HL Deb 19 April 1993 vol 544 cc1246-60

2.53 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Strathclyde)

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Strathclyde.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No.176GZA: Before Clause 142, insert the following new clause:

("Objects and powers of agency

.—(1) The Agency established under section 141 above shall have the objects and functions specified in this section and in the rest of Part III.

(2) The main objects of the Agency shall be—

  1. (a) to further the economic development of England or any part of England;
  2. (b) to promote industrial efficiency and international competitiveness;
  3. (c) to prepare, promote, assist and undertake measures for the economic and social development of England;
  4. (d) to provide, maintain, or safeguard employment in any part of England;
  5. (e) to further the improvement of the environment by securing the regeneration of land.

(3) The objects of the Agency are to be achieved in particular by the following means, namely—

  1. (a) by developing, or encouraging the development of new or existing industry and commerce;
  2. (b) by providing or assisting in the provision of finance to persons carrying on or intending to carry on industrial undertakings;
  3. (c) by assisting in the establishment or growth of community enterprises or co-operative enterprises;
  4. (d) by promoting or assisting the establishment, growth, modernisation or development of industry or any undertaking in an industry;
  5. (e) by providing or adapting sites or reconstructing premises for industrial undertakings, or assisting any other person to do any of these things, and providing and assisting in the provision of related facilities;
  6. (f) by managing and assisting in the management of sites and premises for industrial undertakings;
  7. (g) by undertaking or assisting the undertaking of development, redevelopment and improvement of the environment;
  8. (h) by bringing derelict land into use or improving its appearance, or assisting its being so brought or improved;
  9. (i) by facilitating the provision of housing and social and recreational facilities.").

The noble Baroness said: With this amendment we turn to the part of the Bill dealing with urban regeneration. I shall say a few general words while the Committee settles down. I apologise that I myself am slightly out of breath.

The earlier experience of this Government's efforts at regeneration were those that we saw in Docklands. I visited Docklands this morning. I did not do so as a matter of research for the Bill but it was a helpful lesson in how perhaps not to do things. Those of us who have our political experience largely based in London found that it was something of a pleasant shock to find that things can be done and are done better elsewhere, particularly in Scotland and Wales. I see that the Minister agrees with me. I hope therefore that he will be able to welcome the clause contained in the amendment. It is based on the clause that determines the functions of the Welsh Development Agency, which is not very different from the Scottish Development Agency.

The wide response to the White Paper introducing the proposals for the Urban Regeneration Agency was that this is all about land—what about people? That sentiment is repeated in Clause 142(1) of the Bill whose main object is specifically to secure the regeneration of land. Throughout the Committee stage of the Bill we have seen something of a tendency in our society to regard property as so much of a God that the people are forgotten. If it was not something that raised such high feelings, why did the enfranchisement provisions cause so much excitement in the Committee? The view that regeneration should be more than about land is widely shared. The Secretary of State for Wales recently outlined at a CBI conference a successful project in Wales. He listed three components of successful development projects. They were decentralisation, releasing the strengths of individual urban areas and a comprehensive approach bringing together a range of activities, including roads, environmental quality, property development, business development, marketing and, very importantly, training and partnership. What is the point of regeneration? Surely it is to ensure the full use of potential economic resources, both physical and human. I suspect that every Member of the Committee has at some time or other said that our most important resource is the human resource.

A charitable interpretation of Clause 142 would be that the draftsman did not know the difference between the objects in subsection (1) and the means to achieve those objects set out in subsection (4). However, there is a clear and substantial distinction. The references in subsection (4), which extend, for instance, to industry and commerce, are insufficient. The regeneration of land alone is not likely to lead to the regeneration of communities or to the development of the economy.

The new clause also brings to the top of the agenda the regional aspects of regeneration. It is too easy from Westminster to look with "Londoncentric" eyes. I welcome plans for the regeneration of the East Thames corridor but I understand the scepticism of those outside the South East who regard this as another example of the masters looking after their own. The regional aspect of regeneration referred to in the proposed new clause is most important. If we are to have a quango with a huge democratic deficit—those on this side of the Committee will not yet concede that that is to be so but it is certainly what is proposed —at least let that quango be one with a regional perspective.

