should be resisted at all costs. I am happy to say that there is an organisation, the Green Belt Council for Greater London, which has been in existence now for some 30 years and which is dedicated to this objective. It has societies affiliated to it in different parts of London and the Home Counties. It has made a practice of lodging objections at numerous public inquiries, either by representation or by letter, in any matter which injuriously affects the metropolitan Green Belt.
§ It is also concerned with the maintenance of open land which is covered by statutory use restrictions. Noble Lords will appreciate that in the Metropolitan Green Belt there are very considerable areas of land which bear the double designation of public open space and Green Belt. Accordingly, the Green Belt Council has expressed to us its uneasiness with the effects on public open space, Green Belt, of some of the provisions of this Bill and, in particular, of paragraph 9, which we now seek to delete by this amendment.
§ What this paragraph would do, if it were enacted, is to relieve the Secretary of State of the obligation to give his consent to the change in any use of public open space. We believe that the Secretary of State's consent ought to be maintained, because there is always a temptation for local authorities to redesignate open space for some other purpose, some more profitable purpose, and thereby there is a continual erosion of the spaces which are now available.
§ I saw this even in my own constituency. Indeed, every time I drive through it now there appear to be new buildings going up on what were formerly green fields which 1131 all the people of London could enjoy. I am very sorry when I see that because, although I would not try to pretend that every bit of the metropolitan Green Belt is of outstanding natural beauty, once you breach the principle that this land should be inviolate, it is very difficult to know where to stop. So I am indeed sorry when I see huge housing estates going up on what were in my youth—and, indeed, until very recently—open fields that everyone could enjoy. That is why I want the existing safeguards to remain and ask the Committee to support us in this objective.
§ I should say before I sit down that I am given to understand by the Green Belt Council that their suggestion, which is incorporated in this amendment, is supported by the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, the Commons Preservation Society and the Ramblers' Association among others. We very much hope, therefore, that the Minister will be disposed to accept this amendment. I beg to move.
§ The Earl of AVON
I am happy to be speaking to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, again, just 12 hours and 32 minutes since we were last talking to each other. First, may I talk about the Green Belt and then come more generally on to this amendment. There are two forms of land under the Green Belt: first, the land designated as such in the Green Belt (London and Home Counties) Act 1938; and, secondly, land in the context of Green Belt land which is designated as such. There are two different pieces, but Schedule 20 will have virtually no effect on either in the context of Green Belt land. Land in this category is of two kinds and the relevant development or structure plans apply to them. A departure from the plans would require advertisement and reference to the Secretary of State for consideration, before it could be called in. We have already made it known that we should want the strongest possible restraint on development in such areas.
If I may now come on to the more general aspect of this schedule and, in particular, of this amendment, it is probably desirable to look at the genesis of the provisions in Schedule 20. In February 1979, the local authorities published 1132 a document entitled Review of Central Government Controls over Local Authorities. This review identified a number of decisions which were capable of being taken locally, and concluded that the need to obtain the Secretary of State's consent represented a wasteful and expensive duplication of effort.
The Secretary of State accepted this argument and published in the White Paper entitled Central Government Controls over Local Authorities, a list of central Government controls that he proposed to relax. In general, the response to the White Paper was favourable and the bulk of the proposed relaxations were incorporated into this Bill, including those which are contained in Schedule 20, and particularly the one which is the subject of this amendment. The vast majority of these relaxations have already been approved in another place and by your Lordships. In pursuing this amendment, the noble Lord would appear to be saying that while he is prepared to entrust a whole range of new and important decisions to local authorities, he is not prepared to delegate decisions affecting the appropriation of open space.
It is intended to introduce, by way of a Government amendment at Report stage, a new provision requiring authorities to publish their proposals and to consider objectives. So the key issue here seems to be whether or not local authorities can be relied upon, first, to consider any objections which result from the publication of proposals to appropriate open space to another purpose; and, secondly, to reach a decision on whether or not to proceed with their proposals.
In taking a decision, they will be only too aware that they may have to justify it to the ratepayers or to the local electorate. If we cannot entrust to local authorities decisions about local open space, we bring into question the desirability of entrusting a whole host of other decisions to them. The Government believe that the locally elected body is the best place to decide whether or not a particular piece of open space is essential to the locality, and whether exchanged land is necessary if the existing open space is to be used for other purposes.
At the end of the day, the responsibility of the locally elected body is to reconcile 1133 whatever conflicts have emerged. If the authority decide that it is desirable to provide replacement open space, these new provisions will not prevent them from doing so. I realise that I have spoken rather more on the general subject than on the Green Belt, but I hope that my original remarks about the Green Belt will satisfy the noble Lord and that accordingly he will be able to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord AVEBURY
I am very grateful to the Minister for that helpful reply and for the reassurances which he has given, particularly the one concerning the amendment which he says the Government propose to table at Report stage, obliging local authorities to publish any proposals for the diversion of open space to other use and to consider the objections which ratepayers or other interested parties may lodge to those proposals. It would be only wise for us to examine what the Government have in mind, and to see whether the rights of the objectors are deemed to be satisfactory by the Green Belt Council and the other interests concerned. So until we can do that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Schedule 20 agreed to.
§ Clauses 107 to 109 agreed to.
§ Schedule 21 agreed to.
§ Clause 110 [Acquisition and disposal of land by the Crown]:
§ 3.18 p.m.
Lord UNDERHILL moved Amendment No. 228:
Page 95, line 11, leave out ("as may appear to the Secretary of State to be expedient") and insert ("as may best promote the policies adopted in the relevant structure plan of the county planning authority").
The noble Lord said: This is an amendment to subsection (6), which empowers the Secretary of State to dispose of land that may be held by him or by any other Ministers. It provides that the Secretary of State is empowered to dispose of such lands:
in such manner and subject to such conditions as may appear to the Secretary of State to be expedient".
Numerous references have been made throughout the debate on this Bill to the powers given to the Secretary of State, and this seems to be another exceptional power.
§ But before putting down the amendment, I thought it wise to check in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary the definition of the word "expedient", and I found that it is advantageous, suitable, but also politic rather than just. I am just wondering whether the latter is the criterion which is intended in this subsection.
The amendment seeks to leave out the words,
as may appear to the Secretary of State to be expedient",
and instead to insert:
as may best promote the policies adopted in the relevant structure plan of the county planning authority".
I believe that the amendment is a safeguard to ensure that expediency does not override the policies in the county plan. Noble Lords will note that the wording is rather different from that which the Government could not accept yesterday when we referred continually to the "structure plan". As I think that this would meet the Government's wish, I hope they will find it possible to accept the amendment.
§ The Earl of AVON
If I may correct the noble Lord, it was this morning, not yesterday, when we talked about the structure plan. The only way the Secretary of State could give any meaningful effect to this amendment would be by way of imposing a condition on any sale limiting future development of the land to that which may best promote the policies adopted in the relevant structure plan. It is difficult to see how this could produce any worthwhile effect. Since development outside the policies of the structure plan is unlikely to be permitted there would seem little point in suggesting that disposals should be subject to conditions requiring development to be within these policies. Moreover, the amendment only has the impact of an exhortation, as the section itself allows for a wholly permissive disposal arrangement which the amendment does not seek to alter.
It is difficult to recommend the amendment. Irrespective of conditions attached 1135 to a disposal, the land could not subsequently be used or developed, except by an approved departure, otherwise than in conformity with the structure and local plan. The type of restrictive condition proposed is therefore likely to have little or no practical effect in achieving the objective of the amendment.
Your Lordships will know that a structure plan is a general statement of planning and environmental policies; it is not site specific, as we said earlier today, and in any particular transaction any conditions aimed solely at promoting structure plan policies would be exposed to doubt and challenge. It has to be recognised that a land transaction is a contract between two parties. If conditions imposed were in terms wholly directed to the amendment's objective, some purchasers could be put off. In undertaking development, private enterprise often gives effect to the policies adopted in any relevant structure plan, but this is only one of the considerations a prospective purchaser will have in mind.
I think I ought to make it clear that were this amendment to be adopted it would not prevent the Secretary of State from ignoring its effect, since the clause provides for a wholly permissive disposal arrangement which the amendment does not seek to alter. I should like to suggest, under this charming word "expedient", that this clause is advantageous, suitable, politic and perhaps even just. On those terms, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
I believe that the intention behind the amendment has a certain merit. As my noble friend Lord Avon said in his answer in response to the amendment, it may even be just. This is the key. I believe that the use of the word "expedient" is not capable of legal test and might cause considerable problems in the future. I bitterly regret that my noble friend Lord Renton is not here to be of help to me on the point. However, I draw great comfort from the fact that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate is sitting on the Front Bench. If he could give to the Committee the benefit of his wisdom on this particular point, I for one would be most grateful.
§ Lord UNDERHILL
Although I appreciate the statement made by the noble Lord the Minister, I am still not satisfied. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment. However, this may be justification for the discussion which we could not carry through last night, because of the lateness of the hour, on the value of positive planning in the Community Land Act.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 110 agreed to.
§ Clauses 111 to 113 agreed to.
§ Clause 114 [Stuns to be paid to Secretary of State]:
§ 3.25 p.m.
Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 229:
Page 97, line 19, at end insert ("and shall satisfy himself that such payment does not undermine the programme of planned development of the town and is consistent with the principles of sound financial management of its assets".)
§ The noble Baroness said: I should like to move Amendment No. 229 and at the same time to speak to Amendment No. 230. As the clause stands at present, the Secretary of State can give a direction to a new town development corporation to sell its assets. This is just another example of the misconception that a Secretary of State will know better than the local people whether or not that proposal is sensible and whether or not it is in the interests of the new town development corporation or, indeed, in the interests of the new town that it is the development corporation's job to serve. The Secretary of State in this clause can demand money, regardless of the views of the new town development corporation.
§ The quite specific responsibility of the new town corporation is to secure the development of the town under their responsibility. The development corporations up and down the country were appointed by the Secretary of State to carry out that responsibility, as embodied in the New Towns Act. That responsibility cannot be carried out if we give to 1137 the Secretary of State the powers for which he asks in this Bill. I am certain that the objective of the present Secretary of State is first to enable the Treasury to grab the money and so reduce the public sector borrowing rate and, secondly, to sell off valuable industrial and commercial assets on the cheap, because that is what a wholesale policy for the sale of these assets would mean. Large numbers of industrial and commercial assets coming on to a depressed market at the same time can only have the consequence of depressing the price paid to the public purse for them by would-be buyers.
§ The proposed policy is liable to present individual development corporations with very grave difficulties, in that the rental income which they at present obtain from these assets, which the Secretary of State orders them to sell, is vital to the new town's finances to enable them to pay off the debt that they have incurred as a consequence of their original developments. It may even mean that some development corporations may find themselves unable to complete the development of the new town, the responsibility with which they were charged under the New Towns Act, and some may even face insolvency.
§ Amendment No. 230 would take away the power of the Secretary of State to require a corporation to comply with his direction and, if they failed to do so, simply to take the money. Again we have the presumption throughout the Bill that the Secretary of State is the one who knows best. This subsection would allow him to take the money, regardless of whether the corporation feels this action will have a damaging effect on the job it is attempting to do for the new town and its community.
§ These proposals really have nothing whatever to do with the interests of new towns. They are just a continuation of the Government's obsession with the public service borrowing rate. Subsection (3) covered by Amendment No. 230 is a wicked and detrimental part of this clause. If the new town development corporations have to sell, then it puts them in a buyers' market. They will know that they must sell, the potential buyers will know that they must sell and the buyers will know that even if the price they offer is lower than reasonable 1138 the new towns will have to accept, or subsection (3) will come into operation. The new towns have been told to find £120 million this year and something like £200 million next year. How can they do that in a depressed market? And why put yet another penalty clause into this Bill for new towns? This will be the worst type of public asset stripping.
§ I believe that these clauses are an attack on the whole principle and basis of new towns. The proposals in this clause alter the whole relationship between the Department of the Environment, the new town corporations and the commission. Until now that relationship has been a good one. I have seen it work from both sides, both as a board member for Peterborough New Town and as a junior Minister at the Department of the Environment. That relationship has always been productive and constructive. Could it be that when the Secretary of State looked at his list of Quangos he decided not to tackle the new town corporations but to clip their wings so that they cannot carry out their duties and responsibilities under the New Towns Act, but, like the rest of local government, become just puppets of the Secretary of State?
§ Let me make it quite plain that a new town has been able to sell its assets if it wants more money which Government cannot give it, and the roll-over principle of selling assets and reinvesting the income in further assets is well understood throughout all new towns. Our objection is to the Secretary of State having power to instruct them to sell assets and to pay the receipts into the Consolidated Fund to reduce the public sector borrowing, because that has nothing whatever to do with the interests of new towns. I maintain that the value of new town assets should extend and accrue in community ownership, and if and when the time is right for sales the money so raised should go to completing the existing new towns more quickly and then to helping with inner city areas. It should not go to the Treasury to reduce PSBR or be used for tax hand-outs to the wealthy. I speak with some knowledge of the Peterborough New Town. Under the last Government our target population was reviewed and was reduced to 150,000, allowing by natural growth up to 160,000 by the mid-1980s, and our 1139 investment has been planned on that basis. The present Secretary of State has just reduced our designated area and I believe the population to be achieved is at present under further review.
§ Termination dates have already been agreed for the mark one and mark two new towns, with Skelmersdale and Washington due for completion in 1985. What is now needed more than anything else is a firm termination date for the mark three new towns such as Peterborough, Milton Keynes and Northampton. These third-generation new towns have still got a major job left to do. Their development corporations have to bring their new towns to a satisfactory state of completion and they must be able to exploit the very heavy public expenditure that has been involved in their infrastructure, and at the same time exploit their potential for growth. In Peterborough, our city centre is being redeveloped with the support of private investment from the Norwich Union to the tune of something like £25 million. The money invested in new towns is not only public money. Overall a very great deal of private investment of pension funds and the like has gone on over the years. We are trying to develop a regional shopping centre. We have industrial and commercial land still available and it is imperative that we are allowed to build up our population base to support the growth that we have succeeded in generating.
