§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Further considered on Report.
§ Schedule 22 [Land: miscellaneous amendments]:
The Earl of AVON moved Amendment No. 148ZB:
Page 227, line 40, leave out from ("3(1)(b)") to end of page 228, line 2, and insert ("omit the words from "except" to "case";
- (b) in paragraph 3(1) omit head (c) and the proviso;
- (c) in paragraph 7A omit "the confirming authority and to" and "or affixing of notices"; and
- (d) in paragraph 19(4)—
- (i) for "having jurisdiction to confirm or" substitute "or authority having jurisdiction to"; and
- (ii) add the following proviso at the end:—
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, this amendment makes some simple technical alterations to give proper effect to the intention behind the changes set out in paragraph 1. These changes remove the need for acquiring authorities to obtain the consent of the Minister (the confirming authority) to dispense with the service of 549 notices of the making of a compulsory purchase order, where it is impracticable to ascertain the name of the owner of the land. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
The Earl of AVON moved Amendment No. 148ZC:
Page 228, leave out lines 29 to 31 and insert ("the words following paragraph (ii)").
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, with this amendment, with permission, I should also like to speak to Amendment No. 148ZD. When this schedule was considered in Committee in another place, the Minister agreed to retain the need for ministerial consent where local authorities wish to appropriate or dispose of land held for use as allotments. This and the following amendment provide the necessary drafting changes to give effect to that undertaking. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
The Earl of AVON moved Amendment No. 148ZD:
Page 229, leave out lines 3 to 5 and insert ("and
(b) in subsection (5) the words following paragraph (ii)").
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, I have already spoken to this amendment with the preceding Amendment No. 148ZC. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
The Earl of AVON moved Amendment No. 148ZE:
Page 229, leave out lines 16 to 35 and insert—
("10. The following subsections shall be substituted for subsections (2) and (3) of section 122 of that Act (appropriation of land for planning purposes):—
(2) The consent of the Secretary of State shall be requisite to any appropriation under this section of land which, immediately before the appropriation, is land which consists or forms part of a common, or formerly consisted or formed part of a common, and is held or managed by a local authority in accordance with a local Act.
(2A) Any such consent may be given either in respect of a particular appropriation or in respect of appropriations of any class, and may be given either subject to or free from any conditions or limitations.
(2B) Before appropriating under this section any land which consists of or forms part of an open space, a local authority—
§ 11. The following subsections shall be substituted for subsections (2) to (6) of section 123 of that Act (disposal of land held for planning purposes):—
§ "(2) The consent of the Secretary of State shall be requisite to any disposal under this section—
- (a) of land which, immediately before the disposal, is land which consists or forms part of a common, or formerly consisted or formed part of a common, and is held or managed by a local authority in accordance with a local Act; or
- (b) where the disposal is to be for a consideration less than the best that can reasonably be obtained and is not—
- (i) the grant of a term of seven years or less; or
- (ii) the assignment of a term of years of which seven years or less are unexpired at the date of the assignment.
§ (2A) Before disposing under this section of any land which consists of or forms part of an open space, a local authority
- (a) shall publish a notice of their intention to do so for at least two consecutive weeks in a newspaper circulating in their area; and
- (b) shall consider any objections to the proposed disposal which may be made to them."".
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, this extraordinary and formidable looking amendment introduces a simple but important safeguard. It provides that where a local authority proposes to appropriate or dispose of open space land under the powers in the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, the proposal must first be advertised for two consecutive weeks in a local newspaper and any objections considered. Schedule 22 already makes similar provision in respect of appropriations and disposals under the Town and Country Planning Act 1959 and the Local Government Act 1972. This amendment gives effect to an undertaking given during consideration of the schedule in Committee. In drafting it, the opportunity has also been taken to integrate the new advertising requirement with the other amendments to Sections 122 and 123 of the 1971 Act so that the changes are presented in a more intelligible form. I beg to move.
§ Lord UNDERHILL
My Lords, is it sufficient that after the advertisement in the local newspaper the local authority itself is left to consider the objections to something it wants to do?
§ The Earl of AVON
My Lords, yes, I think so. It is what we have been trying to do. I will look into the point that the noble Lord has raised.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
The Earl of AVON moved Amendment No. 148ZE:
Page 229, leave out lines 38 to 40 and insert—
("12.—(1) In section 122 of the Local Government Act 1972 (appropriation of land by principal councils) the words in subsection (2) following paragraph (b) shall cease to have effect.
(2) The following subsections shall be inserted after that subsection:—").
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, with this amendment, with permission, I should also like to speak to Amendment No. 148ZG. They are both consequential amendments. One of the effects of Part VI of Schedule 22 is to remove the need for local authorities to obtain ministerial consent to the appropriation of open space and to substitute a requirement that proposals must first be advertised and objections considered. As a consequence of this change, open space will not come within the ambit of Section 122(2) of the 1972 Act in the case of principal councils, or of Section 126(4) in the case of parish councils, so that the provision freeing the land from any public trusts is no longer applicable. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
The Earl of AVON moved Amendment No. 148ZG:
Page 231, leave out lines 1 to 3 and insert—
("17.—(1) "In section 126 of that Act (appropriation of land by parish and community councils and by parish meetings) the words in subsection (4) following paragraph (b) shall cease to have effect.
(2) The following subsections shall be inserted after that subsection:—").
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, I have already spoken to this amendment with the preceding Amendment No. 148ZE.
§ I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
The PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE, DEPARTMENT of the ENVIRONMENT (Lord Bellwin) moved Amendment No. 148A:
Page 108, line 3, leave out from ("Commission") to end of line 6.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment seeks to reverse one carried in Committee against the advice of the Government. The voting was very close and I hope that a fuller explanation of our original intentions with this clause will convince the House that the Government are right. The amendment which I am moving is a critical point in the strategy for new towns and indeed in the Government's overall strategy. Massive amounts of public money are tied up in the new towns and we need to be able to redeploy them to the best advantage for the new town, and indeed for the country as a whole.
§ The new towns have been, and are, an important part of the way in which this country has developed since the war. They have given many hundreds of thousands of people a new start in life. They have provided an excellent new environment for many families. They have created, and are still creating, conditions in which industrial growth can take place. Many of your Lordships are better qualified than I to speak in detail of these achievements, but I should not want to leave the impression that the Government do not recognise the excellent work that has been done, and is still being done, by the new town development corporations and the Commission for the New Towns.
§ These achievements are enormous. The cost of achieving them has, equally, also been enormous. The new towns in Britain represent an investment by the taxpayer of over £3,250 million. This represents one of the biggest groups of loans outstanding from the National Loans Fund. It is only surpassed by the electricity industry and the Post Office. It is a continuing investment programme. Although the new towns programme is gradually being completed, investment is still proceeding in practically all the towns. The rate of public investment in the third generation towns, in particular, is probably now at its peak.
§ It needs little imagination to appreciate that all this adds up to a very substantial call on the Exchequer for finance. In the English towns alone, capital investment in housing, sewerage, roads, industrial and commercial development, and civic amenities amounted in the past financial year to £336 million. In the current 553 financial year the capital investment in these fields will be over £350 million. To this must be added the substantial investments of a similar nature being made in Wales and Scotland and the very considerable investment which other public authorities, such as water authorities, local education authorities, and health authorities, must make.
§ The massive share of this investment provided by the new town corporations has been raised by central Government: that is, by the taxpayers. Our view has consistently been that if the nation as a whole is providing the resources, then the nation as a whole—acting through central Government—should have the final say in the future of these assets. In particular, central Government should be able to say whether the assets should be redeployed.
§ I must stress again that it is about the redeployment of assets that we are talking. I have explained that the new town investment programme is continuing. Over the two years 1979–80 and 1980–81 alone there will be capital investment of over £700 million. All this investment must be financed. The traditional way in which this has been done is for the money to be borrowed through the National Loans Fund, thus increasing the public sector borrowing requirements. Even the last Government could not view with equanimity the financing of a programme of this vast scale wholly from new borrowings. They encouraged the new towns to get significant parts of the industrial and commercial development done through private finance. Likewise they introduced the idea of the rolling over of assets. Under this, towns were free to sell assets and to use the proceeds to increase the limited investment allocations which could be made to them for new investment financed by borrowing.
§ One of the limitations on this system of rolling-over assets was that it applied only to each town separately. For example, Bracknell Development Corporation could sell assets only to reinvest the proceeds in Bracknell. There is, however, a mismatch between the availability of assets suitable for sale and the need for investment. Obviously those towns which have substantially completed their development will have the biggest supply of assets suitable for rolling over and those towns which are in the full flood of development will 554 have the greatest need for investment resources. Therefore, if we are to make full use of the concept of roll-over we need to have a mechanism whereby assets may be realised in one town with the intention of reinvesting the proceeds elsewhere. This is what the clause as originally drafted is intended to cover; as I have explained, in the two financial years we are talking of, some £700 million.
§ It is against this that we have to view the disposals programmes. As noble Lords opposite have several times remarked, we have asked the new towns to raise by the disposal of assets some £330 million. On its own this sounds an enormous figure. But when viewed against the £700 million being invested in the new towns in just the two-year period to which I have referred it falls into its true perspective. I suggest that this puts in perspective allegations of asset stripping and other such red herrings, if I may so describe them, which have been made by noble Lords opposite during the Committee stage. It is a strange sort of asset stripping that continues to plough back in new town programmes as a whole public resources on the scale that is currently taking place.
§ Noble Lords opposite may question whether this reinvestment will continue. Resources raised by the disposal of new town assets are public resources and what is done with them is part of the Government's collective decision on public expenditure. Of course, I cannot anticipate what future decisions will be, but the development of the new towns is a fact and I can assure the House that we are well aware of the importance of continuing support for them.
§ It is against this background that I turn briefly to the detail of the amendment that I am now proposing. As the House will see, its purpose is simply to reverse the amendment carried against our advice during Committee stage. I do not want to decry in any way the underlying purpose of this amendment. To anyone working in the real world, it is obvious that the planned development of the towns and the principles of sound financial management are bound to be matters that any Secretary of State will take into account before making his decisions. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, suggested that there was something improper in the 555 way the powers were drafted. He asked for precedents. My noble friend Lord Sandys referred him to powers of the Secretary of State to intervene in the way in which new town corporations behave, and to direct them to pay him money. No doubt the noble Lord will claim that the drafting here goes beyond this in that it does not explicitly set a limit to the sums which may be demanded. But legislation has to be read as part of the whole system of which it forms part. I cannot imagine the Public Accounts Committee of another place treating lightly either a Secretary of State, or his Accounting Officer, who did anything of the kind the noble Lord was suggesting.
§ I have taken time to be explicit about this. I will go further if requested to do so, but I hope that I have said sufficient to be able to sum up by saying that we see the words that I am now asking the House to delete as a fetter on an expanded programme of roll-over which could enable partial local interest to prevail over the national interest and which, ironically, could thus seriously hamper the growth of the third-generation towns, which I am sure is not what was intended. I beg to move.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, our concern now, as at Committee stage, is that the payments demanded by the Secretary of State from the sales of assets should be devoted to completing the mark 2 and the mark 3 new towns and not go into Exchequer funds for other purposes; that before any instruction is given to development corporations to sell any of their assets the Secretary of State ought to be satisfied that such sales are in the interests of the new towns, specifically and generally; and that they will not interfere with the programme of planned development and will also be consistent with good financial management. This is why we put down the amendment which the Committee accepted a week ago.
Answering a question from one of my honourable friends in the other place as to the purpose for which the assets were to be sold, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary said that the sale of new town assets within the global sum of receipts would be taken into account to reduce the public sector borrowing rate. Again 556 we come up against this manifestation of the obsession with the public sector borrowing rate. The new town development corporations do not want to see their assets sold as demanded or on demand, and they will have the support of the local people in their area. The New Towns Act says that the sales may be undertaken by development corporations,for securing the development of the new town in accordance with proposals approved by the Minister".Selling off to reduce the public sector borrowing rate hardly seems to be in accordance with that. At the Committee stage I said that the proposed policy was 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 can order them to sell is vital to the new town finances to enable them to pay off the debt that they have incurred as a consequence of their original development. Disposal may even mean that some development corporations may find themselves unable to complete the development of the new town, a responsibility with which they were specifically charged under the New Towns Act, and some of them may even get near to facing insolvency.
A method of increasing income by liquidating the assets could have disastrous consequences unless the Secretary of State looks at the current value and the cash flow that those assets will generate in future. Has there been any meaningful discussion or consultation about this with either the district councils or with the new town development corporations? The Town and Country Planning Institute are on record that the Government's policy at this time is in total contradiction with the concept of new towns; that it is liable to destroy the basis of sound planning and the management of the new towns; and that it is liable to prejudice the future ownership of new town assets. If this subsection is amended back to the original, then we are witnessing the grand closing down sale of new town assets—£120 million this year, £200 million next year. Since I believe the total value of the disposal assets is reckoned at something over £600 million, it means that half of those assets are to be sold off during this year and next. I think we have a right to know what ceiling the 557 Secretary of State would put on the sale of assets and over what period he will be conducting his bargain sales.