The clause is not confined to economic development. Subsection (2)(c) refers also to social development. I hope that that will not be regarded as a piece of woolly Liberalism or hearts and flowers prose, because social and economic development go hand in hand. Both are important and they are interdependent.

As well as the objects the new clause also addresses the means, but the means set out in the new clause are much wider than those in the clause in the Bill. The Bill sees fit to list only four paragraphs on the means. The first repeats the early part of the clause. Subsection (3) of the proposed new clause seeks to broaden the list of means. It is not a complete list—that would be difficult—but it will give the members of the new agency a better idea of what is expected of them and it will be much clearer to the public how the agency is to achieve its goals. Since, as I say, we are presented with a quango without the element of democratic accountability which people like to see, clearness to the public is an important aspect of that. The subsection refers to the notion of community enterprise which is again an appropriate reminder that regeneration is about and for people.

Grouped with this amendment is Amendment No. 183B in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton. I am not sure whether that amendment will be moved. I do not believe that the noble Lord is here. In case the amendment is moved, perhaps I may say a word about it. Clause 143(3) makes it quite clear that the agency is to be the creature of the Secretary of State and that its members appear hardly to be allowed to think for themselves. They are to have regard to the Secretary of State's guidance, to act in accordance with the Secretary of State's directions and they require the consent of the Secretary of State to the designation of the land to be developed. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, will be here to move his amendment because I look forward to his brand of caustic criticism of the constraints contained in that clause.

I also welcome Amendment No. 187B which is in this grouping and which contains important ideas. Even if it is not included in the Bill, I hope that the Minister will put on record his support for what that new clause covers. It raises the difficult term "sustainability". In subsection (2) there is a suggestion to assist the measurement of the new agency's performance indicators. As most other institutions are now the subject of both charters and assessments, it can only be right that the new agency is also subject to some such means of assessment. The indicators are to assess the ends rather than the means.

We are led to believe that the funding for the new agency will be just under £270 million next year, rising to about £300 million the following year. If we compare that with Docklands, where £332 million of public money was spent in 1990–91, this funding must look like a cutback and not an expansion of resources for urban development. It is therefore all the more important that the agency is made to work as well as possible.

At the CBI conference, at which the Secretary of State for Wales spoke, the noble Lord, Lord Walker, who will have the task of taking forward the work of the agency, said: I look upon the urban regeneration agency as an organisation that will create activity, reduce unemployment, reduce social security payments, increase taxation"— by which I believe that he meant the tax yield— and improve our balance of payments". Let us give him the tools to do the job. I beg to move.

3 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

We on this side of the Committee would very much like to support Amendment No. 176GZA. I shall also speak to the other amendments, and in particular to Amendment No. 187B standing in the names of my noble friend Lord Williams and myself which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in moving this amendment made clear, is inter-connected.

These are major amendments dealing with the objects, remit and performance of the URA. As regards Amendment No. 187B in particular, we seek to widen the remit and objects of the URA and then to ensure a proper audit and review of its performance. The urban regeneration agency, according to the Minister in the other place, is meant to be a roving UDC —a roving urban development corporation. So the amendments draw on the experience both of UDCs and similar urban interventions of the past decade sponsored by Government. But those amendments also draw heavily on the responses to the Government's own consultation paper as to the appropriate functions and remit of the URA.

With the permission of the Committee I shall speak to both those points. What have we learnt over the past decade about UDCs and government intervention, an experience which we could now usefully bring to bear on what is to be a roving UDC? Until 1980 the main urban intervention was the highly successful, attractive urban programme set up by my noble friend Lord Callaghan, working in the 57 poorest authorities in the country, building up the social as well as the physical infrastructure of disadvantaged neighbourhoods and administered, of course, by local authorities.

