Town and Country Planning Association (Report)

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th April 1979.

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Photo of Mr Anthony Grant Mr Anthony Grant , Harrow Central 12:00 am, 4th April 1979

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his policy towards the policy report of the Town and Country Planning Association on inner cities in connection with the revitalisation of rundown areas in cities such as parts of London; and if he will now make a statement.

Photo of Mr Reginald Eyre Mr Reginald Eyre , Birmingham, Hall Green

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his policy towards the policy report of the Town and Country Planning Association on inner cities in connection with the revitalisation of rundown areas in cities such as Birmingham; and if he will now make a statement.

Photo of Mr Peter Shore Mr Peter Shore , Tower Hamlets Stepney and Poplar

The Government's policy towards inner city areas remains as set out in Cmnd. 6845 "Policy for the Inner Cities". The partnership and programme authorities have made a good start in drawing up their programmes. The urban programme itself has been increased to over £125 million in 1979–80, and resources from main programmes are also being diverted in inner areas. Real progress is being made. The Town and Country Planning Association report makes a number of criticisms, many of which I do not accept. I am, however, always happy to examine constructive ideas for improving our policy and for making our cities places where people want to live.

Photo of Mr Anthony Grant Mr Anthony Grant , Harrow Central

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the report of the association expressed growing disquiet at the outcome of the Government's inner city policies? Does he accept that, in particular, it found increasing bureaucracy, waste of public money and failure to involve the private sector? What does he propose to do to rectify that manifest failure on the part of the Government?

Photo of Mr Peter Shore Mr Peter Shore , Tower Hamlets Stepney and Poplar

I suspect that there is a sense of guilt in those who occupy the Opposition Benches when they direct their minds to the inner cities.

Photo of Mr Peter Shore Mr Peter Shore , Tower Hamlets Stepney and Poplar

Indeed I will. When the Government took office the so-called urban programme was running at about £22 million a year. It is running at £154 million this year. There has been a sevenfold increase in the amount of effort and money being directed to the programme in a period that is not easy for public expenditure. That is the difference in the measure of concern.

The TCPA report was well below the association's normal standards of thoroughness and competence. It sought to make a judgment about the partnership arrangements and the new inner city policy, the latter having been in effect for exactly 18 months.

Photo of Mr Reginald Eyre Mr Reginald Eyre , Birmingham, Hall Green

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that he cannot brush aside the serious and relevant criticisms that have been made of Government policy? Is he not ashamed that the Government have broken the promises set out in the 1977 White Paper? Will he apologise to the great mass of people living in inner city areas throughout the country for the way in which the Government have let them down?

Photo of Mr Peter Shore Mr Peter Shore , Tower Hamlets Stepney and Poplar

This is one of the most remarkable pieces of impertinence that I have ever heard. It comes from an hon. Member who represents a Tory neglected inner city area in Birmingham. His comment is extraordinary. I am almost speechless in the face of such impertinence. I am far from being ashamed. The effort that we have put into the inner city areas and the general acceptance in those areas of what we are doing gives me every hope that our action is right and will be increasingly successful.

Photo of Mr Arthur Latham Mr Arthur Latham , Cities of London and Westminster Paddington

Does my right hon. Friend agree that while it is right to pay attention to rundown areas it is important to ensure that no more areas become rundown? Does he agree that an important contribution to stabilisation and conservation would be the funding of housing co-operatives to take over from failing private landlords? Is he likely to be able to make any helpful announcement in that respect? Will he bear in mind that many multiple landlords, such as the Church Commissioners, are not likely to part with their property voluntarily? Does he have some proposals to meet that possible difficulty?

Photo of Mr Peter Shore Mr Peter Shore , Tower Hamlets Stepney and Poplar

My hon. Friend rightly draws attention to housing, which is one of the major factors in inner city areas, and the role of housing co-operatives in achieving improvements. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction has been in close touch with the housing corporations with a view to increasing the part that housing co-operatives may play.

Photo of Mr Arthur Jones Mr Arthur Jones , Daventry

As a member of the TCPA, I was surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman express criticism of its report. I look forward to hearing the substance of his criticism. I recognise that he has been seeking a different mechanism to help the inner city problem. This is by way of—

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. I know that the hon. Gentleman is leaving us today, but he must still ask a question.

