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As a nation, we are often inclined to belittle our own achievements and to denigrate our institutions. But there is not the slightest reason why we should do that in the case of the new towns or why any of us, on either side of the House, should feel anything but pride in an achievement which, politically at any rate, is a joint achievement. The New Towns Act was accepted by both parties, and the 15 new towns in Great Britain have been warmly approved in all quarters of the House.
I have had the opportunity on more than one occasion of meeting overseas visitors who have come to this country to study some of our new towns. I have always been struck by the comments they have made about them and by the approval they have shown of our initiative, even our genius, in constructing after the war, in circumstances which were certainly difficult, this new type of organisation. Only last summer the distinguished American town planning expert and writer, Mr. Lewis Mumford, said that the building of the British new towns, as a political and economic achievement, was a miracle of the-age. That is putting it very high, but I am not really sure that it is putting it too high.
I suppose that the new towns have four distinctive features. First of all, there is in every new town a pretty fair indication that industrial development is keeping pace with the building of homes. They are not places for commuters, not places where people live but do not work and to which they have to go in the morning, undertaking difficult journeys as many of us do who work in London, and returning at night using, perhaps, uncomfortably and overcrowded public transport. In all the new towns, by and large, people live and work. London's eight new towns have already received some 120,000 people and have provided proportionate employment for people who would otherwise have added to the congestion in the Metropolis. Those who have visited them can be in no doubt that the new towns have proved themselves to be streamlined and highly efficient centres of industry.
Secondly, the new towns have observed the green belt principle. Adequate provisions have been made for healthy country living. Thirdly, there is the quite new conception of neighbourhood units with local shops and an imposing town centre and, I think, in the main an imaginative and a not unpleasing architectural treatment of the houses and their surroundings. Fourthly, there are the development corporations, corporations with an already high tradition of service and which in every case have pioneered wisely and administered economically so that they are already proving that new towns are in every sense of the word a profitable national investment.
For these reasons, over the past few months, I have been coming to the conclusion with great regret—I learned it today authoritatively from my hon. Friend—that the Government have set their faces against further new towns in England and Wales. I am very sorry to hear that. Can we solve the problem of urban congestion without more new towns? The number of persons to be rehoused in England and Wales alone is of the order of 2 million. That means the construction over a period of years of something like 600,000 new houses. Yet the present and prospective rate of new housing in new towns and in town development schemes—indeed, in all schemes for taking the overspill from the great urban conurbations—is providing houses, and will provide houses, only at the rate of something like 15,000 a year. At that rate of progress it will take 40 years to catch up with the immense housing shortage with which we are faced at the present time.
I am sure we must all hope that town development schemes will be successful, yet almost everywhere these schemes are hanging fire. As the months, and even as the years, pass hopes of a substantial alleviation of the overspill problem by means of town development schemes begin to fade. The other alternative is high density development in the central areas, the building of high flats in already overcrowded cities.
In the past I have spoken in the House, as have other hon. Members, about the immense cost of high density development in central areas. Recently the British Research Station has found that average building costs per square foot of net usable floor space in six-storey flats is 58s. a square foot rising to 67s. a square foot in the case of blocks of eleven or twelve storeys. That has to be compared with the ordinary two-storeyed houses which in London can be built now at 38s. 6d. a square foot. So that the average excess cost of a high flat providing 850 sq.ft. of usable floor space over that of a house of the same size is over £1,000.
There are even more striking figures based on actual examples of development schemes at Aston in Birmingham which the Town and Country Planning Association submitted recently to the Minister of Housing and Local Government for critical examination and comment. These figures show that even if the capital costs of making new roads, of providing electricity, sewerage, and so on, are added, it is still cheaper for the taxpayer and the ratepayer together to build 10,000 houses in new towns than 10,000 high flats in central areas.
In view of the need for a far greater, a far more intensive and serious effort to rehouse the overspill from the congested areas, and in view of the proved success not only from the sociological point of view but from the financial point of view of the new towns, I have asked myself often why the Government I support are not more enthusiastic about providing more new towns. I have come to the conclusion the answer is that they are frightened of what I may call the agricultural objection.
As a farmer and as a landowner I yield place to no one in my desire to see the kind of farmland which is most necessary for the economy of our country retained in agricultural use—and I want to hear the economists telling us what kind of farmland that is. We have in this country at the moment a surplus of liquid milk, so I do not lose a great deal of sleep when I hear that so many dairy farms are threatened by urban expansion. I feel much more alarmed when I hear that market garden land is threatened, or that land good for beef production, or good land which is under arable cultivation, is being taken away from agriculture and being devoted to the development of housing.
We ought not, however, to lose sight of the fact that the increase of productivity per acre owing to mechanisation and increased scientific knowledge and know-how has made great advances in the past few years. I spent an evening in the Library two days ago looking up the statistics of agricultural production over the ten years from 1945 to 1955. No one will deny that those ten years were years of great building development to this country. It was during those ten years that the new towns took shape, that land was acquired compulsorily for the building of the new towns, that land was taken out of agricultural production and given over to building of various kinds.
Yet from the official figures, which are obtainable, which are there for anyone to see in the Library, which I could quote at length, it is clear that the area under crops and grass in Great Britain as a whole during those ten years remained almost static—that that acreage increased by 0·4 per cent. during that ten-year period. It is true that the area under rough grazings declined by about 2·3 per cent., but the area under crops and grass, in spite of the building that went on, actually increased by a slight percentage. Moreover, during that time, during the ten years from 1945 to 1955, our head of cattle in Great Britain as a whole increased by 12 per cent., of sheep by 13 per cent. and of pigs by no less than 170 per cent.
These figures certainly suggest that wise agricultural policy and good farming combined should lessen the fear, which is felt by some, and which, I think, is founded upon inadequate information, that planned dispersal at reasonable standards of density is going to increase to the point of risk our dependence upon imported food.
As has been pointed out in the House today, there is no city in Great Britain which has a greater overspill problem than the City of Glasgow. It is greater by far even than the problem faced by London, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, any of the great conurbations south of the Border, and it has been immensely encouraging—to me, at any rate, believing as I do in new towns, wanting, as I do, to see more new towns in this country—that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has announced the development of Cumbernauld as a new town in Scotland and that my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary in the House today has said that a third new town—I presume he must have meant a fourth new town in Scotland is not ruled out.
In conclusion, I do hope most sincerely that my good and right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government will follow that example.
I feel very pleased to have caught your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and so to be able to recall that at one time when I was an honorary organiser of the Town and Country Planning Association I invited Mr. Speaker to come to Scotland to address a conference of ours on new towns. Of course, he was not Mr. Speaker at that time. He was Minister of Town and Country Planning. The great attraction of having him come to Scotland to speak on that subject was that he was able to speak the Gaelic, and we thought we should draw a large audience from the Highlands and Islands if we had a Minister of Town and Country Planning putting the case in Gaelic. Unfortunately, he pointed out to me that he could not overstep the Secretary of State for Scotland. Ultimately, we had to get the Secretary of State for Scotland.
I am pleased at the remarks made here about the pioneers. I notice that the pioneers' names are nearly all tabulated in this memorandum of the Town and Country Planning Association. Many of them are in the Highlands. Some of them are in the House tonight. Mr. Speaker is certainly one of the vice-presidents.
When I look at the amount of money which has been spent and is still to be spent, I am reminded of the criticism directed at me by the Scottish newspapers when I urged that new towns should be built in Scotland. I actually urged that one should he built at East Kilbride. It was regarded as a fantastic proposal.
Even my own colleagues never ceased to attack this fantastic proposal, and one evening newspaper pointed out that it would cost "only" £30 million. It went on to say, "'Mann' wants but little here below." When we started on East Kilbride we had the utmost opposition from Glasgow Corporation, which opposed the Secretary of State at that time, but which today is most enthusiastic and, indeed, is urging the provision of more new towns.
I should like to emphasise a point which may have been forgotten in the past ten years. At one time Glasgow was attached and pledged to what was called the Bruce Plan, to build within its existing boundary and build upwards. I am very grateful that wiser counsel prevailed, but there was still some misconception of what constituted a new town. There were people who said that we would create just another dormitory suburb. That is not the purpose of new towns. A new town is a self-contained unit complete with industry and recreational and social facilities to provide a whole living.
I am afraid that in Scotland, at any rate, we are apt to stray from that idea. The success of our new towns must depend upon the industry that we provide within them. I must pay tribute to Sir Patrick Dolan, because I do not think that without him East Kilbride could have attracted the industry that it has attracted there. But we cannot always find people with Sir Patrick's driving force, and there is not the compulsion in legislation that would act as an incentive to a driving force in the overcrowded city of Glasgow or even in the new towns.
I know that London's eight new towns have received about 120,000 people from greater London and that they will take 160,000 more. They have provided over 40,000 manufacturing jobs which otherwise would have contributed to the congestion in London. Have we in Scotland any figures which anywhere nearly approach these in the proportion of the number of people removed to the number of people for whom jobs have been provided? I am quite sure that we have fallen well behind the achievement of greater London in providing jobs.
We also require some amending legislation to enable us to entice factory development into our Scottish new towns. We ought to profit by London's experience and secure the closure of vacated factories. That is very important. There also ought to be limitation of office building and related measures to redistribute employment. When an industry moves out of Glasgow there is a temptation to fill up the vacated factory very rapidly. The same applies to offices.
I stress the great importance of providing jobs in the new towns. I know that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland said that there would be a good deal of criss-cross traffic, but I hope that that will not always be the case. When Sir Ebenezer Howard's Letchworth and Welwyn Garden City were being established, only 25 per cent. of London people who were settled there worked there. The remaining 75 per cent. travelled elsewhere to work. But in a short time 75 per cent. were working inside the garden cities and only 25 per cent. were travelling.
At that time, I can remember a critic telling me that Welwyn and Letchworth were paying no dividends and no interest was being received by those who formed the company, whose profit was limited to 5 per cent. We were told that the position would never be reached where any profit over 5 per cent. would go back to the community, as laid down in the charter. The critics could not see even 2 per cent. being earned. Well, over 5 per cent. is being earned and the quarrel, if there be any, within the companies is whether all profit over 5 per cent. should go back to the community or whether the companies should be enabled to amend their articles and redistribute the extra profit.
I agree with the hon. Member for North Angus (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) who, like myself, has been identified with the Town and Country Planning Association for the past 20 years. We have both watched this development from the financial and industrial point of view and, most of all, from the viewpoint that inspired us all—the provision of a good living for the people, and we are convinced that it is certainly a success. I hope that Scotland will go on very soon to provide its fourth new town.
I am very glad to have the opportunity of saying a few words in support of the Bill. I find that, unfortunately, even today few people know much about new towns or really take an interest in them unless they live in them or represent them or have something to do with them personally. I am afraid that that applies also to a large number of Members of Parliament. I happen to be chairman of a sub-committee in this House, and I know how difficult it is to interest those who are not connected with new towns in what is an extremely important housing and social development.
I represent one of the new towns which is already well on the way to completion. Originally they were intended to be built in undeveloped, open areas, but in Hemel Hempstead we have had to face special difficulties, because the new town was added to an ancient and long established borough. The co-ordination of the whole into one town, which shortly will house 60,000 people and may, eventually, house 80,000, has produced many problems.
Much credit goes to the local authority and to the new town corporation for the co-operation and understanding both have shown and the sympathetic approach made by them to the problems they have had to face. I am glad to say that these difficulties are being overcome. True we need more amenities. We have some beautiful schools already, but we need more. We have halls, but we need more halls. We certainly need cinemas. On the whole, however, Hemel Hempstead is a great success, and I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that the majority of the inhabitants are busy, happy, contented and settled. I hope that they and their families will remain settled for a long time.
I am very much obliged to the noble Lady for giving way. Would she agree with the Report of the Hemel Hempstead Corporation, which seems to bear out what she is saying on page 285, namely, that Government policy has prevented many desirable amenities and social attractions from being provided?
I will not be drawn by the hon. and learned Member, except to say that I keep closely in touch with my corporation and my local authorities and do everything I can to help them to get what they will get by degrees.
Many people still believe that the right policy is to continue to build in the old towns. Therefore, I wish to mention an important fact which has already been mentioned this afternoon, namely, that, on the whole, flats are much more costly than new town houses. Even if the capital expenditure on water, sewerage, new roads, shops, factories, offices and social facilities is added in the latter case, it is still cheaper for national and local exchequers to build 10,000 houses in a new town than 10,000 tall block flats in central areas, and they provide incomparably living and better working conditions.
Certainly I want to see more privately-owned houses in all the new towns, and a great deal still remains to be done in that respect if we want properly balanced communities. The more people who own their own houses the better. As regards by own new town, we have not as yet many privately-owned houses, and I want to see their numbers increase. We want to see more offices. It is difficult to persuade offices to come to new towns, but if we can attract them and those who work in them, I am certain this will also help towards a balanced community.
Most important of all, perhaps, is the future of the new towns. We have had one announcement from the Minister, and I hope that before long we shall hear more. I say that because success depends on being able to create a sense of security, and industries which have moved out of old towns into new ones want to know what the future position will be. Therefore, we await anxiously further announcements from the Government.
I am extremely glad to have been closely connected with the development of a new town. It has been an exciting experiment. It has meant much additional work to me personally, as it has to all Members of Parliament who represent new towns, but they are proving a success, and, perhaps most important of all, they are bringing happiness and contentment to countless families, and that knowledge gives one great satisfaction. I am very glad, therefore, to be able to support the Second Reading of this Bill.