In 1980 the urban development corporations were conceived, and were funded by halving the money that went into urban programmes. Unlike urban programmes, which were in partnership with the local authority, the UDCs declared UDI from the local authorities. They were top down, property-led enclaves which were independent of planning controls, independent of local authorities, and independent of the local communities which they were supposed to benefit. The urban programme was halved to fund 10 of them.

Looking back on the past 12 to 13 years of UDCs—some of them are now coming to an end—they did develop land and attract private investment, but only, as we now know, because they rode on the back of the property boom. When that collapsed so did the UDCs. Now six of the original 10 are in deficit to the tune of £66 million and London Docklands continues to eat up £4 out of every £10 spent on urban initiatives in this country.

UDCs are too often ghost towns. Docklands created 20,000 jobs, but only a fifth of those were new jobs and the rest were displaced. Seventy per cent. of those new jobs went to outsiders. That has been confirmed by the DTI's own research of November 1992 which showed that even in the infinitely more sensitive task forces, for every three new jobs created by government initiative, two were displaced from elsewhere. So not only have these initiatives of the UDCs not created substantial new jobs, but there is no evidence that they had any wider trickle-down consequences for the local economy. Docklands homes are made empty while the adjacent borough of Newnham tries to house 1,000 homeless families a year. That is because there is no sense of partnership built into UDCs. There was no local authority membership originally, no partnership and no responsiveness.

It is crucial that, if we are to construct another roving UDC, we learn from the lessons of the past decade and do not repeat its mistakes. If not, we shall see a UDC or a URA parachuting in—perhaps to a mining community—assembling land, building warehouses and offices when warehouses and offices stand empty across the face of Britain. If those warehouses and offices are brought into use, will there be any local trickle-down effect; will they employ and train local labour; will they support or subvert local plans and will they meet local community needs? Who knows the answers to those questions?

It does not have to be like that. All experience of other initiatives shows that, for example, urban programmes did have a sure sense of the social as well as the physical needs of the community. We learnt from City Challenge. It insisted on a partnership approach, with the local authorities leading a coherent bid which embraced the private, commercial and voluntary sectors. The most recent UDCs have indeed become user friendly. Only a week or two ago we approved the new and twelfth UDC at Plymouth in which half the members were from the local authority. Its vice-chair was a local authority leader. It will use local labour and it expects to operate within the local planning framework.

Having established that for Plymouth in the latest UDC, why have we scrapped all that experience when we come to a URA which is meant to be a roving UDC? Why have we learnt the lessons in the new UDCs but refused to carry it on to a roving URA? Why do we not learn from our past experience? The amendment seeks to rectify that.

If the Government have not learnt from the experiences of the past decade, the responses to the consultation paper show that the private sector, as well as the local authorities, have. There were 306 responses to the Government's consultation paper on the URA: 148 from local authorities, 83 from the private sector, 36 from quangos and 24 from voluntary organisations. And what do they say? They, too, repeat what we have learnt from the past decade of UDCs but what the Government refuse to acknowledge. They say, first, that the terms of reference—the remit—of the new agency are too narrow. At the moment it is more properly a land development agency than an urban regeneration agency, a point which was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and reinforced by the Royal Town Planning Institute and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. That point has also been reinforced by the Tory borough of Kensington and Chelsea and by the Building Employers' Confederation which has stated: urban regeneration is a social, environmental and economic imperative and must be viewed as a long term and strategic objective". Quite so.

The first criticism is that the URA's remit is far too narrow. The second is a very real concern about resources. The money offered to the URA—£250 million this year—is to deal with 150,000 acres of derelict land. As the noble Baroness said, that is much less than the £332 million that was spent on London Docklands alone in 1990–91. It is not only too little to cover England's problems but, even worse, it represents no new money. It has been taken from other programmes. So the urban programme, which amounted to £237 million last year, will be down to £80 million in 1995–96. City Challenge has been virtually abandoned and Section 11 grants have been frozen.