§ Early completion of these third-generation new towns is essential to enable them to enhance their existing assets and to continue to create new ones. A policy which enabled this to happen would be the best for all concerned, but it will not be achieved by asset-stripping, as proposed in this Bill, or by denying the new towns the use of capital resources from the sales they make when the Minister orders them to find £X millon at any given time. New towns have made a tremendous impact and they have provided hundreds of thousands of people with good homes, schools, services, leisure amenities and jobs, and I plead with the Minister to heed what those of us from new towns are saying, to give them a realistic date of completion, to allow them to do the job to the advantage of the town 1140 and to enable them to have sound financial management of all their assets. I beg to move.
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ Baroness DENINGTON
I have the greatest pleasure in supporting the contention of the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, and I thank her for her excellent speech. I support this amendment very strongly, because exactly what it says and indicates may happen, is happening. What is now being required of new town corporations and the Commission for New Towns means that their programme of planned development is being undermined and the principles of sound financial management hitherto followed scrupulously by these bodies can no longer be adhered to. I must give a little history of this matter, and I would make it clear to your Lordships that I myself was an actor on the stage through discussions that took place and a meeting with the Minister as the chairman of Stevenage New Town. I have been right through it. I am no longer connected because Stevenage was wound up last month, having finished. We had no grumble at being wound up. We had got to a stage where it was wise and proper that we should be wound up, and the town is now resting in the kind hands of the Commission for New Towns.
But I have been through this story, and to me it is a very distressing story. It starts in July of last year—1979—when the Secretary of State called all the new town chairmen and the general managers to come to a meeting in the DOE, with no indication whatsoever as to what we were being called for or what we were to talk about. When we got there we were issued with what I and my fellow chairmen will describe as a diktat demanding the realisation of assets to produce £100 million by the following March—nine months ahead. I know that the Secretary of State contends, and has contended when he has been challenged on this, as he has in another place, that he asked corporations to undertake what he required of them. It did not come over as a request, by any manner of means at all—by tone of voice, by words, by anything; it just came over as an order. I might add—I hate to do so, but I must—that it was accompanied by what I call a rather mean and nasty piece of blackmail, in that the new towns 1141 collectively—because we worked collectively—were told that until we gave an undertaking that we would raise for the Minister the £100 million which at that stage he demanded of us there would be a moratorium on the letting of all contracts.
I quote the little paragraph from the letter sent to new town corporations on 17th July 1979. The writer was an official. It says:I should explain that the moratorium on the letting of new contracts includes those for which corporations would normally have the authority to accept under delegated powers …—that is, without the DOE knowing anything about it. So there was a complete and utter stopper on any further progress being made in the new towns until the Minister had the guarantee that we would do our utmost to produce this money. Such a thing was not called for. There was no discussion with the Minister. Having made his diktat, he left us. There was no discussion. There was no consultation whatsoever with new towns. This was the Government's order, and there it was. When he got his undertaking, which was given as rapidly as possible, of course the moratorium was lifted. But to have put it on was really so unnecessary and to me such an unmannerly way to act towards the new town corporations.
There is another point. The Secretary of State must surely have been advised by his advisers—I cannot think it was otherwise, knowing the civil servants as I have done over many years—that what he was asking corporations to do was of doubtful legality; and certainly in the case of two corporations it turned out to be entirely illegal. Although my corporation did not like it, we were doing our best as fast as we could to satisfy the requirements of the Secretary of State. We were disposing of a very important section of our town centre, actually to the GLC pension fund and the pension fund solicitor, or the agent acting for him, said, "We are unable to proceed because this is illegal". It is really most distressing that a Secretary of State at the Department of the Environment could really behave so. But there it was. Those of your Lordships who have had the Notes on Clauses will see that they make it quite clear that the legislation is needed to legalise the demands of the Secretary of State, so that now he is on strong ground.
1142 I was horrified to read in those Notes on Clauses the following—I am quoting from the document:Subsection 1 provides the Secretary of State with a power to direct a development corporation or the Commission of the new towns to pay him on a specified date a sum specified in the direction".Now, the important part is the comment that follows:Comment. The Secretary of State does not at present have adequate powers to compel corporations or the Commission to make him payment".With regard to the word "compel" I put it to the Committee that the new town corporations and the commission have always been loyal servants of the nation, no matter what the complexion of the Government. They have done whatever was required of them, as they should as an agent of the Government—because that is what they are. For anybody to be able to write such words, indicating that it is thought that they have to be compelled to behave properly, I find most distasteful and really most distressing.
The £100 million was not raised by last March and that was not because anybody was wanting not to co-operate, but for the simple reason that there was not time. We had to appoint agents to deal with the matter, we had to instruct agents, they had to meet the corporations. We met as rapidly as we could and dealt with matters as rapidly as we could, but they had to make detailed surveys of the properties that were to be marketed; we had to advertise the sales once the disposals had been selected and then all the negotiations had to go on, on what were really large property deals—and they are not dealt with in five minutes. In my view, it was absolute nonsense to expect that the sales could be completed within the nine months from that diktat.
The balance of the £100 million was not raised because there was not time and this year the Secretary of State has demanded that this year's demand, which is over £200 million, shall now be added to the original £100 million that was not raised. This all has to be raised by next March and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, said, that means flooding too much property on to a market at one time when buyers know full well the pressure that there is on corporations to 1143 sell. Of course it depresses prices at a time when the market is sluggish anyway, as unfortunately we all know it is. It also means that, in order to sell, properties have to be marketed now that would realise much higher prices in a year or two, for instance after there had been new rent reviews. I have been advised by all the valuers that such is undoubtedly the case. It means selling properties which are still "green"—not ready for marketing—and which really should not be considered for sale at all. But the money has to be raised. The new town corporations are the agents of the Government so the money has to be raised whether or not it is wise to sell.
Again, as the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, said, the object of this exercise is really to raise money for the PSBR, then, after that, for the redemption of debt on the new towns and then, thirdly, for the continuation of the new town development. That again is made absolutely clear in the Notes on Clauses, where it says in Note (v):The sum so received will be paid into the Exchequer and shall be capable of being used for general purposes unconnected with the new towns as well as for the repayment of new town debts on past loans from the national loans fund and for the financing of the continued new town development".I would remind the Committee that the original demand was made very soon after the Government had redeemed their election pledge to reduce income tax. To raise money to help to fund that electoral exercise the dissipation of one of the nation's profitable ventures was demanded, for the new towns have reached a stage of very good profitability and the taxpayer's money and the private investor's money, which have already been referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, will, over the years, show a very handsome return indeed.
I make no bones about saying that the corporations would not really have wished to have sold at all, but they have been required—and they were required by the last Government—to roll over their assets in order to continue development. This they have done but, if the Government go on demanding the wholesale realisation of assets because of the present economic need, then, as the noble Baroness Lady Stedman suggested, it should be done in a 1144 properly considered and phased programme—not all rushed out and sold off cheaply at one moment. Surely it would not be unreasonable to say that the continuation and completion of this very imaginative project, of the new towns which has received worldwide acclaim—I do not know how many thousands of foreign visitors we have coming to see these towns every year—should be a first charge on the sums that are raised.
It might also be expected that, in doing this exercise, if the Government find it vitally necessary to carry out these sales in order to raise money, then as much as possible should be saved for the nation. Surely the clear way to do that, looking to the future, would be to sell leasehold and not freehold. But that does not appear in this Bill. If your Lordships read it, you might almost think that you would have to go on bended knees to get the Secretary of State to let you sell for more than 99 years. But the Instruction dated 31st July 1980, Guidance on the Terms of Disposal, reads:Ministers wish to see disposals take place on a basis which, as far as possible, frees development corporations from all further involvement in the property and which does not involve any form of retention of a share in the equity".It then continues:Disposals should therefore be on a freehold basis".Private enterprise is to be given the complete bonanza. This of course is Tory Party policy. I would hope that it is not only those sitting on this side of the Committee who feel it is not a wise policy in all instances.
A further point is that the towns (and I think that this was not appreciated in another place when this matter was discussed in Committee) are not being allowed to sell in order to meet their own urgent needs. To give one instance, the new town of Stevenage has an all-pedestrian centre which depends on plentiful and adequate car parking. Another car park is urgently needed. Short spur roads are also needed, to open up two further sites for industrial development where a lot of those little units are planned—which everyone in this House is saying are so urgently needed by the nation, and which could be let as soon as they are built. If neither the car parking nor the money for these little 1145 pieces of roadwork are allowed we may not sell to develop the town but only to get the Minister his over £300 million.
§ Lord MILVERTON
I would ask my noble friend the Minister to accept the amendment. As I understand it, it seems to be reasonably sound and fair. There are many cases where the question has been raised whether it is right that the Secretary of State should have so much power. I believe that we must be careful that too much overriding power is not given to the Secretary of State. It could be dangerous, for whoever the Secretary of State is and of whatever party.
§ 3.53 p.m.
§ Lord ROSS of MARNOCK
I hope to hear some information from Scotland. I do not see political Ministers on the Front Bench but I do see the Lord Advocate, who has been doing a sterling job on this Bill. I do not know why. Could he explain how this will work in Scotland? That the Secretary of State may direct a corporation to pay him on the date specified such sum as is so specified, is a clause that should not be passed. It is not specified in the Bill. It is a sum to be thought up by the Secretary of State. In this case, we are not talking about the Secretary of State for the Environment, but the Secretary of State for Scotland. I know the Secretary of State for Scotland very well. He is my local MP. I have never voted for him, but that is beside the point. I am perfectly sure, however, that neither he nor the Scottish Office thought this up. This bears the hallmark of a political dictator.
The story that has been told by the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, is appalling: that the Secretary of State proceeded to tell the new towns, and by implication so did the Secretary of State for Scotland, that they were to take £100 million from them when they had no power to do so. Even before they have the power, because we have not yet passed the Bill, they will take another £200 million and, because they had not the power to get it last year and it was impractical anyway, they will add that on. This is a retrospective exercise of dictatorial, illegal powers. I do not know whether the Committee is prepared to accept it, but I certainly cannot see any 1146 body concerned about the constitution and the powers of Ministers allowing them to get away with this.
I should like to ask some specific questions about Scotland. We have five new towns. They are nowhere near the commission stage. They have been doing a first-class job in providing new houses, new factories, all the facilities which go with that in respect of health services and so on. They are a credit to the people who thought out the idea of trying to deal with what we have inherited from the first Industrial Revolution, by getting people out of Glasgow and out of areas which were beyond improvement, to give them a new chance. They have prospered. They have built up assets. Now the Secretary of State is telling them: "You are going to sell these; you are going to sell them by the time I tell you, and you are going to provide me with a sum of money." In fact he can change his mind about that £300 million and make it £400 million. There is no power to stop him. This is a forced sale. There is not a businessman sitting on the other side of the Committee who would say that this is good business. It has to be done by a certain time.
I do not know the position of the new towns in England. Some of them are in the South. But think of the position of new towns in Cumbernauld, in Irvine—one of the black spots in Ayrshire at the present time. When one appreciates exactly how little in the way of new investment from private industry is coming in, if they are to sell at this time it is bargains galore, and they will not have the chance to retrieve the situation when times are different. This is deplorable. I am surprised that a man such as the Lord Advocate should come into politics, in a sort of non-political field such as the law of Scotland, and lend himself to this.
I want to know exactly how much is demanded of each of the Scottish new towns. I also want to know the dates in respect of which they have to pay for it. When I was Secretary of State there was no Conservative who would let me get off with hits, and I will not readily allow the Secretary of State for Scotland to get off with this raiding of the new towns—for that is what it is. It is more than that. It is not just money that is involved; one has to think of what happens to the new 1147 town itself. What is new town property and what is national property then becomes something very different. It is not just a question of saving some money or reducing the borrowing power that the Treasury has to face up to. The nature of the new towns is being changed, for the worst possible reason. I hope that the Lord Advocate will defend this situation as far as Scotland is concerned, let me know what are the specific sums that they have to pay and the dates, and what consultations there have been with the new towns.
§ Lord DAVIES of LEEK
This is one of the worst pieces of piracy that we have had. We are seeing here one of the ugliest features of monetarism. There is no doubt about it. The purpose of this amendment is to try to rescue something of the new towns, of which Britain was proud. I remember that when we first started them, in some of the blacker areas, people from all over the world came to see British new towns.
As I said last night, we have tried, on both sides of the Committee, to have a constructive debate. We have tried to calm down on the party political side of it but, in the name of the Lord and for heaven's sake, will noble Lords opposite and those on this side of the Committee try to realise what will happen! Take a new town like Cymbran in South Wales, where contiguous areas will face the ugliness of massive unemployment and the sordid business of apathy through unemployment. Some areas that are bright are going to be left open to the "cowboys", the investors and anybody who can make a grab. As my noble friend said, it will be bargains galore in all these towns.
This applies wherever you look at the policy. Take the taking over of the Post Office. What happens. The Government looks for the profitable bit of it and says, "Let us take that and give it to private enterprise." But they would not deliver letters to farms in my division of Leek when I was Member there, or the part of Wales where I was born up in the mountains. On the old tuppenny letter you lost on delivering to a farm but you gained on delivering in the next street. What have they done. They have taken the famous slogan, socialise the losses and 1148 privatise the profits of national and other types of enterprise. Wherever anything shows a little profit they say, "This is typical example of initiative." I remember reading as a young man Cecil's book on The Philosophy of Toryism and it praised itself on the Christian spirit behind Tory-ism. It was the case of the old Tory Party. Many of the reforms in this country came from Christian Conservatives in the history of this country. Suddenly what is happening. We are forgetting some of the purposes of building fellowship and building up elegant and decent surroundings for the humble people, the peasants and the others. Today what do we see? The new town managers and others are being treated as though they were hoodlums. They are told the Secretary of State will take powers; if they fail to comply with a direction the Secretary of State may recover the sum required as if it were a simple contract. In other words, he puts them up in the police court, metaphorically speaking. They are treated as though they are petty diddlers. The Secretary of State does not at present have adequate powers to compel cooperation and he is looking for powers to compel, not for powers to appease, not to join and make a constructive effort out of the new towns, but powers to compel.