There seems to be substantial agreement in the House on the desirability of helping the new towns in the form suggested in the Bill. It was not always so. Recently I had occasion to read the Report of the debate on the Second Reading of the New Towns Bill on 8th May, 1946 It was introduced by the now Lord Silkin as what is now generally recognised to be an imaginative and creative attempt to solve one of the most important social problems facing industrial communities all over the world, namely, the excessive concentration of population in big cities and towns.
The Opposition of that day, now sitting on the benches opposite, to say the least of it, was exceedingly pessimistic. It is true that the Opposition did not divide the House, but my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) mentioned Mr. Speaker, who opened the debate for the Opposition. In the course of what I can only describe as a slightly doubting and disparaging speech, he said that of course all these new towns were still in Utopia.
That was the theme running through nearly every speech made by the Conservative Opposition at that time. The most extravagant language, naturally I suppose, came from the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), who said:
My approach…is one of alarm and despondency…the Bill…is frankly totalitarian in form.
He went on to say that the Ministry had resorted to monstrous powers and a very
great degree of ruthless direction, and said finally:
The right hon. Gentleman's policy will be on the scrap heap before very long."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th May, 1946; Vol. 422, c. 1154 and 1156.]
Eleven years have passed since then. How silly it all seems now. We can only commend the Government on their conversion, and if they lag only one generation behind Labour Party thought, then we will not complain unduly. From every point of view—from the social, from the aesthetic, from the economic point of view—the extension of the idea of new towns is eminently desirable. I agree with 90 per cent. of what was said by the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley). It is not often I can say that, so I take this opportunity of doing so.
Here we get the fantastic position repeatedly taken by the Government. They say, "This has had wonderful results, it is a wonderful experiment, therefore we will stop it." The Government have taken up that position repeatedly. Today the Minister in his opening speech went out of his way to say what a wonderful thing this was and that we were getting near the end of the journey. Of course, the hon. Gentleman qualified that somewhat because he represents a marginal seat in Scotland and, therefore, said that Scotland might get another new town soon. Well, we will not say how soon. Certainly it will not be before the next General Election, although it will probably be one of the carrots dangled before the marginal constituencies.
We have made halting steps only in dealing with overspill. Figures have been quoted about the extent of the problem in the big cities—in London. Manchester, Birmingham. Liverpool and, not least, Glasgow. I can see no alternative but the establishment of further new towns, as indicated in the New Towns Bill which we are now discussing.
I want to refer in particular to the new town of Glenrothes in my constituency. It is different from most of the new towns in that it is to provide a new community connected with the planned expansion of the coalmining industry in East Fife. We have had a late start compared with other new towns, having begun in 1948. It was envisaged from the outset that there would be one miner in eight or nine of the population. I lived for many years in a mining village, in long rows where one's neighbours on either side and right down the street were miners. There one lived and talked of the pits and breathed the dust from them. When I compare that with what has been achieved at Glenrothes, it is almost breath-taking in its imaginativeness.
The originally contemplated population of 30,000 is not envisaged immediately. I think it will eventually be exceeded. The present population of 9,000 has its difficulties, as all the new towns have, such as the need for social amenities. The need for the Government to look ahead is of paramount importance. As to the Government's financial policy, I was interested in what the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Viscountess Davidson) said. Of course she wants more schools. Everybody wants more schools. Everybody wants more houses. Consequently, the Government say, "They are very desirable, and therefore we are stopping them." That is precisely what is happening in Glenrothes.
As to the housing problem in Glenrothes, a new colliery will be starting the production of coal this year. In passing, I would mention that the sinking of that colliery has taken 10 years. The first sod was cut in 1946. More than £10 million has been spent on the project, and it is only now producing coal. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite should ponder the fact that the nationalised industry has spent £10 million in order to provide coal for future generations. Let them not underestimate the difficulties experienced by the mining industry and the efforts of the Government to ensure balanced communities developing alongside the mines, including the deliberate planning of migration of miners from West Scotland to East Scotland which has gone on with remarkably little friction.
The housing outlook is not as good as it ought to be. It is estimated that 240 houses will be built in 1958. That falls short of the number of houses needed to accommodate transferred miners and balance the population at the appropriate dilution figure. According to the corporation's estimate, the shortfall is 125 houses or more than 33 per cent. Not only is there a shortfall in numbers, but there is a reduction in the standard of housing as a result of deliberate Government policy. The Scottish Housing Handbook was issued in mid-1956, and the Grenrothes Development Corporation studied it, liked some of its recommendations and wished to carry them out, but it was not allowed to do so by the Department of Health.
This is another instance of someone wishing to do something which is good and of the Government preventing it. The corporation has been informed by the Department of Health that the control of costs for future contracts will be tightened. The Department of Health—I should like a specific statement on this matter—also seems, for purely financial reasons, to have scotched the idea of a clinic in Glenrothes, although the original suggestion that there should be a clinic came from the Department of Health.
A statement has been made by the Government about the ultimate control of the new towns. Speaking entirely for myself, I do not like it. In the new towns we have young, virile populations—the Joint Under-Secretary said that it is of no immediate importance in Scotland, but it is of immediate importance in England, and so the principle applies—which want control of their own towns. One of the complaints of the Glenrothes population is that it has no control over the corporation. I appreciate that the corporation tries to meet the community as far as it can, but there is no redress of grievances. In such a situation, where there is no democratic control over one's development corporation, one tends to get, perhaps unconsciously, dictatorial and cavalier treatment of the townspeople.
When the economic development of the new towns is complete—it is imminent in England and Wales—a new body will be set up by the Government to handle the assets of the new towns. In another place the Government explained that the situation would be exactly the same as in old towns and other urban communities throughout the country where certain property was owned in respect of which the local authorities had certain functions.
That may well be, but the assets of the new towns have been developed as a public investment. I certainly do not want—I hope my party does not want—those assets to be handed over at, maybe, knock-down prices to private enterprise. Nothing that has been built up by public investment should be handed over at knock-down prices by persons who have perhaps been appointed on a basis of patronage. In the years 1945 to 1951 the Labour Party had to face the gibe of "jobs for the boys". The feeling in the new towns is that the Government are now angling to create more "jobs for the boys" in the organisation which will eventually be set up. The Labour Party will certainly watch the legislation with very great care.
I join with almost every hon. Member who has spoken in urging the Government to reconsider their determination not to pursue a policy which has been so eminently successful for eleven years. If the new towns have been a roaring success—there is every indication that they have; Ministers admit it—the Government should carry on with the good work. The Government have had so many failures that they can ill afford to cast away one success even though it was originated by the Labour Party.
There is one sort of good satellite in which this country has beaten the Russians to the the post. That is the satellite towns which we are discussing this afternoon. The path of the first Russian satellite town of 65,000 people is still being planned. It is to be built in the Khimki district near Moscow. We can regard the debate as being on a subject in which this country is certainly ahead and is the object of study by visitors from many other countries.
It was not quite fair of the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. Hamilton) to have supposed that the Conservative Party is or was opposed to the principle of new towns. He might just as well say, because of the interjections of his hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), that his party is against the provision of further finance for the new towns.
In fact, the Conservative Party, then in opposition, did not divide the House against the Measure and if further proof is needed it is to be found in the pudding, that the new towns have gone ahead under a Conservative Government at a greater speed than ever before.
I am sure that the hon. Member will appreciate that in the first few years after the proposal to establish new towns there was nothing to show except plans. In some cases it took two years to prepare the master plan, so that when the Conservative Government took office, in 1951, all the ground work had been done and the impetus had been given.
I want, first, to deal with the argument about the planning of the new towns. Of course, they have to be planned, but when the Conservative Government took office the whole rate of house building was accelerated by about 50 per cent. and the new towns got more than their fair share of the increase. What the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) said in no way undermines the case I have made, because if it had been Conservative policy to belittle the new towns and stop them being a success, the effort would not have been poured into them which has been poured into them.
The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) made an allegation about opposition in Stevenage to the new town. Of course there was opposition. I do not know precisely the politcal views of those who did oppose the proposal, but, certainly, people of all parties are upset when a huge new town is put on their doorstep. The fact that there are good and increasingly good relations in Stevenage between the people of the new and old towns does credit to both. The fact that certain residents in Stevenage disliked the idea of a new town on their doorstep is in no way to be taken as proof, or even as an indication, of the opinion of the Conservative Party on new towns. I repeat what I said to the hon. Member for Fife, West: it is better to judge on facts than on assumptions and hypotheses.
I want now to say that I welcome the Bill to provide further finance for the new towns. In providing this money we shall reinforce successes, and that is a good way to spend money. We should judge those successes not only on the quantity or tonnage of bricks and mortar, but also on the atmosphere and happiness which have been created and to which several hon. Members, notably my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Viscountess Davidson), have referred.
I recently spent a day walking round Stevenage and talking to people in the shopping streets in both the old town, where most people still go shopping, and in the neighbourhood shopping centres. I found it hard to find people with any criticism to voice. If they had a criticism, it was that the prices in some of the local shops were high, higher than in neighbouring areas.
Hardly any complaints about the rent levels were made, although that matter is often thought to be something which is so far to the fore in the minds of new town residents that one would have thought that they stayed awake at night thinking about it. In my experience, that is certainly not true. While it is right to recall the lack of various facilities in various new towns—because in that way we can hope to have matters improved—it is also right to recall those things in which there has been a great improvement.
The hon. Member is speaking of Stevenage. He will find some interesting comments in the Stevenage Development Corporation's Report. There is one passage about which I should like some reassurance from him. The Report says, in page 362:
Considerable public feeling was aroused and there was some resistance by tenants against accepting the Notices to Quit which were necessary to put the increases"—
that is, the rent increases—
into effect. But when it came to the point practically all tenants paid the increase in many cases shouldering burdens which the Corporation realised must have involved difficult readjustments of family budgets.
May we take it that the family budgets have been readjusted? Perhaps those people now have less to eat.
I want to tell the hon. and learned Member something about the background of the occasion to which he refers. It had not been my original intention to do so, because it is not a very noble history, but I shall do so since the hon. and learned Member has referred to it.
The fact is that an increase in rent, which happened to be combined with a supplementary rate, created a difficult situation for tenants. I want to refer to the resistance and agitation. Anybody resists having to pay more for anything, but the agitation took the form of demonstrations which were far from orderly, which caused the police a great deal of trouble, which resulted in damage to property, in children in prams being pushed across the High Street in front of traffic to hold it up and stop it, and in local dignitaries, such as the vicar, making protests, as the vicar did in his sermon the following Sunday.
It is perfectly clear that the resistance apparent from that sort of thing was synthetic and had been worked up by people whose interest it was to work up agitation. As the corporation reported, and it was perfectly clear from the fact that when it came to the point people did pay up, the resistance was not nearly as strong as one might have been led to suppose.
I was saying that people do not lie awake at nights thinking about increased rents and I said that that was my view after having spoken recently to many people living in the new town. I was about to add that in one respect things are very much better now than they were five years ago. Five years ago, the provision of schools was a very pressing problem, but now, although the position is by no means perfect, it is certainly not a matter of great concern.
There are, however, still some matters which affect the Second Reading of this Bill, because it is no good voting money for a certain purpose if other purposes ancillary to that are not achieved. It means that the main purpose is undermined. In particular, I want to point out that Stevenage has no hospital and no out-patients' clinic, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will put all possible pressure on his colleague the Minister of Health to hasten that work—
Stevenage has never been authorised to build a hospital—we never got so far—so there is no question of anything being deferred. As for authorisation for money for an outpatients' clinic, the main problem was for the hospital board and the corporation to agree upon a site. That has now been done and there is no reason at all to suppose that the money will not be forthcoming, but this matter has taken a long time. I say that it is no good merely authorising money for the building of houses and factories if my right hon. Friend does not also exercise his influence with those of his right hon. Friends who are responsible for other services.
Another subject is roads. Stevenage new town was planned as it was because a by-pass road was to be built around it. The Great North Road bisects the residential and the factory areas. I am glad to know that there seems some hope of progress in the purchase of land for the by-pass—and, I hope, its construction—but until that is done the feeling of homogeneity in the new town can never be achieved, split as it is at present by the Great North Road.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) spoke of community buildings, and of a church that he had seen which, in the middle of the week, could be used as a hall. I was not quite clear whether he meant that there should be such buildings in the new towns, or that there already were such buildings and that they should be imitated. There certainly are such places in Stevenage. They are a great success, and provide a social centre as well as a place of worship. In this, the churches are resurrecting the practice and habit of the Middle Ages, and it is a practice which has much to commend it.
There is in Stevenage a great shortage of premises for youth clubs, and since there are so many young people there it is very important that premises should be provided. Lack of premises, however, is not the only hindrance. Finance in general and a shortage of adult helpers are also obstacles. I believe that the corporation wants to help in this matter, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will not be too hard on it if it makes proposals to him. As I say, this work is obviously very important to a town with such a large proportion of young people.
To return to the thorny problem of rents, I believe that, in Stevenage, they represent about one-fifth of the earnings of new town workers. I really do not think that that is an excessive proportion. My impression certainly is that the people who pay it, though they would clearly like to pay less, think it worth paying it to have a good house and good surroundings for themselves and their children. The fact that there is a waiting list of people wanting to live in Stevenage speaks for itself.