In other words, this initiative is all about the publicity of repackaging and nothing about the needs of local communities. It is good for ministerial publicity but, as presently constituted, it is not much use for the urban areas that need help. As the British Building Employers' Confederation has said, more new money is needed. That is quite right.

The third concern that has emerged from the responses, which is also reinforced by the lessons of the past decade, is, in consequence, a worry about how priorities are to be established. The rural areas are concerned that resources will be creamed off for the inner-city areas. Mining communities are often in rural areas. The urban areas are concerned that the resources will be spread too thinly. Private developers are concerned that the regeneration agency will either buck the market and therefore be disproportionately expensive or that it will flow with the market and therefore undermine the role of private developers. The Costain group therefore rightly wants the priorities of the URA to be determined following public consultation and discussion. That must surely be right.

That means, fourthly, that the URA must work in partnership with local bodies, voluntary organisations, training and enterprise councils and, above all, with the local authorities. The private organisation, the British Urban Regeneration Association, the Costain group, and Linklaters & Paines, which I shall quote, state: The agency should work in partnership with local authorities. Accordingly we consider that there should be a duty rather than a power, for the agency to establish local boards or committees in any area where the agency operates to a substantial degree". That private firm continues: Equally, there should be a requirement that local councillors should be among the members of the local board or committee". That concern for partnership and for bringing local authorities into the new agency is not altruism from the private sector. Why should it be? It is a sane recognition that partnership is productive and that ignoring local authorities is counter-productive. As someone on the local authority side who steered £150 million-worth of local authority-private sector development in the centre of Norwich, it was clear to me there that what the developers wanted was partnership with local authorities to establish common ground rules, staying power, stability and the willingness to calibrate all the relevant services, but partnership was at the core.

Finally, what all those responses to the proposed URA have shown is that there is deep concern about the removal of local authority powers; the way in which, for example, the URA can confiscate local authority-held land; and the way that it can exercise development control powers independently of the local authority and, in effect, if the Government's track record so far is anything to go by, independently of local development plans. All local authorities, whatever their political colour, all professional organisations and virtually all private bodies want the URA to work within a proper planning framework, yet the Government are not consenting to that.

Hence these amendments which draw on the lessons of the past decade as well as on the private and public sector responses to the Government's own consultation paper. If they are accepted, they will turn the URA into a regeneration agency and not merely a land assembly agency, which is all that it is fit to do at the moment. By adding to its object and remit, we could ensure that there is proper benefit to local people and local labour. We could relate it to the building of regional economic prosperity. We are calling for sustainable economic development, about which we have learnt from the task forces. We are calling for environmental impact analysis. We are calling for performance indicators so that we can analyse value for money and performance.

We want the URA to work. It will work only if it is user-friendly, and that is possible only if it is adequately resourced and works in partnership with local agencies and local authorities and does not merely parachute into them. It will work only if it seeks to rebuild fractured and deprived communities and does not merely assemble land packages in a wish list for non-existent developers. We support the amendments.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Norrie

I should like to speak to my Amendment No. 185 which is also in this grouping. It would require the proposed urban regeneration agency to seek to prevent the creation of derelict land as well as reclaiming it.

It is a worrying fact that derelict land is being created almost as quickly as it is being reclaimed. The urban regeneration agency should be doing something about that. This Bill is an ideal opportunity to take firm action on the matter, otherwise we shall just continue to pour money into initiatives that are overtaken by derelict land being formed elsewhere.

The Department of the Environment's review group highlighted the importance of prevention in its 1989 report. It recommended that the Government should place an equal emphasis on prevention and cure in their derelict land policy. I am sorry to say that there has been very little evidence of that. I must ask my noble friend the Minister: what are the Government doing to implement that key recommendation of his department's review group?

My amendment is a simple one. It would focus the agency's attention on this important issue without detracting from its other work. The agency could, for example, advise local authorities on planning and other matters so that development which might lead to dereliction could be avoided or controlled. I commend it to the Committee.