I regret that this comes forward in this form. Once again it proves we are overworked; we are rushing a Bill that should be in six various Bills—not just one. We are not taking time to study it in depth; we are not taking the time to think, and we are denigrating the position of this noble House in the process of legislation so far as the country is concerned. If ever this House justified its abolition it is by the kind of piracy that is suggested in some of these Bills that are now whipping through the House at three or four o'clock in the morning when elderly Members of the House are overworked. This is not a party political issue; it is more or less a philosophical one about where this nation is going. I sincerely hope that some noble Lords opposite will go into the Lobby against this Bill.
§ Lord STEWART of FULHAM
I have listened with horror to the story my noble friend Lady Denington has told us. It gives a meaning that some of us had not 1149 fully realised to these clauses of the Bill. There is one aspect which has not been touched on which I would like to mention. I presume that in due course we shall be able to know who are the purchasers of this land that the new towns are going to be obliged to sell, as a piece of bad business often at a wrong time, because the episode in our history this reminds me of most is the dissolution of the monasteries, for which an ideological reason was put up, but the driving force behind it was greedy and ambitious people who wanted to get their hands on the property. Of course it is known that the foundations of some of the great families in this country today were laid at that time of looting. It will be very interesting to know if some of this land passes ultimately into the hands of people who have quite a long tradition of active interest in the fortunes of the Conservative Party.
Indeed, where did this idea originally come from? My noble friend Lord Ross of Marnock said he saw a politician's hand in this; I think a businessman's hand as well. Somebody at some stage in the inner councils of the Conservative Party said, "Here is a something where we can really make a killing", and thanks to the speech of my noble friend Lady Denington we now know about it. I hope we shall all hold the Government to giving the fullest possible publicity to how this works out with the new towns, what they have to sell and to whom they sell it.
§ Lord ROBERTHALL
I know very little about new towns. I had the impression that the Government put up the money for them. I must say that what we have heard so far is very disquieting, and I hope that the Minister will give us something of the background. As your Lordships know, I am an economist, and one of the first lessons you learn when you get on to the subject of taxation is that one of the canons of taxation is certainty, that everybody should know what they have to pay. On the face of it this looks as if the Secretary of State could just make up his mind what he is going to levy. I see that in subsection (6) some of it can be treated as repayment, but I take it that since the Minister has to get these powers now the new towns are something more than just a creature of his from whom he can recover anything he likes. That is all 1150 I want to say, I do think it is an unusual sort of thing to find in a Bill, and I hope that the Minister is going to tell us a little more about it.
§ Lord MISHCON
At 1.15 this morning the Committee was asked to debate, before a very much diminished and somewhat fatigued Committee, powers that the Secretary of State was taking to himself in order that he could direct local authorities and public bodies to sell property they owned without the Secretary of State being subjected to any appeal procedure, and with the right to do so limited by very vague words that are in the Bill. My noble friends and I, with our Liberal colleagues who joined us, refused to debate at Committee stage such important provisions and such important powers as were being accorded to the Secretary of State, and we made a protest about the mismanagement of this Bill which led to such vital clauses and such vital powers being debated before a much attenuated Committee. It adds no dignity to this House for our business to be so arranged, and apart from adding no dignity it takes away from us the powers which at present we are supposed to exercise and which many people in many places are attacking. It does no good to the continuance of this House and its prestige for matters to be dealt with in this way. Some of us who are attached to the traditions of this House do not welcome such examples which are being given to opponents of this House.
Having said this, I direct myself now to the issue that is before us in regard to this amendment. My noble friend Lord Ross of Marnock dealt with political issues, and did so with his usual ability to direct himself to a point most incisively.
I want to deal, if I may, and if the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate will allow me to, with the legal issues involved in this clause. I have yet to find in my memory—and I do not know whether the Lord Advocate can give me an example—a provision in a Bill which, in regard to a public body directed by Act of Parliament to carry out certain statutory duties, gives to a Minister of State the unlimited right to demand of it a certain sum of money, unspecified, and without prejudice at all to the question whether or not the statutory powers of that body can still be carried out if the demand is in 1151 fact satisfied. I know of no example and I ask the noble and learned Lord this—and it is a simple matter: Can he please guide the Committee by giving it a precedent? I know of none.
To quote what the Committee may feel is a ridiculous parallel, I happen to be a member of the National Theatre Board. The board was set up to deal with certain statutory duties. I am a member of the South Bank Theatre Board. It, similarly, was set up to perform certain statutory duties. What a mockery it would be if somebody, be he the Minister for the Arts or whoever it is, were given the power to direct us to pay a certain sum of money, unlimited, unqualified, to him on a certain day, and the ability to sue us as a statutory body on the basis that we were liable in debt to the Minister, to the Government. Who are the people who are supposed to be running the new town corporations? Are they people who are being paid huge sums of money in order that they may have a directorship of a new town, or are they people like my noble friend Lady Denington, who has devoted years of her life to public service, with great distinction, in carrying out what is a very vital national task in regard to the new towns?
So I ask the noble Lord the Lord Advocate whether he can do three things. First, can he give us a precedent? Secondly, in regard to the advice that he would give to client, would he ever advise any client to submit to an unlimited demand when that client is trying to carry out a duty imposed by somebody, without any qualification? Thirdly—a simple question, and then I shall sit down—would he advise any reputable businessman to sit upon a board of a new town corporation when somebody outside his control can demand of his corporation an unspecified, unqualified, unlimited amount, with the result that if a new town corporation could not pay it the Secretary of State could make it insolvent, get a judgment against it as a simple contract debt, or any debt, and put it into liquidation, so that for the very first time the person carrying out that public duty would be a director of an insolvent concern?
This issue would be laughable if it were not tragic, and this is where this House stands at this moment. I am not, 1152 as I said, going to argue any question of politics at all. I am talking as a humble lawyer, and I hope I have talked common sense. If this House does not pass this amendment, at least limiting the powers of the Secretary of State in regard to what he can do, this House is carrying out no reforming, revising duty whatsoever. It is merely gathering Division fodder from wherever the people may be in the House in order to put over what is an outrageous clause in this Bill.
§ 4.16 p.m.
§ Lord SANDYS
In rising to speak to this amendment, may I first of all acknowledge the expertise of the two noble Baronesses who first spoke. The noble Baroness Lady Stedman, of course, has long years of experience on the Peterborough New Town Corporation, and may I say how warmly we welcome the fact that the noble Baroness Lady Denington spoke with such obvious knowledge and feeling of her very long experience on the Stevenage New Town Corporation. It is one of the great justifications in your Lordships' House that those who address us on particular subjects speak from profound knowledge, and I think it is a particular privilege to listen to speeches which have been delivered with such conviction.
I must address myself first of all to the terms of the amendment, and then I will attempt to answer as many of the points as I possibly can. The purpose of Clause 114 will be well known. It is to give the Secretary of State power to raise money from the new town corporations and from the commission for the new towns. This is a vital contribution towards our policies of reducing the public sector borrowing requirement and reducing public sector land holdings, and in her opening remarks the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, rightly identified the purpose.
The amendment would undermine the whole purpose of Clause 114 and involve a return to the restrictions on disposals found in the New Towns Act 1965, which requires that disposals should be expedient—and there is that word again—for securing the development of the new town or for connected purposes. We certainly do not envisage that the disposals programme will undermine the 1153 programmes of planned development of the towns or be inconsistent with the principles of sound financial management, but it is for the individual development corporations to plan their disposals with this in mind, and it would be neither feasible nor desirable for the Secretary of State to interfere in the individual decisions of the development corporations. Such involvement by the Secretary of State would be contrary to the intentions of Clause 114 and I therefore call upon the noble Baronesses to withdraw their amendment.
I feel, from the very considerable depth of feeling expressed, that your Lordships would like me to answer as many as I can of the points made, and of course I must do my best. The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, opened her remarks by suggesting that these clauses—and these are very important clauses in the Bill—were a direct attack on new towns. I can assure the noble Baroness that this is not the case. It is the view which she and her noble colleagues have taken of this matter. I think it is perhaps a matter of presentation and experience, especially in the case of the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, of what has taken place.
I think where we have common ground with the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, is over the roll-over principle, which she accepts entirely, and so told the Committee. She said that her objection was that the power was given to the Secretary of State. I would point out that in Clause 114 this is a permissive power. It does not say that the Secretary of State will exercise it, it says "may exercise" it; and I think it is clear that he is going to exercise it. He will probably do so both in England and in Scotland—and of course the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, mentioned Cwmbran in Wales.
I should like to refer to what the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, said in regard to the Secretary of State's request for £100 million in disposals. I think that the Secretary of State explained that it was necessary to reduce the net call on the Exchequer by some £100 million. My understanding is that he offered the new towns two choices: either to raise this finance by sales or to stop the new towns investment programme in order to save an equivalent sum. To suggest, as the noble Baroness suggested, that that is blackmail 1154 is one interpretation of the matter. Nevertheless, that was the global position in which the Government found themselves when taking office in May last year. Such was the need to examine and carry out urgent variations in the financial management that this series of discussions took place as early as the noble Baroness described, in July 1979.
I turn to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, who asked about how the Bill would work in Scotland. The Bill provides for the Secretary of State to consult the new town development corporations before specifying the amounts to be raised. The noble Lord referred to some very important developments in Scotland of which we can all be extremely proud. I think that he referred to Cumbernauld; East Kilbride, which is now the sixth biggest town in Scotland; Irvine; and Livingston; but I do not think that he mentioned Glenrothes. He asked how much was wanted of each of the new towns; the dates concerned and what consultation will take place. Obviously, the local circumstances of each new town are highly important in this context. The Committee will have noticed that the size of the programme of £330 million has been related to the English new towns. The Scottish new towns have their disposals programme for rollover and reinvestment of assets, but that is on nothing like the scale of the disposal and reinvestment in England and that is precisely because of the local circumstances to which the noble Lord referred.
The noble Lord, with his experience as Secretary of State for Scotland, will know that it is very difficult for me to expand further at short notice on the questions he asked in regard to dates. But, I shall attempt to discover the information and I hope to write to him in due course.
§ Lord AVEBURY
The practice, which is being followed so frequently, of Ministers promising to write to an individual member is highly unsatisfactory 1155 because it means that nobody else has any knowledge of the contents.
§ Lord SANDYS
I recognise the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and, of course, he is perfectly right. But there is a remedy which would be open to the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, and that is to put down either a Starred Question or a Question for Written Answer. I do not know whether either those courses of action recommend themselves; they probably do not in view of the timescale involved. Nevertheless, it is extremely difficult to meet the point of detail and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Ross, would not wish me to make an ill-considered reply without the full information for which he has asked.
I turn to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham. I must say that I found that his speech contained a very unworthy charge. However, I should point out that most of the major sales so far contemplated are to pension funds and insurance companies—in other words, to organisations as regards which small savers band together to invest their savings in the best possible way. I hope that that will satisfy the noble Lord. He also asked the Government what they have to sell. I do not think I can answer that in any very precise form and certainly not at present.
I turn to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. He evidently assumed that my noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate was to reply. I fear that I am a pale shadow compared with my noble and learned friend, and I regret to say that I cannot satisfy the noble Lord on any of the three questions which he asked, though I do not think that he expected me to do so, because they were rhetorical questions.
§ Lord MISHCON
I am sure that the noble Minister will be good enough to give way in view of the somewhat summary fashion in which he used his own discretion in defining my questions, calling them rhetorical. They were not rhetorical: they were questions that I specifically asked in my humble judgment for the guidance of the Committee. I shall repeat them. My first question was as follows: is there any precedent that the 1156 Minister can give the Committee of a Minister or Secretary of State being able, through an Act of Parliament, to demand any sum he wanted, unqualified and unlimited, from a body set up to do a statutory duty? That is not a rhetorical question—I do not know the answer. I believe that it is without precedent, but the noble Lord can correct me.
As regards the second question which I asked—I asked it of a fellow lawyer, if I may say so with deference, but I am perfectly sure that the Minister can be briefed in regard to his reply—it was not a rhetorical question. Indeed, I shall try to make the last two questions into one question. Could the Minister possibly advise any responsible businessman to become a member of a new towns corporation knowing that his liability, when sitting there, was to answer a demand, unlimited and unqualified, which might be addressed to the new towns corporation through the unfettered power of a Minister, and theoretically at least, put himself in the position of being a member of a board of an insolvent company?
§ Lord SANDYS
I think that I can, to some extent, satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, on his first question. I can quote two precedents. One is in the New Towns Act itself. If the noble Lord will examine it, he will find it under Section 4(2), which gives power for the Secretary of State to give directions,for restricting the exercise by them of any of their powers under this Act".
§ Lord MISHCON
Again I ask the Minister to give way because this matter is so vital. If I am straining the patience of the Committee I know that I shall receive an indication and I shall sit down. But I hope that the Committee will think that I am trying to do my duty as a member of this House. The first example by way of precedent given to me comes from a brief—and I do not wish to be offensive to anybody—which, if it were given to me in a professional capacity, I would have to return because it does not deal with the case that I am supposed to be arguing. Talking about restricting powers in the New Towns Act has nothing to do with the unlimited power of a Minister to demand an unlimited, unspecified and unqualified sum from a new towns corporation, a statutory body. It is to that matter that I asked him to direct his mind, and, 1157 if he requires further time in which to be briefed on it, I shall understand. I say this with all respect, but knowing that he had to argue this clause, I should have thought that it would have been a matter on which he could have satisfied himself beforehand.
§ Lord SANDYS
In this particular case I think that the noble Lord has dealt with his point in extenso, to which I do not object. In fact, I think that the opportunity given on this amendment is certainly one which is of his own choosing. I have a second precedent, but I do not think that I shall quote it now.
§ Lord SANDYS
Nevertheless, I shall certainly take up the noble Lord's invitation because he offered me the alternative of the opportunity to consider, and that I shall do.
§ Lord FOOT
Before the Minister finally sits down on this matter, he has now undertaken to see whether he can find an answer to the questions which were addressed to him by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. But in a little while, as I understand it, this Committee will be asked to vote on this amendment. It cannot be left like that. The noble Lord has asked certain questions to which a factual answer can be given. No answer has been given, and I understand that in a few minutes' time we shall be invited to go into the Lobbies without any satisfactory answers—or, indeed, any answer at all—having been given to these vital questions. I suggest to the Committee that that is a wholly unsatisfactory state of affairs.