Photo of Mr Arthur Jones Mr Arthur Jones , Daventry

I have a series of questions, Mr. Speaker. I start with my first one. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is not only resources that the inner cities need? I recognise what he has done in terms of partnership agreements Is that policy being effective? Is he satisfied with the progress being made in the London docklands? Is he looking for additional ways and means of offering help there, both financially and administratively?

Photo of Mr Peter Shore Mr Peter Shore , Tower Hamlets Stepney and Poplar

The hon. Gentleman has asked several questions. He asked in what way I was not satisfied with the TCPA report. I shall tell him. The association's remarks about the need for getting on with local plans and not waiting for structure plans are ones with which I entirely agree. That is exactly what we did, and it is exactly that power that the House enacted in the Inner Urban Areas Act only nine months ago.

The association does not seem to have read that measure. The report includes proposals for the institutions to redevelop inner areas. It is in favour of bringing in new town corporations. Talk about bureaucracy! New town corporations have their merits, but the association's proposal is not consistent with its objection to bureaucracy. Nor is it consistent with the idea of fostering democracy in the regeneration of inner areas.

In terms of resources, it does not seem as if the association has read the blue papers and the White Papers that set out what we are doing. In my view, the TCPA, for which I normally have some affection, has produced a singularly ill-founded and ill-judged report.

I am willing to give the hon. Gentleman a full answer to his question about the docklands. I was glad to announce a few weeks ago that we were to make available £70 million, £50 million as a guarantee of private capital for ventures in the docklands area and £20 million for expenditures under loans and grants.

Photo of Mr Tom Litterick Mr Tom Litterick , Birmingham, Selly Oak

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the rundown areas of cities are not necessarily enclosed within the boundaries of partnership agreement areas? Will he have a chat with the Minister of State, Department of the Environment, who has seen for himself the rundown and dilapidated condition of the part of Selly Oak which borders on the Bristol Road? Is he aware that the only improvements made in recent years in that area by the Conservative county council and the Conservative city council have been projects financed wholly by moneys provided by the Government? Will he give the House an assurance that he will recognise the fact that there has been gross negligence, and undertake after the election to provide more positive support in areas, such as Selly Oak, which are outside partnership areas?

Photo of Mr Peter Shore Mr Peter Shore , Tower Hamlets Stepney and Poplar

I assure my hon. Friend that inner city policy will continue to receive high priority and much ministerial effort as long as a Labour Government are in power. I have always understood the difficulty about drawing boundaries for partnership and programme areas. It is an extremely difficult problem. I have never taken the view that the boundaries that we have so far determined will necessarily be the end of the matter. We have to carry out reviews as we go along.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, while there are great problems in the inner city areas, there are inner areas of boroughs and towns outside those areas that are not so designated but where substantial improvement needs to take place? Will he explain how that improvement can be carried out within towns in shire counties, bearing in mind that the present Socialist Administration have, unfortunately, severely reduced the allocation to shire counties by way of the rate support grant? Does he agree that in the areas about which I am concerned there are many houses worth improving? How can local authorities make awards to young married couples when their budgets have been reduced because of the reallocation of the rate support grant?

Photo of Mr Peter Shore Mr Peter Shore , Tower Hamlets Stepney and Poplar

There are many ways in which major cities and towns in shire counties can be assisted. One method is to do precisely what I did this year, namely, to allocate directly the needs element of the rate support grant. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman viewed that policy wih some satisfaction. It undoubtedly helped the otherwise rather highly rated urban centres in the shire counties. A number of the major cities in the shire counties—three examples are Nottingham, Hull and Leicester—are programme authorities and are receiving special Government assistance to deal with their inner city problems. A number of other areas have become desigated districts within the Inner Urban Areas Act. They can exercise some of the powers in the Act for the benefit of residents and employment.

Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Waltham Forest Chingford

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will introduce legislation to avoid waste and excessive costs in local authority direct labour building organisations.

Photo of Mr John Page Mr John Page , Harrow West

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will take steps to ensure that local authorities adopt improved accountancy management procedures in order to avoid losses and excessive costs in local authority direct labour building organisations and in related ancillary services such as architects and civil engineering departments.

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will recommend improved accountancy and management procedures to local authorities in order to avoid losses and excessive costs in local authority direct labour building organisations.

Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Waltham Forest Chingford

What an extraordinary answer. Is the Minister aware that his intentions about future legislation are now totally irrelevant? More to the point, will he say why he resisted the bringing forward of legislation to control the waste and inefficiency of direct labour organisations for so long, when his noble Friend representing the Government in the House of Lords welcomed and supported the private Member's Bill of my noble Friend, Lord Kinnoull?