Lord Strathclyde

This is the first occasion on which we have had the opportunity to discuss Part III of the Bill. Perhaps I may preface my replies to the amendments by explaining where we are on the urban regeneration agency. It represents another major step in our progress towards greater integration and simplification of urban policy. It brings together three existing instruments for tackling the regeneration and development of land: derelict land grant; city grant and the programmes of English Estates. Those programmes have all been successful. The agency will be combining a range of tried, tested and well-precedented powers and measures which will be brought together into a single body able to take an integrated approach to the regeneration of land wherever it is needed. It will simplify the job of all those dealing with land be they in the public or private sector. The agency will build on the success of City Challenge by approaching its task in partnership and by agreement wherever possible. It will be an enabler and will work with local authorities, other agencies and the private sector.

Although I must disagree with the noble Baronesses on the amendments, in many cases we are not opposed in principle to what the amendments are trying to achieve. However, I believe that their aims are already reflected in the legislation before us. I hope, therefore, to use the debates today to clarify our intentions on the Bill and to demonstrate how much common ground we share rather than attempt to knock down each amendment as it is proposed.

Clause 142 gives the agency the clear, well-focused and easily understood objective of securing the regeneration of land in need of renewal. Such land might be vacant, unused, derelict, contaminated, neglected, unsightly, unstable or a combination of those things. It could also be under-used or ineffectively used. Those last two categories relate only to urban areas since it is not our intention that the agency should have to decide whether agricultural or other rural land is properly employed.

The powers of the URA set out in later clauses all stem from that emphasis on land. It is important that the agency has a clear focus since resources are limited and the task is large. There is already a wide range of bodies working on other aspects of renewal, particularly local authorities, the private sector, TECs, housing associations and City Challenge partnerships. The URA will use its experience of land regeneration to forge broad partnerships with the widest possible range of such bodies. In recognising that its partners all have an important contribution to make, it will seek not to replace them but to work alongside them, using its land-based powers to promote broader regeneration. That is why I was so pleased to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, speak at some length on the benefit of partnership. Partnership is the key to making the URA work, as I said on Second Reading, and as I am delighted to repeat today.

The two new clauses return to a subject debated at length in another place. They would turn the URA from a closely targeted land regeneration agency into a sponsored body with functions which are properly the responsibility of central government and a wide range of other bodies. They would, for instance, require the agency to promote industrial efficiency and international competitiveness, and to bring the level of economic activity of all regions up to that of the best. Those are laudable objectives that we share with the noble Baronesses, but we disagree about how they should be achieved. They are the objectives of government as a whole, both central and local, not of a single agency.

Amendment No. 187B requires the Secretary of State to satisfy himself that the agency has sufficient resources to carry out the mammoth task the noble Baroness wishes to give it. I might ask the noble Baroness whether she has discussed with her friend the Shadow Chancellor what budget would be appropriate. Does she, for example, intend to transfer the £2.2 billion spent by training and enterprise councils to the new agency?

The emphasis on consultation and working in partnership mentioned in subsection (4) of Amendment No. 187B will, as I have explained, lie at the heart of the agency. But that will not be achieved by making its powers so broad that it has no need of partners. Overlapping responsibilities would sow the seeds of potential conflict. The amendment requires the Secretary of State to publish performance indicators. We will agree measures of performance against target with the agency which will be published and laid before Parliament in its annual report.

My noble friend Lord Norrie moved Amendment No. 185 which would extend the role of the agency to the prevention of dereliction. I agree with my noble friend that prevention is far better than cure. However, again I consider that that is more a concern of government as a whole than of the new agency. I fear that the URA will have more than enough to do tackling existing dereliction without the additional burden of preventing occupied sites from becoming derelict. In the light of the responses to the 1992 consultation exercise on the prevention of dereliction, we are giving further consideration to methods of using the planning system to prevent land becoming derelict, but we have not yet reached any firm conclusions. I can, however, assure my noble friend that when promoting its development packages the agency will always seek to ensure that it achieves real reductions in the nation's stock of vacant and derelict land and does not generate further dereliction elsewhere.