These clauses are an attack on the whole principle and basis of new towns. The proposals alter the whole relationship between the Department of the Environment, the new town corporations and the Commission for New Towns. Until now that has been an extremely good relationship; it has been a productive relationship; it has been a constructive relationship. It was a Conservative Government which in 1969 passed the New Towns Act, which provided for the transfer of assets in mature new towns to a central body, the Commission for New Towns. But this body was specifically charged by the Act to maintain and enhance the value of the land and to have regard to the purpose for which the new town was developed, and to the convenience and welfare of the persons residing, working or carrying on a business in the new towns. The Labour Government in 1976 in their New Towns Act allowed for the handing over of the housing and the related assets to the local council in the older new towns, while retaining the profitable commercial and industrial assets for the time being in the hands of the commission for the new town. What is now proposed is a total deviation from both Acts.
Noble Lords who were not in the Committee when this clause was discussed should not vote to reverse that decision today unless they have read and considered the speech by my noble friend Lady Denington, who is abroad and cannot be with us today. She told the Committee about the diktat issued to the new towns chairmen in July last year and that there was no discussion with the Minister: he just demanded £100 million by March 1980 or there would be a moratorium on the letting of all contracts until that sum was realised.
The noble Baroness also made the point that if the Government really find it necessary to have these sales in order to raise money, then as much as possible should be saved for the nation. The clear way to do that, looking to the future, would be to sell leasehold and not freehold; but that does not appear in the Bill at all. From a quick perusal of this clause and the other clauses you might, if you tried 558 very hard and were very persuasive, manage to get a lease for a bit longer than 99 years, but the instruction issued to new town corporations on 1st July 1980 was as follows: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 equity. Disposals should therefore be on a freehold basis".How do these proposals make it either possible or certain that the receipts of assets from mature new towns will be made available to complete the second and third generation new towns? The new towns now, with the approval of the Secretary of State, are free to sell and re-invest, to operate the roll-over principle. Why, also, that principle? Why not extend it in this Act so that as mature properties in an established new town are sold the proceeds can be used to help to finance another younger or newer new town?
There is a difference between the powers of the Commission for New Towns to dispose of assets as they think fit and for the Secretary of State to order disposals as he thinks fit. Now the Commission can at least dedicate the funds at its disposal to other new towns within its remit. This Bill carries no guarantee that the Secretary of State will do the same. If we could be certain that the funds resulting from the sales would be devoted to the developmental needs of other new towns, I think we could go along with it; but we cannot support these funds being diverted to reducing the public sector borrowing rate, or any other scheme devised by the Government. There is disquiet that among the Quangos likely to be wound up by the Secretary of State may be the Commission for New Towns. Who will then manage the commercial and industrial assets transferred to them by Corby, Stevenage, Harlow, Runcorn, Bracknell and so on? Or will the Secretary of State sell them all off because there will be no organisation to manage them?
Incidentally, who will look after and manage what is left—the parks, the gardens, the social amenities, even the sewage works and the refuse disposal plants—in those towns when the Commission is wound up? Also, if that is to happen, when is the legislation winding 559 up the Commission to be presented? Will they also be winding up some of the other development corporations?—because if that is to be soon then it is wrong to present legislation at this time specifically naming the Commission for New Towns.
What happens in areas of high unemployment and little demand for sales of houses, as in Runcorn, where the district council has refused to take over the housing? The transition from the development corporations to the councils must be made easy. The Commission has an income of around £6 million a year from rents, and that can be ploughed back into new towns development. But if those assets are all sold to reduce the public sector borrowing rate, that income goes, because you can only sell once.
The noble Lord referred to the considerable investment in new towns. He reminded us that it was £336 million last year and something like £350 million this year. What have we got from it? The population of our new towns is now over 2 million. There are some 400,000 new dwellings and over 700 new schools. There are 17 million square feet of office space and, above all, there have been 1 million new jobs. What is needed is a clearer commitment by the Government to use the capital raised by sales to bring all the new towns, especially the third generation ones, to full completion. The assets must be conserved in the second and third generation towns and allowed to mature, because once the third generation towns are completed there will be a very useful property portfolio in existence which would then be available for other purposes. I have no confidence in this clause, as the noble Lord proposes to amend it. The amendment does not really cover the intention which he says, that is, of the Government to retain money to maintain, develop and expand the new towns; and I ask the House to reject the amendment.
§ Lord ROBERTHALL
My Lords, I spoke and voted against the Government on this amendment. My point was a much more general one. I took it that since the Bill has to give these powers to the Secretary of State, the relationship between him and the new commissions is 560 not entirely between the creator and the creature. It seems to me that the form of words in Clause 122(1) is unfortunate, because it gives the Secretary of State power to lay down a sum which he can think up for himself. It is an unlimited power and it seems to me most unfortunate that the House is going to put this power on to the statute book. The addition of the words, which it is now proposed to take out again, had at least the merit that it put some limit to these otherwise unfettered powers of the Secretary of State.
The Minister has said that the Secretary of State proposes to put this money to the best possible use. He could not say it was all going to other new towns; but it seems to me most unfortunate that a Minister should be given these powers without any indication whatever in the clause that there is some limitation—unless it can be demonstrated that this is a case quite unlike any other case. For example, I would ask your Lordships just to imagine a clause like this in a Finance Act.
§ Lord MISHCON
My Lords, I wonder whether I might follow, as concisely as he did, the reasoning of the noble Lord, Lord Roberthall, and try to limit myself in a submission to the House that it would indeed be an irresponsible body of legislators that could possibly allow this amendment so that the Bill stood in the same way as it did before it was amended in Committee, after a very full discussion and after a Division.
My point is going to be a very narrow one and I ask your Lordships to be good enough to look at the actual wording of the clause we are now discussing. I utter a prayer, and I hope that Providence will answer it. It is that only those who listened to this argument will think it proper to vote upon it and that we shall not be faced in the Division Lobby with a number of people who will be voting, whichever way it may be, without having heard a word of the debate on this very vital clause. I am perfectly sure that any Whip present on the Government Bench will see that my prayer is duly heeded and observed.
May I refer to the wording of the clause that we are now dealing with, under the heading of New Towns? There is no 561 preceding clause at all to which this one would have become subject. There is the bald wording that this House is asked to sanction at Report stage:The Secretary of State may direct a development corporation or the Commission to pay to him, on the date specified in the direction, such sum as is so specified".So far, there is a touching faith in the Secretary of State having—and I hope that I do not say this in any mocking sense—great capabilities in regard to deciding what will be the limit of the sum which he is given such unqualified privilege to demand from new towns.
The only qualification put upon it, if qualification it be, as to amount, circumstances, date and whether it exceeds the assets of the new towns or does not exceed them, is in the following subsection, which, if the Minister's amendment is accepted, will merely state that before making what may be an impossible demand to fulfil, quite apart from its being unreasonable, there is a necessity to consult with the Commission or the corporation. All of us know what the word "consult" means. It means that you listen. If you want to, you hear; and, if you want to be, you are affected by what you have heard. But, having listened, you have completed your duty to consult.
At Committee stage, and prior to this Division, I limited myself to this narrow point. I asked the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, who was dealing with the matter at that time—and dealing with it with his usual capability—three questions. As the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate, was on the Front Bench, I ventured to ask whether he would kindly deal with the last two of my questions. He resisted the invitation. But the first question that I put was: is there any precedent to put before the House, so that the House can know whether such unlimited powers have been given to any Minister before, to make a direction that statutory body should pay a sum left entirely to his discretion and without any qualification at all?
The noble Lord, Lord Sandys—I thought with some ingenuity—first dismissed my question as being rhetorical. I have never uttered a less rhetorical question in my life. It was so direct that I asked for an answer and I said—I hope with 562 fairness—that I understood that the noble Lord might want to receive some advice on the matter. I hoped that the advice could be given with some alacrity but, in order to allow him to get that advice, I would not press the question. In the end, it was decided that, so far as that question was concerned, the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, would very properly have an opportunity to write to me and to tell me what the precedent was. I must say this in sheer fairness. It took seven days for his department to find a precedent and I am now going to—
§ Lord SANDYS
My Lords, I think it is only fair to say that, of course, there were other matters concerning the department at the same time.
§ Lord MISHCON
My Lords, I can well understand that. I did not think that the department would be employed solely in answering my question. If that had been so, it would not have been a useful way for the department to employ itself. But there was some urgency about this. I must tell your Lordships that I should have thought, before any power such as this was written into a Bill, that the brief would already have been given to the Minister, saying: "This has had a precedent". I should have thought it would have been set out very clearly, so that I could have had an answer within 24 hours. But it does not matter. I only emphasise the fact that the department and the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, had every opportunity of looking up every precedent that there might be.
Your Lordships will be as mystified as I am when I tell you what is quoted as a precedent for this unqualified power of the Minister to direct a statutory corporation to pay up whatever sum the Minister decides to direct. This is the precedent which is quoted. With some pleasure, I believe, the department said that it had another analogy, because it arose from the new towns legislation and, indeed, the Act of 1965. Slowly do I read the precedent, but it is almost an insult to your Lordships' intelligence that I do so, because even if I read it at great speed anyone who thought that it was a precedent would, I think, be an extraordinary Member of your Lordships' House.
563 It reads:Where it appears to the Minister "—it is Section 45 of the 1965 Act—after consultation with the Treasury and the Commission, that the Commission have a surplus whether on capital or on revenue account after making allowance by way of transfer to reserve or otherwise for their future requirements (including any contributions that may be required to be made in any of their towns under section 36(3)(b) of this Act), the Commission shall, if the Minister after such consultation as aforesaid so directs, pay to the Minister such sum not exceeding the amount of that surplus as may be specified in the direction; and any sum received by the Minister under this subsection shall be paid into the Exchequer".What a mockery to give that as a precedent, and what an offence to the intelligence of this House, let alone this humble Member of the House, to give such a reply in answer to the question: please, state what the precedent is for this unlimited, unqualified power of a Minister to direct a corporation to pay any sum that he specifies!
It is with some temerity that I now remind such of your Lordships as were here in Committee of the next two questions that I put. To those questions there has been no answer at all. The first was: what individual, let alone what lawyer or accountant, would ever advise anybody who had been put under some duty—forget whether or not it is a statutory duty—to agree to have imposed upon him such an unlimited requirement or liability? The third question which flowed from that was: what individual, what intelligent layman—forget whether he be lawyer or accountant—would ever advise any friend of his, let alone any relation, to become a responsible member of the board of any such statutory authority when there is a liability, without any limit or qualification, imposed in this way, so that, for all that person knew, he became a member of a corporation that was insolvent? I am not interested in any technical arguments as to whether new towns, because of some other statutory provisions, could ever land up, in their winding-up provisions, in the same way as a company could.
I said during the Committee stage that the arguments advanced by the Government in support of this clause, if there be no such qualification—and it is a very minor one that my noble friend Lady 564 Stedman is suggesting which was passed by this House on a Division—would be laughable if they were not so tragic. They are tragic because, unless we are careful—I appeal to all parts of the House when I say this—this House of Lords, which has the duty imposed upon it of being a revising Chamber and not just the political agent of any political party, will be failing in its duty if it puts on to the statute book a power of this unlimited, unqualified nature, such as the Government now seek. I believe that whatever political party or no political party any Member of this House may belong to, we should not be a party to giving such dictatorial powers, vesting them in a Secretary of State and venting them upon public spirited people who are looking after our new towns.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ Lord BOYD-CARPENTER
My Lords, I am happy to think that I am apparently the answer to the prayer of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. Some time ago, if he will not mind my reminding the House, he began by indicating that it was his prayer that no one should vote for the Government on this amendment without having heard the debate. I have heard the debate so far, and unless somebody shakes my view I shall, if this matter is pressed to a Division, vote unhesitatingly with the Government.
I enjoyed as much as did anybody—I always do—the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. He has the power of taking what is a quite simple, straightforward issue and building it up with great artistry and skill into a tremendous case—into, if he is opposing it, outrage upon the working of this House, upon the whole system of government, or, if he is arguing it the other way, playing it down into something of insignificance. I am sure that we always enjoy it, but perhaps we might come back to what is in essence an extraordinarily simple issue.
It is whether, in the event of a dispute between central Government and the corporations or the commission over a demand for the repayment of money, all of which of course began from public funds, the Minister should have a direct, unqualified power to order that recovery, or whether the statutory limitations upon his power so to do, contained in the 565 clause as it now stands in the Bill, should prevail. It is as simple a question as that, and it is the very same question as those of your Lordships who have seen and enjoyed Mr. George Bernard Shaw's play "The Apple Cart" will remember is posed beautifully, where it is said, "When two men ride a horse, one must ride behind". In this case it is a question whether the Secretary of State or the new towns corporation should ride behind. I cannot help thinking that the noble Lord, Lord Roberthall, who was a very distinguished financial and economic adviser to Her Majesty's Government and his services as such are remembered most gratefully by very many of us, would have had little doubt that central Government, with the responsibility that they have for the handling of the British economy, must secure that in a case like this and in the handling of what is, I repeat, in origin public money, they have the last word.