Photo of Mr Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Brent East

I shall not comment on the somewhat garbled reference to what happened in another place. It is sufficient for me to look after affairs within my area in this place, for the moment anyway.

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. We did not resist the measure. We drafted a Bill. We presented it. The Opposition—including the hon. Gentleman—opposed it, and because of our minority position as a Government we had to withdraw it.

Photo of Mr John Page Mr John Page , Harrow West

Is the Minister aware that my hon. Friends and I, from the Government Back Benches, will press the Government after 15 May to reduce the amount of work done by direct labour organisations and also the direct supply of architectural, surveying and other services?

Photo of Mr Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Brent East

The hon. Gentleman had better save his prejudiced pressures for his own Front Bench spokesmen for another occasion, under whatever circumstances. If the Opposition turn their attention to a large number of Conservative councils, they will meet some resistance to some of their prejudiced attitudes. There are 456 direct labour organisations in local government in England and Wales, a large number of which are run by Conservative councils.

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Is it not utterly cynical to decide to legislate to protect the interests of ratepayers after the time when legislation may conceivably be introduced by the Government, especially having wasted five years resisting the proposal? Will the Minister give us his pledge of support for this measure should be personally, by chance, be re-elected?

Photo of Mr Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Brent East

I found it difficult to follow that somewhat circumlocutory question. The answer is that the hon. Gentleman, like his hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), has got it wrong. The Government prepared a Bill to deal with those matters. It would have provided for proper and efficient accounting procedures. It would also have placed capital works projects by DLOs on virtually the same footing as that for private enterprise firms. In 1976 the Opposition prevented us from introducing that Bill. They, and not the Government, must carry the can for that.

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Keighley

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that local authorities have sufficient protection against private enterprise organisations working for local authorities? Does he recall that Taylor "We built Ronan Point" Woodrow cost the nation about £40 million at current prices to restore the difficulties that arose from Ronan Point? Does he accept that Bradford, which is a Tory-controlled council, replaced the two shoddy private enterprise contractors in Keighley by a direct works department because it recognised that it would be more efficient and effective?

Photo of Mr Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Brent East

It is right to place on record, as there is so much deliberate misrepresentation on this matter by the Opposition and others, that time and time again the capital works departments or sections of DLOs around the country have to step into contracts to pick up the pieces left behind by the disasters of private enterprise.

Photo of Mr Stephen Ross Mr Stephen Ross , Isle of Wight

Will the Minister accept that he could very easily have got the Bill through the House had he restricted it to direct accounting procedures in local government? The Bill that he talked about was a comprehensive measure to extend the whole range of DLOs throughout the country. That was why, during the Lib-Lab pact, he could not get Opposition support for his Bill.

Photo of Mr Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Brent East

I well understand why the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have a very high regard, is feeling a little sensitive about this matter. He did not even read the Bill at the time, otherwise he would have known that it provided for the sort of thing that he wanted. Had he read the Bill and come to see us about it, he would have known that what we were seeking to do was to put DLOs on the same footing as equivalent private enterprise firms. The Opposition resisted the Bill and it was lost. When we come back to office we shall reintroduce it.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment

If I may be allowed to anticipate the inevitable events of the next few weeks, I should like to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page) that we shall take action in the next Government to deal with direct labour organisations.

Will the right hon. Gentleman understand that what he is saying to the House is inconsistent with the facts as the House knows them? He must remember that the Bill that he wanted to introduce—as the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) said—sought to extend the powers of the direct labour organisations. It was not simply to try to make them more efficient. Will the Minister remember that from this Dispatch Box I offered him every support in getting through a Bill to do what he said this afternoon he wanted to do? It was because that was not the purpose of the Bill that the right hon. Gentleman was not able to get it through this House.

Photo of Mr Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Brent East

The hon. Gentleman had not even read the proposals that we had put forward. He was so full of his prejudices—as were other Members, including at that time Liberal Members—against DLOs that he, like them, did not even bother to find out what we were proposing. The Bill is in draft in the Department. [Interruption.] If we tear it up we shall destroy the very thing for which people are now asking. We introduced proposals in 1976, and Opposition Members, in an unholy alliance, resisted them. That is why we did not get the Bill which would have put things right.