The amendments address a number of other issues. At present the agency can operate on under-used or ineffectively used land only in urban areas. Amendment No. 180 would extend that power to suburbs and would raise difficult questions of whether agricultural land and other green space on urban fringes should be seen as under-used and hence suitable for URA-led developments.

Amendment No. 181 would remove ineffectively used land from the scope of the agency. Without such a provision an obstructive owner could block the development of a whole locality by finding a low quality and wasteful use for his land, such as the storage of scrap metal, and claiming that it could not therefore be derelict or appropriate for the agency.

Amendments Nos. 182 and 183 together remove unsightly land from the remit of the agency. That would prevent it from regenerating land occupied by "bad neighbour" industries which, although fully utilised, may nonetheless blight a large area. Land which looks a mess but has not actually been abandoned can depress the local economy just as much as derelict sites. That type of land is at present eligible for derelict land grant. The agency therefore needs to be able to tackle unsightly land where that accords with its other objectives.

Amendment No. 184 would remove all reference to the judgment of the agency from the process of deciding how it should achieve its objectives in each case. But who is then to decide if it is not the agency? The agency must reach a balanced judgment about how it will operate. In doing so it will be answerable to the Secretary of State and, through him, to Parliament.

I am grateful that we have had the opportunity to discuss the agency's objectives, so that it is hoped that we can agree upon the direction in which the agency is to go. I do not disagree entirely with the amendments proposed by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Hollis, but, as I have explained, many of those objectives are the objectives of government rather than of just an agency. For that reason, I have to ask the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, to withdraw her amendment. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, will withdraw hers when we reach it.

Lord Sefton of Garston

Before the noble Baroness responds to that request, perhaps I may say one or two things. As the Minister said, this is the first opportunity we have had really to debate Part III of the Bill. On Second Reading we seemed to concentrate on those members of our community who were in dire danger of losing a steady payment to their already large incomes. The House was flooded by Members who were so unfamiliar with it that they did not equip themselves so as to be able to take part in the debate. So, Part III was overlooked, ignored, or not considered to be important.

I believe that I was the only Member from the Back Benches who spoke about the URA. I tried to make the point—I do not know whether I succeeded—that nothing was being proposed for the role of the URA that could not be done by local government properly assisted and properly organised and given the full backing and support of central government. We have arrived at the position of wanting another urban regeneration agency because the Government have resolutely set their face against local government ever since they came to power. They saw in local government a threat to their own political standing. I may be wrong about that, but I believe that it is a view shared by many people throughout the country.

If the URA is to do the job that the Government want it to do, and which the Minister has outlined, of refurbishing whole areas of land, why are we guessing? At least two regeneration agencies have already been given the same task. Perhaps I may be forgiven for referring to Merseyside. The Merseyside Development Agency was given the task of rejuvenating Merseyside. Mr. Liverpool (Mr. Heseltine) said so. It has had 12 years to do so. It has had unlimited money and unlimited freedom to do what it wants in the planning field. Merseyside, and Liverpool in particular, has been so successful that the EC has now accorded it the doubtful honour of having the same standard of living as the Corsicans. It is now listed as one of the most deprived areas in the Common Market. That is after 12 years of "Mr. Liverpool's" grand plan to restore Liverpool and Merseyside.

The other body is the London Docklands Development Corporation. It has spent countless millions of pounds and has had complete freedom to trample on the local authorities within the London area, including Westminster. What is the current situation? There is now a white elephant of monumental size in London Docklands. In Westminster hundreds of millions of square feet of office space are empty. I can only describe the position as being considered to be in a hell of a state. We know what agencies can do. In spite of what the Minister said, and in spite of the brief from his department, the difficulty is that they do not look at the problems of planning on a wide scale and in a comprehensive way. They do not, they have not and they never will.