The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, brushed aside the public sector borrowing requirement. Many of us feel that it is crucial at this moment that the public sector borrowing requirement should be brought under control, and that if one is faced, as one may be, with having to take a hard decision between the happy and orderly completion of a new town's programme of development or the getting under control of the public sector borrowing requirement, in the circumstances of the day it is the latter which should prevail. For that reason, without hesitation on this amendment, although as my noble friend Lord Bellwin knows there has not even been hesitation to vote the other way on some of his clauses, I shall be with him in the Lobby unless the noble Baroness, with her habitual wisdom, decides at the end of the day to withdraw it.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down may I remind him that we are not suggesting that the Secretary of State still does not have the last word. What was agreed to during the Committee stage was that the Secretary of State should 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. If he satisfies himself of that and 566 then still says that he wants some money, part of our case goes.
§ Lord BOYD-CARPENTER
My Lords, I fully understand that. I am capable of understanding the words of the section. They are, as the noble Baroness says, perfectly clear. But what I think she has failed to apprehend is that if the facts are not such as to enable the Secretary of State so to satisfy himself he would be liable to be stopped in the courts, presumably by the procedure of injunction, and prevented from proceeding. The words which are sought to be taken out of the clause compel him, where the facts are such that the orderly development of the new town may be hampered, to be deprived of the power, and if he sought to exercise it he would be restrained by the courts.
§ Lord HOWIE of TROON
My Lords, it really would not be the end of the world if the Secretary of State were to be obliged to satisfy the courts or, in other words, public opinion at its best. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, was perfectly correct when he described this as a very simple issue, and a very simple issue it is. However, I do not think it is the simple issue which he described. The noble Lord described an extremely interesting simple issue but not quite the one we are dealing with here. The one we are dealing with here is what Clause 122(2) says. My noble friend on the Front Bench, Lord Mishcon, went into that at great length. I shall go into it at much shorter length, as befits a Back-Bencher on the extreme Back-Bench here.
It seems to me that the subsection as it stands has three characteristics. The first is that the Secretary of State shall consult. That is perfectly proper. The other two characteristics are that he shall consult within two limits. The first of these limits, although it is the second in the clause, is that whatever he consults about shall be consistent with the principles of sound financial management. I cannot see how the Government Front Bench can object to that being in the clause. They must regard that as desirable.
The second limit is that the Secretary of State shall satisfy himself that any payments made do not undermine the programme of planned development of the town. It is quite inconceivable that 567 the Government Front Bench would wish the Secretary of State to undermine the programme of planned development of a new town. What they are objecting to, therefore, are two principles which limit the consultation, and they are two principles with which they must in fact agree. They cannot possibly object to them in any way. They cannot object to the Secretary of State satisfying himself that the programme is consistent with the principles of sound management, nor can they disagree that the Secretary of State should not undermine the planned development. So I think the amendment as proposed by the Minister is unnecessary. The characteristics at which the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, shakes his head and to which he drew attention are contained in and embraced by the process of consultation, but the additional words in the Bill give the public some extra protection, and an extra protection to which they are certainly entitled.
There is no need for me to go on at any great length. My two noble friends on the Front Bench have gone into the detail of this, but, stripped down to the bare essentials, the argument is much as I have stated it. I think the only sensible thing for the Minister of State to do—and he is a man who has shown great sympathy towards the Opposition in the course of this extremely lengthy Bill—is to withdraw his amendment and to agree to the objections which have been placed before us.
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, perhaps I may try to pick up some of the points which have been made. First, I should like to say a sincere thank you to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, for his support in this matter. He is always highly respected in your Lordships' House and even more highly appreciated, I may say, by this—not Minister of State, regrettably, but Parliamentary Under-Secretary.
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, I make no comment on that. I shall begin the wrong way round perhaps, but I know 568 your Lordships will forgive me if I take the points as I wrote them down. First, there were points made by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, who, as my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, said, is always so eloquent, so persuasive and so superb in his speeches. As for the content, however, I would ask for a much closer look at that. He made very much of the matter of precedents. "Where is the precedent", he asked, "that would give us the confidence to follow the Government's line?" I would ask him where is the precedent for investing £3,250 million in any one section of the community? I myself gave the precedents for that when I spoke about electricity and the Post Office. They were precedents. That is really what we are talking about and it is the thrust of the whole argument, which I shall come to in a moment when I have tried to cover some of the individual points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman.
The noble Baroness asked what guarantee there was that this money would go back to the new towns. I thought that in my introduction to this amendment I had made clear—obviously I failed—the fact that the Government in the year just ended and in the year in which we are now working made a commitment of £700 million. I think that is an enormous commitment, and the very fact that we are now doing this and that we have said time and again that we have a commitment to the continuance of the new town movement and want to see the new generation of new towns becoming as successful as, if not more successful than, the present generation of new towns, is our guarantee. If the noble Baroness had been able to come along and say: "You are reducing the investment in the new towns", she would have a much stronger case; but I made no commitments and I was at pains not to do so in that sense because no one can say what money will be available, but we believe in the new generation of new towns and everything we are doing shows that belief.
As my noble friend LordBoyd-Carpenter said, this whole debate is about the right and whether the Government have the right to look at public money which has been invested and to say: "We need to reshuffle that around", or, as the Labour 569 Government proposed, to roll it over. Do we have a right, as a Government, to say that certain parts of the new towns are requiring so much more and certain of older generation are requiring so much less, or is it wrong that we should shuffle this around or even that it should go into a central kitty and that the options should be there for the Government?
I believe that this is fundamental. I believe it is not wrong and I believe in it as deeply as anything else that we are doing. Will your Lordships believe that I have spoken at this Dispatch Box in the last 15 or 16 months over 1,000 times and I have moved many amendments. It has to be said, my Lords, that for some of them one has a greater "feel" than for others, if I may put it that way, but I believe sincerely that not one case I have argued has been stronger than this one. We are asking at the end, "What are we talking about?" We believe in the new towns, we are ploughing in massive sums of money and, if it is any help, I will repeat now that we believe in the future of the new towns which are coming on stream and we shall have to plough funds into those. The extent of that no one can expect me to say, but we believe it is right that the central Government which in the first place has ploughed in the £3,250 million should have some say in the redeployment of it. That is what this debate is about and, when we speak about consulting and such things, with respect, my Lords, they are all possible sources of delay and frustration. They sound so innocent on their own, they sound so logical and fair, but, when we look carefully at the implications of them all and what they can lead to, we see why any Government which need the freedom to function (and my goodness! we need it today more than ever), have to say that all these things by themselves may be right but in the context of what we need to achieve they do not stand up. That is why we feel very strongly that we must have this amendment, and I hope your Lordships will support it.
§ Lord HOWIE of TROON
My Lords, before the noble Lord whom I promoted in error, but deservedly, sits down, would he explain to me as an open-minded, rebellious Back-Bencher how it comes about that he actually needs the words which he proposes to leave out, when in 570 fact they are contained quite clearly within the word "consult" which he wishes to leave in? How will he be worse off if he takes these words out?
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, I thought that that was the last point that I touched upon. In practice there is always talk; that is ongoing. Anyone who has been involved in Government knows that there are always discussions and commissions. There are the new town corporations and it is an ongoing process. One does not suddenly say: "Stop! Shall we now go and see this new town?" There is consultation all the time with the regional officers, and so on. But if we write on the face of the Bill a requirement like this, it opens up a whole series of opportunities for those who may not be as anxious as is the noble Lord, or even in agreement with the philosophy expressed. It gives many opportunities for delays and frustrations, for going to the courts, and so on; and that we cannot have.
§ Lord MISHCON
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I wonder whether, with his great courtesy, he could tell the House whether he now agrees, whatever be the amount invested in new towns, that there is no precedent known to his department for this unlimited, unqualified power? My second question is this: does he also admit that, much though it be his wish that the monies should be ploughed back into new towns, there is not a word in the Bill to say that that has to take place?
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, I thought I had covered the point of precedent. When we look at the enormity—
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, it is an answer which I think is a fair one. I am sorry if I did not sound fair to the noble Lord—I think I often do but perhaps on this occasion I did not. Will the noble Lord perhaps repeat his other point?
§ Lord MISHCON
My Lords, I can well understand that the noble Lord did not take on board my second point. Does he admit that, much though it be his desire and the present intention of his 571 Government to plough the money back into new towns, there is not a word in this Bill which makes it necessary for the Government so to do?
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, that, indeed, was also the point touched on by the noble Baroness when she said, "What guarantee do we have?" Of course the noble Lord is right; on the face of the Bill there is nothing; but the guarantee is the commitment of the Government to the future of new towns. On the face of the Bill, no; but I believe the Government must have the opportunity and must be able to function in this way, which even the Labour Government were seeking to do originally in their roll-over proposals.
§ Lord SANDYS
My Lords, the noble Lord has spoken already on this amendment. He has not chosen to use the device, "Before the noble Lord sits down". Therefore, I regret to say he is out of order.
§ The Earl of PERTH
My Lords, perhaps I may say a word on this. Having listened to all the arguments on both sides, it seems to me that in general the Government must have the right to decide what should be done in the way of demanding money and so forth from whatever the source. But I think they go too far in not giving any kind of guidance on what will be the form of consultation. It is all very well for the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, to say, "For the next two years it is all right. You must believe in us". Of course, these are things we are bound to take into account. But that is all an act of faith. I feel, on the other hand, that the amendment brought in at the Committee stage goes too far in that it binds the Government in a way which would be very awkward, if for one reason or another they wanted to do certain things and were then challenged in the courts by the new town which felt it had a right to go on with its programme regardless. You can always argue these things in the courts.
I wonder whether it would not be possible at Third Reading for the noble 572 Lord, Lord Bellwin, to introduce some words which would indicate the sort of matters that the Secretary of State would take into account in his consultation, without binding him absolutely to act. I think this amendment goes too far because in the end there is, or could be, a recourse to the court. If, on the other hand, the noble Lord could give us some sort of idea of the policy that would be taken into account in consultation, I think it would help. At this moment we see nothing; all we are depending upon is the good faith of the Secretary of State to ensure that these things will not upset the new town or the commission. It would be better if there were some sort of wording which would indicate what form the consultation would take.
While in this particular instance I think it would perhaps be unwise to resist the amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, has moved, at the same time it would be very much easier for a lot of us to support him if we knew that at Third Reading some sentence would be introduced to show what form the consultation would take.
§ Lord SANDYS
My Lords, if I may say so, my noble friend the Minister has summed up on a Motion, because we are now on Report. If I may quote the Companion to Standing Orders, page 87, it says this:It is considered undesirable for Lords to continue the debate on a Motion or an Unstarred Question after the Government's reply has been given save for questions to the Minister before he sits down".My noble friend has been extremely tolerant over this, and I think we should reach a conclusion.
§ Lord FOOT
My Lords, may I make a comment about that? It seems to me extraordinary, because if that is right, then the Minister, if he likes to do so, can stand up when the debate has proceeded only a little while and thereby effectively terminate the debate. What is happening here today, in my submission, is a pretty shabby business altogether. I was present on the previous occasion when we discussed this question in Committee. We had then a very full debate, a much fuller 573 debate than we have had here this afternoon; we had a debate before a much fuller House than we have here this afternoon—a fuller Committee or assembly. On that occasion, with clear deliberation, on a vote, one of the biggest votes which we have had in this House or in Committee for a long time, the Government were defeated.
What is at issue here is not only the merits or otherwise of this amendment but, in my submission, what are the proper duties of this House as a revising Chamber? If, after due consideration in a Committee of the Whole House, an amendment is carried against the Government, is it right that the Government should come back at Report stage and try to reverse that decision, and, as we must assume, bring in, to carry the Division in their favour, people who have not heard the debate on this occasion or have not heard the debate on the previous occasion? I question whether the Government are well advised to play ducks and drakes with this House as they are doing this afternoon.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, on a point of correction, may I simply say this. In the first place, I did not seek to stand up in the middle of the debate and end it; I waited for over an hour listening to many people speak. Secondly, it is not my way to seek to take advantage procedurally in any way. I do not think anyone in your Lordships' House would say that of me; I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Foot, would say that. Thirdly, as to his point of whether it is right for the Government to bring something back, we have had in this Report stage I do not know how many—certainly it is in double figures—occasions on which issues, which were defeated by the Government at Committee stage, have been brought back in the identical form and discussed again, without the right of people here now to know what went on at that time. The Government have made no comment as to that. My noble friend made an observation, but the Government made no comment and no objection at all. Nor do I; I see nothing wrong there.