§ Baroness DENINGTON
Perhaps I may detain the Committee for one further moment just to clear up two points that were raised by the noble Lord arising out of some remarks that I made. For the information of the Committee, I should like the Committee to understand that there were no discussions with individual corporations. When we were faced with this diktat and a strict timetable to be observed, we saw at once that we had to act as we had always acted, as a group—all the new towns and the commission together—to look at our assets right across the board.
1158 After the commission, which holds four towns, my corporation set out to raise—and would have raised if we had had the time—more than any other town, because we were the first new town and therefore our assets were mature. We had also kept the whole value for the public purse rather than frittered it away, as I would regard it. So we elected a committee and all the new towns sat together to look at all the assets, and then did the best they could right across the board to satisfy the demand of the Secretary of State.
The noble Lord said that we were offered two choices—to raise the money by sales or to stop our progress, to stop any action, and to raise an equivalent amount of money by not building anything or doing anything; in other words, simply to cease to exist. That could not be considered for a moment. A lunatic would not have put forward such a suggestion. The new towns have gone to infinite lengths to build up the confidence in them of investors and industrialists everywhere. One cannot get confidence suddenly by turning round when someone is in the middle of negotiations and saying, "Sorry chum, it's all off". That is just not on and the whole Committee must know it. Therefore, it was an absolutely crazy thing to do, a misunderstanding. A man who understood what the new towns were doing and what they were about could not have put it forward, and so it never started.
§ Lord SANDYS
I think that I must reply to noble Lords. Perhaps I may attempt to answer the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, because she speaks with such knowledge and such passion on this subject. I could remind her that Stevenage Corporation was one of the very first new towns set up immediately after the Second World War. Of course, it was founded upon initial loans of Government money, of taxpayers' money. I think that the noble Baroness will also recognise that in terms of economic circumstances we are in a vastly different situation today. Values have changed and the circumstances of doing so have changed very considerably. It is because Stevenage Corporation was raised upon public money that there is, of course, a question of public accountability, and I am sure that the noble Baroness would be the first to recognise that point. I 1159 should like to stress to the noble Lord, Lord Foot, that I have given answers which I consider to be satisfactory answers.
§ Lord SANDYS
The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, has not been satisfied at this stage. But we believe that the policy that the Government are pursuing in regard to new towns is most emphatically demanded by the circumstances in which we live.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
I think that that is one of the most unsatisfactory answers with which we have ever been presented. The noble Lord says that this is not an attack on new towns. You could have fooled me, because it goes right to the heart of the new town philosophy. He says that the powers of the Secretary of State are permissive and that he is not saying that he will take them. But the Secretary of State has already tried to take them illegally, and there is no guarantee that he will not go on trying to take them and putting this tremendous burden on the new towns.
The noble Lord says that it is a question of presentation. I do not think that even the best public relations officer in the world could dress this up to mean other
§ than what the clause says it means, that the Secretary of State is trying to dun the new towns for any assets they have, and leave them to get on with the job as best they can or as worse they can. He has shown a complete lack of understanding of the problems of new towns or the problems that are raised by this clause in the Bill. He has been most unsatisfactory in the replies to the legal questions that he was asked by my noble friend Lord Mishcon.
§ He says that they have taken into account the economic conditions in Scotland and that, therefore, Scotland has not been asked to provide so much as England. Does he not realise that the unemployment rate in England is also rising and that we have the same sort of economic conditions with which to comply? I think that the whole situation is completely unsatisfactory. We have failed to get the legal answers for which my noble friend asked. My doubts have not been lulled and I do not think that the doubts of noble Lords on all sides of the Committee have been lulled. I must ask the Committee to divide.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 229) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 98; Not-Contents, 95.1161
|Airedale, L.||Evans of Hungershall, L.||Lewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. [Teller,]|
|Amherst, E.||Fisher of Rednal, B.|
|Amulree, L.||Foot, L.||Loudoun, C.|
|Ardwick, L.||Gainsborough, E.||Lovell-Davis, L.|
|Avebury, L.||Gaitskell, B.||McCarthy, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Gordon-Walker, L.||McCluskey, L.|
|Bacon, B.||Gore-Booth, L.||Maelor, L.|
|Balogh, L.||Greenway, L.||Meston, L.|
|Banks, L.||Greenwood of Rossendale, L.||Milford, L.|
|Beswick, L.||Hale, L.||Milverton, L.|
|Birk, B.||Hampton, L.||Minto, E.|
|Blyton, L.||Hankey, L.||Mishcon, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Hanworth, V.||Noel-Baker, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Hatch of Lusby, L.||Northfield, L.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Henderson, L.||Paget of Northampton, L.|
|Chitnis, L.||Hill of Luton, L.||Pargiter, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Peart, L.|
|Collison, L.||Hunt, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]|
|Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Ilchester, E.|
|Cudlipp, L.||Jacques, L.||Ritchie-Calder, L.|
|Darling of Hillsborough, L.||Janner, L.||Roberthall, L.|
|David, B.||Jeger, B.||Rochester, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Kaldor, L.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Delacourt-Smith of Alteryn, B.||Kilbracken, L.||Rugby, L.|
|Denington, B.||Kilmarnock, L.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Kinloss, Ly.||Seear, B.|
|Evans of Claughton, L.||Leatherland, L.||Segal, L.|
|Simon, V.||Strabolgi, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Somers, L.||Strauss, L.||Wedderburn of Charlton, L.|
|Stamp, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Stedman, B.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.||Wilson of Radcliffe, L.|
|Stewart of Alvechurch, B.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.||Winstanley, L.|
|Stewart of Fulham, L.||Underhill, L.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Ferrers, E.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Alport, L.||Fortescue, E.||Morris, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Freyberg, L.||Netherthorpe, L.|
|Avon, E.||Gage, V.||Newall, L.|
|Balerno, L.||Gainford, L.||Northchurch, B.|
|Bellwin, L.||Gibson-Watt, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Gisborough, L.||Onslow, E.|
|Berkeley, B.||Glenarthur, L.||Orkney, E.|
|Bessborough, E.||Gormanston, V.||Pender, L.|
|Bolton, L.||Gowrie, E.||Reigate, L.|
|Caccia, L.||Gridley, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Caithness, E.||Halsbury, E.||Sackville, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Harvington, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Cathcart, E.||Hatherton, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Clancarty, E.||Henley, L.||Sandys, L. [Teller.]|
|Clwyd, L.||Jeffreys, L.||Spens, L.|
|Cockfield, L.||Kemsley, V.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Kinnaird, L.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Lauderdale, E.||Swansea, L.|
|Croft, L.||Linlithgow, M.||Swinfen, L.|
|de Clifford, L.||Liverpool, E.||Teviot, L.|
|De Freyne, L.||Long, V.||Tranmire, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Lothian, M.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Digby, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Luke, L.||Vaizey, L.|
|Ebbisham, L.||McAlpine of Moffat, L.||Vernon, L.|
|Eccles, V.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Vickers, B.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.||Vivian, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Malmesbury, E.||Wakefield of Kendal, L.|
|Exeter, M.||Mancroft, L.||Willoughby de Broke, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Marley, L.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ 4.47 p.m.
Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 230:
Page 97, line 20, leave out subsection (3).
§ The noble Barones said: I spoke to this when I was speaking to Amendment No. 229. I beg to move.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 230) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 95; Not-Contents, 93.1163
|Airedale, L.||Chitnis, L.||Glenamara, L.|
|Amherst, E.||Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Gordon-Walker, L.|
|Amulree, L.||Collison, L.||Gore-Booth, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Greenway, L.|
|Avebury, L.||Darling of Hillsborough, L.||Greenwood of Rossendale, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||David, B.||Hale, L.|
|Bacon, B.||Davies of Leek, L.||Hampton, L.|
|Balogh, L.||Delacourt-Smith of Alteryn, B.||Hanworth, V.|
|Banks, L.||Denington, B.||Hatch of Lusby, L.|
|Beswick, L.||Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Henderson, L.|
|Birk, B. [Teller.]||Evans of Claughton, L.||Houghton of Sowerby, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Fisher of Rednal, B.||Hunt, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Foot, L.||Ilchester, E.|
|Brockway, L.||Gainsborough, E.||Jacques, L.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Gaitskell, B.||Janner, L.|
|Jeger, B.||Minto, E.||Stedman, B.|
|Kaldor, L.||Mishcon, L.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Kilbracken, L.||Noel-Baker, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Kilmarnock, L.||Paget of Northampton, L.||Stone, L.|
|Kinloss, Ly.||Pargiter, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Leatherland, L.||Peart, L.||Strauss, L.|
|Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. [Teller.]||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Ritchie-Calder, L.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Longford, E.||Rochester, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Loudoun, C.||Ross of Marnock, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Lovell-Davis, L.||Rugby, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|McCarthy, L.||Sainsbury, L.||Walston, L.|
|McCluskey, L.||Seear, B.||Wedderburn of Charlton, L.|
|McGregor of Durris, L.||Segal, L.||Wilson of Radcliffe, L.|
|Maelor, L.||Simon, V.||Winstanley, L.|
|Milford, L.||Somers, L.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
|Milverton, L.||Stamp, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Morris, L.|
|Alport, L.||Freyberg, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Gage, V.||Newall, L.|
|Avon, E.||Gainford, L.||Northchurch, B.|
|Balerno, L.||Gibson-Watt, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Bellwin, L.||Glenarthur, L.||Onslow, E.|
|Belstead, L.||Gormanston, V.||Orkney, E.|
|Berkeley, B.||Gowrie, E.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Gridley, L.||Reigate, L.|
|Bolton, L.||Halsbury, E.||Rochdale, V.|
|Caccia, L.||Hankey, L.||Sackville, L.|
|Caithness, E.||Harvington, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Hatherton, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Cathcart, E.||Henley, L.||Sandys, L. [Teller.]|
|Cockfield, L.||Jeffreys, L.||Selkirk, E.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Kemsley, V.||Spens, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Kinnaird, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Croft, L.||Lauderdale, E.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|de Clifford, L.||Linlithgow, M.||Swansea, L.|
|De Freyne, L.||Liverpool, E.||Swinfen, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Long, V.||Teviot, L.|
|Digby, L.||Lothian, M.||Tranmire, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Ebbisham, L.||Luke, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Eccles, V.||McAlpine of Moffat, L.||Vaizey, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Macleod of Borve, B.||Vernon, L.|
|Evans of Hungershall, L.||Malmesbury, E.||Vickers, B.|
|Falkland, V.||Mancroft, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||Marley, L.||Wakefield of Kendal, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Monk Bretton, L.||Willoughby de Broke, L.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Lord MACKAY of CLASHFERN had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 231:
Page 98, line 1, at end insert—
("( ) in subsection (3) the words "simple contract" shall be omitted.").
§ The noble and learned Lord said: In view of the decision just taken, this amendment is not moved.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 114, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?1164
§ Baroness STEDMAN
May I ask the Minister whether, in the interval in voting, he has received replies for my noble friend Lord Mishcon? Has he been briefed and is he now in a position to give satisfactory replies?
§ Lord SANDYS
I can only tell the noble Baroness that I have not so been briefed and that I hope to receive the information at a later stage. I do not think I can add to that for the time being.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
In that case, I must advise my noble friends to vote against the clause standing part of the Bill.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 100; Not-Contents, 93.
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Gage, V.||Netherthorpe, L.|
|Alport, L.||Gainford, L.||Newall, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Gibson-Watt, L.||Northchurch, B.|
|Auckland, L.||Gisborough, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Avon, E.||Glenarthur, L.||Onslow, E.|
|Balerno, L.||Gormanston, V.||Orkney, E.|
|Bellwin, L.||Gowrie, E.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Gridley, L.||Reigate, L.|
|Berkeley, B.||Hankey, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Bolton, L.||Harvington, L.||Sackville, L.|
|Caccia, L.||Hatherton, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Caithness, E.||Henley, L.||Saint Oswald, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Jeffreys, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Cathcart, E.||Kemsley, V.||Sandys, L. [Teller.]|
|Cockfield, L.||Kinnaird, L.||Selkirk, E.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Lauderdale, E.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Linlithgow, M.||Spens, L.|
|Croft, L.||Liverpool, E.||Stamp, L.|
|de Clifford, L.||Long, V.||Strathclyde, L.|
|De Freyne, L.||Lothian, M.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Digby, L.||Luke, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||McAlpine of Moffat, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Duncan-Sandys, L.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Tranmire, L.|
|Ebbisham, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Eccles, V.||Malmesbury, E.||Trumpington, B.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Mancroft, L.||Vaizey, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Marley, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Evans of Hungershall, L.||Melville, V.||Vernon, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Milverton, L.||Vickers, B.|
|Ferrers, E.||Monk Bretton, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Morris, L.||Wakefield of Kendal, L.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.||Willoughby de Broke, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Hale, L.||Northfield, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Hampton, L.||Paget of Northampton, L.|
|Avebury, L.||Hanworth, V.||Pargiter, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Hatch of Lusby, L.||Peart, L.|
|Bacon, B.||Henderson, L.||Perth, E.|
|Balogh, L.||Hill of Luton, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Banks, L.||Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Ritchie-Calder, L.|
|Beswick, L.||Hunt, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Birk, B. [Teller.]||Ilchester, E.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Jacques, L.||Rugby, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Janner, L.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Jeger, B.||Seear, B.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Kaldor, L.||Segal, L.|
|Chitnis, L.||Kilbracken, L.||Simon, V.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Kilmarnock, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Collison, L.||Kinloss, Ly.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Leatherland, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Darling of Hillsborough, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. [Teller.]||Stone, L.|
|David, B.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Longford, E.||Strauss, L.|
|Delacourt-Smith of Alteryn, B.||Loudoun, C.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Denington, B.||Lovell-Davis, L.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||McCarthy, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Evans of Claughton, L.||McCluskey, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||McGregor of Durris, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Foot, L.||Maelor, L.||Walston, L.|
|Gainsborough, E.||Meston, L.||Wedderburn, of Charlton, L.|
|Gaitskell, B.||Milford, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Glenamara, L.||Minto, E.||Wilson of Radcliffe, L.|
|Gordon-Walker, L.||Mishcon, L.||Winstanley, L.|
|Greenway, L.||Noel-Baker, L.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
|Greenwood of Rossendale, L.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Clause 114, as amended, agreed to accordingly.1167
§ Clause 115 [Power to dispose of land]:
§ 5.8 p.m.