On Second Reading I said that I was opposed to the creation of a new urban regeneration agency on the terms laid down by the Government. I am not baffled in seeing the wisdom of certain agencies in carrying out certain jobs. I was the first person on Merseyside—and we in the Labour Party were the first people in Liverpool—to suggest to the Minister that we needed an agency to handle Liverpool's dockland. A specific task had to be carried out because the docks had ceased to exist and local government did not have the money or the means to tackle it. We suggested to the Minister—I agree that it was not a Tory Minister—that we needed central government to incorporate all the resources required to tackle the job.

We did not get such an agency but then the Tory Government were elected. They took the idea and created a Merseyside development corporation. Of course, the first thing that it did was completely to eliminate local government as a partner. Does any Member of the Committee looking at the matter objectively really believe that the urban regeneration agency will be partnered with local government? Of course it will not; it will be another step in the decimation of local government. I shall not go into that subject because we shall debate it on Wednesday.

I hope that many members of the Committee will ask how local government, which is such a valuable institution in the United Kingdom and was built up by consensus between the major parties and developed as a tradition until it was looked upon as perhaps one of the best governmental institutions in the whole of the western world, can be completely ruined on the altar of Ministers of the Crown devolving to the private sector their responsibilities for the well-conducted government of this country. That is what we are talking about—nothing more and nothing less. The setting up of the urban regeneration agency will be perhaps the last step in a move to such a society. An Italian once said, "It's a bit clumsy, this kind of government we have"; and someone replied, "They're doing a good job—at least they're keeping the trains running on time".

The West Coast mainline is perhaps one of Great Britain's most important railway lines. It links London—and it could link the Channel Tunnel but this Government will not allow that—with Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow. They are all major producing areas. What is the news that we hear today on the radio in London? It is that £83 million is to be spent on the misery line to Southend. What is the news about the West Coast mainline? It is said that there will be a meeting on 28th April to discuss the line. It is probable that we shall hear that instead of receiving £800 million to keep the line in a safe condition to transport the people who need to travel in such areas the Government will have cut the amount by £400 million. That is a problem. The Government are making no attempt to look at the development of this land of ours in a comprehensive and sensible way. Before we go any further we should have some answers. I wish to ask two questions—does the noble and learned Lord wish me to give way?

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone


Lord Sefton of Garston

Then why sit there mumbling and mumbling? If Members of the Committee cannot contribute to the debate they should not try. I wish to ask only two questions. First, will the Minister tell the Committee now or at another stage how many advanced factories, business parks and the like have been built since the Government have been in power? They will tell us that there are a lot but will they then tell us how many are still empty? Secondly, will the Minister say how much money has been spent in Merseyside by the urban development corporation, how many jobs have been created there and how much has been spent by the London Docklands Development Corporation and how many jobs have been created there? Perhaps he will then give the Committee the benefit of his advice and say whether the answers are sufficiently ample to justify the proposals in the Bill. I do not believe that they will be.

Lord Northfield

Like the noble Lord, Lord Sefton, I have an interest in the matter as a former chairman of Telford Development Corporation. The declining coal industry in the area had led to complete dereliction and there was the need for the type of agency which the Bill now makes into a national agency. I do not want the Government to get away too lightly by proposing such a move because history is worth recording.

In 1980 I put a paper on unemployment before a Select Committee of your Lordships' House. The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, would remember that if she were here. I recommended the setting up of exactly such an agency. The Select Committee commended that suggestion and proposed that an urban regeneration agency should be formed. It has taken 13 years for the penny to drop in the Department of the Environment. That has meant 13 years of continuous drift in large areas of urban England.

I remember the right honourable Michael Heseltine visiting Telford. While travelling around in my car he said, "You have made an extraordinary transformation of the area, but what are we to do about St. Helens?". I remember his words today. I did not know St. Helens but obviously it was the area on his mind. I said, "What you must do is apply the lessons of the new towns such as Telford on a wider basis, but you must not have an agency which will try to do everything itself". During my discussions with Mr. Heseltine we turned to the experience of the Rural Development Commission of which I was then chairman.