May I remind the noble Lord of this. It is true there was a substantial vote; 574 there was a majority of three. All the other decisions which noble Lords opposite are seeking to reverse, to which I did not and do not object, were decided by far more than that. With respect, I think we have had two very good runs at this; we have been going for perhaps an hour and a half. The last thing I want to do is to object to anyone speaking, but goodness me, we are going to be here until a very late hour; we have so much business. The Front Benches and everyone have had their chances. I think my noble friend Lord Sandys is right.
§ Lord FOOT
My Lords, that was an interruption of what I was saying. Before the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, got up just now in order to bring this debate to an end, my noble friend Lord Simon had made two or three attempts to speak. There has not been any intervention in this particular debate from these Benches. Although my noble friend Lord Simon attempted to get up to speak on our behalf, he was interrupted and prevented from doing so by the noble Lord, Lord Sandys. I only say this in conclusion. I am not discussing the merits of this matter one way or another. But I will say this. If, after full debate in Committee in this House, when all the arguments have been deployed the Government is defeated, I would have thought that the proper and sensible thing for them to do, if they are so embarrassed by the amendment which has been carried, would be to take the matter up in the other place when it goes back there, and not bring it up again in this House. That is all I want to say about that matter. I suggest that it is improper that there should not be a full debate, especially upon a matter on which the verdict went against the Government on the earlier occasion.
§ Lord DENHAM
My Lords, perhaps I may break in at this interval. The noble Lord, Lord Foot, is, of course, raising two separate points and he is quite entitled to do so because they are, so to speak, two points of order. The first of them is about his noble friend, who, of course, nobody in your Lordships' House would wish to prevent from speak- 575 ing on these matters. But, it is generally accepted that, except during Committee stage, any noble Lord who wishes to speak on a Motion such as this should do so before the Minister replies and not afterwards, save, for example, asking a question or making a point before the noble Lord sits down. Otherwise, it makes the Minister—whichever party happens to be in power—get up again and again and again. It is the generally accepted practice of the House—and my noble friend Lord Sandys has read out the relevant part of the Companion to Standing Orders—that the debate should take place; any noble Lord who wishes to speak should do so, and then the Minister should reply. Of course, the proposer of the amendment then has the right of reply, but that should be the end of the matter.
As regards reversing at Report stage an opinion of the House at Committee stage, I am advised that it is perfectly within the rules of order of the House, if the House so wishes. Of course, there is another matter as regards whether the clause shall stand part on which the Companion to Standing Orders has something separate to say. However, as regards an amendment, it is not against the rules or traditions of the House if the House should decide to do it.
§ Lord HOWIE of TROON
My Lords, I hesitate to lengthen this particular part of the discussion, but I should like, first, to acquit the Minister of any discourtesy to the House at all. I think that he has shown the greatest willingness to take part in the debates as regards this measure and any others with which he has been concerned in the period in which I have known him. I do not think that there is any question of the situation being otherwise.
But, I have spent some while as a Whip in the other place and I should like to say just a word of advice to the Whip. The Whip should be applied with the lightest and gentlest touch possible—something that I did not realise when I started life as a Whip, but which I learnt during my years in that role. I would be rather inclined to say that, if there were the slightest appearance of a situation in which one of the Opposition Front Bench speakers—albeit from a minor, though 576 not unimportant party—wishes to contribute to a debate, even in the circumstances which we have today, he should be allowed to do so.
Although there are difficulties about the Minister speaking over and over again, looking at the Front Bench today there is no shortage of Ministers present and every one of them is able. There is no reason why one of them should not stand up at the end and reply after the noble Viscount on the Liberal Front Bench has spoken. I think that the best way of proceeding—if I may give the advice of an old and gnarled Whip—is to let the Liberals have their say, let someone else reply and then we can get on with the business and the Government and all of us will be well satisfied.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, I am sure that from this side of the House we accept the ruling of the Government Chief Whip, but other speakers have been quite correct — the noble Viscount tried to get in several times. He was unlucky, but I think that the House might be satisfied if the noble Viscount were allowed to make his points.
§ Lord DENHAM
My Lords, of course, if the noble Viscountwished to speak before my noble friend got up to give his reply and was unable to do so, then that is a different matter. I think that all of my noble friends in this Government—and the same applied to noble Lords opposite when they occupied this side of the House—try to look round before they make their reply, to see whether any noble Lord wishes to speak; but sometimes it is not possible. So if the noble Viscount was, in fact, trying to get up before my noble friend started, then perhaps the House would wish to hear him.
§ Viscount SIMON
My Lords, I am very much obliged to the noble Lord. I should like to raise a question that has been going through my mind ever since I heard the opening speech of the noble Lord in charge of the Bill—namely, if, as he says, the Government are completely committed to the interests of the new towns, why does he object to the words which he wants to remove? It seems to me that he has said, almost in other 577 words, that these are the considerations that the Secretary of State would bear in mind. So what is the objection to leaving them there?
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, if I may speak by leave of the House yet again, I think that I have covered this point very carefully. I tried to do so when I responded before by saying that the objections are that they throw up so many possibilities
§ —I think even beyond what noble Lords intended when they moved the amendment previously—by way of delays, frustrations and so on. I just do not think that they should be in the Bill.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 148A) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 114; Not-Contents, 82.579
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Ferrers, E.||Netherthorpe, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Ferrier, L.||Newall, L.|
|Alport, L.||Forester, L.||Norfolk, D.|
|Avon, E.||Fortescue, E.||Northchurch, B.|
|Bellwin, L.||Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Freyberg, L.||Onslow, E.|
|Berkeley, B.||Gage, V.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Gainford, L.||Perth, E.|
|Boyd of Merton, V.||Gisborough, L.||Redmayne, L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Glenkinglas, L.||Renton, L.|
|Broadbridge, L.||Gormanston, V.||Rochdale, V.|
|Caithness, E.||Gowrie, E.||Romney, E.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Grimthorpe, L.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Cathcart, E.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.)||St. Davids, V.|
|Clwyd, L.||Sandys, L. [Teller.]|
|Cockfield, L.||Halsbury, E.||Seebohm, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Henley, L.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Craigavon, V.||Hylton-Foster, B.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Craigmyle, L.||Inglewood, L.||Slim, V.|
|Craigton, L.||Keyes, L.||Soames, L. (L. President.)|
|Crathorne, L.||Kimberley, E.||Somers, L.|
|Croft, L.||Kinnaird, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Knutsford, V.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Davidson, V.||Lauderdale, E.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|De Freyne, L.||Lindsey and Abingdon, E.||Strathspey, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||Long, V.||Swinfen, L.|
|De L'Isle, V.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Lyell, L.||Tranmire, L.|
|Digby, L.||McAlpine of Moffat, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Dormer, L.||McFadzean, L.||Trenchard, V.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.||Trumpington, B.|
|Duncan-Sandys, L.||Mancroft, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Dundonald, E.||Mansfield, E.||Vickers, B.|
|Ebbisham, L.||Marley, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Eccles, V.||Morris, L.||Westbury, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.||Willoughby de Broke, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Moyne, L.||Wolverton, L.|
|Elton, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.||Young, B.|
|Airedale, L.||Boston of Faversham, L.||Fisher of Rednal, B.|
|Amherst, E.||Brockway, L.||Foot, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Gaitskell, B.|
|Ardwick, L.||Bruce of Donington, L.||Galpern, L.|
|Avebury, L.||Collison, L.||Gardiner, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Gordon-Walker, L.|
|Balogh, L.||Cudlipp, L.||Gore-Booth, L.|
|Beswick, L.||David, B.||Gosford, E.|
|Birk, B.||Davies of Penrhys, L.||Greenwood of Rossendale, L.|
|Blease, L.||Diamond, L.||Gregson, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Elwyn-Jones, L.||Grey, E.|
|Boothby, L.||Evans of Hungershall, L.||Hale, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Meston, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Hanworth, V.||Mishcon, L.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L.||Noel-Baker, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Hayter, L.||Oram, L.||Stone, L.|
|Henderson, L.||Paget of Northampton, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Peart, L.||Strauss, L.|
|Jacques, L.||Phillips, B.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Kaldor, L.||Plant, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Kilbracken, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]||Underhill, L.|
|Kilmarnock, L.||Wall, L.|
|Leatherland, L.||Roberthall, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Listowel, E.||Rochester, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. [Teller.]||Ross of Marnock, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Rugby, L.||White, B.|
|Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.||Simon, V.||Wilson of Langside, L.|
|Longford, E.||Stamp, L.||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ 4.55 p.m.
Lord ROSS of MARNOCK moved Amendment No. 149:
Page 108, line 24, leave out subsection (7) and Insert—
("(7) This section shall not apply to Scotland.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, with Amendment No. 149 I should like to take Amendments Nos. 150, 151, 153, 154 and 155, because the effect of Amendment No. 149 is to leave Scotland out of Clause 122, and the effect of the other amendments is to leave Scotland out of this whole part of the Bill. Why do I suggest that Scotland should be left out? First, the Scottish new towns are different. They are in a different part of the world, a part of the world that is pretty hard to hit at present by unemployment, and the last thing we want to do is to stifle the work that these new towns are doing. They have been a considerable success and a considerable hope in difficult areas.
§ There are five new towns, four of which are in the Central belt, and three of those four are in West Central Scotland, which is probably hardest hit by unemployment at the present time. The other is, of course, Glenrothes, which was built to absorb a considerable number of those displaced in the mining industry. When one looks at the progress of these new towns one sees that one cannot compare them with the English new towns. Some of them are relatively young. There is only one that is anywhere near a surplus, which I think is East Kilbride, which is the oldest. These are draconian powers, so much so that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, did not want any qualifications that might be challenged in court. With 580 no qualifications they become even more draconian—full, unfettered powers given not only to the Secretary of State for the Environment but also to the Secretary of State for Scotland. He can direct them to pay any sum he wants, and he will tell them when to pay. What has been mentioned by no one so far is that, if they do not pay it, it becomes a debt, chargeable at a certain rate of interest. Indeed, he also takes a further power to tell them how they can dispose of the land, and when.
§ We have heard important sums of money mentioned by the Parliamentary Secretary—I believe that is what he said he was, although I shall direct my attention to a Minister of State. The sum of £320 million was mentioned. What is the sum at stake in Scotland? It may be suggested that this is a necessarily heavy hammer to direct that the disposal of assets should raise £320 million in the new towns in England and Wales; but in Scotland the sum at stake is £5 million. This was the sum laid down to be raised in 1979–80. One can recollect that when that announcement was made and when discussions took place with the new towns they were given six months and it was thought that a reasonable sum was £5 million. Of course, they did not get £5 million; I think they got £1.5 million. So there was another meeting. What is it that is laid down for the Scottish new towns at present?—not that they have to find the £5 million in the next year. Oh, no; they are being encouraged to do the best they can and they have to complete the disposals to reach the £5 million in 1980–81. Therefore, what was to take six months, according to the reasonableness of the Government, is now being spread over about two and a half years.581
§ Is it necessary to take these powers in relation to the Scottish new towns in order to raise that sum of money? This is really a sledgehammer to crack a nut. It is not that the Secretary of State has not got any powers at the present time; he has. He has powers directly within the Bill, and he has the influence that he bears as the creator of the new towns. He creates the authority; he appoints the chairman. Indeed, chairmen are usually very careful in respect of how they behave towards those who are their masters.
I asked a question about the Scottish new towns, and I am glad to say that I got a very good and full answer from the noble Lord, Lord Sandys. He was not speaking as a Whip then but I presume as a Government Minister when he wrote to me, although I dare say that he discussed the matter fully with the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Minister of State and all the other Under-Secretaries. Here is what I found out. From Scotland, it is not a sum from each individual development corporation, it is a collective sum. So they all meet together cosily, probably in St. Andrew's House. The first time of course they were told £5 million.
When the disposals programme was first introduced, discussions were held with the General Managers and Chairmen … about the collective contribution they could make. Taking account of the stage of development of the towns and of the depressed state of the market in Scotland",—
It has not become any less depressed since they had these discussions—
it was decided that no more than £5 million worth of assets should be placed on the market in 1979–80.
A total of £1.5 million was raised in 1979/80 with the remainder of the £5 million to be found as soon as possible. However, it is now evident that to expect the new towns "—
that is, in Scotland—
to raise the balance this year could possibly impair their programmes of industrial and commercial development. A flexible attitude is therefore being taken, but the new towns are being encouraged to contribute as much as possible towards the £5 million total this year and definitely to achieve it in 1981/82".
§ This was supposed to be a reassurance to me that the Government were not being dictatorial. Of course they are not being so in this. Using the powers as they are, they are being reasonable. They are meeting them. But does it not make a nonsense of the suggestion that we must take these powers? In Scotland 582 they are evidently not going to use them., and here once again there is this tidying-up process, applying something to Scotland which is quite unnecessary. I see a former Under-Secretary of State for Scotland on the Benches there. I plagued his life on one occasion on a Town and Country Planning Bill when they did the same silly thing that they are doing here. They mixed Scotland up with England, and when all the other debates continued about England another Member, Mr. George Willis, and I got up and carried on a separate debate on Scotland. I remember his telling us at that time that the circumstances for Scotland were purely academic. They were not purely academic by the time the Bill was on the statute book and affected the property markets and prices in Scotland.