The Earl of CAITHNESS had given Notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 232:
Page 98, line 15, leave out ("(5)") and insert ("(5A)").
§ The noble Earl said: It may be to the benefit of the Committee if, in referring to Amendment No. 232, I refer also to Amendment No. 240. A similar amendment was spoken to by my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley late last night, or early this morning. I understood that he withdrew the same, and so I do not propose to move these two amendments.
Baroness DAVID moved Amendment No. 233:
Page 98, line 18, after first ("the") insert ("prior").
§ The noble Baroness said: In speaking to this amendment I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 234, 235 and 236. This clause, having dealt with giving the Secretary of State the right to tell people that he wants money from the new towns, deals with making them pay that money. The amendments in this group seek to limit considerably the powers given to the Secretary of State. Subsection (4) of the clause would make it possible for the Secretary of State to give a general cover to new town development corporations and indeed to the commission to transfer the freehold or a leasehold at any time without permission being granted by him, because of the words "given generally or specially", and it is these words which particularly worry us.
§ The amendments would restore the situation to what it now is—that is, that neither a development corporation nor the commission can grant a lease of more than 99 years, nor a freehold, without the express permission of the Secretary of State, and that on each proposal. That is "specially", as the subsection says. It would be necessary for the development corporation to approach the Secretary of State for permission to grant a lease of more than 99 years or to grant a freehold. The department and previous Secretaries of State have operated this provision of the 1965 Act very strictly. It has been 1168 rare to give more than a 99-year lease, though longer leases are being asked for more frequently. One does not want to get into a position where development corporations are competing with each other in the length of lease offered, and one does not want to get into the situation where development corporations might be competing with local authorities in their area.
§ Local authorities have to ask permission of the Government to dispose of freeholds. If the Secretary of State were to say—and this subsection would allow them to do so—that new town development corporations could offer freeholds around to any property investor or pension fund which liked to come along and make a proposal, it might leave local authorities in the area, which might also be wanting to attract prospective employers to invest in their areas, at a disadvantage compared with new towns, and one does not want this competitive attitude to develop.
§ It is surely accepted that it is most unwise to dispose of freehold. The Department of the Environment has a general oversight of the offering and terms of leases, and the possible sales of freeholds in order that this competition between development corporations and local authorities should not exist and in order to protect the public interest, which is always in retaining the freehold except in the most exceptional circumstances. The purpose behind the proposals in the clause, as appeared from the Minister's remarks in another place, is to reduce the public sector borrowing requirement; it is not to do with public interest, nor with the wellbeing and employment prospects of people in the area; nor, indeed, with the benefit of the town and its prosperity.
The amendments do nothing to prevent the Government getting the mix that they profess to want of private and public landlords. We are not against sales for those who have successfully set up their own businesses, but we do not want speculators, who would not be the good landlords and estate managers that the development corporations have been and are, and we do not want those speculators who might squeeze out those who are now making a success of their small businesses. Is it the intention of the Secretary of State to use the clause to give a general power to new towns to sell their assets—freeholds,
long leases and all? Mr. Fox, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, said in another place:
It is our intention to sell as many freeholds as possible".
I beg to move.
§ Lord SANDYS
In moving this amendment the noble Baroness, Lady David, spoke to Amendments Nos. 233, 234, 235 and 236, and I hope that the Committee will agree that I should follow her in that manner. I can see no point in this amendment, for the reason that if, as the provision states, a corporation cannot dispose of a freehold or long leasehold without my right honourable friend's consent, it is surely implicit that the consent must be given before the disposal is made. I imagine that my right honourable friend would not be best pleased should his consent be sought to a fait accompli!
The noble Baroness referred to her own opinion that it was most unwise to dispose of freeholds, but she may be aware that I referred to Section 18(1) of the New Towns Act 1965—a piece of legislation for which her Party was responsible—which gives power to dispose, but only—and I quote:for securing the development of the new town in accordance with proposals approved by the Minister … or for purposes connected with the development of the new town".It is that restrictive power which is secured by Section 18(1).
In regard to Amendment No. 234, we cannot recommend that this amendment should be accepted. The provision affected by this amendment is a useful means whereby the Secretary of State can choose whether to grant a general consent to freehold or long leasehold disposals within certain categories of case, or to grant special consent to each individual disposal application. As part of our attempts to reduce the level of public ownership, we are anxious that corporations should dispose of freeholds whenever possible. This will also enable corporations to be wound up more easily at the appropriate time, since sale of the freehold will relieve them of responsibility for the asset.
To insist on a separate consent in every case would merely produce a proliferation of bureaucracy. The provision in question is so framed as to be consistent with the equivalent provision 1170 relating to consent to disposals by the Commission for the New Towns and by development corporations, the latter provision being amended accordingly by Schedule 22 to the Bill. I believe that this amendment is wholly unsatisfactory.
I pass now to Amendment No. 235. I cannot see that this amendment makes any material difference to the provision. If the noble Baroness is concerned to make absolutely sure that no freeholds will be disposed of without the Secretary of State's consent, I can assure her that the subsection as drafted provides for that quite adequately. I therefore call upon the noble Baroness to withdraw this amendment, too.
With regard to Amendment No. 236, I cannot see that this amendment makes any material difference to the provision. I believe that if, once again, the noble Baroness is anxious that no freeholds or long leaseholds will be disposed of without the Secretary of State's consent, I can assure her that, once again, the subsection provides for that most adequately.
§ Baroness DAVID
I have listened to what the noble Lord has said and, although I cannot say that I feel at all happy about this general consent—it just seems to me that the Secretary of State is saying, "I want some money, and I really do not mind how you get it; go ahead"—I think I will not press this to a Division. We have had earlier successes, and I will not press the luck. I therefore beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 234, 235, 236 and 237 not moved.]
§ 5.18 p.m.
Lord MORRIS moved Amendment No. 238:
Page 98, line 21, leave out ("99") and insert ("125").
§ The noble Lord said: I move this amendment on behalf of my noble friend Lord Mottistone, and in so doing I think it might be helpful to the Committee if I spoke at the same time to the next amendment standing in my noble friend's name, Amendment No. 249, as the principles involved are precisely the same.1171
§ This amendment is of course entirely intended to be helpful to Her Majesty's Government, and the intention of the amendment is to align the terms of land tenure to those normally required by financial institutions supporting development. The reason why the financial institutions almost universally require a minimum of 125 years per lease is that originally they would consider only freehold development. Later they grudgingly accepted leaseholds. At that time a building could be expected to last 100 years.
§ Nowadays most developments require major renovation or rebuilding after about 60 years and the institutions require security to cover the two lives, so to speak. The Secretary of State is aware of the need for an amendment along the lines proposed in order to help his avowed intention of reducing unnecessary bureaucracy. I understand that in July 1979 he wrote to the general manager of the New Town Corporation stating that, although his permission is required before new town land can be leased for more than 99 years, consent would normally be given for leases up to 150 years. This being the case, I ask why we retain unnecessary controls. I beg to move.
§ Lord SANDYS
I hope that I shall be able to satisfy my noble friend Lord Morris with an explanation. Development corporations have had power, since the original New Towns Act 1946, to grant leases of up to 99 years without requiring ministerial consent. I think that is common ground between us. We would not wish to be restrictive in the granting of leases and at present the Secretary of State has given a general consent for leases of up to 150 years where development corporations and the commissions for the new towns exercise their existing powers of disposal. But the figure of 99 years is parallel with that in the New Towns Act 1965 and a change to 125 years would be confusing. We do not believe that the clause as it stands will in any way penalise or discourage firms intending to invest in the new towns, and I therefore call upon my noble friend to withdraw the amendment.
I am sure that I speak for my noble friend Lord Mottistone in thanking my noble friend for his helpful 1172 and full reply. I will draw my noble friend's attention to the reply. At the same time I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Baroness DAVID moved Amendment No. 239:
Page 98, line 22, leave out subsection (5).
§ The noble Baroness said: In speaking to this amendment I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 241 and 242 and I think I can cover Amendments Nos. 250 and 251 at the same time. Not only under Clause 114 can the Secretary of State ask for a sum of money and order the development corporations to pay, but under subsection (5) of Clause 115 he can lay down exactly how the new towns shall do it. It leaves no discretion to them. It is rule from Marsham Street. It cannot be right for the Secretary of State to intervene in that way instructing responsible and distinguished bodies of men and women how to do their business. I, too, have been a member of the board of a development corporation so that I have met a good number of them and have great admiration for them. We would wish to delete subsection (5) and also subsection (6) which is consequent on subsection (5) being there.
The same thing applies to Amendments Nos. 250 and 251 in connection with subsections (4) and (5) in Clause 118. If subsections (5) and (6) are not deleted, we would wish to delete some of the words in Clause 118(5). This says:
Before giving a direction under subsection (4) … the Secretary of State shall consult the corporation, unless he is satisfied that because of urgency consultation is impracticable".
Those last words are the words we want to delete. There must be and should be time for consultation. It would be most unwise to deal with such important matters and large transactions with such unseemly haste. It seems ridiculous that there should be no time for the Secretary of State to communicate with the development corporation. What possible situation can the Minister produce that would justify the inclusion of these words in the clause? I beg to move.
§ Lord SANDYS
I think the Committee will be grateful to the noble Baroness for grouping the amendments as she did. 1173 I shall follow in the same vein. I shall therefore speak to Amendments Nos. 239, 241, 242, 250 and 251. Once again we are fortunate in the Committee in listening to the noble Baroness, who is a very experienced member of a board. As I listened to her moving the amendment with such skill I felt that the amendment is unsatisfactory despite her words.
Considerable sums of public money have been invested in the new towns' assets which are now to be sold, and my right honourable friend has a duty to ensure that the best possible return is obtained on them. The power affected by the amendment will enable him to do so. He will, for example, be able to regulate the release of assets for sale if he considers that there is a danger of too many simultaneous disposals depressing the assets' market value. This particular point was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, and I think, particularly, by the noble Baroness, Lady Denington. I think it is a very real issue. The point that I am making is that the regulation of the release of assets for sale is a matter of judgment.
The power is also necessary to ensure that disposals are carried out in accordance with Government policy. For example, the Government have asked new towns authorities to give special consideration to sitting tenants. It might be necessary to reinforce such a request with a direction. I therefore ask the noble Baroness to withdraw that amendment.
At the same time I am going to speak to Amendment No. 241. Here the development corporations would undoubtedly be alarmed that there was no statutory requirement for them to be consulted. They have detailed knowledge of their own assets and of local conditions which they certainly would wish my right honourable friend to draw upon in making directions to them and which he would wish to take into account. I believe that this is a somewhat misguided amendment and I think I must ask the noble Baroness to withdraw it.
§ Baroness DAVID
May I intervene at this point? When dealing with that particular amendment I asked in what circumstances the Minister could justify the words:unless he is satisfied that because of urgency consultation is impracticable".1174 That was the point of the amendment.
§ Lord SANDYS
I think this is a matter for speculation. One can envisage a number of different circumstances which might make it extremely difficult, possibly when there has been quite substantial consultation previously and then there is an urgent need perhaps to implement a decision.
§ Viscount SIMON
Surely this is very difficult. The disposal cannot be made without the consent of the Secretary of State. When he gives the consent that is the opportunity to find time to discuss the matter with the corporation. I do not see how it can possibly be that he cannot have time to consult.
§ Lord SANDYS
If I have given a reply which did not sufficiently recommend itself to the Committee, I apologise. There can be circumstances in which discussions may take place in general terms, or perhaps on a rather broad basis, for the disposal of certain assets, anticipating either a market or a set of circumstances. It may well be that it is possible that because of the conditions of the market it may not be possible to have a further series of discussions to implement the decision.
§ Baroness DENINGTON
Does that really apply? Are we not talking about the disposal of land? I would have thought the noble Lord's remarks scarcely applied to the disposal of land. Land involves long-term discussions, the planning of the town and all the rest of it. I am not saying that there are not areas of land that can be disposed of. I still find this phrase about urgency not applicable.
§ Lord SANDYS
The noble Baroness need not worry overmuch because a provision whereby the Secretary of State need not consult a corporation because of urgency is not one which she is likely to need to use often. However, it would be useful if, for example, the property market was falling rapidly and the Secretary of State therefore wished temporarily to restrict the release of further assets for sale. This is a decision which must be made.
§ Baroness DAVID
Would the Minister be willing to take this amendment back? There seems to be a certain amount of anxiety on this point.
§ Lord SANDYS
I would be misleading the Committee if I gave that assurance. We feel very clear in our minds that there would be circumstances in which it would be extraordinarily valuable to have this reserve power. I gave the assurance in my last reply that it would be a reserve power for particular occasions. I feel I can go no further than that.
§ Baroness DAVID
I cannot say that I am altogether satisfied. One thing satisfied me in the noble Lord's reply: the release of assets might be regulated. That is something on the credit side. I am still surprised that the Secretary of State cannot trust these responsible boards and leave the judgment of the moment of sale to them. I will withdraw the amendment for the time being, but I reserve the right to come back on Report.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment Nos. 240 to 242 not moved.]
§ Clause 115 agreed to.
§ Clause 116 [Orders reducing designated areas]:
§ 5.35 p.m.
Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 243:
Page 99, line 12, leave out ("expedient") and insert ("to the advantage of the town").
§ The noble Baroness said: We come again to this word "expedient". Earlier today my noble friend Lord Underhill was not happy with it and the noble Lord, Lord Morris, did not think it was the word we ought to have in the statute. I am getting more and more concerned, as we proceed, with the small print of this Bill and with what possible permutations and combinations one can make of any group of words. It would be very much better if we replaced "expedient" with the words "to the advantage of the town", which makes what is wanted 1176 perfectly plain. If the Secretary of State is going to reduce the designated area—like my noble friend Lady Denington I am thankful there is going to be consultation: that seems to be a marked improvement—subsection (1) allows for the consultations. There are problems when an area is reduced. My own new town has been unfortunate enough to get its area reduced before this Bill came in without any consultations. Those are now going on urgently between the local authorities and the development corporation to see where they can pick up the pieces and start again.