Even more important is the fact that people are now asking to come to Stevenage because of the recommendations of friends or relations already living there. The manufacturer of some fast-selling or good-selling consumer product regards that as the highest praise his product can get, and this achievement of the Stevenage Development Corporation merits our praise. The corporation is also going ahead with the building of one-room flats for old people. That, too, merits our praise, because it means that young families are now able to have a widowed mother, say, or a father on retirement, to live near them—
As the hon. Gentleman takes that line, I wonder whether he would tell us whether he agrees or disagrees with the views of his own corporation. In its Report, the Stevenage Development Corporation says:
The whole question of the financing of this great social and economic experiment of the new towns, in the Corporation's view, needs re-examining. Until this is done one sees but little hope of stabilising, certainly not of reducing, rents; and high rent levels appear to the Corporation to constitute the most dangerous threat to the prosperity of the town.
Do those views apply to the hon. Member?
The hon. and learned Gentleman did not give the page number, but I am familiar enough with the Report not to need to look at it. I am also familiar enough with the fact that my corporation would like to be able to borrow money cheaply and so have cheaper rents. That is quite a proper attitude for it to take. On the other hand, we have to see that that wish fits into the whole picture of the country's economy. If we are trying to fight inflation it is no good expecting exceptions to be made in favour of our favourite children, and I do not think that I should be doing my job as Member for my constituency were I to try to get Stevenage exempted from the burden placed on the community as a whole.
As I was saying before I was interrupted, people like to come and live in the new towns—certainly in Stevenage—despite the comparatively high level of rents. One indication of the prosperity that attends people in the new towns is that the Stevenage Corporation finds that the demand for garages coming from people who have lived there for about three years is two-thirds as high again as from those just taking up residence. That suggests that, after three years in the new towns, people are so much better off that they can afford to buy the car they could not afford before.
I should like to bring to the attention of my right hon. Friend one small point about garages. If a garage is built as part of the house the rent for it goes into the housing rent pool, but not if the garage is part of a block of garages. Since, as a result of this increased prosperity, more garages are needed and are having to be built in blocks, perhaps that anomaly could be looked into and removed.
The fact is that the new towns are becoming the homes of the new industrial aristocracy. The firms in these towns are go-ahead, progressive and efficient, and they pay good wages. Conditions are good and, despite high rents, people are able to improve their standard of life.
Industrialists in the town fear that they may become a high-cost area of manufacture because the rents charged for the new town houses are higher than other rents. I think it fair to say that that assumes no flexibility in the choice people make about what they should spend money on. If people wish to spend more on decent housing than they were able to do in other circumstances, it does not necessarily mean that the area becomes a high wage cost area as well. Rents are, of course, only one part of people's outgoings. They may well find it worth while to increase their expenditure on rent to get decent accommodation and to reduce it in other directions, and feel much better as a result
There is some misapprehension locally about one matter, and if I mention it in this House, it may help to put matters right. There is a feeling that many people are commuting from Stevenage and going to work at Luton, a centre of the motor car industry, with its traditionally high wages and also its traditional lay-offs. In fact, the figure is only 200 or 300 out of the total population of the new town, so the situation is not very serious.
I would add that Vauxhall's stayed in Luton and did not expand into Stevenage because that is what the firm wanted to do. There are people wishing to cause agitation and misapprehension—we have heard some echoes of this from the benches opposite—who are putting it about that Vauxhall's were forbidden to come to Stevenage for fear of importing high wages to the town. I have made inquiries about that and it is certainly not true.
In this era of high interest rates the question of housing rents is important. Also important is the improved building efficiency of the building contractors. I am glad that the Stevenage Development Corporation has been employing a new method of planning and taking account of contractors' buying and site arrangements which may lead to a big saving in building costs. Because of high interest rates there is a reduction in the speed with which tenders are let, and their size, and at present the Stevenage Corporation is not building so many houses as a year ago. This may lead to improved efficiency on the part of contractors who wish for contracts in the new towns. Therefore, the high interest rates may well lead to a more competitive situation and improved efficiency in the building industry, which will have a long-term beneficial effect on rents.
Architectural standards vary in the new towns. In Stevenage, it is a striking fact that the factory area is architecturally the most noble. The new town centre now under construction may restore the balance between the architectural merits of the residential and factory buildings. But while it is quite right that experiments in domestic building should be made, I think attention must be given to the appearance and attractiveness of domestic building.
Another thing I wish to say about residential building—I say it at every opportunity—is that encouragement must be given to the corporations to succeed in providing middle-class housing in the new towns. That has not been done successfully in any of the new towns although more success has been achieved in some than in others. In Stevenage, it is not very successful. Unless this is put right, the new towns will never become the natural and normal places which my right hon. Friend wishes them to be.
If a new town grows to accommodate 60,000 people and planned development stops at that figure, further development will certainly have to go on to provide for about another 20,000 resulting from the natural growth in families, people moving into the new towns, and so on. I urge that the matter be so arranged that the new towns do not impinge upon the Green Belts in which they are situated. I do not go all the way with my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) in his dislike of flats. It may be necessary to build fiats to provide the accommodation required within the designated areas of these new towns.
The future of the new towns must be made clear and so I welcome the statements of my right hon. Friend on that subject. I hope that all with whom my right hon. Friend consults will be as helpful as possible. He has made clear that he will consult interested parties before he makes the final decisions about future arrangements for the new towns. Some of those with whom he will consult, like the Stevenage Urban District Council, are bodies composed of people of a political faith opposite to his own but, nevertheless, I trust that they will co-operate and help him, because only in that way can the best arrangements be made.
The hon. Member for Hitchin (Mr. Maddan) suggested that we should judge the record of the Government regarding new towns on the facts of the case. One fact which hon. Members should bear in mind, and which should be remembered by the Minister, is that the Government have not sanctioned a single new town in England and Wales since they have been in office. The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland said that we were nearing the end of our journey in England and Wales. I thought he implied that there were to be no more new towns. He made no straight statement, and I thought that he was afraid to make a positive statement to that effect.
If that is so, I think it a deplorable decision. Having made a statement of that kind, surely it was the duty of the hon. Gentleman to give the House some reason why such a decision had been arrived at. But no reason was given and I hope that the Minister will tell the House why that decision was made.
Despite all the statements from the Minister in connection with housing, we need more and more new towns in England and Wales. That is the only rational and effective way of dealing with the congestion in our large cities. It is nonsense to say that there is no housing problem today. It exists not only in Scotland, about which we have heard so much, but also in England and Wales. Housing conditions in the large cities like Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool are deplorable. The Government are doing nothing effective to solve the problem. I know what the Government have said and done about slum clearance, but in Birmingham—I am more familiar with conditions in Birmingham—the problem is incapable of solution except by providing a new town or towns.
In support of that statement, I may perhaps be permitted to give one or two facts about the situation in Birmingham today. We have there a problem of approximately 65,000 people who are on the housing waiting list, 40,000 of whom are families without houses of their own. That is something to be deplored. What is more, we have about 50,000 substandard houses. A large proportion of the working-class houses privately owned in Birmingham are sub-standard.
We have done a tremendous amount of work in acquiring houses in Birmingham in our redevelopment areas and so on. Nevertheless, any representative of Birmingham today, whether a Member of this House or a member of the local authority, is deeply conscious of the tragic problem that is continuing in cities like Birmingham in connection with housing. It is borne in upon us week by week in the interviews which we have with our constituents. It strikes at one's heart—without anything in the way of what is called "sob stuff"—when families come to us and ask, "What can you do?" Some of those families have been on the register for seven, eight and, in some cases, ten years, without their housing requirements having been met. That ought not to be.
It is a striking and deplorable fact that, much as we claim to have done in terms of housing in this country, there has never yet been a time when we could say that every family in the country was decently and adequately housed. Despite all our scientific and wonderful achievements, that, nevertheless, remains a blot on our record. Because of that, I think it is most unfortunate that the present Minister of Housing and Local Government has apparently set his face steadfastly against the creation of any more new towns. He has certainly done so in respect of Birmingham, and I think that his decision and attitude of mind applies to other places as well.
It is nonsense to say that a city like Birmingham can solve its housing problems within its own boundaries. It has practically no land suitable for housing purposes. It must go outside. That is not a problem for which Birmingham itself is responsible. We cannot indict Birmingham and say, "You should have done something about this." Planning is a national matter. I thought of that while listening to the most interesting speech of the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley), when he referred to the question of flats and whether flats should be built and reminded us of the high cost of building flats. He spoke about some flats with which I am very familiar, the Aston flats in Birmingham. I have been to see them fairly recently.
I have seen the architects concerned and I suppose that they would point to them with a great deal of pride. But to me they were tragedies, monuments to our stupidity, our lack of planning and lack of land resources. Families, particularly those with young children, isolated in ten or twelve storey blocks of flats, is something which ought not to be, and need not have been if we had planned our land resources properly.
The local authority certainly does not want flats of that kind. It is compelled by circumstances to undertake such projects. It would rather build the ordinary cottage type of property which families on the housing register prefer. It is no use saying to people who come for a house, "You cannot have a house, but here is a flat." They immediately raise objections. Ninety-nine out of 100 people in Birmingham say, "I do not want a flat." They want a house with a garden and the open spaces which one gets on the ordinary municipal estates in Birmingham and other places. Therefore, I emphasise once again that this problem, so far as the large towns are concerned, is one which can be met only by going outside and undertaking the building of new towns.
We have tried other ways. The Minister knows all about them because he has been thoroughly informed on this point. We have made contact with fifty or more local authorities. Local authorities in these days of a 7 per cent. Bank Rate are not going to enter into agreements with Birmingham and other large towns. We cannot expect them to do so. Why should they have a liability of that kind placed on their shoulders? It is far too much for them. If it is suggested that the new towns should be undertaken at the expense of the exporting city or borough, I say that is a fantastic and quite unrealistic suggestion. Why should Birmingham. London or Liverpool be compelled to undertake the financial liability of building new towns? Yet that is what is being suggested by the Government.
It is something which departs entirely from the spirit which underlies the 1946 Act. I hope that the Minister has not said the last word on the matter of new towns and that he will reconsider it in view of the deplorable housing conditions which still persist in Birmingham and other places. It is a national problem. Parliament recognises it to be such, and I hope that by agreeing to review his previous attitude towards the matter he will bring forward some solution, not merely for the cities as such, but for those individuals who have waited so long and, apparently, so hopelessly for new housing conditions and new environments. This is something which is urgent and about which some immediate action should be taken.
I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend will be able to deal with the criticisms which were raised in the earlier part of the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Small Heath (Mr. Wheeldon). I think that he ought to bear in mind a comparison of the facts of history—first, what his own Government and then what the Conservative Government have done in the building of houses and the clearance of slums. I was in great sympathy with the remainder of his speech, so I shall not pursue it.
I believe I am right in saying that the hon. Gentleman had the distinction of being the first Sassenach on his side of the House to address us this afternoon. I believe that every single speaker before him on the Opposition benches came from north of the Border. I say that in no form of criticism, because I know that there is a great deal of concern about Glasgow as being one of the places; and now we hear that Birmingham is another. I want to put this point particularly to the hon. Gentleman.
I know that many people think that we can more or less wave a magic wand and say that we will have another new town, and the problem is over. I have put this point before in the House and I want to put it again. I think that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) will agree with me, because he nodded when I said this before. The real danger exists particularly in regard to the new towns around London. Thirty thousand people have moved into Crawley and one would expect 30,000 fewer people in London; but there are not. There are actually more people in London since we started the new towns.
I do not know where they come from. They may come from north of the Border or from East Lancashire. We have not yet heard from the hon. Gentleman about that; but it is a fact.
Furthermore, when people come to the magnificent factories that are being built in Crawley and other new towns they leave behind rather dilapidated old factories. What is happening to them? Somebody else is going into them. What is happening to the decrepit houses that people are leaving in London? Is anybody pulling them down? Of course not; other people are going into them. I ask those questions of the Minister. The hon. Member for Small Heath should not get starry-eyed, believing that to have new towns near Birmingham and elsewhere will necessarily solve that problem.
I do not think anything of that sort. If we could get the hon. Gentleman's support we could deal with the matter very effectively. When we tried in the past we received no encouragement from the Government's present supporters.
I am just coming to that point. The hon. Gentleman must be patient.
The hon. Gentleman's party failed in the years after the war, when they were in office, because they always took on too much, especially in house building. They always liked to say to the people. "We have hundreds of thousands of houses on the stocks", but far fewer houses were built than they suggested. That is why our Government, in their wisdom, are not making a sort of propaganda campaign of starting another 15 or 20 new towns. We are tackling the job in a proper, businesslike way. We intend to see how the present development is working out.
I have already put to the House my view that it is not much good putting new towns upon valuable agricultural land. I was interested in the issues raised on this question by the Minister, although I could not quite follow the argument. If we put a big industrial town on agricultural land we shall thereby be a number of acres short. It is no good putting all these towns out in the country and dotting them about the place if the main towns and cities from which the people are supposed to come are getting more inhabited instead of less. It is a mathematical problem the solution of which I do not understand. It is the problem which affects the constituency of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) and about which I have no doubt the hon. Member will speak.
I would now say one or two words about my own new town, Crawley. If I were asked what is the most absorbing and most interesting duty I have as a Member of Parliament, the answer would be that it is undoubtedly my connection with one of the new towns. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. Hamilton) is not in his place at the moment, because I would cross swords with him. I was not in this House when the New Towns Bill was debated, but I have certainly never heard of anybody but a few hon. Members on both sides of the House who criticised the new towns.
I think I am right in saying that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who opened the debate, talked about one new town having 90 per cent. of its population under the age of 45. The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) has a card-index system; I do not know whether he has any nice, quick ones for me about Crawley. He has been jumping up and down, so perhaps he may be able to oblige me. I think he will find that Sir John Bennett says that the average age of the people in Crawley is about 28 years. That is a measure of the amazing experiment that is going on in these towns and an indication of one or two very serious problems which will face us.
Our first problem is that we are getting a very great number of teen-agers. The strange thing is that we do not seem to have very many "teddy boys" in Crawley, but we have an enormous and ever-growing number of teen-agers, and we shall have a very serious youth problem which we all have to consider most carefully. We are getting our playing-fields, but we have not enough money for changing-rooms and a lot of other things. I know that in the not-too-distant future there will be an opportunity to discuss local government finance, but this is a very serious problem which faces every local authority, irrespective of political colour.
I would like to read a paragraph or two of a letter which I received very recently from the Clerk of Crawley Urban District Council. He says:
It is felt that new town authorities present exceptional circumstances which merit exceptional treatment. They are faced with a large volume of capital expenditure over a comparatively short period. All the services which other authorities have provided over a long period have to be provided quickly at something like three times pre-war cost. Put shortly, it is the problem of rapidly expanding population to which the Edwards Committee referred in paragraphs 60–65 of their Report.
We all agree that it is a very serious problem.
I should like the opportunity of having a local moan on exactly the same point—it has nothing to do with my right hon. Friend the Minister—as was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mr. Maddan). It is a question about Crawley Hospital which, on any terms, is an absolute scandal. I have not been able to find out where the blame lies, but I think it is with the regional board. It may well lie with the Ministry. I am not prepared to say; perhaps it is 50–50. It is not much good bringing this Bill to the House to build more and more houses in a town like Crawley and not to give the people adequate hospital facilities. The whole story in Crawley was merely that nobody could make up his mind where to put the hospital.
There is not a proper one at all in Crawley. There is only the old cottage hospital, with a nissen but for the out-patients. It is a disgrace, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will use his fullest authority and persuasion in this matter.
My hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland spoke of amenities in the new towns. Crawley has the rather extraordinary problem of Gatwick Airport being built quite close. Crawley lies on what is probably one of the most busy suburban railway lines—it is a bit more than suburban—on one of the busiest passenger-carrying railways in the world. I am assured by the British Transport Commission and by its Southern Region, which has given me a great deal of help in this matter, that they will be able to cope with the extra traffic which will arrive, first by reason of the ever-increasing traffic between Crawley and its normal business and commercial connections with London and, secondly, by the growth of Gatwick Airport.
We all know what happens when a new airport is built. When we were first informed about Gatwick I was told that it would be a nice little airport, and I gave in and did not continue my resistance. I am now told that it is to be rather bigger and that Croydon Airport is to be closed. That will make Gatwick a bigger airport still. That will mean more and more traffic on the railway, which already serves East Crawley in one direction, Brighton in another, and Worthing, Chichester and Portsmouth in yet another direction. It is all very serious. If we are to have a town which eventually will grow to 60,000 or 80,000 inhabitants we must avoid cluttering up the railways, or eventually we shall make transport facilities absolutely hopeless.
Hon. Members on the other side of the House have referred to our outlay of £350 million as an investment. Of course it is an investment. I was rather interested in the remarks of the hon. Member for Small Heath, who asked why Birmingham should pay for this, why any town should pay for this. That does not marry with the remarks made by the hon. Member for Fife, West, who said that all these towns should be handed over to the local authorities. Hon. Members cannot have it both ways. I do not think that we can have taxpayers providing the money and, when the new town is completed, have it handed to the ratepayers.
They are two entirely different problems. When a new town community is constituted it is the democratic and sensible thing to pass over its government to that community, but the cost of building the new community is an entirely different problem. This applies also to other cities.
Birmingham is faced with the problem of overpsill and overflow because of large numbers of people who come into the city. Many of them are not Birmingham people at all, but they are helping industry in Birmingham to assist the export drive, which is assisting the whole country. Surely that ought not to be considered a financial problem for Birmingham. I suggest to the hon. Member that the two problems are quite distinct. One is the problem of the democratic government of the community as it exists and the other is financial provision to create it and to deal with that problem is not the task of a particular city.
I am obliged to the hon. Member, but I do not think that he has carried the argument further. I was not talking about local government as such. Of course, the local government will be in the hands of the local authorities, but this is a question of who is the landlord?
The hon. Member for Small Heath was saying that Birmingham should not be the landlord, it would be most unfair for Birmingham to be the landlord, and the nation should be the landlord. In other words we are all together over this and are going to nationalise it. [HON. MEMBER: "No."] It is all very well for an hon. Member to say "No," but when the gas and electricity industries were nationalised the argument was put forward that local authorities should have nothing to do with them. Now, apparently, when the new towns have been nationalised, the argument is put forward that local authorities are to take them over. I feel very strongly—
I am sorry, but the hon. and learned Member for Kettering has been intervening the whole afternoon and I am trying to keep my speech short.
I want to put this matter not in any controversial form, but as something we ought to consider most seriously. At present, these towns are called new towns. I hope that it will not be very long before we can forget the word "new". When we started there was Old Crawley and New Crawley and someone suggested that they were absolutely opposed to each other. Now they are not opposed; there is all one new town. I hope that it will not become a freak town.
The argument was put forward by the hon. Member for Fife, West that 90 per cent. of the property, including the factories, should be put into the hands of the local authority. That would turn it into a freak town. No other town or city exists where such a very large percentage of actual property is kept invested in the hands of the local authority. This is no slur on any individuals, either in my new town or anywhere else. It is the duty of all of us, particularly those in this House, to see that human frailties are not stretched too much. I can easily visualise that if such a step were taken, and all these properties were put in the hands of local authorities, there would be a temptation at local elections to say, "You get me in and we will get the rents down."
I do not know what the hon. Member does in a local election, but I should not like that to happen. The point is that, if a person says that, he knows he cannot do it. In this case he probably would be able to do it at the expense of the industrialist.
That brings me to the next point I want to make. The industrialist must be kept in these new towns by every possible means. For that reason I was pleased that my right hon. Friend the Minister did me the honour of making a statement in my constituency. He was rather misquoted afterwards by several people. I believe today the hon. Member for Fife, West had some qualms about that statement.
I wrote to my right hon. Friend only a few days ago on this subject of the possible disposal of properties. I wish to read a sentence or two from his letter. Surely it would be a very wise thing either to sell the freeholds or very long leases to industrialists in order to keep industrialists there. Surely it would be a very unwise thing for industrialists to feel that their rents and everything else were to be subject to various changes of local policy and local politics. Therefore, I was pleased when I had the letter from my right hon. Friend which said:
…you can assure your constituents right away that when I said that the new agency would have power to sell properties or to grant leases if it thinks fit I was not at that point thinking primarily of houses.
I would expect that the agency would be willing to sell individual houses to their tenants—as, indeed, Development Corporations are now. In this context, I understand that the Crawley Corporation has received practically no applications from tenants to buy the actual houses they rent—which are normally in a row of rented houses. But they do receive such applications to buy houses designed for sale—and these they meet."
I hope that we shall not get an element of party politics in this matter. I immediately withdraw if I have started taunting hon. Members opposite about nationalisation—
The hon. and learned Member for Kettering has had a very good innings. I think he has intervened in every other speech made from this side of the House. I thought it would be a little salutary if he did not intervene in mine, but he can do so with pleasure.
These new towns have made a very fine start. At the moment they have problems similar to those in a young family, but there are also tremendously encouraging signs. Our community is tremendously virile. Everything it does is done with tremendous verve, and that includes politics in a big way. It will be up to this House, in the fairly near future, to make a wise decision about the future of new towns. I hope very much that that decision will he made after the most careful thought, because a wrong decision would mean that everything that has been spent and done to date would have been spent and done in vain.
The Bill with which the House is dealing has one limited purpose. It is a Bill to authorise the expenditure of a further £50 million on this general policy of the creation, maintenance and development of new towns. That £50 million has to be seen, as the Bill makes clear, against the background of the aggregate of £250 million which has either already been spent or is in process of being spent.
I think I am the first participant in this debate to enter a caveat against that further spending. I am at this moment opposed to it and I would not myself be willing to give the Government this further £50 million at this moment for this purpose. I oppose it in no grudging spirit.
I listened with very great sympathy indeed to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Wheeldon), who took part in the debate a little while ago and who described the problems of a large city like Birmingham. Indeed, I listened with the sympathy of experience, because I was born and brought up in Liverpool and I had my own apprenticeship in public life on the estates committee of the Liverpool City Council. Liverpool's problems in this respect are very like Glasgow's problems or Birmingham's problems or the problems of any other conurbation. I have every sympathy, but I say that the new towns policy is only part, or ought to be only part, of a general national plan. The new towns policy is a cure for a disease after it has occurred.
Cobbett long ago described London as "The Great Wen". I do not know how he would have described it in the middle twentieth century or what words he would have found for the other overpopulated and overcrowded cities of our land.
How did they occur? They occurred by a drain of population from the countryside and from smaller towns—the attraction of the people from the small towns and the urban districts and sometimes from the agricultural districts into towns where work was easier to obtain, where amenities were greater and where life was more attractive. In the end, we had the problem with which the new towns policy is intended to deal.
But what national advantage would there be in so pursuing the new towns policy as to exacerbate the evil rather than to prevent its growth? Where is the advantage of taking people out of derelict, or almost derelict, housing conditions in a great town and housing them in a bright, new, attractive small town of their own if the only result is to fill the empty, derelict houses with a new population derived from the country or the smaller towns outside? What is the use of boasting about a new town that its population averages below 40 or 45 years of age, or in the case of the instance given by the hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Gough) below 35, if that is done at the expense of increasing the proportion of old people in the other towns?
My right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirlingshirc (Mr. Woodburn) was perfectly right when he said that we had to consider this whole matter as part of a national policy of industry and population and particularly a problem of the location of industry. In these circumstances, for what reason do I say that at this moment to spend another £50 million in addition to the £250 million already spent or spending is not to be supported? Because the £50 million could be better spent for the same general purposes in preserving the social capital of those small towns where it already exists and where it is now being wasted by a continued flow of population out of them.
There were two sides to this policy. They were, first, the new towns policy, certainly, and, second, the development area policy. On the one hand, we were saying, "Let us reduce the size of the inflated large towns". On the other hand, we were saying, "Let us stop this mischievous flow of population by substituting a policy of taking industry to the people for the policy of taking the people lo industry."
I want to show the House how this works by reference to my own constituency. I hope that at the end the House will see why I look with some anxiety and reluctance on the further spending of a large sum of public money in dealing with the results of a disease when it seems to me that we are encouraging the disease to grow or at any rate neglecting the necessary steps to prevent it from growing.
I represent two small towns in North-East Lancashire and the two urban district councils. They were new towns in their day. Colne was a new town in Roman days—hence its name, the old Roman Colonia. There are the vestiges of a Roman camp or settlement still to be found within the precincts of the constituency. Nelson was a new town a good deal more recently. It is, perhaps, a hundred years old. It was created in the days when the Lancashire cotton industry was booming and when Britain was the workshop of the world.
I have represented them for some twenty-two years. When I was first elected—I am not speaking in precise figures, but only to the best of my recollection—the electoral register contained some 56,000 to 57,000 names. Today, the electoral register contains some 42,000 names, a drop of nearly 25 per cent. in twenty years. This process is still going on.
Two or three years ago, the area was created a development area, and there is a development area board on which the local authorities of all the towns in the area are represented. The area stretches from Padiham, at one end, to Colne at the other end, but anyone who knows what the industrial landscape in Lancashire looks like will also know that it is one great conurbation, to use the ugly word which is becoming so popular, of its own. One can travel from Padiham to Burnley, from Burnley to Brier-field, from Brierfield to Nelson, from Nelson to Colne and from Colne to Trawden without ever knowing where one passes out of one of the towns or urban districts into the other. This is the great North-East Lancashire Development Area.
I have some recent figures. Let me read the paragraph from the latest report made to the Chairman and members of the North-East Lancashire Development Area Committee:
Certain rather alarming facts have recently emerged from the official figures supplied by the Ministry of Labour and National Service. These show that despite all the efforts made by this Committee and other bodies to diversify the area's industrial structure, the net increase in the insured, non-textile labour force increased by only 658 (from 47,828 to 48,486) between June, 1952, and June, 1956. During the same period the textile industry reduced its insured working population by 6,543 (from 39,102 to 32,559).
The hon. Member for Horsham said that he did not know where the new population was coming from to replace the old population that was taken out of the great cities in the Midlands and the South and put into the new towns that were being created. Where does the new population come from? This area is where it comes from—this, and other places like it. Here there has been a reduction of 6,500 in the working population out of a total of 47,000— 12½ per cent.—in five years.
I ask the House to bear with me. I hope not to keep it very long, nor to bore it with too many figures. First, I should like to finish the quotation. After pointing to the drift of population in five years, the Report goes on to say:
The true position is probably much worse than these figures indicate, because of the large number of uninsured married women who have been made redundant by the reduction in textile production and are not included in the official figures.
The right hon. Gentleman will know what this means. Some married women prefer—and in the textile industry most of them prefer—not to be insured in their own right, but to rely upon their husbands' insurance, upon which they are
entitled to rely as married women, because they get very little less benefit for much less contributions if they do so.
Whether it was wise to have legislation which had that effect this is not the time to discuss, but there it is. The effect is that the Ministry of Labour figures for unemployment are falsified to that extent. They give the figures only of the insured population, and as nearly all married women in these districts work, and as nearly all of them are not insured, they do not figure in the returns at all, so that the figure of reduction in five years is far more than the 12½ per cent. indicated by the reduction in the numbers recorded of the insured population in the area.