§ I think he will agree with me that it is not the wisest thing to get Scotland mixed up in an English Bill. We have a whole corpus of legislation on Scottish local government entirely different from that in England. The same is true of land. The same is true of town and country planning. But here we have it spattered through these clauses. I do not know whether noble Lords appreciate this. I took just a quick note as I sat here that in the 40 clauses from about No. 64 to No. 104 only three or four apply to Scotland. In this particular section on new towns I think there are seven clauses and only two of them apply to Scotland.
§ Would it not be tidier to take Scotland out, and if we need legislation let us have Scottish legislation? That has always been the hope of every other Secretary of State for Scotland. If any of us slipped up, then that former Secretary of State, or the Leader of the Scottish Opposition, was up and pleading the case of the Law Society and everybody else and saying that it was monstrous. It is really monstrous here because it is not needed for Scotland. But the danger is that if it is there it will be used.
§ Suppose it had been used in this first instance of the £5 million. It would have required to be found. If it had not been found it would have been construed as a debt, and interest paid by the Scottish new towns. This is utter nonsense. In the present economic situation in respect of the whole country this clause is 583 bad enough, but in respect of Scotland it does not make any sense at all. The fact that it has not been used and the Government are not going to use it suggests to me, "Let us be tidy about it. Let us take Scotland out of all the other clauses in this Part XV."
§ I hope that the Government are prepared to listen to reason. It is not going to destroy their Bill. It is just taking another two clauses that apply to Scotland at the moment, and that need not apply to Scotland, and adding them to the over 100 other clauses of this Bill which do not apply to Scotland. It is not justified by the circumstances of the new towns or their development. It is not justified by the economy of Scotland. It is not justified by the figures which have been given by the noble Lord, Lord Sandys. May I thank him very much for the reply, because I think it makes my case?
§ No doubt the Minister of State will get up and say that this shows how flexible the Government are. Flexible? "You cannae take the breeks offa Highland man." In other words, the £5 million was not there. It did not make any sense to try to get it. But if they are going to take this clause and apply it, it is not the breeks they are going to take off the Highland man, it is the kilt. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Lord BOOTHBY
My Lords, as one who sat for a Scottish constituency for 34 years, I should just like to add one sentence to what the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, has said. I agree with every word he said. I have seldom heard more sense talked in this House in so short a time. There is absolutely no reason for putting Scotland into this Bill and many reasons for keeping it out. I shall take a lot of convincing to the contrary.
§ Lord HOWIE of TROON
My Lords, I shall be very brief indeed. I should like to support my noble friend Lord Ross of Marnock in this respect, and to remind the Government of one word only—and that word is "tact". It is the only word that matters here. Over a number of years we had differences of opinion between England and Scotland over the method of devolution. Some at least 584 of the underlying causes of that dispute were concerned with this lack of tact; the idea that Scottish matters should be dealt with merely by tacking on a Scottish provision to what was essentially an English and Welsh Bill. It is a handy and convenient way of doing things no doubt for this House and for another place, but it is not necessarily a sensible and tactful way of dealing with the United Kingdom.
My noble friend Lord Ross is quite right when he says that the correct way to go about this kind of business is to produce a Scottish Bill which deals with the peculiarities and the particularities of Scotland and deals with them separately. My noble friend lives in Scotland and he has a close association with the Scottish people. I have lived in England for a long time, but neither he nor I have any animus against the English. We merely remind you that many of the Scots are irked by this kind of tactlessness. Especially when it is a tactlessness which can be readily and easily avoided. It ought to be avoided. I think that the House would be well advised to take my noble friend's advice, and the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, with his unrivalled experience of United Kingdom and Scottish affairs, and leave this out. If the precise provisions must be dealt with, let us deal with them later in a Scottish Bill, gathering together all the minor and extraneous bits and pieces of this vast measure which deal particularly with Scotland. Let us leave England to the English, Wales to the Welsh, and Scotland to the Scots.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of STATE, SCOTTISH OFFICE (The Earl of Mansfield)
My Lords, the compass of this debate is considerably narrower than most of the subjects we have discussed across the Dispatch Box so far as the noble Lord, Lord Ross, and I are concerned. This is a United Kingdom Bill, we are all citizens of the United Kingdom and we are debating this matter in the Parliament of the United Kingdom. These provisions give effect to the general policy of the Government which is, for new towns, exactly the same for Scotland as it is for England. There are two objects of the exercise, first to ensure that it is open to the Secretary of State to direct the 585 development corporations to realise assets which can be made available to the Exchequer for new town or other purposes, and secondly to ensure that the development corporations have clear-cut powers to dispose of land for that purpose. Those are the objects of these clauses, no more and no less.
Two points have emerged in this debate. The first is whether this power to the Secretary of State should be put in a United Kingdom Bill as opposed to forming the subject of separate legislation applying only to Scotland. I hope from what I have said that both the noble Lords, Lord Boothby and Lord Howie of Troon, may perhaps conclude that merely to extend to Scotland what is part of the general policy of the United Kingdom does not need separate legislation to achieve its purpose. Parliament is short of time. The legislative programme, whichever party is in power, is always appallingly congested and your Lordships, with great assiduity, remain true to their task night after night, particularly after the summer holidays, to get the legislative programme of the Government of the day through to completion. I cannot believe that we have to burden Parliament with a Scottish Bill to say precisely the same in effect as is said in a United Kingdom Bill because we wish, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Howie, to show tact to the Scots. I wonder if, on reflection, he really means that?
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
Secondly, my Lords, leaving aside the question of where the legislation takes place—in the sense whether it is in the same Bill or in two different Bills—is there any reason that the noble Lord, Lord Ross, adduced why Scottish new towns should be exempted from the legislation which will affect the English? The noble Lord read out details of a letter which my noble friend Lord Sandys had sent him, and as he himself remarked, it shows that the Government are exhibiting a thoroughly flexible attitude in the matter.
It is right that that should happen because the Scottish new towns are slightly different in that they are not so advanced in their stages of development compared with the English new towns in 586 the South-East, which are putting up most of the money. That is why the Scottish new towns have been asked to provide only £5 million; I say "only" not in a pejorative sense but merely by comparison. In 1979–80 they realised £1½, million, as the noble Lord, Lord Ross, said, and they are expected to raise the balance as soon as possible. In fact, only East Kilbride has so far reached a surplus on its general revenue account, but all five Scottish new towns are expected to contribute to relieve the burden presently falling on the Exchequer. The sums realised are not recovered but are offset against the borrowing requirements of the individual towns.
The policy of the Government may be disagreeable to noble Lords opposite, and I should be the last to deny them their perfectly genuinely held point of view, but no reason has emerged in this debate from the obviously deeply held convictions of the noble Lord, Lord Ross, why the Scottish new towns in some say should be exempted from the burden which is falling on all the other new towns that are the subject of the Bill. In the circumstances, I can only ask the noble Lord to reflect and possibly to withdraw the amendment.
§ Lord ROSS of MARNOCK
My Lords, I welcome the tone of the Minister's speech but I cannot agree with it. Everything that has happened in relation to getting the £5 million from the Scottish new towns shows that this power is unnecessary, even from the attitude of the Scottish Office and of the new towns. I do not know where the new towns are in England and Wales, but I know there is not a new town in Scotland further away than two hours' drive from the Scottish Office. In fact, if they want to meet in Glasgow they can all he there within an hour, which is indeed what happens. The Secretary of State know the people concerned because he appoints them. Scotland is a convenient administrative unit and, in respect of these new towns, there has been no trouble over getting agreement.
I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, said there might be trouble with some of the English new towns, so the Government would have their way and must therefore have this power. I see the noble Lord questioning that, but I assure him he said it; 587 I am very good at making notes when people are speaking. There is no such trouble, there is no such fear and there is no new town in the centre of Dundee which will cause nightmares for the Minister of State. He must admit that there has been agreement and come-and-go all along the line, so this power will not be used. Indeed, it is an insult to Parliament to put in a power which will not be used.
The noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, talked about United Kingdom legislation. I do not know for how long he has been concerned with Scottish legislation as part of United Kingdom legislation; certain things are done and others are not. But suppose it were right to include certain things in respect of Scotland in this "mogre" of a Bill. I assure him that to save the time of Parliament this should not have been included. Bills should be as short as possible, and this Bill would have been that much shorter and the valuable speeches we have heard today would not have been delivered if this power had not been included; therefore,
§ we should have saved this amount of parliamentary time, which is what the noble Earl wants. Legislation should not contain unnecessary provisions, and this one is unnecessary. It will never be used, so why put it in?
§ I see on the Benches opposite another former Secretary of State. I am sure he will agree with me. There is plenty of time to say "No" to certain people, and to say, "We are not going to do it in Scotland". It is time the Scottish Office got up on their hind legs and said "No" to unnecessary legislation. As my noble friend Lord Howie of Troon said, it is quite offensive at times to the people of Scotland to be dragged along in this kind of thing just for the sake of national tidiness. I am afraid that I have to insist on this one, because what the Government propose really is quite unnecessary.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 149) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 60; Not-Contents, 119.589
|Ardwick, L.||Galpern, L.||Peart, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Gardiner, L.||Phillips, B.|
|Balogh, L.||Gosford, E.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]|
|Beswick, L.||Greenwood of Rossendale, L.|
|Blease, L.||Gregson, L.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Hale, L.||Stedman, B. [Teller.]|
|Boothby, L.||Hatch of Lusby, L.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Henderson, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Stone, L.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Howie of Troon, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Jacques, L.||Strauss, L.|
|Collison, L.||Jeger, B.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Kaldor, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Crowther-Hunt, L.||Kilmarnock, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Cudlipp, L.||Leatherland, L.||Wall, L.|
|David, B.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Davies of Penrhys, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Diamond, L.||Mishcon, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Noel-Baker, L.||White, B.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Oram, L.||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
|Ailesbury, M.||Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Craigmyle, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Broadbridge, L.||Craigton, L.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Burton, L.||Crathorne, L.|
|Alport, L.||Caccia, L.||Croft, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Caithness, E.||Cullen of Ashbourne, L.|
|Avon, E.||Campbell of Croy, L.||Davidson, V.|
|Bellwin, L.||Cathcart, E.||De Freyne, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Cockfield, L.||De La Warr, E.|
|Berkeley, B.||Colville of Culross, V.||De L'Isle, V.|
|Bessborough, E.||Cork and Orrery, E.||Denham, L. [Teller.]|
|Boyd of Merton, V.||Craigavon, V.||Digby, L.|
|Dormer, L.||Kimberley, E.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Kinnaird, L.||Pender, L.|
|Duncan-Sandys, L.||Knutsford, V.||Redmayne, L.|
|Dundonald, E.||Lauderdale, E.||Renton, L.|
|Ebbisham, L.||Lindsey and Abingdon, E.||Rochdale, V.|
|Eccles, V.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||London, Bp.||Romney, E.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Long, V.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Elton, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Falkland, V.||Lyell, L.||Sandys, L. [Teller.]|
|Ferrers, E.||McAlpine of Moffat, L.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Ferrier, L.||McFadzean, L.||Simon, V.|
|Forester, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Mancroft, L.||Stamp, L.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Mansfield, E.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Freyberg, L.||Marley, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Gisborough, L.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Glenkinglas, L.||Meston, L.||Strathspey, L.|
|Gormanston, V.||Monk Bretton, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Gowrie, E.||Morris, L.||Tranmire, L.|
|Grimthorpe, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Moyne, L.||Trenchard, V.|
|Murton of Lindisfarne, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Halsbury, E.||Netherthorpe, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Hanworth, V.||Newall, L.||Vickers, B.|
|Henley, L.||Norfolk, D.||Vivian, L.|
|Hornsby-Smith, B.||Northchurch, B.||Westbury, L.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Nugent of Guildford, L.||Wolverton, L.|
|Inglewood, L.||Onslow, E.||Young, B.|
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ Clause 123 [Power to dispose of land]:
§ [Amendments Nos. 150 and 151 not moved.]
§ 5.29 p.m.
Baroness DAVID moved Amendment No. 152:
Leave out Clause 123.
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am seeking to leave out Clause 123, which relates to the power to dispose of land. We on this side of the House are opposed to enforced sales and to orders from the Secretary of State, partly because we dislike the bullying and directing of responsible people, people who are doing a good job and who, incidentally, are appointed by the Minister, and partly—and even more importantly—because we think that enforced sales will not be in the public interest.