§ All sorts of problems are raised when the designated area is reduced in size. A new town development corporation may have spent money on an infrastructure and be building all their amenities and facilities for a certain area of population and a certain number of population. We have done this in Peterborough. We are building a new regional shopping centre, attracting some very good and large firms, on the basis of what our acreage was going to be and what our population was going to be. Some of us now feel that we are breaking faith with them because the Minister has decided to reduce the acreage and is thinking of reducing the population further.
§ So there are problems in the planned services of new towns. Whether the decision is to the advantage of the town or not is not one of the considerations which the Secretary of State has to decide upon. We would be happier if this were hedged around the consultations with the safeguard that it shall be to the advantage of the town and not a question of what the Minister thinks is expedient. I beg to move.
§ Lord SANDYS
Clause 116 enables the Secretary of State to make an order reducing the designated area of a new town, as the noble Baroness has reminded the Committee. Such orders will be necessary because substantial areas of the third generation new towns are unlikely to be required for development following the decision in 1977 to reduce the town's target population. The noble Baroness reminded the Committee about this in the case of Peterborough. It is desirable that the superfluous land should be de- 1177 designated to prevent blight and remove the development corporation's statutory duty to lay out and develop the land.
Such action is therefore expedient to implement the national policy of reducing the target populations of the towns. But the advantage of the individual new towns is not at issue. We are dealing with a situation on which the Government have a very clear view. There are plenty of precedents for the use of the word "expedient" and I hope that the noble Baroness may feel able to withdraw the amendment.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
I am not very happy. I do not think that "expedient" means the same thing as "to the advantage of the town". There are problems; problems have been made now for us in Peterborough where we accommodate the numbers that are still to come into it in the two existing townships. We shall have no room for the natural expansion of population that will follow from the increase in the normal population of the new town, for which we had reserved part of the township. I will ask my noble friends to come into the lobby with me because the words "to the advantage of the town" are much better than just "expedient".
§ Lord SANDYS
Before the noble Baroness takes that course of action, perhaps I could reply to her in greater detail. I hope that your Lordships will bear with me if I add a few remarks about the background to the clause and the amendment. First, I should like to take your Lordships back to the designation of the sites of the new towns. The Minister is given power in Section 1 of the New Towns Act 1965 to designate an area as the site of a new town if this is "expedient in the national interest". If we now turn to the powers of de-designation of some of this land, we find the same test of "expediency" being applied. This is appropriate because both designation and de-designation of new town land is primarily a matter of national interest.
Clauses 116 to 118 are included in the Bill to deal with the situation stemming from decisions taken in 1977 by the previous Government. Prompted by changing national circumstances, they decided to reduce the target populations of the third generations of new towns which 1178 still have considerable development to carry out. However, many development corporations had bought land on the basis of the original targets, and this is now surplus to their needs. We now wish to de-designate this land to prevent blight and to remove the development corporation's statutory duty to lay out and develop the land as I described.
What is at issue here is the question of how big the new towns should be. Just as with the question of designation, it is primarily a matter of national and regional policy. The clause makes provision, by the consultation of local authorities, for local interests to be taken into account; and this is the point of the noble Baroness's amendment. However, it would not be sensible to make the decision turn on the local interests when the policy at stake is a national one I do hope that with those further remarks the noble Baroness may feel able to withdraw her amendment.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
No, I do not think I can. I think we should still have the prime concern of the new town area which is being made smaller and the problems that will follow, and this de-designation of part of the area should not be allowed unless we are absolutely satisfied that it is to the advantage of the town. While "expedient" may have been used in other Acts, I do not think that necessarily makes it right, and I do not think it necessarily means that we should follow it in this one. I think the words, "to the advantage of the town", would be infinitely more preferable, and I must ask my noble friends to follow me into the Lobby.
§ Viscount SIMON
Before we divide, I should like to say from these Benches that I have listened carefully to this discussion, and I am bound to say that I would advise my noble friends to follow the Government's line on this occasion. I consider that the argument put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, is the stronger of the two arguments.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 243) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 69; Not-Contents, 127.1179
|Aylestone, L.||Glenamara, L.||Pargiter, L.|
|Bacon, B.||Gordon-Walker, L.||Peart, L.|
|Balogh, L.||Greenwood of Rossendale, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Bernstein, L.||Gregson, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]|
|Beswick, L.||Hale, L.|
|Birk, B.||Hatch of Lusby, L.||Ritchie-Calder, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Henderson, L.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Jacques, L.||Segal, L.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Janner, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Jeger, B.||Stone, L.|
|Chitnis, L.||Kaldor, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Leatherland, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Collison, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Lockwood, B.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Crowther-Hunt, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Darling of Hillsborough, L.||McCarthy, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L. [Teller.]|
|David, B.||McCluskey, L.||Walston, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||McGregor of Durris, L.||Wedderburn of Charlton, L.|
|Denington, B.||Maelor, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Melchett, L.||Wilson of Radcliffe, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Mishcon, L.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Noel-Baker, L.||Young of Dartington, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Glenarthur, L.||Netherthorpe, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Gormanston, V.||Northchurch, B.|
|Avon, E.||Gowrie, E.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Balerno, L.||Greenway, L.||Onslow, E.|
|Banks, L.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Orkney, E.|
|Bellwin, L.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Halsbury, E.||Rawlinson of Ewell, L.|
|Berkeley, B.||Hampton, L.||Reigate, L.|
|Boardman, L.||Hanworth, V.||Renton, L.|
|Bolton, L.||Harvington, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Hatherton, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Henley, L.||Rodney, L.|
|Caithness, E.||Hill of Luton, L.||Sackville, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Holderness, L.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Cathcart, E.||Inglewood, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Cockfleld, L.||Ironside, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Jeffreys, L.||Sandys, L. [Teller.]|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Kemsley, V.||Seear, B.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Kilmarnock, L.||Selkirk, E.|
|Croft, L.||Kinloss, Ly.||Selsdon, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Kinnaird, L.||Sempill, Ly.|
|de Clifford, L.||Lauderdale, E.||Simon, V.|
|De Freyne, L.||Linlithgow, M.||Spens, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||Liverpool, E.||Stamp, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Long, V.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Digby, L.||Loudoun, C.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.|
|Ebbisham, L.||Luke, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Eccles, V.||Lyell, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||McAlpine of Moffat, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Tranmire, L.|
|Evans of Claughton, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Malmesbury, E.||Trumpington, B.|
|Ferrers, E.||Mancroft, L.||Vaizey, L.|
|Foot, L.||Margadale, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Marley, L.||Vickers, B.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Marshall of Leeds, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Freyberg, L.||Melville, V.||Wakefield of Kendal, L.|
|Gage, V.||Mills, V.||Willoughby de Broke, L.|
|Gainsborough, E.||Monk Bretton, L.||Winstanley, L.|
|Gibson-Watt, L.||Morris, L.||Worcester, Bp.|
|Gisborough, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.||Young, B.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.1181
§ Clause 116 agreed to.
§ Clause 117 [Effect or order: general]:
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Lord RENTON moved Amendments Nos. 244 and 245:
§ Page 99, line 34, leave out ("transitionals") and insert ("transitional provisions")
§ Page 99, line 37, leave out ("transitionals") and insert ("transitional provisions").
§ The noble Lord said: I suggest that with amendment No. 244 be taken No. 245, which is like unto it. The word "transitionals" does not, strictly speaking, exist at all in our language. "Transitional" is an adjective and not a noun. As an adjective, it is not to be found in the plural, and I suggest that we really cannot have the secret priesthood of parliamentary counsel borrowing a new vocabulary from Fleet Street, however tempting it may be to save one word. The obvious thing to do here, in both places in which the word "transitionals" is used, is to cut it out and replace it by the more suitable phrase, which is more in accordance with our statute book, "transitional provisions". I beg to move.
§ Lord SANDYS
I am sure that it will be the wish of the Committee to take these two amendments together, and I think that we should congratulate my noble and eagle-eyed friend on spotting this flaw in the drafting of the Bill. Indeed, it is the wish of the Government for every Bill to leave your Lordships' House in perfect condition and I accept both amendments with alacrity.
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ Clause 117, as amended, agreed to.
§ [Amendments Nos. 246 to 251 not moved.]
§ Clause 118 agreed to.
§ Clause 119 agreed to.
§ Clause 120 [Power to end special licensing provisions]:
Lord RENTON moved Amendment No. 252:
Page 101, line 39, leave out subsection (7).
§ The noble Lord said: If your Lordships will turn over the page to page 102, line 9, you will see that it has exactly the same effect as subsection (7) at the bottom of page 101. We do not need both of these provisions, and the obviously right thing to do seems to be to leave intact the one on page 102 and leave out subsection (7) on page 101. Accordingly, I beg to move.
§ Lord SANDYS
Once again, the Government are indeed grateful to my noble friend who has spotted a fault in the drafting. Superfluous words in the drafting must be removed and, once more, I accept this amendment with alacrity.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 120, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 121 [Interpretation, amendments and extent]:
§ 5.58 p.m.
Lord MACKAY of CLASHFERN moved Amendment No. 253:
Page 102, line 15, leave out ("118") and insert ("120").
§ The noble and learned Lord said: This is a technical amendment to Clause 121, in consequence of the addition to Part XV in another place of two clauses applying to England and Wales only. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 121, as amended, agreed to.
§ Schedule 22 agreed to.
§ Clause 122 [Urban development areas]:
Lord BELLWIN moved Amendment No. 253A:
Page 102, line 20, at beginning insert ("Subject to subsection (1A) below,").
§ The noble Lord said: With this amendment, I shall also speak to No. 256A. These amendments do two things. First, they insert into the clause a new subsection (1A), to which I referred earlier. The effect of the new subsection will be to restrict in England the areas which may be 1183 designated to the metropolitan districts and to the boroughs in the central parts of London. Secondly, the amendments insert a new subsection (1B). This is needed to make it clear that an urban development area may contain separate parcels of land. I beg to move.
§ Lord PONSONBY of SHULBREDE
The amendment which has been tabled by the noble Lord and which we are taking together with Amendment No. 256A limits, as he has said, the areas in which urban development corporations can be established. This amendment was tabled on Friday, 10th October—that is, only a very few days ago. One wonders why this specific amendment was tabled. Most of the authorities caught within the terms of this amendment are Labour controlled. One wonders whether this amendment has been tabled in these terms because of the political complexion of the vast majority of the authorities concerned. Conversely, one notices that all the authorities in Greater London, except one, which are excluded from this amendment are Tory controlled.
One is driven to the conclusion that the amendment has been drafted and tabled in these terms in order to allay the fears of Tory controlled authorities that the exercise of the powers within this clause could result in a future Labour Government deciding, without let or hindrance, that these powers should be exercised in those metropolitan areas.
What the legislation in its new terms means is that one cannot set up an urban development corporation in Cardiff, Bristol, Southampton, Nottingham, Derby or Leicester. All those are large, in some ways decaying metropolitan areas in which some of the problems which the Government have in mind arise. But all these areas are excluded from the legislation, and all the counties and the county authorities are excluded.
One imagines that the legislation was drafted in this way because it was the only legal way which the Government could find to allay the fears of the Tory authorities. As I have said, if it had not been changed as the Government have changed it, it could well be that a future Labour Government would decide, if Tory authorities were behaving in a 1184 truculent way, that these powers should be exercised. One can think of the reaction of local authorities. The noble Lord, Lord Sandys, might react very violently if a UDC was created in Droitwich where that authority would have the power to acquire, hold, manage, reclaim and dispose of land and other property; would have the power to carry out building and other operations; would have the power to ensure the provision of water, electricity, gas, sewerage and other services; and would have the power to carry on any business or undertaking for the purposes of the objective for which it was set up. These are very wide powers indeed.
I should like to know what consultations the Government have had with the AMA about this proposed new clause, for that is the local authority association which represents the metropolitan authorities and the district councils referred to in the amendment. I am wondering whether such consultations have been held. I find it very unsatisactory that an amendment of this sort should be tabled at such a late time in the proceedings. Clearly it is an amendment of a political character which does not deal even-handedly with one authority compared with another. For these reasons, I believe that the Committee should very strongly oppose this amendment to the clause.
§ Lord GREENWOOD of ROSSENDALE
When we are legislating with the intensity with which we are legislating this week in respect of the Bill, it is not easy to keep pace with the Marshalled List. Nevertheless, I reproach myself for not having been aware of this amendment until my noble friend Lord Ponsonby directed my attention to it this afternoon. I find it to be a most extraordinary proposition that England and Wales will be treated quite differently, that London will be treated differently from other metropolitan districts, and that parts of London will be treated differently from other parts of London.
If one reads very carefully subsection (1A)(b) of Amendment No. 256A, I am bound to say that it is quite staggering that the Government should have shown such ingenuity in drawing the boundaries of the urban development area so as to exclude all Conservative dominated authorities in the Greater London area. 1185 There are ugly words which one could use about a procedure of this kind. I will not use them in your Lordships' Committee. I hope, however, that the noble Lord will be able to assure us that there is a much better reason for proposing this than that which appears to anyone who reads if for the first time. I hope very much either that the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, will be able to give us some assurance on that point or that he will say that he will take it away in order to discuss it with the associations. I understand that there has been no talk with the Association of Metropolitan Authorities. I do not know whether the other associations have been consulted but they, of course, are not quite so intimately affected as the metropolitan authorities. An amendment of this kind, which lays itself open to what may be misrepresentation, is certainly one that the Government would have been wiser to clear in the first place with the associations.
§ Viscount SIMON
When the noble Lord comes to reply, I wonder whether he could clear up one point. Subsection (1B) of Amendment No. 256A says:Separate parcels of land may be designated as one urban development area".Am I right in thinking that the separate parcels must be contiguous, not just dotted about?
§ Lord SANDFORD
I think the Opposition are making tremendously heavy weather of this. The non-metropolitan district councils are glad to see the amendment because it makes clear that these powers are not designed for cities like Bristol, Leicester and Nottingham. This is only making clear in the Bill what has been obvious all along: that the places where this kind of urban development corporation is required are the centres of our great cities which are suffering from serious decay. They are identified in the Notes on Clauses. Everybody knows them to be Liverpool and London Docks.
There have been complaints throughout the passage of the Bill that the Secretary of State is being given powers which are unnecessarily wide. To give him power to make these designations anywhere at all would be absurdly wide. All he is doing is to limit the areas to where these powers will be required. As we know, they will be exercised only in two metropolitan 1186 areas, in two of the worst run-down bits of inner city. That is all there is to it.
§ Lord PONSONBY of SHULBREDE
Before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him whether he is saying that Bristol, Southampton and Nottingham are not great cities?
§ Lord SANDFORD
No, of course not. They are great cities and they have got very considerable problems. Bristol had a notable and tragic one only the other day. But the problems there are not as intensive and extensive as they are in the London docks or the Liverpool docks, and that is why these extra powers are required.
§ Lord ELWYN-JONES
Before the noble Lord sits down, there is an aspect of this amendment which I confess causes me a good deal of concern; that is the question of hybridity. When the matter first arose in the Bill which was brought to the House from another place the provision of Clause 122 of the then Bill was the same as the provision in the present Bill. But now that is to be substantially amended by the provisions of Amendment No. 256A. Originally the provision was:If the Secretary of State is of opinion that it is expedient in the national interest to do so, he may by order made by statutory instrument designate any area of land as an urban development area".That gave rise to a great deal of concern up and down the country that, "We may be the next upon whom the blow may fall". And so the Government then embarked upon a process of careful selection. That involved identification of particular areas which are to be made the subject of the very substantial powers given by the Secretary of State under the Bill in regard to the appointment of this intriguing new public body, which, however, is answerable only to him and which is outwith the normal arrangement for such body.
The amendment identifies the areas which are to be affected—either a metropolitan district or inner London borough, et cetera, under (1A)(b). I do not know whether the motivation for this selection was as stridently political as my noble friend has suggested, but we shall be interested to hear what the Minister has got to say about that. On the face of this 1187 it certainly seems suspicious. All I wish to say at the moment is that in my submission it does at any rate create a prima facie case of hybridity. Hybridity, as we learned from the ship repairing Bill, is not an easy matter, and we and others spent many hours upon it.
I have before me the statement of reasons for the certificate from the Examiners. It begins with the well-known attempted definition, if I may say so without discourtesy to Mr. Speaker Hylton-Foster, of what a hybrid Bill is. He said:I think that a hybrid Bill can be defined as a Public Bill which affects a particular private interest in a manner different from the private interest of other persons or bodies of the same category or class".Then the report goes on to say:This definition, taken at its face value, indicates what might have been thought to be obvious—that the doctrine of hybridity is an expression of the will of each House of Parliament that an individual"—I submit that a local authority or the individuals affected by the measure come into the broad designation. The report says:is an expression of the will of each House of Parliament that an individual singled out by a Public Bill for adverse treatment …".All the local authorities with whom I have been discussing the matter regard what is proposed as adverse treatment because they think it would do nothing but harm to development within their municipality; and I say this on the strength of having represented a dockland constituency for 29 years and, not unnaturally, being the recipient of their views upon this matter. However, I am interrupting my own reading of the statement. It goes on to say:… an individual singled out by a Public Bill for adverse treatment should be allowed to plead his cause to a Select Committee on a petition against the Bill or against those provisions of the Bill that will affect him. The doctrine was designed to give the minority some defence against the legislature, and that in modern times means defence against the Crown. Unless it is that, it is nothing".Later on in the report there is the use of the convenient phrase, "selective ill-treatment". Here we are in the presence of selective treatment; I remove the word "ill" as being perhaps not wholly agreed for this purpose, but it is selective treatment affecting the rights of the authorities 1188 concerned and the ratepayers and the residents in them. The category of authorities is defined as is proposed in the new amendment—metropolitan district or inner London boroughs of a specific kind. I submit that that process of selection and identification has now plunged the Government into the field of hybridity. They were very careful to avoid it until this fateful step has been taken of moving this amendment, but now they are in dire trouble, and I submit that it is, prima facie, at any rate, a clear case of selective ill-treatment of these identified areas. They do not cover the whole of the area of the land of England as the potential target for this beneficent or ill-advised procedure, as we on this side of the Committee would call it, and accordingly I submit that very anxious thought should now be given by the Government and the Committee as to the proposition which I am inviting the Committee to consider. I notice the noble Lord, Lord Renton, is anxious to intervene.
§ Lord RENTON
I am asking the noble and learned Lord to clarify something in relation to what he has already said so that we may understand the rest of his speech the better. He has very properly pointed out that the hybridity rule applies where private interests are adversely affected. He seems to be suggesting that the interests mentioned in this new subsection are private interests. In fact, they are metropolitan districts or an inner London borough or an area of land which is partly in one and partly in the other. It seems to me that it is only at one remove or even two removes that a private interest could possibly be affected by this subsection. I am wondering whether the noble and learned Lord would be so good as to say exactly how he considers that a private interest would be affected at one remove. Certainly it cannot be directly affected.
§ Lord ELWYN-JONES
Perhaps the noble Lord has not had an opportunity of considering Clause 124(3), which sets out the powers of the authority, which are powers to: 1189acquire, hold, manage, reclaim and dispose of land and other property"—other property belonging now to either individuals or public authorities. Then:carry out building and other operations; seek to ensure the provision of water … sewerage and other servicespresently provided by established authorities, some private, some statutory, some public. The clause continues:Carry on any business or undertaking for the purposes of the object"—businesses which now may be currently carried out by private persons. So there are abundant circumstances in which private interests can be affected by the operation of the Bill. I beg the question for the moment as to whether, for the purposes of the Bill, at any rate, taking over the powers of a local authority may bring us within the terms of hybridity.
At any rate, whether I am right or wrong about that there is an abundance here of potential interference with private interests, and I think that is a matter for considerable concern. Those who happen to have property, businesses, et cetera in this area may well be directly affected by the operation of the Bill. I do not want to take the matter further at this stage, but I ask for a view early upon this matter, because it seems to me to be quite fundamental for the further considerations of the Bill—because, if I am right, a wholly different set of procedures would apply. In the town legislation the effect of a designation order would be the setting up of appropriate petition procedures and public hearings to enable those concerned to represent their interests and defend their rights. I hope that we may get some decision on this matter—if not immediately than at a very early stage.
§ Lord EVANS of CLAUGHTON
I would not think of following the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, too far down the road of hybridity: what solicitor would dare do that to a senior member of the profession? But I had understood that the broad wording of Clause 122 in the Bill, as originally drawn, was to avoid this danger. I read about this in the debates in another place and I had understood from articles in learned journals that this was the reason for the broad wording. It seems to me that the Government are in the difficult position of being between the devil and the deep blue 1190 sea; on the one side the dangers of hybridity and on the other side the dangers of causing apoplexy to shire counties. No doubt the noble Lord the Minister will have read with interest the speeches made in another place by his right honourable friend Mr. Geoffrey Rippon, who said in straightforward terms that the Secretary of State could set up an urban development corporation virtually anywhere at the drop of a hat, even in a rural area, provided that it had a village in the middle of it. Therefore I assume that the Minister's problem is, on the one hand, reassuring people who have that fear expressed by his right honourable friend and, on the other hand, trying to ensure that he does not transgress the rules of hybridity.
We are dealing actually with these amendments and my objection, as I think the Minister knows, or will have gathered from reading the Marshalled List, is to the whole concept of urban development corporations, but no doubt we shall be dealing with that particular thing shortly in what I hope will be a general debate, conducted perhaps in a less muddled way than some of the debates about principles which were conducted yesterday. Being against urban development corporations generally, I suppose in that sense I should welcome this amendment, in that it limits the operation of urban development corporations to metropolitan districts and the inner London boroughs. What I should like to know, before deciding what to recommend my noble friends to do, is the extent to which the Association of Metropolitan Authorities has been consulted, as the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, asked, and indeed obviously an answer (if there is an answer) to the questions raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, about hybridity. On the basis that in politics we often have to work on the principle that half a loaf is better than no bread, I should prefer to have a very limited area of operation of urban development corporations than to have the broad brush approach of the clause as it stands at present.
Nevertheless, I think it would be almost impertinent to proceed to pass this amendment if the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and interested parties in metropolitan areas have not had an opportunity of commenting or making 1191 any statement about it. I assume they have not because I have been speaking this afternoon on the telephone to the chief executive of one metropolitan authority who was not aware of this amendment. I think the Government have got themselves into deep water over this, and I am looking forward with some interest to what they have to say about the problems they have now created for themselves, and perhaps a reassurance that shortly we shall have an opportunity of debating the general principles of urban development corporations.
§ Lord BELLWIN
I am really very surprised that we should be having this debate as much upon the amendment as upon the general principles. Indeed, I thought that was what we should be mostly debating and that the amendment would be a lead into that. However, as a few very important points have been raised, I think that I should initially cover those at least. I say at once that for the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Evans, has just touched upon, I am frankly amazed when I consider that at Second Reading, and after all I have read and heard discussed over all the period that the UDC's were ever suggested, the one thing that everyone has said is that the danger is that we shall put them everywhere. We in Government have gone to great pains to say to people, first, that that is not the intention. Indeed, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, in another place, in, I think, his opening Second Reading speech on the Bill itself, went to considerable lengths to stress that for reasons which I hope are by now known—and if not I will gladly dilate upon them—it was in those two specific areas that the Government wanted to set up UDCs, and it was not at all the intention to go beyond that.
The fact that the legislation as first put out was so wide is something that we can discuss in a moment, but here we come along with an amendment which seeks to narrow it very much, and yet noble Lords accuse us of some political motivation. I can tell your Lordships that I am as much involved politically as anybody else, but I have not at any time heard that this aspect of it was made in that way. Noble Lords opposite may say, "That is what you say". Well, that is what I 1192 say, and I am not accustomed to saying it if I do not really mean it, and you can take that from me or not. That is up to your Lordships.
I am trying to answer all the points. I think that I should say to the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, who was concerned to know whether in fact the areas were contiguous, that if they were contiguous they would not be separate. The intention is that this will deal with parcels of land, such as in Merseyside on separate banks of the river. I hope that is useful for him to know. Basically, the intention here—and I will come to the hybridity point in a moment—is to avoid the hybridity point while at the same time trying to give more details. Perhaps I might point out, en passant on the political note, that the GLC, which is Tory controlled, is in fact within the possible London area. I think easily the most important point was the one of hybridity. I should like to say at once that we went to considerable pains to ensure that in fact this was not so. Both these amendments—Nos.253A and 256—were very carefully drafted and cleared with counsel, particularly to ensure that they covered general classes of authorities and not particular individual authorities. Although I certainly defer very much to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones—and who would not on matters of this kind?—I can only say to him that the advice given to me (I speak very respectfully and I must put it this way) is that that is certainly not the case. Indeed, I am glad to say that we were well aware of the pitfall, and that is what I am assured is so.
Rather than to go now into the generality of UDCs, which I suspect is not what we want to do at this moment, I will leave it at that, but repeat that here I come along, trying to do something which we feel will please most people—in fact I did not use all my speaking notes, so sure was I that this was to be received with plaudits all round—only to find myself assailed in this way. I hope that at least on the motivations, because that must be the most important thing, the Committee may feel it is not really so bad and perhaps might accept this amendment.
§ Lord ELWYN-JONES
I feel that the Government have impaled themselves on the famous horns of the famous 1193 dilemma in the avoidance of a generality of provision which would have worried all parts of the country, which the Government have apparently no intention whatever of affecting. They had to identify specific areas. They have done so. All I can suggest is that further advice might be taken. I might even take some advice myself, and we will return to this matter again, indubitably.
§ Lord SANDFORD
The orders designating the areas and establishing the corporations will of course be hybrid, and that is where the point comes in.
§ Lord MARSHALL of LEEDS
What the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, has argued depends to a large extent upon whether or not private interest will be adversely affected in the areas. No evidence has so far been adduced that private interests will necessarily be adversely affected. In fact, on the contrary. The aim of the urban development areas is to confer benefits upon an area which could have a spin-off effect upon the private interests within those geographical areas. For that legal reason, the rather attractive argument of the noble and learned Lord must fall down.
§ Lord ELWYN-JONES
With respect, I should have thought the beneficial or selective benefit to an individual might also impinge the rule on hybridity.
§ Lord MISHCON
I am perfectly sure that my noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones needs no assistance from very junior counsel on the Back Benches, but may I add to his observations in respectful support of them only so that the case put to the Committee is a complete one. It takes a Tory Government, if I may say so, not just to try to sail through Scylla and Charybdis but to try to sail through, presumably, Scylla and Hybridis, in the sense that quite obviously this dilemma has been caused by virtue of the fact that the general—it may be for good reason—has been turned into the particular.
I want to refer the Committee not only to subsection (3) of Clause 124, which my noble and learned friend read to the Committee—and he took out certain clauses which were obviously material—but to subsection (2), which states the 1194 objects of these particular urban development areas, as set up by direction. The objects are the following:by bringing land and buildings into effective use".The land and buildings may well belong to private persons. It may be the view of the urban development corporation that it is the betterment of their buildings that has to take place. It may be the thought of private people owning that land that the view of the urban development corporation as to what is effective use of their buildings and land may be, from their point of view, disadvantageous. Then:encouraging the development of existing and new industry and commerce".To some private interests that may be encouraging competition within their area which may be unfortunate and devasting.
I conclude by quoting from the last part of subsection (2):creating an attractive environment and ensuring that housing and social facilities are available to encourage people to live and work in the area".That is a most meritorious object but, quite obviously, bringing other people into an area which may be an area of heavy unemployment may lead to more unemployment in that area and the unemployment, as it were, of people who are now employed there. I am sure that my noble and learned friend, if he had wished to elaborate his case, would himself have quoted from subsection (2), but so that the Committee knows the whole weight of my noble and learned friend's submission I thought it proper to draw the Committee's attention to subsection (2).