The quotation goes on to say:
In addition, the only part of the Development Area in which the insured non-textile figure increased during this four year period was Padiham. In both Come and Nelson the figure dropped slightly, whilst in Burnley it remained the same.
The exception is significant, because only in Padiham has a new factory been erected since the area first became a development area.
I will not trouble the House with figures showing the proportions over the area in which the drop in the insured population is analysed. I do want the House to bear in mind, however, that two things have to be seen together: first, the rate at which we take out population from the overcrowded cities and put it into new towns and, secondly, the rate at which we are already encouraging the drift of population away from other towns—because to the extent that we do not deal with the drift of population into the towns we are frustrating the creative effort being made by taking population away.
What is the remedy? These two towns have got almost everything that a new town can offer. They are pleasant towns; the houses may be a little old-fashioned, but they are very pleasant, well-built houses, owned mostly by the people who live in them. In this connection one remembers the old Lancashire saying that in Lancashire everyone owns his own house and the house next door. The result is that the houses are well preserved.
There are more empty houses in this district than anywhere else in the country, with a consequent loss of rates to the city. The towns are governed by progressive authorities. They have music festivals and local orchestras. They are well laid out. They have amenities of every kind. They have schools, hospitals and factories. They have a very intelligent, well-educated population. They are not too large, and they have ready access to some of the most beautiful countryside in the British Isles. Lancashire does not consist entirely of Blake's "dark, satanic mills": it has moors, lakes and mountains. There is no more pleasant holiday district in the country. What can we give people in any of the new towns that we cannot give them in these well-kept and well-built older towns? Nothing at all. It is all there, except work, and the whole purpose of the development area scheme was to take work there.
I shall be told in reply that the unemployment figure for the area is no higher than that for the whole country. Certainly it is not, because the unemployed drift away. If the population which has moved had remained in the district it would have a very much higher percentage figure of unemployed. This is concealed unemployment.
But over and above all that we have another problem. Even if the cotton industry had remained as prosperous as it was seventy or eighty years ago people would still object to living in a town dominated by a single industry. We had exactly the same problem in the mining villages of South Wales, Durham, and Scotland. Indeed, a great part of the new towns policy has been to build new towns in those very districts.
But here, where we have exactly the same problem, we do not need to build a new town. All we need do is to diversify the industry. If it is true that we should have had a problem even if cotton had continued to offer a secure livelihood as it once seemed to do, it becomes an even more serious problem when everyone knows that cotton has not the secure future that some other industres have. It has to be brought up-to-date, and in order that it should be brought up-to-date money requires to be invested in it. It requires capital investment, but the Government's policy prevents capital investment. How can anybody put money into it if he cannot borrow, and who will put money in if he has to pay at least 7 per cent. upon what he borrows?
At the same time as the Government's policy makes it more difficult to put new capital investment into the area, or to bring new industries into the area, the Government are embarking upon ambitious schemes for European free trade which, whatever the ultimate result, must add substantially to the immediate problems of the textile industry. The only way to deal with that, surely, is not to leave the people there to bear the burden alone, but to provide them with alternative industries. That means financial assistance from the Government. It cannot be done in any other way.
We are spending £300 million on new towns for the same reason, but when we spend £300 million on the new towns we have to spend a large part not upon taking industries to them but upon building the towns from scratch. In the North-East Development Area of Lancashire, on the other hand, the towns are there and money spent on what is in the end exactly the same problem can be spent there on the necessary financial assistance which might take alternative industries to them.
I do not complain that the reasoned Amendment I put down was not called. I can understand that, had it been called, it would have switched the debate away from the new towns to a debate on a cognate, but different, problem. I hope it will not be thought in any way irrelevant or gate-crashing on to someone else's province to point out that this problem in North-East Lancashire is part of the general problem with which new town policy is concerned. I am not going to challenge a Division. I know that the overwhelming majority of the House wants to see the Government have this extra £50 million and would like to see it wisely, constructively, and imaginatively spent in the new towns. I do not seriously object to that, and I am sure that my constituents would not, either.
It is a very shortsighted and ill-balanced policy which spends these vast sums of money on trying to deal with the results of an unbalanced social and national policy if, at the same time, it allows the unbalance to grow and increase the very problem with which it is designed to deal. I urge the Government to consider all these things together. Unless they want to have a growing problem on their hands, they must bring some reality and significance into the Order they themselves made by which North-East Lancashire became, for the first time, a development area.
The towns of North-East Lancashire have a long tradition. They have civic pride. They do not want to become an ageing, depopulated area, and it is not in the public or the national interest that they should. The remedy is in the Government's hands. It is the same remedy as they have applied to the new towns, but it must be applied at both ends of the scale.
The hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Gough), who is not now present in the Chamber, referred in the opening words of his speech to the fact that several hon. Members from north of the Border had been called earlier in the debate. While not wishing to enter into any argument about that, I hope that all hon. Members will recognise that, while we all have special knowledge of the areas from which we come, quite naturally, we are discussing a problem and a principle which is nation wide in its effect and application. We should consider it in that context. The criticisms I am about to utter of Government policy on new towns in Scotland applies equally to their policy in respect of Birmingham, Liverpool and other large cities.
At the conclusion of the eloquent speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) on behalf of his area, he pointed out that the Government must bear in mind the problem of industry first in respect of new towns. The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland knows that in the recent debates on the Housing and Town Development (Scotland) Act one of the points giving rise to the most heated discussion was the argument that the Act would not succeed because it did not provide for industry to go into the new towns. I want, therefore, to preface what I have to say by urging the Government, once again, to reconsider the provision of new towns to deal with the overcrowding which is now prevalent and becoming a national disgrace. I shall refer later to the particular places I have in mind.
The Joint Under-Secretary of State referred to the deficit on general revenue account—in respect of the new towns in Scotland, I presume—and he quoted a figure of £300,000. It is true that, with a wintry smile, he said that this was money well spent none the less; but as my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. Hamilton) said, while speaking highly of new towns, the hon. Gentleman went on, nevertheless, to say that there were to be no more. If one reckons these things in terms of money, that deficit of £300,000, in the benefit it has brought to Scotland and its people in rehousing and in new buildings, bringing a new atmosphere into life, has been one of the best investments which the nation has made. Nobody would deny that.
The hon. Gentleman went on to say that in the new towns 7,000 houses had been provided, 5,000 in East Kilbride. Those 5,000 houses are not assisting Glasgow to the extent that they should. My information is that only 1,500 of those houses are occupied by people from Glasgow. All of us join in the tribute which my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) paid to Sir Patrick Dollan and his staff for the magnificent work they are doing. Here are the idealists of years ago now having the opportunity to carry into practice many of the things in which they believe; I am sure that they must be enjoying themselves very much more, perhaps, than some of us here who are talking about it.
But if the claim is made that East Kilbride is doing something to help to disperse the population of Glasgow, I think that that is a wrong claim. While it is true that, to the extent of 1,500 families, it has done so, it is not fulfilling the true function which was intended for it. The situation at East Kilbride is proof, if any wore needed, that more new towns are vitally necessary. To talk about dispersing the population to deal with Glasgow's overspill—dispersing 2,000 here, 3,000 there, and 5,000 elsewhere—is merely to tinker with the problem.
Why cannot the Government read again the terms of the debate which took place here in 1946 and 1947? Let them try to put some greater drive, energy and idealism into planning the thing on a far bigger scale than they are attempting now.
I should be glad if the Joint Under-Secretary of State would tell me how much of the sum now being spoken of is now being devoted to Scotland.
I did not deal with that point in my speech, and the short answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is that there is no fixed sum allocated between Scotland and England. All the new towns get really what they need out of this allocation.
I am grateful for that information.
To return to the matter of Glasgow's overspill and the more efficient distribution of industry, we know, according to figures supplied by the Minister, that of 100,000 housing applicants in Glasgow, 43,000 are from married couples, many with families but no homes. While it is true that cities like Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester have their problems, we believe that there is no problem in the United Kingdom which is comparable with Glasgow's problem. The Minister knows of the strong dissatisfaction expressed with the recent legislation in the Housing and Town Development (Scotland) Act. I am not one of those who say that it is of no service at all. I admit that it is. I believe that it will make its contribution.
Both things should work together, town development and—what is more important to Scotland, particularly the industrial belt, with its frightful conglomeration and overcrowding the construction of more new towns. I believe that that should have priority over town development proposals. The town development, proposals are quite inadequate to deal with Glasgow's figures. I think that it just takes priority over the steel strip mill. If those two things are done for Scotland, then its future is assured.
The representations made to the Minister about the financial provisions of the Act are quite inadequate. We believe that it is merely a subterfuge of the Government to avoid their real responsibilities. I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Small Heath (Mr. Wheeldon) said earlier. It is not merely the responsibility of Glasgow, nor of Birmingham, Liverpool or Manchester. The nation's needs and industries have helped to contribute towards the conglomeration and overcrowding. By attracting people into the cities the Government have a responsibility to assist those towns not only in providing minimum amenities and the services outside of the cities altogether, but making uniform communities provided with their own facilities, such as town halls, hospitals, and the like
Glasgow has 300,000 people to be exported outside the city. There is not sufficient territory inside on which to build the necessary houses. We have been over this topic so many times, but I take this opportunity to encourage the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland to urge the Government, in which he has authority and interest, for the construction of a minimum of two new towns in Scotland to deal with this frightful problem. Three hundred thousand people cannot possibly be rehoused inside the city. They cannot be rehoused even under the Town Development Act.
The Joint Under-Secretary of State made this admission. He said that a new town in Scotland is not ruled out. That was as far as he was prepared to go. It seems to me that in recent statements there has been wavering. The Minister of State for Scotland hinted some time ago that there would be no more new towns for Scotland. The Secretary of State said that there would be no more new towns in the immediate future.
This afternoon the Joint Under-Secretary said that the possibility is not ruled out. If it is not ruled out, may I ask him to use his interest to bring pressure to bear on the appropriate authorities to come to the decision that there will be not one new town but two as a minimum, because people in Glasgow cannot for very much longer persist with or endure the conditions with which they have had to put up for so long?
The Joint Under-Secretary represents one of the Glasgow constituencies. Glasgow is so large now that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) said, one passes from one town into another without knowing where the boundary begins and where it ends. So, in Glasgow, one passes from the town itself into the industrial area of Coatbridge, Clydebank and the rest. In these circumstances, I am glad of the opportunity to say a word or two in support of this Bill. At the same time, I say that it does not go nearly far enough to deal with the festering sore in Scotland of providing new accommodation and new communities in new towns. It is the Government only who can act in this matter. They should reassert their policy in stronger terms at an early date and thereby bring some hope to the people of West Scotland.
I am glad that the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) has returned to the Chamber, because I was very interested indeed in what he had to say. I am in agreement with much of what he said. But there were parts in his speech with which I disagree very much. It is obvious that he had approached this question from the point of view of the economic problems of his own constituency. In his constituency there has been a dwindling away of the population because there is no work. There is not sufficient industry in the locality to employ the people. But here in the greater London area we are over-industrialised. We have far too many industries, and the industrial concentrations in and around London are far too great.
I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman so early, but we do not want to be at cross-purposes. I entirely accept what he says. That is the problem. But surely it is part of the same problem which arises in development areas. The reason why there is too much industry in the South is because there is too little industry in the North. Therefore, the remedy of providing alternative industries in areas which are short of alternative industries is part of the disease with which the hon. Gentleman is dealing.
I will come to the points on which I disagree with my learned Friend later.
If the new towns conception is to be successful we must have a national economic plan for the proper dispersal of our industry in relation to the centres of populations. What we are lacking at the present time is a national plan. Even so, it is not easy to direct industry to specific and particular areas. As long as industry is mainly under private enterprise and is a possession of private individuals, it is very difficult to exercise compulsion upon them to go somewhere where they do not wish to go. Even the new towns around the London area have found great difficulty over the years in persuading sufficient industry to go to the new towns; for without the industry there will be no people at the new towns. It is no use building houses if there is not work for the people to do.
Therefore, if the Government or this House can evolve a national economic plan by which we should have a better distribution of industries, taking it to areas like that of Nelson and Colne, that seems to me the main solution to the problem in my hon. Friend's area. We could very well do with less industry in and around London. Believe me, that would solve an awful lot of our problems.
The idea of the new towns, however, so far as it has relationship to the problem in London, is, as I said earlier, approached from the opposite point of view to the approach of my hon. Friend. Over the generations—indeed, over centuries—over-industrialisation has attracted the younger generations of men and women who have come to London from the provinces because the work was here. There has always been work here. Even in the time of the great industrial depression between the wars there was employment in and around London. Many young people in particular came here to get work. Consequently, London and the surrounding district became intensely overcrowded and people were living in shocking conditions.
Therefore, something had to be done to ease the situation. The conception of the new towns was a magnificent idea. It had a direct connection with the brilliant reports for which the late Professor Sir Patrick Abercrombie was responsible—the Greater London Plan and the London County Plan—which designated that there were in London at the very minimum about 1½ million people who were living in dreadful conditions and who ought to be provided with better accommodation outside London. The idea of the new towns, of which London has eight, was to draw away from London and into the new towns people who were living in overcrowded circumstances—most of whom were amongst the poorest range of the working-class population—so that in the new towns they would have a decent life, provided, of course, that industry also went to the new towns.
If I have any criticism to make, it is that the eight new towns are completely inadequate to cope with the overspill problem of London and the inner urban ring of Greater London. They are completely and hopelessly inadequate. The Minister this afternoon made the ominous statement that two of the new towns around the periphery of London are within about three or four years of completing their task. It is a bad thing to hear that said, because the problem has by no means been completed.
If the eight new towns reach their maximum population, they will have rehoused about 300,000 people, or possibly 320,000. Even assuming that all these people have come from the overcrowded areas of central London, when we compare their numbers with the R million that the Abercrombie Plan recommended should be rehoused outside the London area in the new towns, it will be realised that a very large measure of the problem is still untouched.
For this reason, we are all deeply concerned with the progress that the new towns are making. We have a justified criticism that the policy of the Government is not assisting the progress of development in the new towns, but, indeed, is severely crippling and hampering its progress. We are met today to agree to an advance of £50 million to the new town corporations, bringing up the total figure from £250 to £300 million. If one studies the Financial and Explanatory Memorandum, one finds that this £50 million that we are about to vote today is expected to cover a period of two years. The Financial and Explanatory Memorandum tells us:
At the present rate of progress the additional £50 million in the Bill will provide for commitments up to the end of 1959.
That is roughly two years. When we consider the advances which have been
made in previous years, we find that the rate of progress has been much more rapid than £50 million spread over two years. The fact remains that the rate of progress of development is running down.
In terms of purchasing power and costs as related to the year 1951, when the Minister's party came to power, the £50 million advance that we are making today, measured in terms of actual development, is worth only 34—£35 million. One-third of the £50 million is accounted for by increased costs of development, building and the rest, and by increased interest charges fastened upon the development corporations by the financial policy of the Government.
There is not one of the reports of the development corporations which does not draw attention to the crippling effect of high interest rates on the money which they have to borrow. When the Minister's party came to power in 1951, money was advanced to the development corporations at a rate of interest of 3 per cent. Now it is 6¾ per cent., or more than double. This adds a considerable burden to the task which the development authorities have to face in the development of their new towns and the provision of industry and of housing accommodation. Consequently, in their reports housing corporation after housing corporation indicate quite clearly that they will have to reduce the rate of progress and development because of the crippling effects of higher interest rates and higher building costs.
What about the effects on the overspill population? We have heard hon. Members opposite talk about the high wages that are paid in the new towns. The hon. Member for Hitchin (Mr. Maddan), for example, spoke of the good wages being paid at Stevenage and elsewhere and how people are flocking there because of the high wages; but that is not exactly correct by comparison with London. The rates of employment in London are much higher than the rates of employment outside and even at Stevenage.
The problem that we have to face is that the people who are in need of better housing accommodation are—I do not say exclusively, but in the main—the poorest section of the community, whose wages, even in London and the surrounding area, are amongst the lowest. Yet even those wage rates are higher in London than those for similar employment outside, because London rates are much higher than the industrial rates outside. Therefore, if a person wants to move from the London area to, say, Stevenage, in the main he is faced with a reduction in his wages and with a much greater rent than that of his overcrowded dwelling even in London. This involves a real sacrifice in his wage standards and a higher rent for a better home. I am glad to say that many are able to face this economic problem, but there are many more who cannot do so, and consequently it is more difficult for them to solve their housing problem.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. The point is that a man who goes to a new town gets much better accommodation than before and is willing to spend more on it because he enjoys it more and less on other things. Secondly, it is part of the accepted policy of the unions, certainly as regards the engineering trade, not to apply the London differential to the new towns.
I am not necessarily disagreeing with the hon. Gentleman on those points. I am trying to state the fact that when we are trying to encourage people to go out to the new towns in order to reduce overcrowding and overspill, and when we are trying to get industry to go there also, the policy now being pursued by the Government of increasing interest rates, which has led to a considerable increase in building costs, is accentuating the problem which such a person has to meet if he wants to move from London to Stevenage or to any other new town.
Therefore, instead of the right hon. Gentleman taking the view that the development corporations should pay 6¾ per cent. interest on the money needed for development, he should recognise that they are entitled to preferential treatment in that respect, since the heavy rise in those rates and in building costs is not only crippling development but is making it more and more impossible for the individual living in overcrowded circumstances to go to a new town and expect to live comfortably.
Therefore, whilst we welcome the proposal to provide a further £50 million for the development corporations, let us be under no illusion. The amount we are voting today is worth £33 million in 1951 terms, and one-third of it at least will be devoted by the development corporations to meeting increased building costs and increased interest rates. To that extent, insofar as it is a whittling down of the amount and a reduction in the development of the new towns, it is to be deplored. If we were anxious to maintain the rate of development, and if we took into consideration the increased interest rates, we should be voting tonight not £50 million but £75 million.
Let us hope that, despite the policy of the Government, the development corporations will carry on with their good work. I disagreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne when he said that he was in favour of not voting the £50 million tonight. I am sure that on reflection he will find that he did not mean this, because it makes some contribution, particularly in the case of London, to providing better housing accommodation for people who are overcrowded, and I know that my hon. Friend is the last one to wish to stop that process.
There was a lot of truth in what he said, namely, that unless we can control the influx of people into over-crowded areas, to some extent we shall cancel the export of people to the new towns, but on balance there is some advantage. Despite the fact that people have come in and taken the places of those who have gone out, there has been an easing of the problem in many parts of London and greater London, due not only to the new towns, but also to the magnificent work of the London County Council.
I am sure that the House will give a Second Reading to this Bill, and I hope that the Minister will be able to take notice of some of the criticisms we have made. If he is anxious to develop the new towns and assist their rate of progress and development, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that he will have the support of everybody on this side. I am not sure if it is possible but if in the Committee stage this sum could be increased to something more equivalent to the rate of development that has taken place in recent years, which I would place in the region of £75 million, it would be money well spent and the right hon. Gentleman would be doing a good job.
I agree with those hon. Members who have pointed out that the problems of housing, the distribution of industry in this country, and the questions that go with them, will not be solved merely by new towns. It may well be that in some parts of the country, for instance in the neighbourhood of Nelson and Colne, new towns do not meet the case and that factories are required. I imagine that any Government have to make up their minds about the allocation not only of money but of building labour between housing—including new towns and so on—factories, schools and other necessary purposes. Just in the same way, of course, the Government have to make up their minds, within the realm of housing, how much building labour or money—look at it as you wish—is to go to repairs and maintenance, how much to new building in existing towns, and how much to building in new towns or under overspill arrangements.
No one would dispute any of those propositions, but what we are considering particularly tonight is the question of an additional sum for new towns. In doing so, we have to look at the history of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite in the matter of new towns, at their present condition, and at their future prospects. So I say to the right hon. Gentleman that when his party first came into office it received a considerable heritage in the new towns themselves, in the people who were doing public-spirited and valuable work in the cause of the new towns, and in those who had thought them out originally.
The object of the new towns was twofold. Looked at in one way, it was to deal with the surplus population of some of the conurbations. That was the first intention. Looked at in another it was a great social adventure, and that has been recognised in lip service paid by the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends many times. We had a little more of it today, not only from the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who then told us that there were to be no more new towns in England, but also from some of his hon. Friends who represent new towns and thought it advisable to say once more what a good thing they thought new towns were.
That is the position. Let us see what has happened. These new towns were started in the first place in relief of the surplus population of conurbations. There were four of them round London, and at a later stage four more were added around London. Recognising the kind of point that has been put in the course of this debate, four other new towns were added in England and Wales—I am not talking about the Scottish ones—to meet industrial requirements—Corby, in the Midlands, for iron and steel; Peterlee, in County Durham, for coal mining; Aycliffe, for other industrial reasons; and one also finds an industrial reason for Cwmbran. Those were the purposes it was intended those towns should fulfil.
It is clear that the new towns by themselves were insufficient to deal with the problem of housing in and from those conurbations. We had from the Permanent Secretary of the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry the other day—it is, of course, a purely factual estimate—a "fairly conservative estimate" of about 2 million people to move out from the great towns and something over 500,000 houses to be built outside those towns. What was intended to be achieved by the new towns was nothing like that. The aim at present is a population of about 600,000 to be dealt with by the new towns. That has not yet been done, of course, but one recognises at once that even though these estimates are rough and in round figures, the present new towns cannot cope with even half of the population required to be dealt with. Town development does not seem likely to fill that gap by any means.
There is another way of looking at new town needs. We have heard stated definitely tonight by the Joint Under-Secretary, for the first time I believe, that the policy of the Government is not to designate any more new towns in England and Wales. As a result of that policy, which has been forming gradually for months past—we have all been watching it—what have we had? First, we have had an attempt by private enterprise—by the Chairman of Harlow Development Corporation—to start a new town at Allhallows. This shows the need for new towns of that kind. Also, we have had the London County Council driven to do something which is the business of the Government unless and until they amend the New Towns Act—to start, on some terms or another, a new town out of its own rates. That is what it comes to. Birmingham is being pressed to do the same thing, also out of the Birmingham rates.
Another new town is clearly needed for the purpose for which Congleton was needed when the present Government came into office, which is to give some relief to the South-East Lancashire conurbation, Manchester and the surrounding area. Congleton never came to fruition under this Government. No other new town has been built. It has been left to private enterprise in the somewhat curious person of a man who has been, and still is, I think, chairman of one of the new towns, to try to to start something on his own. The local authorities are also told that this national problem ought to be settled by them and that this stingy Government requires them to pay for it out of the rates. Why should London and Birmingham be asked to pay for building new towns when an Act was passed—it has been praised by the present Government—to make new towns what they ought clearly to be, a national responsibility?
That is not the end of the story. There is something to be said about the future of new towns, and I shall say it in a moment, but I turn for a minute from that side of the matter to the other side. The new towns project—everybody must admit it—was a magnificent social venture. It has been the admiration of many people concerned with these matters in foreign countries, people of distinction and experience. It has been the admiration of very many people in this country who have no party political views but have a great deal of public spirit. It is one of the finest things that have been begun in this generation. The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) said that it was a "political and economic achievement, a miracle of the age." For once I entirely agreed with him. In this sphere, it is something that will be remembered as a remarkable, imaginative effort, a bit of practical idealism brought in by the first Labour Government after the war. As a contribution to the solution of the difficulties which we then had and still have, it must surely command the admiration even of right hon and hon. Gentlemen opposite. They have only to look at the amount of public spirited, imaginative work put into it by those who have served and still serve on the development corporations and in connection with them.
What have the Government been doing about it? They have been praising it on the one hand but, on the other, quietly stifling it as a social venture. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman of some of the tools that he has been using for the purpose. If he says, "I did not mean it," he has only to look at the reports to see it written on every page. I refer to the reports to the Minister by people who are, in effect—in one sense of the word, at any rate—serving under him, whose appointments, or the renewal of whose appointments, depends on his own Ministry. They are people writing factual and, in some ways, rather dry reports, and they are certainly not likely to overstate their complaints.
In an earlier intervention I quoted from a Report relating to Hemel Hempstead. These are the words:
…Government policy has prevented many desirable amenities and social attractions from being provided….
When one gets a development corporation going as far as that in a report, it means that what is written in that way is nothing to what it feels about it, and nothing, I am certain, to what those concerned say about the Government when they are talking to one another. That is not the kind of thing which is put in a report.
What have been the measures of pressure? They have been mainly financial. One measure has been applied to a great many other things in the country. It has been applied by the Minister of Housing and Local Government to prevent too many council houses being built. I refer to the rate of interest on advances. The advances to the development corporations have followed the same course—the right hon. Gentleman was good enough to give me the figures in answer to a Question the other day—as advances from the Public Works Loan Board to local authorities. It should be remembered that all these reports were written as at the end of March, 1957, when the Bank Rate had not yet been raised to 7 per cent. and when there happened to have been a fall of ¼ or ½ per cent. in the interest rate. Yet they all refer to this matter.
Let us taken Stevenage as an example. The Stevenage Development Corporation is a large one. The town is in a fairly advanced state. The Corporation wrote a report in which it may be said to have looked back at the history of the matter. On page 362 appears the assertion that high interest rates and rents are obviously vitally connected. It is high interest rates which have caused high rents and which have largely accounted for the extra cost of housing. The figures given by Sir Humfrey Gale to the Public Accounts Committee were 70 per cent. because of interest rates—that was before the introduction of the 7 per cent. Bank Rate—and about 30 per cent. for building costs.
Whether it has been a matter of economies or of something else, there has been very little variation in the cost of house building since last year. In some places it has increased and in others it has decreased. It may have been a matter of cutting down standards. The Stevenage Report says in page 362:
A Development Corporation is not allowed to make good a loss on new house-building except from the pool of income produced from house rents. If it stops building new houses because of high costs, the town is loft incomplete, the requirement of creating a balanced community is not fulfilled and such population as there is in those circumstances cannot support the social, recreational and other facilities which residents expect.
The Report refers to the necessity of increasing rates because of higher rates of interest, and then says:
The Corporation regards this problem"—
that is, the problem of finance from the Government—
as one for your"—
that is, the right hon. Gentleman—
immediate and earnest consideration and feels that unless a national policy aimed at the reduction of interest rates and casts can be made to produce immediate results, steps must be taken to stabilise rents by other means so that the disparity between New Town rents and the rent level generally prevailing in the country is removed.
That is a complicated sentence, but what it comes to is that high interest rates in a new town necessarily mean very high rents and in the new towns rents have now reached such a level that the development corporations are being prevented from doing their jobs properly. We have exactly the same
position in Cwmbran which points out in its Report that it has to deal with industrial immigrants. Peterlee points out that although interest rates are so high, it is impossible to continue to demand higher rents in face of much lower rents in surrounding districts.
The right hon. Gentleman told me that an exclusive rent for a three-bedroom house in the new towns varies from 25s. to 39s. To that has to be added at least another 10s. for rates. Against that, the right hon. Gentleman has said that the average council house rent is between 14s. and 14s. 6d. The inevitable effect of high interest rates—taking into account subsidies—is to make rents so high that the corporations are unable to do their jobs. They must either slow their building programmes—and there is case after case of that in the Reports—or become limited towns merely for those who can afford to pay and not for the poorer sections of the population.
I agree with an hon. Member opposite who said that there should be middle-class people in the new towns. I want all classes to be in the new towns, but I do not want to cut out the unskilled people who are not getting very high pay and who have to live by the side of an industry, as, for instance, in Corby, Peterlee and other industrial places. I do not want those people to be cut out because the Government's financial arrangements are such that they cannot afford to pay the rents which have to be charged. If the right hon. Gentleman suggests a differential rent scheme, my reply is that in one form or another the corporations have tried every one of the Government's remedies. The real remedy is to revise all the financial arrangements.
It is clear that the Government have been telling the development corporations not to build too quickly. There is a reference to that in the Aycliffe Report and another in the Peterlee Report and there are vague references in the others. In fact, the corporations have been carrying out the general cutting policy enjoined by the Government and applying it to the new towns. That is part of what happens, but there is more. Another result with high rents and restriction of building at the same time, is that, as the Aycliffe Report puts it:
It will be noted that during the year the tempo of house building was appreciably reduced. This was the Corporation's contribution to the Ministry's expressed wish for financial relief…
This is financial relief in this social adventure which can make an invaluable contribution to a solution of the housing problem. The Aycliffe Report goes on:
…but in any case it was not thought prudent to borrow more than was strictly necessary and to pay 5¾ per cent. for the privilege.
The corporation now has to pay 6¾ per cent. for the privilege, and does not know how long that rate will operate. It does know that if it borrows at the moment, the loan will have to be over a period of sixty years during the whole of which time the corporation will have to pay 6¾ per cent. Is it any wonder that the corporations are being held up and that the tempo of house-building is decreasing and a social venture of which the Government approve verbally is being stifled by the Government's actions?
What about amenities? I wondered when the hon. Member for Hitchin (Mr. Madden) would refer to the swimming bath in Stevenage. The lack of a swimming bath there has been rightly attributed to Government policy. What do we mean by amenities? There are certain things which a development corporation ought to provide, but which the corporations are unable to provide because the Government will not allow them to do so at present, and so the inhabitants of Stevenage cannot have a swim.
There are other things which, as an hon. Member opposite put it, private enterprise could provide. At present cinemas do not pay private enterprise and there is a terrible shortage of cinemas, but beer pays and there is any number of "pubs". The brewers must surely annually return thanks to the Tory Party, for the first Measure which the Tory Party introduced when it came back to power was to provide for licensed premises in new towns. That, by the way, has been the Tory Party's one contribution, except for certain financial Bills at intervals, to legislation for new towns—"pubs" for the brewers and not the Carlisle type of "pubs".
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that people want a drink occasionally. Whether they get it from the brewers or under the Carlisle system probably does not make much practical difference; it is the same beer—or similar beer, at any rate.
The point is that if we leave it to private enterprise to provide the amenities it will provide what pays and will not provide what does not pay. Sometimes, some of the things that do not pay are really socially desirable; like the hon. Gentleman's swimming bath, but that was to come from the development corporation; like the unprofitable cinemas that do not get erected because they are unprofitable.
When I read these Reports I very strongly feel that nobody ought ever to get the Treasury too close to any social venture. There should be some sort of pretty solid buffer between the Treasury and that. What leads me to that conclusion is some of the niggardly accounting that one finds time after time all through these Reports, and I do no more than mention the points shortly.
One can do one of two things with a development corporation. One can either treat it as a commercial enterprise, and have it account accordingly, or one can treat it as a local authority, and have it account accordingly. What the right hon. Gentleman does is this. He makes the development corporation take the worst of both worlds. It is entirely inconsistant. Whenever there is anything to be gained from adopting one or other of the methods, he adopts it, and that is not fair to the people doing a public job of work.
Here are Crawley and Hemel Hempstead complaining that interest on capital before assets fructify is not capitalised in accordance with normal accounting practice. That is to say, they are not allowed to conduct their accounting as a normal commercial body. Again, Harlow
…would welcome discretion to follow normal commercial practice and borrow for short periods when rates are unfavourable.
It may be said that they should not be allowed to borrow short—that is a very arguable matter—but what is quite indefensible is to treat them one way at one
time and another way at another time, and to choose always the method that puts the maximum charge on the revenue of the corporation and, therefore, in the long run, takes it out of the pockets of the people who pay the rent for the houses. It should be borne in mind that although a considerable part of the income is factory income, the variable factor in the income is the rents that can be charged. Those are the things they look to when there is one of these little impositions put on them.
Garages have been mentioned by one hon. Member opposite. There are all sorts of others. I am not going into sewage, but the story there is, as befits sewage, a long and murky one and does not reflect any credit on the people who have to deal with these development corporations and their needs and accounts.
The right hon. Gentleman has been presented with a really fine proposition in these new towns; fine for the particular purpose of relieving the conurbations—or the special review areas if he likes that term better; and fine, too, as an experiment in forming communities of a thoroughly good character. What has he done with it? Absolutely nothing, except to praise on the one hand and to stifle on the other. Now he intends to stop doing anything more about it.
So much for that, but there is one other matter with which I must deal. I was really shocked the other day to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that the Government had changed their mind that the Tory Party, which pressed so vehemently, when the New Towns Bill was introduced, for the restoration of these new towns to local authorities, had now seen the light of reaction a little more clearly and was in favour of handing them over to an agency. And I was shocked to hear the Minister without Portfolio in another place, speaking for the Government, say that
…the Government propose to give the new agency power to sell property…This, of course, will be a slow process, one which will take time, but diversity of ownership is the ultimate aim."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 20th November, 1957; Vol. 206, c. 456.]
I would like the right hon. Gentleman to explain that statement, which to me appears to indicate that the object of the agencies is to sell to private enterprise, along with the statement he made,
apparently in a letter which was quoted in today's debate, that he was not really thinking about houses. What exactly is to happen about the houses if this does not apply to them? I earnestly hope that it does not, but let me also remind him, and hon. Members opposite that Crawley—and we had a speech from the hon. Member opposite in whose constituency Crawley is—Harlow, and a number of other local authorities concerned are beginning to protest, and I am quite sure that in a very short time the right hon. Gentleman will get a collective protest from the Local Government Associations.
I think the one principally concerned is the Urban District Councils Association, but it could come from others, too. Stevenage is protesting—they are all protesting, but hon. Gentlemen opposite who represent them do not protest. The councils say they are entirely opposed to the Minister's declaration of policy. They say that the assets and liabilities should be transferred to the democratically elected local authorities. And that, if the right hon. Gentleman forgets, is exactly what his party was saying when this very matter was under discussion during the Second Reading of the New Towns Bill and during the subsequent proceedings.
What has made him change his mind? What is it? What is the motive? What has true Conservatism to say in these circumstances? Does it leave democracy in favour of private enterprise? Or does it simply say, "Council houses, anyhow, are much too advanced for us. We cannot possibly regard housing as a social service. We regard only as a form of charity the council houses that have been built—and for which we lay claim to the credit when it suits us. We cannot have more. We cannot possibly hand back the new towns to local authorities—let them go back to private enterprise"?
That is to say, the fruits of the work of these men who have been working in these development corporations year after year, the fruits of the planning, and of the work that has been done by humbler people with a sense of the social value of what they are doing—all that is to be thrown away, sacrificed on the ideological alter of the Tory Party. We cannot have any more council houses—people are not poor enough yet. Therefore, the houses and new towns will have to go back to private enterprise
What about betterment now? Who better themselves when the Tory Government is in office? Not the people who live in houses. They cannot afford to pay the rents. Not the people giving service to the new towns. Their efforts are to be wasted and handed over to the profit of others. No, they are the old friends of the Tory Party, those who can make money out of something. The first performance of this Government was to give the private brewers the extra turn they had not had before; and their last performance, if they have time for it, will be to give to other people engaged in speculating in property a chance to make money out of it, a chance to make something out of what was originally a very fine social venture. What a creditable record.
I will not say more, because all this is going to happen only when one or other of the new towns is nearly finished, and the right hon. Gentleman indicated the other day that it may be a matter of three or four years before that happens. By that time, in case right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are in any uncertainty about it, they will not be in office and it will not matter a bit. They will not be able to introduce the legislation required for this purpose. I am certain that they will try to get it in earlier. They will advance an ingenious plea that there are so many children about that when they said a population of 60,000 they meant a population of 40,000 and more to come later. That is not the way I understand arithmetic. That is what is happening in Crawley.
I beg the right hon. Gentleman to think again about what he is doing. It is a pity to see a fine thing and so much public spirit stifled in its execution now, and handed over afterwards for a special purpose for which it certainly was not intended. It is hard on the people who live in these places and who are now gradually becoming new communities with their own community sense and finding an upthrust of courage in what they are doing, and in the knowledge of the fineness of it. It is hard that they are now going to lose all that at the hands of this Government who, whenever they see anything fine, particularly public property, go and sell it at once.
I am sure that the whole House breathed a sigh of relief when it heard the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) say that he was not going into sewage tonight. We should all of us, the Government as well as his political friends, be deeply sorry were the hon. and learned Gentleman to "go down the drain." Though he hits hard, he maintains that spirit of good will in which we ought to discuss these new town matters. I wish to express my thanks to those hon. Members who have taken part in the debate, whether they have been critical or friendly, destructive or constructive, because everybody spoke with knowlege.
No wiser word was said than when the noble Lady the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Viscountess Davidson) stressed the importance of more people taking an interest in the new towns. It is somewhat disappointing that during the six or seven hours of this debate there have been few hon. Members in the Chamber except those who are, or were at some time, intimately connected with new towns in their divisions. I should welcome a wider interest from hon. Members on both sides of the House in these very human problems which the new towns and their inhabitants have to face.
During the ten months in which I have held office I have visited nine out of the 12 new towns for which I am responsible. I hope that before long I shall have completed the whole dozen. I have been received with great courtesy by members of the new town corporations, many of whom differ from me politically. It has been a fascinating experience, and I am quite sure that all hon. Members who have the chance to see what is really being done in the new towns and do so, and do not simply read the blue books about it, will never regret their decision.
This debate has proved again the interest of those hon. Members who represent new towns. I speak with diffidence about the new towns in Scotland, because, clearly, the hon. Members who represent them know more about them than. I am in a position to know. The hon. and learned Member for Kettering represents a new town, Corby, and the speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Hitchin (Mr. Maddan), for Horsham (Mr. Gough), and for Hemel Hempstead proved how intimately they have studied the problems and affairs of the new towns in their constituencies.
The hon. and learned Member for Kettering picked up a point made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley), who suggested that there were 2 million people to be moved out from the big towns. In fact, if we are talking in this context of new towns and town development expansion for the relief of overcrowding in the big cities, I think that he took too large a figure. It may be true that there are 2 million people who will need to move out from towns of one size or another in the whole of Great Britain, and I think that that was the context in which the figure was originally given last year, but the figure I normally take, and which has been the figure given in annual reports of my Department, is that from the big cities of England and Wales there is an overspill problem of about 1,100,000.
The hon. Gentleman really is incorrect. I am giving the latest figure which I would be prepared to stand by. I think that he and I would probably agree that anything must be an estimate; that nobody can forecast the future with certainty, the population trends or natural migration, or anything like that. I put it to the House that if we take the figure of 1,100,000 as the overspill figure from the big cities of England and Wales, we shall not be far out.
That figure was given about a couple of years ago and it would be somewhat smaller today. I think that anyone who goes around the new towns and sees them for himself, as I have done, will be struck more than anything else by their fascinating variety. Here we have a number of sites chosen for new towns, and certainly the sites differ in some respects, sometimes undulating, sometimes flat, sometimes the population virtually non-existent and sometimes, as at Hemel Hempstead, there is a borough there already with a substantial population. Nevertheless, they have all developed in their individual ways, and they owe that greatly to the initiative and imagination of members of the corporations and the chief officials of the corporations who have been responsible for their development.
Almost without exception, one can be impressed by the excellence of the master plan originally drawn up, according to which they have all been developed, and the interesting architectural treatment throughout the new towns. I know that the House will support me—because this has already been said from both sides—when I say that we should not close this Second Reading debate without my having an opportunity, on behalf of the Government and, I hope, the whole House, of expressing heartfelt thanks to the members of the corporations, to their staffs, senior and junior, and to all those who have had a hand in this intensely interesting development.
I should like to mention to the House, so far as the new towns in England and Wales are concerned, the need to establish a system by which members of the new town corporations are appointed for a period of two years at a time. I know that at one time there were complaints that the appointments were not sufficiently continuous and that there was too great an element of uncertainty. I hope that the House will approve that this two years' basis of appointment should be general. In one sense, we are half-way through. In another sense we are near the end in some cases and near the beginning in others. Aycliffe and Crawley are within striking distance of completion according to present figures. Hemel Hempstead is going on that way. At the other end, so far as England is concerned. Basildon and Peterlee have still a very long way to go and it will take many years. The same, I understand, is true of the Scottish new towns.
This Bill will provide for an increase from £250 million to £300 million in the advances that can be made from the Exchequer towards new towns' expenditure. It looks to me as though, before the present new towns are completed, the total expenditure required will be of the order of £375 million, so I think that there is no doubt at all that this is an interim new towns finance Bill, and that, apart from everything else, the House will have another opportunity before the end of this Parliament of looking at the financial provision for the new towns.
The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland said, in answer to a question, that the Government had decided—I can speak only for England and Wales and I will not trespass on his ground—that no more new towns should be started. It is the view of the Government that an investment of about £375 million is approximately the maximum amount that should be devoted at present to this new town purpose. When the hon. and learned Member for Kettering says that it is unreasonable to propose that new towns should be built by any agency other than the Government because the New Towns Act is on the Statute Book, I must remind him that the Housing Subsidies Act, 1956, is also on the Statute Book and that it gives statutory authority for the payment of Exchequer subsidies at, broadly speaking, the new town rate to local authorities who decide to go ahead with new towns themselves.
I say, in particular, to the hon. Member for Small Heath (Mr. Wheeldon) that he put on record the difference of outlook in this matter between two Socialist-controlled authorities, Birmingham Corporation and the London County Council. Birmingham Corporation is angry with me because I have not offered to authorise the building of a Government new town for Birmingham's overspill population and have suggested that if Birmingham Corporation thinks that new town development is required it should consider embarking upon one. The London County Council has approached me spontaneously for permission to go forward with an L.C.C. new town and I have granted that permission provided that a suitable site can be found.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that Socialist and non-Socialist authorities regard it as the Minister's job to designate new towns and to find the money, and that when they are deprived of what they think are their right facilities they naturally react differently? People always do if you torture them.
I am sure that the Minister would like to get this matter straight and clear. Does he not understand that the Council of the County of London asked him to use his good offices to provide the necessary capital, as a condition of considering the new towns project, and that the right hon. Gentleman declined to give the undertaking that he would help the Council with capital finance?
I did not decline in those terms. What I said to the Council was that I could not undertake that money from the Public Works Loan Board would necessarily be available at P.W.L.B. rates for an L.C.C. new town, but it is definitely the desire of the Council to go ahead, as it also appears to be the desire of the Socialist-controlled Manchester City Council to go ahead because that Council has put in a planning application—[HON. MEMBERS: "Which the Minister has refused."]—which is clearly designed to enable it to carry out new town development on new towns scale as a local authority enterprise.
Would the right hon. Gentleman say whether he has considered the financial problem of conurbations like Middlesex, where a number of hard-pressed local authorities are considering the possibility of having a new town but have no financial resources to finance it? The county council has no power to assist them and, so far, has refused to try to obtain such powers.
So far as I am aware, I have not as yet had any approach from Middlesex. If the Middlesex authorities do collectively make to me a case for a new town, I can assure them that it will be given very careful consideration. The initiative must come from them, as it has come to me from London County Council.
To revert to the main subject of this Bill, the existing new Towns, I am very happy to see that by common consent it is agreed that the new towns have been a worthwhile experiment. I have no doubt whatever on that score. As I said the other day in the House, we were faced with a tragic housing situation at the end of the last war. The new towns were a bold experiment; they have been carried forward vigorously by Governments of different colours and the people in the new towns are happy to be there. I say that with confidence, because the amount of movement out of the new towns is astonishingly small. When this conception was first formed and outlined, many people feared that, although it might be exciting in the first instance, people who had moved out from a big city would find their new surroundings alien and uncongenial to them and drift away. Without exception the new towns corporations report to me that the people who have come to their new towns want to stay in them and the drift away is virtually negligible.
Of course, it has been a very expensive experiment. I have given the capital figures. There are also grave deficiencies of revenue. On the General Revenue Account of the England and Wales corporations, in the aggregate there is a deficit of £1 million, and on what is called the Ancillary Undertakings Revenue Account there is a deficit of £2½ million. We also have to take into account that housing subsidies and grants have been received by the new towns corporations from the Exchequer to an extent of £5 million already.
So the figures are large and those who optimistically hope that in a very short time the deficits will be wiped out and the new towns become, as it were, profit-earning, are looking through rosy spectacles. Nevertheless, my hope and expectation is that those deficits can be worked off over the years. Unquestionably, in an experiment like this there has to be unremunerative expenditure in the first instance. As the town reaches completion, as its centre comes into existence and commercial properties spring up, the revenue is likely to increase. I have every hope that the position over the years will become substantially more favourable.
The hon. and learned Member for Kettering attacked various rules and regulations relating to the financing of these new towns and suggested that they ought to be allowed to charge interest on non-remunerative capital expenditure to capital for a time, and so on. I would point out to him that these financial rules and regulations were not laid down by a Conservative Government, but by a Labour Government.
The right hon. Gentleman must be fair about that. They are now paying 7 per cent. for their money, and that is reflected in the rents. What happens when this is done is that the Treasury saves money and the inhabitants of the new towns have to pay higher rents.
Let us both be fair about this. The hon. and learned Gentleman was attacking me because of certain financial practices which he said were unfair to the new towns, and I pointed out that those practices were laid down long before there was a Conservative Government. He is now turning to the question of high interest rates. Of course, high interest rates are hard on everybody. They are hard on the hon. and learned Member if he has an overdraft. No one who is in the banking business welcomes high money rates, when the colossal capital depreciation which high money rates mean is taken into account.
Nevertheless, it would be quite wrong to insulate either the new towns or local authorities or any other good causes from high money rates and the credit squeeze. Indeed, the policy pursued by the Opposition, when they were in power, of maintaining artificially low money rates, was one of the major causes of the inflation of the 1940s which ended in the devaluation of the £.
The hon. and learned Member spoke of the effect of high interest rates on rents. There is no doubt whatever that rents in the new towns are high. They are high not only because of high interest rates, but because of the fact that all the building has been done in post-war years, whereas the majority of local authorities had the opportunity to build in pre-war years much of their building was, therefore, done much more cheaply and they have an opportunity to pool their rents which the new towns have not.
The fact remains that there are waiting lists for houses in all the new towns. Moreover, people are not moving out of the new towns. When hon. Members suggest that this means that the children must be going short of food, that seems to contrast strangely with what was said by the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn), when he paid tribute to the specially healthy populations in the new towns. In fact, anybody who goes round the new towns must rejoice to see how well all the children are.
Since the right hon. Gentleman attaches such importance to waiting lists, could he tell us of any of the large towns—not new towns—which has not an unsatisfied waiting list of applicants for houses?
I am referring to people who want to move into the new towns and who may be paying much lower rents at present. Aycliffe and Peterlee are outstanding examples. In Durham rents have always been low and the amenities in the pit villages have in no way been satisfactory.
That is the point that I was making. Domestically, the pit villages cannot offer anything like the amenities of the new towns of Aycliffe and Peterlee. I was pointing out that despite the fact that there was this wide gap between the rent of the ordinary colliery house in a Durham pit village and the far higher rent of a house in Peterlee or Aycliffe, nevertheless, the latter have waiting lists of people who want to go there, primarily because now that wages are high the wives say that the time has come for them to have the sort of kitchens which the new towns can provide.
That is the complete answer to the Opposition when they say that these rents are excessive. It is also the effective answer when they speak as they did of the housing situation in the country. The fact is that that situation is far better than it was six years ago, and hundreds and thousands of people have been able to obtain these up-to-date amenities thanks to the housing policy of a Conservative Government.
If we go back over the centuries we might have quite a number of things to say to each other. Let us now concentrate upon the present and the future, and let us be profoundly thankful that the men and women, and particularly the children, are having the opportunity to grow up in conditions that we want to see. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am grateful for the cheers from the Opposition side for the housing policy being pursued by the Government.
It was arranged that the debate should stop at nine o'clock and there are two or three more things which I want to say about the new towns. I thoroughly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham who would like to see the time come when the word "new" could be dropped, and when these towns would be normal towns. The last thing that he wished was that they should be freak towns. Everybody, regardless of party, has recognised that one of the dangers of the new towns might be that they would remain permanently one-class towns. Nobody believes that a one-class town is a wholly normal town. I am grateful to the efforts which the corporations have been making to secure a middle-class development, to get privately-built houses put up and to establish real variety throughout the town.
One hon. Member said that little progress had been made in that respect. That is not true of certain of the new towns. In Crawley, already about 800 privately-built houses have gone up, and I believe that land for another 700 such houses has been made available. Other new towns, such as Welwyn, have made some progress in that direction, and I hope that all the corporations will pay increasing attention to that need.
In the matter of industrial development the new towns generally—certainly those in the South of England—have been reasonably fortunate. Some have more industry than they require. I know that Peterlee and Basildon would like more than they have, and I hope that in time the additional industry required will go there. In particular, I believe that to achieve the variety and diversity which the new towns require we should welcome more office development there. Hitherto, there has been disappointingly little. It is true that one firm has gone to Hemel Hempstead; McAlpines, I think, have gone to Hemel Hempstead. There is a branch of the D.S.I.R. established at Stevenage, and there is another building for fuel research there under construction. The Meteorological Office is moving to Bracknell.
Everything of that kind will strengthen the social structure of the new towns. I am convinced that a number of large firms could help themselves as well as the country by decentralising some of their office work to the new towns. I trust that there would be universal approval that that is the sort of further development which the new towns at this stage require.
The hon. and learned Member for Kettering spoke about amenities in the new towns. Certainly, we are nowhere near what we should desire in this respect. The churches have done magnificently in the new towns.
The brewers have, no doubt, been meeting a public need. In all the new towns I have visited, nobody has expressed the least regret that they are ordinary "pubs" instead of Socialist "pubs."
The hon. and learned Gentleman said that we were quietly stifling the new towns. In fact, we are continuing to build in the new towns at the rate of 9,000 or 10,000 houses a year. That will go on, and the passing of this Bill will facilitate the process. The hon. and learned Gentleman asked about the future of the new towns. That will need to be dealt with by subsequent Bills, separate from this, and I have already given information to Parliament on that matter.
The one suggestion which I wish to counter now is the entirely false allegation that if the new towns are transferred to a new management agency, that would be undemocratic. The suggestion is, apparently, that we can have democracy only if the local authority owns the whole town.
I have never heard any suggestion that cities like Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield are undemocratic, and it certainly is not true that the corporations own the whole town in those places. Our purpose is that the local authorities should have exactly the same powers and responsibilities and opportunities as in any other town or city.
The ownership of the whole town is not a local authority function, and the experience we have had in the last ten years leads us to think that it would be a mistake if we left the 1946 Act unamended. In due course, the Government will be putting their proposals before Parliament. Legislation will be required and all these matters can be amply debated then.
There is an apparent contradiction at present between what was said by the Minister without Portfolio in another place, who said, in effect, that all the assets and liabilities would be handed over to an agency for the ultimate purpose of sale, and the letter which the right hon. Gentleman appears to have written to his hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Gough), in which, apparently, the right hon. Gentleman said that that did not apply to houses. Houses are very important.
There is no inconsistency here at all. The legislation, when it appears, will show that the assets are to be transferred to a new agency, which will have the ordinary duties of prudent management and will have also the duty to take into account the interests of all who live in the new towns. It will have to retain or sell, but one of its objects will be to try to ensure over the years the diversity of ownership which I believe to be an essential characteristic of a normal town.
What I said in writing to my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham was that it seemed to me improbable that the agency would find a demand from private investors for the house property, because, if the house property were thus sold, the subsidy would disappear. What I had primarily in mind when I spoke of disposal of some of the assets from time to time was the industrial property, the commercial and shop property, thereby, as I said, securing the diversity of ownership which I believe to be essential.
My last word is this. I am grateful for the promise that the Bill will receive a Second Reading without a Division, despite our differences. I will not suggest that party politics do not come into new town discussions at all. Do not let us be hypocritical about that. We all hold our party views. Without exception, we all wish the new towns success. I would like to see tonight a situation where the House comes together just as the individual members of the boards of the new town corporations come together, with different backgrounds and firmly holding their individual political beliefs. Yet, in every case they have joined together as a team with one object, which is to build a good new town. They have built a good new town. They are co-operating most admirably with me. I am grateful to them and so, I believe, are the inhabitants of the new towns, whom we all wish to serve.
I know that the Minister had many points to answer, but I endeavoured to remind the Government of one aspect which is of great importance and quite relevant to the general national problem with which the new towns policy is concerned. The right hon. Gentleman did not find time to deal with that problem. I know that it is not his personal responsibility, but he is the only representative of the Government here. He was once Financial Secretary to the Treasury and he knows something about the problems. As his colleagues are not here to help him, out of courtesy will he not deal shortly with the point I put to the Government?
I find difficulty in dealing with the hon. Gentleman's point. I appreciate his feeling. He is fearful that new house property is being brought into existence in new towns all over the country while the existing house property in North-East Lancashire is decaying.
I am sorry I did not make myself clear. I will not make another speech. What I am concerned with is the total failure of the Government to do anything for North-East Lancashire, having declared it to be a development area. I pointed out in my speech that this has led and is still leading to a continuous drain away of population from this area, which must, if it continues, stultify—
I will certainly draw the hon. Member's speech to the attention of my right hon. Friends who deal with these matters. I cannot overlook the fact that there is, I understand, criticism from some of his right hon. Friends who represent the Stoke-on-Trent area of the fact that industry is at the moment moving from the Stoke-on-Trent area to North-East Lancashire despite the fact that unemployment is higher in Stoke-on-Trent than in North-East Lancashire.