§ Town centre developments in particular take a long time to come into profit, as do other enterprises. But town centres are a very good example of assets maturing and developing for the benefit of the community over a considerable period of time. We do not object—and I want to emphasise this—to sales to help further 590 developments in the new towns; nor, indeed, do we object to sales to owners of small businesses or owners of small industries. We do not object to a mix of private and public ownership, but we do want to see sales for a good reason and not just to raise immediate money to go to the Treasury. That, in fact, was certainly said by Ministers in another place, that the reason for sales was to reduce the PSBR.
§ To sell freehold—and my noble friend Lady Stedman read from the instruction sent in July to new town corporations—is in most cases to sell assets which are improving in value all the time, and it seems just bad and stupid business, and not at all in the public interest. The values of assets in new towns, and particularly in new towns which are still developing and are not yet completed, are growing all the time. It seems absurd to sell prematurely. Why should the nation, the taxpayer, put money in and be deprived of the benefit of the profits when they eventually appear? It seems to me a shortsighted and, indeed, myopic policy. Why interfere with what is a successful public enterprise? It seems that the general policy of this Government is to get rid of the profitable and successful public enterprises and to hang on to the others.
§ Do the Government not see their obligation to retain an interest in the land by 591 not selling the freehold, and in its redevelopment at a future date, perhaps a date really some long way ahead, so that they can be ready at that time to respond to the changing needs of commerce and industry? Our inner urban areas show the need for this adaptability, and it may be that they would not have got into the troubles that they are in if that policy had been followed before. Have the Government nothing to learn from a previous Tory Government which in 1962 passed a Bill to prevent Letchworth's property being dissipated and fragmented?
§ Of course, the New Town Act does not promise that the surpluses accruing to the new town corporations or the commission after all their loan debt has been repaid would be devoted to the benefit of the new town inhabitants; but neither does it afford any justification for treating these bodies as if they had no obligations beyond creating financial assets for the Government, either to serve the nation's benefit or to plunder as improvidently as they please. The policy being pursued is liable to prejudice and pre-empt the issue of the future ownership of the new town assets, which needs to be determined in a broader and much more far-sighted way.
§ The Minister did not answer my noble friend Lady Stedman when she spoke on a previous clause and asked what was to be the future of the commission. The future of the assets and of the land belonging to the new towns depends very much, of course, upon what it is decided should be done with the commission, so I hope that in answering my amendment we shall hear something of that. I beg to move.
§ Viscount SIMON
My Lords, I have a great deal of sympathy with what the noble Baroness, Lady David, has said in moving this amendment, but I feel some difficulty about this and it may be that, when she comes to wind up, she will be able to help me. It seems to me that as the Government have succeeded in carrying Amendment No. 148A it is very difficult to remove the power of the new towns to sell property if it is necessary for them to do so in order to meet a demand which, regrettably, Parliament has now placed upon them.
§ Lord UNDERHILL
My Lords, I wish 592 to support my noble friend in this amendment. On the point which has just been raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, so far the House has decided only on the question of raising money. We are now dealing with the question of how to raise the money, which is the diktat of the Secretary of State—and I use the word diktat because one must recall what the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, said at the Committee stage, that in fact what we are doing here is legalising an action already taken by the Secretary of State; because the noble Baroness made it quite clear that the Secretary of State has already demanded sums of money from the corporations and some have paid already.
We are now dealing with the clause which deals with the situation where, to realise the sum of money, the disposal of land is required, and it is a question of how it shall be done. If a lot of land comes on the market all at once, there is obviously going to be, I would think, some effect upon the value and the receipts that will be accruing. Also, surely, the disposal of an abundance of land is going to have some effect upon the future revenues of new town corporations, because you can only sell land once and income accruing from rents, and so on, will not be secured in the future.
Also, under this clause considerable power is given to the Secretary of State as to the direction he will give to a corporation or the commission as to how they shall dispose of the land; that is made quite clear in subsection (5). Therefore, it could be not only how it shall be done and when it shall be done, but at what value it shall be done; and even in relation to particular pieces of land the full authority is there without any criteria or conditions whatever. It is provided in the clause that the Secretary of State shall consult the corporation before giving a direction, but, as we have seen in the case of other clauses in this Bill, it does not say what will happen if the corporation does not wish to comply with the direction. It is merely a question of consultation, and the Secretary of State can apparently just brush on one side any representations that the corporation may make. In other words, is it just a formality?
Then we find, also in this clause, that the Secretary of State need not have con- 593 sultations with the corporation if he feels that the urgency makes it impracticable. I shoud like to ask the Minister: In what circumstances is it envisaged that there could be such an emergency in the matter of the disposal of land that the Secretary of State could not find it possible to consult with a corporation? It seems an unnecessary provision and another unnecessary power to give to the Secretary of State.
We are dealing now also with the question of land, and the disposal of it. The debate we had on the other amendment dealt with the instruction to pay certain sums. I must draw attention to the provisions that we have in Clause 95 regarding the disposal of land held by public bodies, because there we find that the Secretary of State has to be thoroughly satisfied that land will not be disposed of unless it can be donewithout serious detriment to the performance of their functions or the carrying on of their undertaking".Yet, when my noble friend endeavoured to put almost a similar condition on the demand for money to be paid, we met resistance and the position was reversed by our earlier vote this afternoon. But that ought to be kept in mind when we are dealing with Clause 123, and I hope the House will support this amendment.
§ 5.39 p.m.
§ Lord SANDYS
My Lords, in response to the noble Baroness, Lady David, who has spoken to this clause, we believe that Clause 123 is a necessary consequence of Clause 122. In fact, it is a corollary of it, as it expands the power of the development corporations and the commission for the new towns to dispose of land. The present powers, contained in the 1965 and 1968 Acts, restrict each town's disposals to those necessary to secure the development of a particular town. This clause gives clear-cut powers for the new towns to dispose of land in order to comply with the Secretary of State's directions under Clause 122.
This wider power of disposal is an essential part of the policy of enabling assets in completed towns to be realised for deployment elsewhere. I think that the noble Baroness in her remarks agreed that this was a very worthy policy; and it is the policy of Her Majesty's Govern- 594 ment. Without it, the massive resources invested in the new towns remain tied up—effectively neutralised for all the good they can do in promoting the develoment of new industry, and generally helping to solve the problems of the present day. Hence we consider that the wider power of disposal is an essential part of our approach to the new towns. Various points have been made about the detail of the powers of disposal. The features of the clause to which objection has been taken are all results of our intention to make the power of disposal under this clause subject to exactly the same rules as the existing powers of disposal of the new towns; that is, arrangements which have not been questioned by noble Lords opposite. We want to ensure that the arrangements are as precisely parallel as possible.
Perhaps I may take the points in sequence. Firstly, subsection (3) forbids disposals by way of mortgage. This repeats the ban in Section 18(3) of the 1965 New Towns Act. Secondly, subsection (4) requires the Secretary of State's consent to disposals of the freehold or on leases of more than 99 years. This repeats what is in Section 18(1) in the 1965 Act. Thirdly, subsection (5) gives the Secretary of State power to give direction on the exercise of the power of disposal. This repeats the general power in Section 4(2) of the 1965 Act. This applies to all the powers of the development corporations under that Act, including their existing powers of disposal; and fourthly, subsection (6) requires consultation with corporations before directions are given, unless urgency makes this impracticable. This parallels the qualification to which directions under Section 4(2) are subject. And I should point out that the exemption from consultation in case of urgency exists in the 1965 Act.
Doubt was cast on the matter of the legality of the Secretary of State's action by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. Perhaps I may refer to Standing Committee D, and I may also refer to Lord Mishcon's prayer and, from this side of the House, offer another prayer; that it may be a matter of consideration that the discussion in Standing Committee on this particular matter perhaps sometimes could be the subject of a little 595 more concern because I think my honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State for the department, Mr. Marcus Fox, put it clearly when he said (at col. 591 on 29th April, which was the 29th sitting of the Committee):With respect to the points raised by the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), his fears about a regular appearance in court by the Secretary of State or any particular new town development corporation, or whoever it may be, will not be borne out, because the development corporations have been prepared to sell. What has concerned them has been the doubts about the legality of selling, and that is what we are seeking to ensure here to remove these doubts. There is nothing new in this where recovery has to take place. The Housing Act 1974 made the same provision for repayments of grants that had been given in regard to the housing corporations.The rolling-over of assets of these corporations which occurred under the previous Government was allowed".I hope that that may help the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, to see the position as it stands at the moment.
I think there are other matters to which I should refer, points of clarification which I thought my honourable friend Mr. King at the department also made extremely clear in his concluding remarks. He is the Minister for Local Government. In regard to the question of debt (and I think it is an important matter to which my noble friend has already referred) he said, in col. 614:When one considers that the investment of the accumulated debt of the new towns is now some £3,200 million—and my noble friend quoted £3,250 million, as it has risen since April—I gave that figure in another context a little earlier—one sees that there is much to be said for any efforts that will help to reduce it".I think that both my noble friend today and my honourable friend Mr. King made clear what is the Government policy. I am sure it is acknowledged by noble Lords opposite. There is such a very substantial debt at the present moment. My noble friend has already pointed out, I think with some passion, our belief in the reinvestment programme. I think it was made clear (and I will not quote in detail) in col. 613 in Standing Committee "D" by Mr. King. He quoted specific details of the investment programme. We believe this clause is an essential part of the Bill and I regret that we must resist this amendment.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord is aware that one of the things which troubles us is not the careful way he has explained the clause and the subsections today, implying that nothing is different from what goes on in new towns today; but that that has been altered by the circular which went out in July 1980, where the Minister said that where disposals were being made, they should be on a freehold basis. At the present time, it is always difficult for the development corporations to get agreement from the Department of the Environment that they should sell a freehold. Most of them are leaseholds for 99 years. We are concerned that it is the freeholder who benefits in the end from the appreciating value of the land or building. We think that it is imperative that the Government maintain and control the activities of the development corporations so that in due course the increasing value of the land or property accrues to the community and not to the freeholder. It is the question of unrestricted freehold selling that worries us.
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, may I reply on this, to say that if we are talking about leaseholds and freeholds, as the noble Baroness knows, when leaseholds are sold in these circumstances usually one is talking about long leases of 99 years or 125 years or whatever. The long-term intention of the new towns was always that at the end of the day, they would go back to the local authorities where they were situated. It is now, 30 years on, that we see the first ones are going back. I should have thought that as far as new towns development corporations themselves are concerned the issue of leasehold or freehold, in terms of long leases, would not be an issue to them.
You could say, going beyond that, if you were talking about the general philosophy of selling a freehold or a leasehold, that the noble Baroness's argument on its own is understood. But it is an argument that I had time and time again in another incarnation. We felt, if the principle was right, that we did not want, as a local authority then, to own land just for the sake of owning it. We did not mind as long as the price we got for it was good. What mattered most was what we did with the money we got. The fact that the land itself was then in private ownership or 597 whatever was secondary to the use we put to the money; in other words, the way we had converted the assets from fixed to liquid. It was what happened to the money that we got. That was the object. The same would apply to Government thinking on this matter.
§ Baroness DAVID
My Lords, I cannot say that I am altogether satisfied with the answer that I have had. We wished to move the deletion of the clause because we do not approve of the policy of hasty sales and probably future regrets. Particularly, we feel there is foolishness in the disposing of land which will tie hands in the future. I appreciate the point that the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, made. There has still been no answer to the question about what is intended to be the future of the commission. I will not press that now at this hour, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nov. 153 to 155 not moved.]
§ Clause 130 [Urban development areas]:
§ 5.51 p.m.
Lord ELWYN-JONES moved Amendment No. 156:
Page 113, line 4, leave out ("Subject to subsection (2) below").
§ The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, if we take Amendments Nos. 156 and 157 together it will give the House, first, the opportunity of re-examining the designation of London docklands and Merseyside as urban development areas and, secondly, of considering in further detail the issue of hybridity to which, I submit, the clause gives rise. We debated the proposals in Committee on 14th October. I do not propose to do so again in any detail as they were adumbrated in a notable speech by my noble friend Lord Underhill, and also in speeches by the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, and myself.
§ The effect of what is proposed for the dockland areas of London and Liverpool will certainly, so far as London is concerned, be to disrupt and delay the implementation of the docklands strategic 598 plan which was approved in July 1976. I have in my hand a copy of the plan with all its glossy beauty for all who are here to see. That strategic plan was approved by the five boroughs concerned, the Greater London Council with independent members, including Government nominees, and after extensive public consultation. A great deal of progress has been made with the implementation of the strategic plan and at the very least the effect of the Government's proposals in the Bill is to create uncertainty as to how far the principles embodied in the plan will be adopted by the development corporation.
§ Not only is there in existence the strategic plan, but also a detailed operational programme for 1979 to 1983 which has been in the course of implementation for several years. Some of my noble friends and I had the pleasure of touring the dockland area concerned to see the extensive progress that has already taken place to give effect to the operational programme. I assume that the noble Lord has seen this document. If he has not, I will be glad to let him have a copy. At the back of the document there is a detailed account of the money spent and the work already done in the implementation of the operational programme. Does the noble Lord think that any parts of it should go ahead? If so, which parts? Does he think that some of the proposals in the operational plan will be cancelled? The authorities concerned would like to know, because this is a continuing process in which of course they are very greatly concerned.