§ Lord EVANS of CLAUGHTON
If I may refer to something which is in a sense even more dramatic than the reference the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, has made, page 210, paragraph 10, is headed at line 42 with the rather sinister words, "Displacement of persons". I should have thought that if anything was an example of the invasion of private persons' rights, the right to displace tenants who are protected until the property is bought by the urban development corporation, displaced without any rights of protection under the Rent Act, was a good example and it is the subject of an amendment I hope to move.
§ Lord PONSONBY of SHULBREDE
Irrespective of any views which may be obtained on the hybridity issue, we find this amendment entirely unacceptable and we will press it to a Division.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 253A) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 135; Not-Contents, 62.1197
|Ailesbury, M.||Gisborough, L.||Morris, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Gladwyn, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Glenarthur, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Glendevon, L.||Netherthorpe, L.|
|Avebury, L.||Gormanston, V.||Northchurch, B.|
|Avon, E. [Teller.]||Gowrie, E.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Balerno, L.||Greenway, L.||Onslow, E.|
|Banks, L.||Gridley, L.||Orkney, E.|
|Bellwin, L.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Porritt, L.|
|Boardman, L.||Hampton, L.||Rawlinson of Ewell, L.|
|Bolton, L.||Hanworth, V.||Redesdale, L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Harvington, L.||Reigate, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Hatherton, L.||Renton, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Henley, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Caithness, E.||Hill of Luton, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Holderness, L.||Rodney, L.|
|Cathcart, E.||Hornsby-Smith, B.||Sackville, L.|
|Cockfield, L.||Inglewood, L.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Kemsley, V.||St. Davids, V.|
|Colwyn, L.||Keyes, L.||Salisbury, M.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Killearn, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Kilmarnock, L.||Sandys, L. [Teller.]|
|Craigavon, V.||Kinloss, Ly.||Seear, B.|
|Craigmyle, L.||Kinnaird, L.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Croft, L.||Lauderdale, E.||Shannon, E.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Linlithgow, M.||Simon, V.|
|de Clifford, L.||Liverpool, E.||Spens, L.|
|De Freyne, L.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.||Stamp, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||Long, V.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Denham, L.||Loudoun, C.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Digby, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Lyell, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Dudley, E.||McAlpine of Moffat, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Eccles, V.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.||Tranmire, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Malmesbury, E.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Evans of Claughton, L.||Mancroft, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Falkland, V.||Margadale, L.||Vaizey, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||Marley, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Feversham, L.||Marshall of Leeds, L.||Vickers, B.|
|Gage, V.||Melville, V.||Vivian, L.|
|Gainford, L.||Mills, V.||Wakefield of Kendal, L.|
|Gainsborough, E.||Minto, E.||Winstanley, L.|
|Gibson-Watt, L.||Monk Bretton, L.||Young, B.|
|Bacon, B.||Fisher of Rednal, B.||Lockwood, B.|
|Balogh, L.||Gaitskell, B.||Lovell-Davis, L.|
|Bernstein, L.||Galpern, L.||McCarthy, L.|
|Beswick, L.||George-Brown, L.||McCluskey, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Glenamara, L.||McGregor of Durris, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Greenwood of Rossendale, L.||Maelor, L.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Hale, L.||Melchett, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Hatch of Lusby, L.||Mishcon, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Noel-Baker, L.|
|Collison, L.||Jacques, L.||Pargiter, L.|
|Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Janner, L.||Peart, L.|
|David, B.||Jeger, B.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Kaldor, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Leatherland, L.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Segal, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.||Wilson of Radcliffe, L.|
|Stedman, B.||Underhill, L.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Stone, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L. [Teller.]||Worcester, Bp.|
|Strobolgi, L. [Teller.]||Walston, L.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
|Taylor of Blackburn, L.||Whaddon, L.||Young of Dartington, L.|
|Taylor of Gryfe, L.||Willis, L.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ [Amendment No. 254 not moved.]
§ 6.47 p.m.
Lord PONSONBY of SHULBREDE moved Amendment No. 255:
Page 102, line 20, after ("State") insert ("after consultation with the appropriate local authority or authorities").
§ The noble Lord said: In fact these two amendments are almost identical. Amendment No. 254 was tabled immediately before a better version of the amendment was worked out. In speaking to Amendment No. 255 I should also like to speak to Amendments Nos. 256 and 257. These are all matters concerning consultation. Perhaps before I start to speak to these amendments it might be helpful to noble Lords to know that my intention was to raise the whole question or urban development corporations when we come to the Question whether Clause 122 should stand part, and therefore it was my intention on these amendments to speak specifically to the issues involved and not to go into the generalities of the proposals for establishing UDCs. Again before I move to the amendments, harking back for a second to the last amendment we had, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, has taken to heart that if the AMA was not consulted on the previous amendment efforts will be made between now and Report stage to get in touch with the AMA to consult on the terms of that particular amendment.
§ These three amendments concern the question of consultation. They make it obligatory on the Secretary of State to consult with the appropriate authority or authorities before establishing an urban development corporation. The first amendment refers to the general question of consultation; that is, that the Secretary of State when he has in mind to establish an urban development corporation is to discuss the generality of it with the local authority or authorities concerned.
§ The second amendment is to say that the urban development corporations should 1198 be established where it is in the best local, regional and national interest. At the present time this clause says only that it must be in the national interest. One would have thought that it was equally important that it should be in the local and regional interest; for example, in London that there should be consultation not just on the national interests but with the metropolitan authority and the district councils concerned as well.
§ The third amendment is that, once the decision has been made by the Secretary of State to establish an urban development corporation and before he designates an area of land as an urban development corporation, he will formally consult with the local authorities concerned in whose area the land is situated. Therefore the three amendments taken together ensure a wide consultation process by the Secretary of State and it would seem that, rather than the Secretary of State using his very strong powers without consultation, he should in fact consult before he uses them.
§ I could expand a little, but I hesitate to do so on this particular amendment because if I do I am in the danger of going on to the generality of the whole question of urban development corporations; therefore I wish to limit my remarks to saying that there should be consultation before urban development corporations are established.
§ Lord EVANS of CLAUGHTON
Such is the arrogance of power, or possibly the arrogance of the Secretary of State, that as a member of the Merseyside County Council affected very closely by the proposed urban development corporation on Merseyside, the kind of consultation, or some of the kind of consultation, which the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, has mentioned as desirable has been taking place for some considerable number of months as if an urban development corporation was already in existence. We have had frequent visits from regional representatives of the Department of the Environment. The Liverpool City Council, the Wirral Borough Council and 1199 Merseyside, the three authorities involved in the urban development corporation on Merseyside, are receiving very frequent visits from the representative of the department from the regional office—in Manchester, which in itself, to a Liverpudlian, is an insult, but nevertheless that is where they are—and we have also had a certain amount of consultation from the offices of the department in London.
The extent to which there has been consultation beyond those three authorities in my area, and the extent of the consultation that has already taken place in the London Dockland area, I do not know, but certainly they have been consulting on the assumption that an urban development corporation is being established. Now the concern of many of us, quite apart from the initial objection to an urban development corporations in any event, is the extent to which the views expressed on Merseyside are being taken into account in establishing the urban development corporations, and from the form of the Bill as it stands at present I would say that very little notice has been taken of the wishes of the local authority. As your Lordships know, the chairman, deputy chairman and chief executive designate have all been chosen. The leader of the Merseyside County Council, Sir Kenneth Thompson, and a former Member in another place, who was a passionate opponent of the whole concept of urban development corporations, is the deputy chairman on Merseyside, which of course causes a certain amount of difficulty and certain problems, but to that extent the thing seems to be under way.
What, I am sure, concerns the people in London Dockland and certainly the people in Merseyside, is consultation about the prospective boundaries, or the boundaries, of the urban development corporation on Merseyside. As the noble Lord the Minister said, it is going to be on both sides of the Mersey, which is, assuming you believe in urban development corporations, reasonable, but it does some very curious things. It splits the area of the urban development corporation's sphere of activity on the Wirral side into two parts, leaving the very controversial—I apologise for being parochial—means of access from Birkenhead to 1200 Wallasey as not part of the urban development corporation. It leaves the four bridges, as they are known on Merseyside, as not part of the urban development corporation. Some of us cannot help having the cynical point of view that this has been left out because it is a very expensive area to maintain because of the bridges, and the movement up and down and sideways of the bridges, is an extremely expensive part of the infrastructure.
I am sure that the Minister will reassure us that all kinds of consultation will take place. What I am concerned about is the extent to which that consultation will be taken seriously by the departments, the extent to which we shall have a very early definition of the boundaries to be included in the urban development corporation, the reasons why areas have been left out, and the opportunity to make representations that areas that have not been included should be included and that areas that have been included should not be included.
§ Lord BELLWIN
We entirely accept the need for consultation, as proposed in the first of the amendments, but we consider it important not to make this a legal requirement, since if such procedures were to form part of the main legislation they could be used to delay the establishment of UDCs. For UDCs, a designation procedure similar to that in the New Towns Act could lead to a long period of delay and uncertainty. The need to avoid any hiatus in tackling the problems of decay in these two areas calls for quicker designation procedures than would be possible as, for instance, under the new towns model, which includes a public inquiry, and that is a procedure that can take up to two years.
Under our proposals for UDCs, those with locus standi would be able to petition against the UDC designation orders and be heard by a House of Lords Select Committee. We consider this to be an adequate safeguard for those affected, since it would mean that designation orders would be open to detailed scrutiny and would be subject to the approval of both Houses of Parliament. The Government are firmly committed to this approach. Frankly, we simply do not have time for the luxury of going through a lengthy public inquiry process when there is so 1201 much at stake in these two important areas of the country.
I say again, we entirely accept that councils and other bodies affected should be consulted. In the cases of the proposed urban development corporation areas in London and Merseyside the consultation, as the noble Lord, Lord Evans, said, has been taking place over the last year and last autumn we issued a consultation document, following which we met leaders of the local authorities; and, as he said, the chairman, deputy chairman and chief executive designate have been busy establishing contact in their areas and have made it plain they attach great importance to co-operating with the local authorities and building upon what already exists, rather than starting entirely afresh. The Government have therefore consulted and hope to issue further consultative papers in advance of the laying of the orders.
The danger that this amendment would bring—and I am referring to Amendment No. 257—is that all the consultation undertaken so far would not count and we would have to start again, with all the delay and hiatus that that would cause, and it would render nugatory nearly all the measures taken by the Government so
§ far to avoid a hiatus and to get things moving.
§ Finally, the concept of designation in the national interest has been used successfully in the designation of new towns under the New Towns Act, and it signifies that the important step which the Government intend to take in setting up the UDA is of a national, rather than a purely local or regional, dimension and its practical effect would be to bring for a period the advantages of central Government resources in the task of regenerating an area. I hope that we shall not accept these amendments. Indeed, I hope that, in view of what I have said, the noble Lord might wish to withdraw them.
§ Lord PONSONBY of SHULBREDE
I thank the noble Lord for his remarks. I entirely accept that consultations have been taking place, but we feel very strongly that the fact that there should be consultations should be written into the Bill. Therefore I shall press Amendment No. 255.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 255) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 66; Not-Contents, 104.1203
|Ailesbury, M.||Glenamara, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Hale, L.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Avebury, L.||Hampton, L.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Bacon, B.||Hatch of Lusby, L.||Seear, B.|
|Balogh, L.||Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Simon, V.|
|Bernstein, L.||Jacques, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Beswick, L.||Janner, L.||Stone, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Jeger, B.||Strabolgi, L. [Teller]|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Kaldor, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Kilmarnock, L.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Collison, L.||Lockwood, B.||Wallace of Coslany, L. [Teller]|
|David, B.||Lovell-Davis, L.||Walston, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||McCluskey, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Maelor, L.||Willis, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Melchett, L.||Wilson of Radcliffe, L.|
|Evans of Claughton, L.||Milner of Leeds, L.||Winstanley, L.|
|Gaitskell, B.||Mishcon, L.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Galpern, L.||Peart, L.||Worcester, Bp.|
|George-Brown, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.||Young of Dartington, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Belstead, L.||Brougham and Vaux, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Boardman, L.||Caithness, E.|
|Avon, E.||Bolton, L.||Campbell of Croy, L.|
|Balerno, L.||Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Cathcart, E.|
|Bellwin, L.||Brabazon of Tara, L.||Chalfont, L.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Kemsley, V.||Rawlinson of Ewell, L.|
|Colwyn, L.||Keyes, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Killearn, L.||Reigate, L.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Kinloss, Ly.||Renton, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Kinnaird, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Craigmyle, L.||Lauderdale, E.||Rodney, L.|
|Croft, L.||Linlithgow, M.||Sackville, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Liverpool, E.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|de Clifford, L.||Long, V.||Saint Oswald, L.|
|De Freyne, L.||Loudoun, C.||Salisbury, M.|
|De La Warr, E.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Sandys, L. [Teller]|
|Denham, L. [Teller]||Lyell, L.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Digby, L.||McApline of Moffat, L.||Stamp, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Malmesbury, E.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Margadale, L.||Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.|
|Falkland, V.||Marley, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||Marshall of Leeds, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Melville, V.||Tranmire, L.|
|Gibson-Watt, L.||Middleton, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Glendevon, L.||Mills, V.||Trumpington, B.|
|Gowrie, E.||Monk Bretton, L.||Vaizey, L.|
|Greenway, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Hanworth, V.||Netherthorpe, L.||Vickers, B.|
|Harvington, L.||Northchurch, B.||Vivian, L.|
|Hatherton, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.||Wakefield of Kendal, L.|
|Henley, L.||Onslow, E.||Westbury, L.|
|Hill of Luton, L.||Orkney, E.||Wilson of Langside, L.|
|Hornsby-Smith, B.||Orr-Ewing, L.||Young, B.|
|Inglewood, L.||Porritt, L.|
On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 256 not moved.]
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Lord DENHAM
I think that this might be an appropriate moment to adjourn for dinner. When I have moved the resumption of the House I should like to make a business statement. I beg to move that the House do now resume.
§ House resumed.