Those are the two issues which must be married to make the proposed agency a success. During my chairmanship the Rural Development Commission, with only three dozen staff, became a rural development agency. It had previously been only a small operation and was based successfully on partnership with local authorities. The Rural Development Agency did not then and does not today go in saying, "We will do everything". It goes in saying, "This is how we propose you might find some benefit in the ways of development here. We should like to hear your ideas. We have a certain amount of money to offer. We are willing to work in partnership with you, build factories for you and give you small grants as a way of priming the pump and as a stimulus to get things moving in those rural areas".

Over the years Mr. Heseltine came to agree with us. However, there is more history worth recounting before I ask my two questions. In the middle of the 1980s the chairmen of new towns went to the Government with this proposal. I had failed in getting your Lordships to approve it in this Chamber; I failed to get any action. Therefore, all the chairmen of the new towns made the proposal again and put memoranda to the Government suggesting exactly the agency which is now proposed in the Bill. I can tell the Committee that we received the most irate and negative reactions. I had icy interviews with the right honourable gentleman who is now the Secretary of State for Education and who was then the Minister responsible for housing. He was unable to accept anything and said no to everything. Therefore, we waited for another seven years until this proposal was made. We have wasted at least 13 years in which the agency could have been up and operating on the basis of the experience of the new towns and the Rural Development Commission.

I do not want the Government to start flying any flags and claiming credit. They have taken the dickens of a time to learn the lessons and accept the suggestions of people who had some experience to offer at that time.

First, I ask the Minister whether we can be sure that the agency, with a small staff, will act as a catalyst rather than a doer. I echo the words of my noble friend Lord Sefton in asking whether we can be absolutely sure that it will work in partnership with local authorities, particularly as regards persuading them to draw up development plans and helping and stimulating them to execute them rather than trying to do too much itself.

One of the tragedies of the past few years is that when the Government adopted the framework that is in this part of the Bill for the urban regeneration agencies for various parts of England—I raised this in debates in this Chamber but no action was taken—those agencies have not worked in partnership with the local authorities. They have regarded themselves merely as entrepreneurs going in to clear derelict land. That is not what is needed. What is needed is the stimulation of a total development idea for an area and then a partnership with the local authority, including the reclamation of the derelict land, to put the area back on its feet.

That is what we did in Telford. There, 3,000 acres of coal-tips have been so well cleared and so well regenerated that that new town has won the European prize for Cities in Bloom; that is from derelict land. I am extremely proud of that achievement. I am quite sure that we want to see that kind of action and partnership in this new regeneration agency. Of course I welcome it, but I say to the Government that it is 13 years too late.

Baroness Hamwee

I am glad that the Minister listened to the debate but I am sorry that he has not taken the opportunity to respond to the noble Lords, Lord Northfield and Lord Sefton.

A good deal of ground has been covered on this group of amendments. The most important area of discussion is the question of partnership. I welcome all that the Minister said with regard to forging partnerships. I welcome particularly his comment that subsection (4) (b) of Amendment No. 187B in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, is —I believe I have his words correctly—at the heart of the work of the agency. I hope that the Government will see fit to accept amendments to which we shall come later dealing with consultation and partnership. If they do not, I hope that the noble Baroness may seek to come back to that matter on Report.

The question of real partnership, meaning that you treat your partner as somebody to be respected, where consultation does not simply mean asking what the partner has to say and not really listening to the answer, is absolutely vital to the good working of the agency. Like other noble Lords, I cannot help but take the opportunity to comment that, if greater trust was placed in local authorities by the Government, it would not be necessary to establish new quangos.

We have covered a good deal of ground. It may be appropriate to return to some aspects of it at a later stage, but at present I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Viscount Goschen

I believe that this may be a convenient moment at which to take the Statement. I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

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