§ The claimed purpose of setting up the UDCs is to regenerate the areas which clearly need regeneration. However, we submit that that regeneration is already taking place in the areas. The case of the Government has rested to a substantial degree on the analogy of the new town corporations. But we are not dealing here with new towns; we are considering well established, indeed historic, local authorities and extensive existing built up areas—the very reverse of the new town set up.
§ I should have thought that in this situation the crucial problem—certainly the crucial need—will be to secure the co-operation of the local authorities in the regeneration proposals and actions. I ask rhetorically: Is co-operation likely to happen when what is proposed by the 599 Government is that the local authorities concerned should be robbed of their existing powers, which I say are already being exercised energetically, and that those powers and a good deal of their land should be placed at the disposal of an autocratic body under the instructions of and only answerable to the Secretary of State? What co-operation can be expected from those circumstances? My great fear is that the revolutionary change of direction and change of control that is now proposed, away from responsible local authorities, so far from speeding up the existing pace of regeneration—which is the argument put forward in support of the proposals—would, on the contrary, slow it down.
§ The other point of substance that the Minister insisted upon was the expectation that the corporations would attract more private capital. It is interesting to reflect: Why should that be so? Is it because the development corporation would have powers of land acquisition, particularly of land at present owned by statutory undertakers?—and there is a lot of that in the area concerned. Those powers have been denied, and are denied, to existing local authorities and the Docklands Joint Committee. Is it also because planning permission, with the attendant possibilities of capital gains from development of land in the centre of London next to the City of London and with reasonable communication with the West End, will not be in the hands of the local authorities, which are democratically accountable, but would be in the hands of this autocratic super-quango that the Government propose to set up?
§ These considerations have become increasingly relevant in the light of the memorandum dated 27th October which was sent out by the Department of the Environment to the local authorities concerned, and which indicates significant proposed changes in the area of land that is to be designated. All this has happened while we have been considering the Bill in this House without knowledge of these developments. While land in the Greenwich and Lewisham areas has been taken out of the proposals, land on the South Bank, on the South side of the Pool of London as far as London Bridge, has been added to the proposed take-over area.600
§ If the Bill is passed, and orders are made, that land will be transferred to the London Docklands Development Corporation. It is one of the most important and environmentally sensitive areas of land in London. Do these changes mean that the development corporation will be able to escape the usual planning inquiries, acquire the land under a compulsory purchase order but under different conditions and at a lower cost than would apply to the existing local authorities? There are rich pickings here and public answerability is of great importance. So much for the general considerations relating to the proposals in this Part of the Bill.
§ The next matter of substance to which I should like to refer is the issue of hybridity, which the Minister in another place described as somewhat arcane. It is not without its difficulties, but, arcane though it may be, when the party of noble Lords opposite were in power, my goodness, what use they made of it! They harried us, they harassed us in and out on the shiprepairing Bill, and therefore it cannot be said that it is argument to which they are strangers. I raised this question at the Committee stage. As the House will know, when this Bill was first presented subsection (2) was not included. Care was taken not to designate any particular area of land at that stage. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, said at column 1192 of the Official Report that the intention was to avoid the hybridity point, which of course he still claims the clause as amended does achieve. My submission is that it does not and that, certainly prima facie, Subsection (2) of the clause is hybrid.
§ It is true that there are 36 metropolitan districts, 12 relevant Inner London boroughs and 20 Outer London boroughs whose land would be capable of coming within the provisions of the Bill as it would be if the new subsection were included. But the reality that we are dealing with—and the reality which is admitted and, indeed, has been widely publicised—is that there are only two areas of land which are to be designated; and they have been defined and identified—namely, land in London Docklands and in Merseyside. The reality of the matter is that we are not dealing with the wide classes of metropolitan districts and the 601 large number of London boroughs; we are dealing with two limited specified areas of land belonging to the few authorities owning that land.
In my submission these are provisions which will specially affect particular local authorities and particular individuals living in or having business in the area of the land concerned. They are persons and authorities who will be singled out for adverse treatment, to use the language of Mr. Speaker Hylton-Foster in defining a hybrid Bill. I quoted the reference when we discussed the matter in Committee. He said:
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".
The reality of what is proposed here, and known to be proposed and admitted to be proposed, is to single out these two areas of land in the domain of five or six local authorities. In my submission we are not dealing here with a classification, a class, a category, but with singled-out and identifiable or individual authorities. The question of hybridity was discussed in another place on 1st May this year when it was raised by my honourable friend Mr. Nigel Spearing, who, incidentally, succeeded me as Member of Parliament for Newham South; the lucky man! Mr. King, the Minister in another place, denied that the clause was hybrid and said, at column 740 of the Official Report of Standing Committee D of 1st May, that:
the actual areas for the UDCs are not specified in the legislation. The legislation covers the general concept of urban development corporations".
Of course, on 1st May that was perfectly true; we had only the general language, the general concept, at that time. But since then the situation has changed. A large number of authorities protested, fearful of having the privilege of UDCs being bestowed upon them, and subsection (2) was introduced in the clause to reassure the worried and the frightened largely Conservative authorities. I submit that that appeasement of the authorities concerned must be paid for by the price of hybridity and what follows from it.
But one thing the Minister, Mr. King, did make clear in another place was that at any rate the designation orders which have to be made to set up the development corporations would be hybrid. That was said by him at column 741 of the Hansard report. He said:
The point is that designation orders have to be made to set up urban development corporations. They are made by the Secretary of State under Clause 108, which is the designation of an urban development area; under Clause 109, the establishment of a UDC; under Clause 114, the vesting of the land; under Clause 122, the transfer of the housing functions. They would be subject to the hybrid affirmative procedure".
That is a very positive and very clear commitment.
Then, however, the question of hybridity was raised again in another place on 6th May, at column 799 of the Official Report. On that occasion the Minister was certainly far less categorical than he had been on May Day. It was true, he said, that the Bill was not hybrid (of course, that has always been the contention of the Government) but a designation order made under the Bill—then there is a delightful piece of circumlocution:
would clearly be likely to excite the attentions of the Hybrid Instruments Committee in the House of Lords".
Then he added:
… I considered that it would be for the Hybrid Instruments Committee to decide on locus standi "
Then, again, a nice piece of circumlocution:
It would be difficult, I believe, for it not to be considered that a local authority in the area definitely did have locus standi and that its views would need to be considered".
Difficult, indeed, if it could be contested that the local authority whose powers were to be taken over had no locus standi in the situation. I submit that that would be a somewhat grotesque suggestion. However, there it was.
In our debate on the clause on 14th October the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, nowhere indicated whether or not orders under this clause would be hybrid. The only mention of orders was made by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, who helpfully intervened during my speech and said, in column 1193 of the Official Report:
The orders designating the areas and establishing the corporations will of course be hybrid, and that is where the point comes in".
It is my case that the point came in on the consideration of the clause itself, which I submit is tainted with hybridity now. However, on the limited but important question of the hybridity of the proposed orders, what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, was neither confirmed nor denied, or indeed commented on by the noble Minister.
§ I submit that this is a matter which needs to be cleared up unless the Government could properly be accused of securing the passage of this clause through both Houses on the understanding that orders made under it would be hybrid or were most likely to be hybrid. It would put the matter beyond doubt and put the Government out of their difficulty, of course, if they were to accept my amendment, because the whole question would then fall. At any rate, we certainly need clarification about the hybridity of the orders. But, apart from that, I submit that the factors to which I have called the attention of the House indicate that we are now clearly in the presence, prima facie at any rate, of hybridity. I beg to move.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Lord MISHCON
My Lords, I wonder whether I may be permitted to add just a few words to the submission of my noble and learned friend in connection with the hybridity issue. It is not often that muses manage to intervene in this House and give us any inspiration to poetry; but I must admit that, while listening to my noble and learned friend directing his remarks on hybridity to the Minister, I could not help but think of these lines:No peer would connect Beliwin with the slightest frigidityBut, by Heavens! this House charges him with hybridity".And so, having introduced the matter on a poetic basis, may I now consider with your Lordships the question of the legal issues involved, as I see them?
Obviously I adopt everything that my noble and learned friend has already said and I rise purely to add somewhat, if he will permit me, to what he said. At the Committee stage we particularised the invasion of private rights that there might be. They are clearly set out in Clause 132 and I will not weary the House with a 604 repetition of them. It is interesting to look at Erskine May, that invaluable guide to what should be the procedure of Parliament. At page 862 of that eternal book, this is to be found in regard to the question of hybrid Bills:There are two reasons why bills affecting private rights … are properly introduced as hybrid bills—first that, although in part they may be of a private nature, their main object is a public one;"—and, if I may pause there, that is obviously so with this Bill, in my submission—and secondly, that there may be no parties able and willing to present a petition".That is exactly the situation, I would submit, of the Bill as it now stands with subsection (2) in it.
There is another difficulty, unless it can be clarified by the Minister or by the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack, and it is this: if the answer to the question be that there is no need for this to be ruled as a hybrid Bill but that any order which designates an area and sets up an urban development corporation would be a hybrid order and therefore be subjected to the hybrid procedure, I then find myself looking at Clause 135.
I wonder whether your Lordships will give me the courtesy of looking at that clause. It deals with the allocation or transfer of functions, and your Lordships will, I hope, see in subsection (1), together with subsection (2), how relevant is the point I am making. It says:If it appears to the Secretary of State, in the case of an urban development area, that there are exceptional circumstances which render it expedient that the functions of an urban development corporation under this Part of this Act should be performed by the urban development corporation established for the purposes of any other area instead of by a separate corporation established for the purpose, he may, instead of establishing such a separate corporation, by order, direct that those functions shall be performed by the urban development corporation established for the other area".If I can put it in simple language, it means that if you make an order and at that stage you have decided that the urban development corporation set up by that order is going to deal with a specific area and not impinge on any other area, and the hybrid procedure is gone through, you may subsequently find that the Secretary of State may make an order allowing that urban development corporation in that one area to carry out certain functions in an entirely different area. Where, in 605 that different area, will be the right of the private interests involved to object, unless it is also said that an order made under Clause 135 would also be a hybrid order?
If your Lordships will look at subsection (2), you will see that it says:If it appears to the Secretary of State that there are exceptional circumstances which render it expedient that the functions of an urban development corporation established for one area should be transferred to the urban development corporation established for the purposes of another area, or to a new urban development corporation to be established for the first-mentioned area, he may, by order, provide for the dissolution of the first-mentioned corporation, and for the transfer of its functions, property, rights and liabilities to the urban development corporation established for the purposes of the other area or (as the case may be) to a new corporation established for the purposes of the first-mentioned area by the order".That, in simple language, means this. Having got the first case, where there is no urban development corporation area, for the other area that has been considered, you now have two urban development corporations set up in two different areas with a hybrid procedure gone through, if that be the order of the day. Then you have the ability of the Secretary of State to transfer the functions of one urban development area to another and to dissolve one, if he thinks that that is a suitable thing to do, with the result that you get completely different private interests involved.
I find myself in an absolute maze in this question of hybridity, and I ask whether in fact the maze is not escaped from—if that is not too ugly a phrase—by saying that this Bill must, because of its complexity, be a hybrid Bill. Or is the answer to it that, quite apart from the question of the original order which is to be made by the Secretary of State being a hybrid order, does it not also mean that every order made under Clause 135 will have to set up an entirely new hybrid procedure if any such order is made?—making, if I may say so, a mockery of the first hybrid procedure which was gone through when the first urban development corporation was set up, now that its powers and functions are in some way altered. I hope that I have not put this with too much complexity, but it is indeed a complicated matter and I trust that, somehow or other, we shall manage this evening to get some clarity into a very important issue.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, the amendment raises two important and quite distinct issues, and I wonder whether I may begin by referring to the general policy question. I must reiterate the fact that we moved an amendment at Committee stage to restrict the type of area in which X UDCs could be set up, as a positive response to suggestions made by many people, both at Second Reading in this House and elsewhere. Given that the legislation affords the Secretary of State general and wide powers as to the areas that he can designate, the argument was forcefully put to us that the powers of designation should be restricted. We accepted that.
It seemed to us then, and it certainly seems to me now, to be fair and right that we should take account of this and, accordingly, restrict the areas where urban development corporations can be set up to the major conurbations—the ones which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, mentioned when he made his observations. But if we are talking in the generality of the philosophy of urban development corporations, which was the thrust of the first part of what the noble and learned Lord said on this whole matter, I have to say that what I said in Committee covered all the points.