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of those replies, I give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the first possible opportunity.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

With respect to the hon. Member, I shall take his point of order immediately after I have made the short statement that I wish to make to the House.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

As there is to be no Prorogation, I shall not have the opportunity to sit in the Lower Chair and to shake hands with right hon. and hon. Members at the close of this Parliament. I therefore take this opportunity to extend good wishes to those who are not seeking re-election to the House, to thank them all for their service in this House, and to wish them a happy retirement. They will always be proud to have served in this place.

I wish to place on record my deep gratitude to the Deputy Speakers, who have placed us all in their debt. The House will, I know, allow me to make personal reference to the fact that the First Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, and the Second Deputy Speaker, who is also First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means, are both retiring from the service of the House. They have earned the deep gratitude of the High Court of Parliament and will be sadly missed.

On behalf of the House, I wish to express sincere thanks to Sir Richard Barlas and his colleagues in the Clerk's Department, to Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Thorne, Serjeant at Arms, and his colleagues, to my Chaplain, the Rev. Canon Baker, and to the entire staff of the House, including the security staff, who have made it possible for us to function freely as Members of Parliament.

Finally, I express my personal gratitude to you all for the help that I have received ever since I was given your trust and elected Speaker. God bless you all.

Photo of Mr George Strauss Mr George Strauss , Lambeth Vauxhall

In response to what you have said, Mr. Speaker, I should like to thank you, on behalf of all those who are retiring—and, indeed, on behalf of all those who are not—for the magnificent way, with skill, patience, firmness and humour, in which you have conducted the affairs of the House during recent years.

It gives me particular pleasure to say that on this occasion, Mr. Speaker, because I moved you into the Chair by a motion that was enthusiastically supported by the whole House. I then expressed my confidence that you would prove to be an admirable Speaker, fully maintaining the high standards of your distinguished predecessors.

We shall all leave the House with great regret and many memories. Among those memories will be gratitude to you, Mr. Speaker, for your behaviour in the Chair, and particularly for the kindness that you have extended to all of us, and the way in which you have not only maintained but enhanced the prestige of the Chair in this House. Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for all you have done.

Photo of Mr Tom Litterick Mr Tom Litterick , Birmingham, Selly Oak

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wholeheartedly second the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss), having been the beneficiary of many kindnesses at your hands, but are you aware that while my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington (Mr. Latham) was asking a supplementary question the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) said, in a voice sufficiently loud to be heard by many Labour Members, not once but three times, that he desired and sought to kill my hon. Friend by running him down with a motor vehicle? Since this is not the first time that the hon. Member for Chingford has given vent to his homicidal impulses, is it not time that he was instructed that such behaviour is not only disorderly but a disgrace to the House?

Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Waltham Forest Chingford

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think it is well known that from time to time there is bandiage across the Floor of the House from hon. Members below the Gangway on each side. [HON. MEMBERS: "Badinage"] Perhaps occasionally sticking plaster would be better. I agree that I said "bandiage across the Floor of the House"—

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. Allow a Welshman to explain. The word is "badinage."

Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Waltham Forest Chingford

I went to school in Wales, Mr. Speaker, but I was not taught very much French. None of this is taken seriously by the participants, other than by one hon. Gentleman who seems to worry excessively about it. If it caused him any offence, I gladly withdraw any such remark that I made. Equally, if it caused any offence to the hon. Member for Paddington (Mr. Latham), I do the same. But, as I said, Mr. Speaker, you know the sorts of remarks that pass between hon. Members. When somebody referred to the hon. Gentleman as a rundown Member, I certainly did say that it was perhaps overdue that he was run down, and that I would not mind doing it myself. For that remark, Mr. Speaker, I humbly apologise.

Photo of Mr Arthur Latham Mr Arthur Latham , Cities of London and Westminster Paddington

I merely wish to place on record my gratitude for the compliment paid to me, Mr. Speaker.

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Warley East

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should be only too delighted if my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington (Mr. Latham) were run down by a car driven by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. Before we move on to a Ten-Minute Bill, I should point out that although there is other business to be done we have ended the main part of the business. It is very interesting that the points of order came from where they did, because they were in harmony with the life of this Parliament.

3.40 p.m.

Photo of Mr Frederic Bennett Mr Frederic Bennett , Torbay

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to declare the inalienable rights and liberties of the subject. It was only after considerable reflection, following the dramatic events in the House last Wednesday, that I decided to proceed to seek the approval of the House to introduce this Bill today, even though I am conscious that it can make little or no progress towards implementation in the lifetime of this Parliament. However, I finally decided to go ahead because I was allocated time for this Bill under the Ten Minutes Rule well before last week's events and therefore no question of a sudden propaganda exercise could possibly arise. Indeed, I am hopeful that what I propose, and the form in which I propose it, will receive the general approval of all parties in the House.

During the last two decades, while the increase of the power of the Executive under successive Governments has been steadily growing, there have been a number of attempts by Members of Parliament of different parties in both Houses of Parliament to review and maybe amend where necessary the old Bill of Rights 1688, but none has proved successful, for a variety of reasons. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) produced a Bill very similar to mine exactly 10 years ago. None of those attempts proved successful, partly because of lack of time and because some of the Bills were phrased in a contentious manner. It is not my purpose to be contentious today.

It has become all the more relevant in the post-war years, and all the more important to the ordinary subjects of this kingdom as time has gone on, that the individual rights of the subject should be clarified, brought up to date, and more fully understood than at present. It is not enough to reassert that within our unwritten constitution no such clarification is necessary. There is no convention that requires a Ten-Minute Bill to consume the full 10 minutes of parliamentary time. Therefore, because of the other outstanding business that is before the House, I shall keep my remarks as brief and uncontentious as possible.

There are, however, three arguments that I can quote, which I believe support my submission that the Act of 1688 needs to be reviewed, if only to remove uncertainties which exist in the mind of the public.

First, in recent years individual British subjects, in order to obtain their constitutional legal rights established on matters of great issue, have, on too many occasions—often at excessive expense to themselves—had to seek redress on these issues of principle up to the highest court in the land. This is an indication of the need for clarification in a number of areas.

Secondly, it is a known fact that the Ombudsman is increasingly approached by individuals, through their Members of Parliament, because they are dissatisfied with the grey areas—the present apparent uncertainties—of the legal situation affecting their constitutional rights.

Thirdly, and perhaps most telling of all, it is a fact that individual British subjects, unable to obtain the redress to which they are entitled within our present system of law, have felt impelled to take their cases to the European Court of Human Rights under the terms of the relevant provisions of the European convention on human rights which the Government, with the consent of all parties, have rightly signed and ratified.

I shall quote only two instances, which are of a completely non-partisan nature. In February 1975 the European Court, in its first decision in an individual case involving Britain, found this country in breach of the convention in the Golder case, as it has become known, which involved a prisoner who was refused permission to consult a solicitor. In the result, the Home Secretary of the day, to his credit, undertook to amend prison rules in the light of the judgment of that court. As I say, this was to the credit of the then Home Secretary, but it remains a fact that the unfortunate Mr. Golder made his complaint in 1970 and only five years later, when he was no longer in prison, did he obtain a verdict favourable to his original plea for justice.

At this moment there is another case pending before the European Commission regarding the assertion of three railway men who claim, rightly or wrongly, that they were wrongly dismissed by British Rail. By an odd quirk of fate, the verdict of the 16 jurists of the European Commission will be given on 3 May. Because this case is clearly sub judice, I shall not comment on it further apart from making the general observation that to me at least—and I think to many of my right hon. and hon. Friends—it is repugnant that British subjects have to go abroad to seek redress that they are unable to obtain in the courts of this country, although the British Government have ratified the very convention on which they rely for their right to submit their cases to the European Court.

There are those who say that all that is needed to rectify this admittedly unsatisfactory situation is for the legal rights that have been endorsed in the European convention to be embodied in our own legal system by a specific piece of legislation limited to that end. There are others who believe that that would not be enough to meet our needs, including that distinguished jurist, Lord Scarman, who has put a powerful argument for a new constitutional settlement with entrenched provisions, including a Bill of Rights.

I understand that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir M. Havers), the present Shadow Attorney-General, takes the view that more than a simple endorsement of the European convention on human rights is required, or at least that the Act of 1688 should be reviewed though not just in that limited context.

What are the objections? The first objection that has been made from time to time is that this is an attempt to bind a future Parliament. That is constitutional nonsense. There is no Act that could pass through this House that could not be repealed by another Act.

I close by pointing to the example of Canada, where a constitutional Bill of Rights was passed. It has been observed in the spirit and the letter, and no objection has been raised by any of the three parties in Canada—the Conservatives, Liberals or the equivalent of the Labour Party there—because they all realise that the same right exists to repeal that Act as to repeal any other Act.

I make this plea in the most amiable sense. I do not think that it would be a bad thing for anyone in the House, any party or the reputation of Parliament as a whole if one of the last items of business that we considered before Dissolution showed our concern about the rights of the individual within the democratic way of life to which we all subscribe.