It is true that work has been done by the Docklands Joint Committee, and the document to which the noble and learned Lord referred is known to me, though perhaps not as well as it is known to him. But the fact is that in that designated area there are some 6,000 acres, and it is arguably one of the most exciting areas of land, in the sense of opportunity, in the whole of Europe. Yes, my Lords, the Docklands Joint Committee and the local authorities have done good things over the years and are still doing them. In Committee, I paid tribute to what they are doing, and I do so again now. But we cannot wait for the time that it will take.
Surely it cannot be wrong to want to tackle these areas in a radical way, to bring about the kind of regeneration that we believe can come about from urban development corporations. Of course, it will involve a much greater commitment by Government than there may ever have 607 been in the past, but the fact is that the prize, in terms of upgrading these areas, is a great one. As regards the pace at which it can be done, by involvement of the private sector, which we may or may not want to discuss again now—I suggest that we do not, but will do so if pressed—the fact is that this is a tremendous opportunity. We know from what has been said to us that there are people who are waiting to come in to do these exciting things, and to us it seems only right that we should take these two areas and show exactly what can be done.
Of course, the Bill goes beyond that. In its scope, it takes in the other areas that have been mentioned. But, in general terms, rather than go into a lot of detail, I have to stand on the philosophical point which I have just mentioned that, while paying due tribute, we really believe that this is a tremendous opportunity. The fact that it has been greeted with so much enthusiasm by so many people, not only supporters on this side of the House but all over, gives credence to that opportunity.
On the point of hybridity, I immediately realise that I am on very difficult ground in the presence of so many distinguished noble and learned Lords. But I wonder whether I may make one or two observations as they appear to me. We have discussed this matter very closely. We recognise the great importance and significance of what the noble and learned Lord said. Therefore, he would have expected not only that we consider this in another place, but, in that he has raised the matter now because of this amendment, that we should do so again. I assure him that we have done that and I wonder whether I may speak as follows.
In achieving this desirable effect which I have just mentioned, as regards the totality of what we want to do with these UDCs, we faced this criticism of having introduced hybridity by what this amendment says. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, brought out his concern very clearly and forcefully in Committee. I told your Lordships in Committee how concerned we had been about it earlier. But in the light of the comments made since then by the noble and learned Lord, we have again taken special care to seek further advice.
608 It is that Clause 130(2) does not make the Bill hybrid. That is because, in the case of England, all that subsection (2) does is to limit the ability of the Secretary of State to designate an urban development area to certain classes of area. For England as a whole, it is limited to metropolitan districts. For London, it is limited to inner London boroughs and to boroughs which have a common boundary with an inner London borough, as the noble and learned Lord said.
It can clearly be seen from this that, in the view of my noble and learned friend and others who have spoken to me on this matter, all this provision in the Bill does is to limit areas suitable for designation to certain classes of authority. It does not, therefore, impinge on particular persons or agencies, and on this test it does not make the Bill hybrid. Even so, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, said, his concern may well become relevant at a later stage.
An order setting up an individual UDC will fall to be considered by the Chairman of Committees to report to this House whether, apart from the provisions of the Act authorising it to be made, it would require to be enacted by a private or hybrid Bill. If he reports that it would, the order and any petitions relating to it would be referred to the Hybrid Instruments Committee. This committee, after considering representations, will decide whether any petitioner has a locus standi and, if so, whether the petition discloses substantial grounds and whether there ought to be a further inquiry by a Select Committee.
If the Hybrid Instruments Committee reports to the House that there ought to be a further inquiry, the House may refer the order and any petitions against it to a Select Committee of this House. This is the procedure which is enshrined in Standing Order No. 216 relating to Private Bills and so on. It is a procedure which allows the House to give particularly careful and detailed scrutiny to the orders which will be laid, and enables the whole question of hybridity to be throughly examined against the background of the facts. That is all I have to say on the hybridity matter and I hope that it will, at least, partly assuage the fears of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones.
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR (Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone)
My Lords, I have an uncanny feeling that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, got in before I proposed the Question, so perhaps I had better propose it now. The Question is, That Amendment No. 152 be agreed to?
§ Lord ELWYN-JONES
My Lords, The House may be assured that I do not propose to reopen the whole issue, in the light of the claimed omission on the part of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. But to say that I am satisfied with the answer given by the Minister would surprise all my noble friends and, indeed, would be a considerable lapse on my part. It was a disappointing answer.
I shall not reopen the general argument which the noble Lord described as philosophical. I did not detect any philosophy in it, but never mind about the word. All I can say is that, apart from there being no enthusiasm for this proposal among these most affected, it has been totally and strongly opposed in the dock-lands by the authorities concerned and, so far as I have been able to gather, by the people in the area. So if there is support for it, it does not come from those who would be most affected by the development, which is a very serious matter.
But there it is. I have put the argument upon it and I am disappointed that
§ this area is going to be subjected to further delay, further confusion, further uncertainty. I had the honour of representing the place for 29 years, and I know what they have been through. This is going to cause frustration and disappointment, in my view, whatever the hopes and the aspirations of the Minister may be.
§ On the hybridity issue, naturally I did not expect the noble Lord to agree with my main argument as to whether the Bill as it stands is hybrid. I put the argument and I do not propose to repeat it. I confess I am disappointed that the noble Lord did not feel able to go as far as the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, did, and as far as the Minister in another place did in his initial examination of this matter, when he said in terms that in his view the orders would be hybrid. No doubt further consideration was given to the matter and he engaged in what I have ventured to describe as a notable piece of circumlocution to qualify his previous total commitment. I am disappointed with the answer, and in the circumstances I think it is right that the House should divide upon the matter.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 156) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 55; Not-Contents, 105.611
|Ardwick, L.||Greenwood of Rossendale, L.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Beswick, L.||Gregson, L.||Segal, L.|
|Blease, L.||Hale, L.||Shinwell, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Hatch of Lusby, L.||Stamp, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Jacques, L.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Jeger, B.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Collison, L.||Kaldor, L.||Stone, L.|
|Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Leatherland, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Cudlipp, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|David, B.||McCarthy, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Davies of Penrhys, L.||McGregor of Durris, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Diamond, L.||Milner of Leeds, L.||Wall, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Mishcon, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L. [Teller.]|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Oram, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Gaitskell, B.||Peart, L.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Galpern, L.||Phillips, B.||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
|Gardiner, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]||Young of Dartington, L.|
|Ailesbury, M.||Belstead, L.||Brabazon of Tara, L.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Bessborough, E.||Brougham and Vaux, L.|
|Avon, E.||Boyd of Merton, V.||Burton, L.|
|Bellwin, L.||Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Caithness, E.|
|Cathcart, E.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Netherthorpe, L.|
|Cockfield, L.||Northchurch, B.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Haisbury, E.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Hanworth, V.||Onslow, E.|
|Craigavon, V.||Hornsby-Smith, B.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Craigmyle, L.||Hylton-Foster, B.||Pender, L.|
|Craigton, L.||Inglewood, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Croft, L.||Killearn, L.||Redmayne, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Kinloss, Ly.||Rochdale, V.|
|Davidson, V.||Kinnaird, L.||Romney, E.|
|de Clifford, L.||Knutsford, V.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|De Freyne, L.||Lauderdale, E.||St. Davids, V.|
|De La Warr, E.||Lindsey and Abingdon, E.||Salisbury, M.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Long, V.||Sandys, L. [Teller.]|
|Digby, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Dormer, L.||Lyell, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Duncan-Sandys, L.||McAlpine of Moffat, L.||Slim, V.|
|Eccles, V.||McFadzean, L.||Soames, L. (L. President.)|
|Ellenborough, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Mancroft, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Elton, L.||Mansfield, E.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Marley, L.||Strathspey, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.||Tranmire, L.|
|Ferrier, L.||Monk Bretton, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Monson, L.||Trenchard, V.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Montgomery of Alamein, V.||Trumpington, B.|
|Freyberg, L.||Morris, L.||Tweedsmuir, L.|
|Gormanston, V.||Mottistone, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Gowrie, E.||Mountevans, L.||Vickers, B.|
|Greenway, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Grimthorpe, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.||Westbury, L.|
On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 157 not moved.]
§ 6.40 p.m.
Viscount SIMON had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 157A:
Page 113, leave out lines 10 to 14, and insert ("it comprises land held for or formerly held for docks or harbour purposes within the meaning of the Harbours Act 1964 and is located in a metropolitan district or in London").
§ The noble Viscount said: In the regretted absence of my noble friend Lord Evans of Claughton, I should like to speak to Amendment No. 157A. As your Lordships will see, this is really almost the exact opposite of Amendment No. 156 which we were recently discussing and since the Government rejected that amendment it may be that they would feel inclined to support this amendment, which is to limit the scope within which urban development corporations can be set up to that formerly held for docks or harbour purposes within the meaning of the Harbours Act of 1964 and located 612 either in the metropolitan district or in London.
§ The reason why my noble friend tabled this amendment is that we all know (although it is not in the Bill) that the Government's intention at this stage is to develop two urban development corporations which would indeed be covered by this amendment. We are not so enthusiastic about urban development corporations as some people seem to be, and we wonder whether these two corporations which they are proposing to set up would not be good trial areas in which we can see how the principle of urban development corporation works before we go ahead with any others.
§ My only difficulty at this moment is that, having listened to the very learned argument about hybridity, I recognise that by including specifically in this amendment the reference to London we may be putting our heads completely in the jaws of the monster. I see the Minister is nodding his head and, in those circumstances, and as we have a long evening before us I do not propose to move this amendment.613
§ Clause 131 [Urban development corporations]:
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON moved Amendment No. 158:
Page 113, line 30, at end insert—
("( ) An urban development corporation shall within fourteen days after the date of its establishment in accordance with subsections (1), (2) and (3) of this section have a registered office to which all communications and notices may be sent and notification of the situation of the registered office or of any subsequent change thereof shall be made as soon as maybe to the Secretary of State.")
The noble Lord said: My Lords, after the long discussion that has taken place about the role of the urban development corporations, in which a very great enthusiasm has been expressed for the functions which they are going to perform, and indeed described in the most glowing terms, I am afraid this amendment is somewhat of an anti-climax. The urban development corporation is going to have very considerable powers; its objectives are extremely extensive and indeed are set down, as your Lordships will notice, at Clause 132 of the Bill. They can
acquire, hold, manage, reclaim and dispose of land".
carry out building and other operations; and seek to ensure the provision of water, electricity, gas, sewerage and other services; carry on any business or undertaking for the purposes of the object;
and then reminding one almost of the concluding sentence of any memorandum of an ordinary limited company, they can of course
do anything necessary or expedient for the purposes of the object or for purposes incidental to those purposes".
To put my amendment briefly, all I am saying is that in order to do all these things they should have a registered office. It seems to me to be a very small point and I do not think there is anything particularly contentious about it. I am conscious of the fact that the words which I have used in my amendment are lifted without acknowledgment from the Companies' Act 1976, suitably adapted, and I have no doubt that at a later stage the noble Lord can probably find more suitable wording for it.
§ We do not know how many urban development corporations there will be, 614 but they are clearly going to be corporate bodies with a right to conclude contracts. Within the existing Bill, they are corporate bodies that can be sued; they can enter not only into contracts but into all kinds of business arrangements. Bearing in mind the fact that under Clause 132 (3)(d) they can "carry on any business or undertaking", I think the need for the urban development corporation to have a registered office is indeed self-evident. I must apologise for the triviality of the nature of this amendment. It is purely a practical business consideration and I sincerely trust that even though the wording I use may not be suitable, the Minister may take it on board. I beg to move.
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, I entirely understand why the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, brings this amendment forward, but I would suggest to him that to have a statutory requirement for a registered office is not appropriate to a body like a UDC which will be appointed by the Secretary of State and will be answerable to him. As the noble Lord so rightly said, companies are required to have registered offices by the Companies' Acts so that documents can be served on them, particularly in legal proceedings, and evasion of service is rendered impossible. This is not appropriate for UDCs whose whereabouts of course will be public knowledge and whose status will be guaranteed by the supervision of the Secretary of State. For this reason I am confident that the noble Lord will feel able not to press this particular amendment. In practical terms, I think he will find that it will not be necessary because it does not have the problems that face the procedures required by private companies.
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply. I am still a little troubled. I think there should be some means whereby the corporation itself ought to have—if not a registered address, certainly a designated one. It is all very well to say that everybody knows where it is. I have been one of those engaged in investigatory activities in my professional life and I can assure the noble Lord that the ascertainment of addresses and their location even of some of the larger bodies, is not always a matter of the greatest ease. 615 Therefore, I do not think it would do any harm for the Secretary of State, when he complies with the provisions of Clause 131(4), where it says:An urban development corporation shall be a body corporate by such name as may be prescribed by the order establishing it.I think it might possibly be wise to prescribe the address also and that would get over the difficulty, but so long as the noble Lord is seized of the point I am making which is a practical, non-controversial point, I am quite satisfied and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 6.49 p.m.
Lord BELLWIN moved Amendment No. 159:
After Schedule 25, insert the following new schedule: