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Home Counties (London Overspill Population)

Volume 526: debated on Thursday 15 April 1954

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1.48 p.m.

I want next to call attention to some of the problems which arise from what is rather inelegantly called "the decanting of London's overspill." I regret the necessity of detaining my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary this afternoon when he might otherwise be beginning a rest that is particularly well earned in view of the pressure under which his Ministry has been working during the Session.

My hon. Friend will be aware, as most of us are, that anxiety is becoming manifest, not among the prospective London overspillers, but among those into whom it is proposed to overspill. It is inevitable that, as these plans take shape for London's overspill and the implications for the rural districts become appreciated, these anxieties should tend to grow. It is important at this juncture that as far as possible we should give such assurances as we can to those who are beginning to feel these anxieties.

I must declare my interest in this matter. Ashford, the principal town in my constituency, was one of the first tentatively to accept the proposition whereby, in the course of the next 10 years, it is provisionally agreed to accommodate 15,000 Londoners in about 5,000 houses as part of the development programme. I should attempt to add a personal view, but I confess that I find great difficulty in doing so. When one is told—as I have been told, and as, no doubt, I shall be told by my hon. Friend—that this is an essential contribution to a pressing social problem, one is very reluctant to oppose it. On the other hand, as a countryman, all one's instincts are against it.

In my lifetime I have seen my county suffer more than most other counties from a growing, and not always very well organised, urbanisation. I have a very natural and strong reluctance to accept a further instalment of that now. Moreover—and I will be quite frank about this—if one opposes the idea of London's overspill, one is liable to be told that political motives are the principal reason. But the prospective loss or gain in votes—which some study of the subject leads me to suppose is negligible to either side—is the worst of grounds for supporting, opposing, or indeed judging this development. There are much greater things at stake. I add this.

If one is to accept this idea, one needs to be convinced that it is absolutely essential and convinced on the latest available information. Further, one needs to be convinced that it will be done in a manner which will minimise the very considerable risks in the social, industrial, or agricultural fields and, particularly, in the field of full employment, which this plan entails. If the London Development Plan is to go through, it will have effects on the home counties and the counties beyond and certain conditions must be fulfilled.

It is the duty of any representative in one of the reception areas, to see that those conditions are fulfilled, no matter how unpopular that may be, or how unreasonable he may appear to be. I must add that I am not entirely convinced by the arguments of London County Council. One accepts that the council's figures are very largely guesswork. They amount to a guess that between 300,000 and 400,000 Londoners must be accommodated outside London in the next 15 years, in new towns, or developing towns. I could add that in the next five years the figure must be 40,000 if the development of London is to be made possible. We are told that as London County Council will have reached the limit of building on its own land within the county in 1956 and, if there are to be no further raids on the Green Belt, as I agree, the population must go elsewhere and either new towns or development towns must receive it.

The figures put forward on behalf of the L.C.C. have been stated with some exactitude. They imply that London's population is a static factor. It is nothing of the kind. Although exact requirements have been laid down for London's emigration there is no physical control in fact—I think the London County Council admits this—over London's immigration, that is to say, the number of people coming into London. This strikes me as very serious. There is no certainty that at the conclusion of the 15-year programme, when 400,000 Londoners, or whatever the figure may be, have been accommodated elsewhere, the pressure of London will have been relieved to that extent. There is no guarantee of that. London is still the commercial and industrial magnet. Although what we call the inner ring has become greatly depopulated in the last 20 years, it remains a considerable industrial magnet.

Although I would accept, nationally, that there is a strong case for absorbing surplus, ill-housed London population elsewhere, I would consider it intolerable if such a movement were to take place on a triangular basis whereby London filled from the Midlands, the North, or other industrial centres and then found it necessary to throw its surplus into the countryside, which would be principally the countryside of the Home Counties. That would be not only industrially extravagant, but demographically absurd. If one is to accept the need for this emigration one is bound to ask for some assurance on the future of immigration and what control there will be over it.

These plans were conceived originally when building was very much more strictly controlled and the movement of the population could be very largely planned on paper. Under the impetus of the work of my right hon. Friend, at the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, in the last two and a half years, there has been an immense change in the situation. Quite apart from slum clearance, which has a great bearing on the problem, a very large measure of freedom has been restored to the private builder, and increasingly through this the private builder will shape the future movements of the population and correspondingly less by a plan, whether a central or county plan. I would ask whether these very considerable alterations in the last two and a half years have been reconciled to what was planned before. Are we to understand that the programme for new towns and developing towns which was laid out on paper now nearly a decade ago, is quite unchanged by the new circumstances my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend have done so much to create?

When we come to the question of adjusting population moves to industry, we come up against more solid and much more serious considerations. My hon. Friend will agree that it is imperative that when fresh population goes from London, industry—permanent industry—must go with it, and roughly at the same pace. I cannot speak for new towns, as I have no new town in my constituency, but in the developing towns there is considerable and growing anxiety about this industrial factor. The industrial side of this development problem might be not only in the hands of another administration, but of a rival administration than that which is responsible for the London overspill plan. I hope that my hon. Friend will not gloss over the point, because it is very important.

I am well aware of the work his Ministry have done, in particular in conjunction with the Ministry of Labour. Since May, 1953, there has been what is called an industrial selection scheme designed to match London families willing to leave the Metropolis to prospective employment elsewhere. It is an elaborate and complex scheme about which some authorities are anxious. It might well be said to me, "Produce a better scheme, if you can." I could not and, therefore, I do not propose to criticise it. But the industrial selection scheme is not the fundamental issue.

The fundamental issue is, what industry will people who leave London be getting? That will depend on two things; first, the attitude of the companies themselves, and, second, the attitude of the Board of Trade. Not one or two but three Government Departments are involved in this business. Up to quite recently, the Board of Trade has had quite different priorities, first, Development Areas; second, those areas which are near Development Areas; third, new towns; and fourth, developing towns.

The latest information which I have received from the London County Council as to how this programme is working out is really most disquieting. A question was asked last month in the L.C.C. from which three facts emerged. In 1950, under the London Chamber of Commerce scheme, questionnaires were sent out to 7,000 of the 28,000 firms in London. There were 1,622 replies, 159 firms expressing their willingness to move out of the county and 135 willingness to move within the county. In 1953, these figures were revised. Out of the 159 firms I had mentioned, 39 expressed their unwillingness to move after all and 33 expressed their willingness to go. Thirty firms were then interviewed, of which four had abandoned the idea, five had in mind only long-term moves, seven had moved already and 14 were still interested.

Those are the latest available figures I can get. That is a most disquieting problem for those of us in developing towns who are going to depend on industry to make the plan work. Bearing in mind that the amount of industry needed to give employment to the 300,000 people who are to leave London is in the region of £50 million that is pretty ominous. Until there is a radical change in that position and outlook, certainly in the outlook of the Board of Trade, it is surely exceedingly wrong to go forward unthinkingly with a development plan on this scale.

I lay down, as priority No. 1, that before there is any move of population on this scale there must be a reasonable assurance of employment, not only for the emigrants but for the present occupants, who would be affected were there to be any serious industrial dislocation. Present planning in this industrial field leaves a great deal to be desired. I shall be interested to hear what my hon. Friend says in reply. In my view, central planning is now out of step with industrial trends.

I warn the Government that they may face here a major issue of policy in another sense—whether they should construct, with Government capital, in the reception areas, factories which will then be leased at encouraging rents. There have already been suggestions that that should be done. If the industrial side lags too far behind the development side they may find their hands forced and be compelled to think in those terms, which will be a serious matter indeed.

There is also a minor problem, indicating that far too little thought has been given to the implications of what is being done, which demands an urgent solution. I refer to the disposal of industrial premises affected by firms leaving London. As matters stand, the chances are that the factories evacuated will be immediately reoccupied because for technical reasons into which I shall not go it is almost impossible to dispose of such premises in any other way. But the whole object of decentralisation is thereby defeated.

To turn to London's own problem, I hope that the Minister will say something about the density figure—past, present and future. I think I am right in saying that the present density figure in many areas means that the slum clearance programme will itself create a considerable surplus of population. In other words, as slum clearance progresses, only about 60 per cent, of the population can be rehoused. That is the average, although there are exceptions to it. In the light of that, and in view of what I have already said, is my hon. Friend satisfied that the present densities are sufficient? Is he satisfied that there can be no increase in density in respect of South London, which I think offers certain prospects rather different from those in other parts of London? Is the density as high as it reasonably can be there? Is my hon. Friend prepared, as I hope he is, to have another look at this aspect of the matter before the County of London plan is finally approved by his right hon. Friend?

To sum up, I recognise that from my hon. Friend's point of view there is a degree of urgency about this matter. There is also a degree of finality about it because, once development begins, there will be no halting it in the lifetime of those now affected and in the lifetime of several generations to come.

I realise that in this matter my hon. Friend will feel that all forces are opposing him in seeking space for the immense programme of house building which he and his right hon. Friend have undertaken. I feel the opposite. I feel that all forces are in favour of development. The compulsory purchase order has become the reflex action in a large number of Whitehall Departments to all such problems. If one lives in a rural district, particularly in the Home Counties, one feels that the dice are loaded against those who seek to preserve the countryside and agricultural land.

I do not wish to go into the question of agricultural land; that has been fully discussed in the House. I would just add that, for every acre of agricultural land which is sterilised by development through industrial and development areas, two more acres are paralysed by the prospect of such development. In other words, from the point of view of farmers who are contemplating capital outlay, one can add two acres to every one sterilised.

A great deal of hard thinking and more open discussion is overdue on this subject; it should receive much more of both than it has received so far. There are many social problems involved apart from the constructional ones. Fresh communities cannot be constructed out of bricks and mortar. There are, in this prospective development of London and elsewhere, immense implications in terms of human lives and happiness. These will not be solved by the written words of the Town Development Act, 1952. There is need not only for fresh thinking but for continual vigilance.

I hope that this very important part of our rebuilding programme will not be overlaid by the many and urgent issues which crowd in upon the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary. We all appreciate the burden of responsibility they bear, but none of those issues should overlay what I believe to be the most urgent and pressing problem. There are signs here of a need for a tighter hand on the reins. That is what I am seeking, and what I hope my hon. Friend will be able to give me some reassurance about this afternoon.

2.8 p.m.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) will not be unduly embarrassed if I say that he is a man of catholic taste. That is proved by the fact that whenever he submits a topic for such an occasion as this, it inevitably seems to meet with Mr. Speaker's approbation. I remember following my hon. Friend on a similar occasion last July when we were discussing the question of the shortage of water in both his county of Kent and mine of Sussex.

Today, we are discussing a flood, not of water, but of humanity which, if it is not checked, will completely overrun the whole of the Home Counties. This is no new problem. Yesterday, I was reading through the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Second Reading of the New Towns Act, when I came across the following sentences uttered by the then Minister, Lord Silkin:
"My researches on new towns go back to the time of Sir Thomas More. He was the first person I have discovered to deplore the 'suburban sprawl,' and in his 'Utopia' there are 54 new towns, each 23 miles apart."
Incidentally, Sir Thomas More was beheaded. If some of us do not appreciate the danger of what will happen, not necessarily a year ahead, but in the next five, 10 or 15 years, we shall deserve the same fate.

I could give many other examples of this problem, which has always been before those who are concerned with these matters. Sir Ebenezer Howard wrote a book called "Garden Cities of Tomorrow," in which he advocated new towns to relieve congestion. In the Marley Report of 1934 and the Barlow Report of 1940 it was mentioned. In the Barlow Report there is an ominous sentence stating that 71 per cent, of the inhabitants of Great Britain exist in seven urban centres. That means that something like 35 million of our population are concentrated in seven of our urban centres.

Returning to Lord Silkin's speech, he ended by saying:
"This is our last chance … the Government intend to carry out a programme for the planned dispersal of a substantial proportion of the population of London to areas situated 20 to 50 miles away, and there to create homes and work for the people so moved."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th May, 1946; Vol. 422, c. 1072 and 1076.]
That is a very admirable sentiment, and it has been further carried on by my right hon. Friend and by this Government in the Town Development Act, 1952.

I wish to draw attention to two of the provisions of that Act. One of them refers to the councils of small towns, described as "receiving districts." It lays on them the obligation to relieve the congested areas of London within a reasonable distance of them, even if such an action is not within their own interests. It also lays upon the Minister the right to give money grants if he is satisfied that such action will relieve congestion. That is the point which I wish to make. It was made by my hon. Friend, but I wish to underline it. I have a personal interest in this matter in that the new town of Crawley is within my constituency.

I say at once that I think Crawley is a model new town. I do not say so from local loyalty, but I believe it is looked upon as being the best organised and run of the new towns which have come into existence under the New Towns Act. I have said this before, but I make no apology for saying it again. The agricultural people in my constituency made great sacrifices, in my opinion, in welcoming this new town, which is what they have done. I think they are entitled to ask the authorities of London, be it the London County Council or any other of the London authorities, to play their part in the bargain, because we do not feel that that is happening.

We have now nearly 20,000 inhabitants in Crawley which a few years ago was a small country town with 2,000 to 3,000 inhabitants. We say that London should have depleted itself by at least that amount of people. We further say—having some 20 or 30 factories in operation today—that London should have reduced its factory area and thereby cut itself down by that amount. But all the evidence which has been so ably advanced by my hon. Friend goes to prove the opposite. We are afraid that, as we are receiving the export of population from London, so London is not taking the necessary steps—or at least, the necessary steps are not being taken—to prevent more people from coming into the London area.

It would not be fair, either to the countryside or to the new towns—or indeed, to the nation—if this kind of thing were allowed to go on. I believe it is not stretching the imagination to think a little wider than the shores of this country. The problems of the British Commonwealth and Empire have often been argued in this House and in the country. There are great countries like Canada crying out for new population. At the moment, unhappily, the population of Canada is increasing because of a flood of immigrants from various European countries—Poland, Germany, and so on.

I believe the Canadians would prefer to have immigrants of British stock. I suggest that someone of the genius of Sir Thomas Bennett, chairman of our Development Corporation, should be invited by Her Majestys Government and by the Canadian Government to see if it is possible to start a new town, perhaps somewhere on the Great Lakes of Canada, where new and enormous development is taking place. That would take 50,000 to 100,000 of our people from the Home Counties and London. Furthermore, I believe it would give to those people a magnificent opportunity for the future.

There are immensely difficult economic and other problems, but I feel that they could be overcome. That is only one of the many solutions which may be applied to this problem. I welcome the suggestion of my hon. Friend who advocated a tighter hand on the rein. Agricultural land is being absorbed right and left, mainly because there are too many authorities, many of whom have not enough responsibility. These vast numbers of London's population are being placed in various territories. Recently there was a suggestion that a large number could be placed on the borders of Dorset and Hampshire. When they go there, I understand they pay their rents to the London County Council—

My hon. Friend says, "No." I understood they did. I believe that the ratepayers of London would be responsible for any subsidy in this connection. I may be wrong, but in any event they are, as I understand it, the overspill population of London.

When one is dealing with and talking about town and country planning, there is one fact which should always be remembered. It is all too easy to plan country into town, but once we have done so, it is impossible to re-plan town into country.

2.18 p.m.

I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) on raising this exceedingly important subject and also upon the clear, moderate and well balanced manner in which he did so. I am sure he will not object to one who represents a London constituency taking part in this debate, because we are all in this problem together.

I cordially agree with his criticism of the policy followed by the Board of Trade from 1946 onwards, a policy of almost complete non-co-operation with what had been agreed by everyone else to be a desirable objective, that of decentralising industry from London and other overgrown cities. The Board of Trade might argue that they had a statutory duty towards the development areas, and that until they were released from that duty they could not trouble much about the home counties and other places to which the overspill of London's population might have gone. If we are to tackle this problem at all we must, however, as an early priority, achieve a policy which is being implemented not only by one or two Government Departments but by all.

I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend when he says that there must be reasonable assurance of employment wherever people are going out of a big city into a new place. That assurance must extend not only to the newcomers, but to the older inhabitants, also. I would add one or two more essential conditions. One is that we must not swamp existing communities. In my view, it is far better to start an entirely new community—such as it virtually happening in the new towns—than that such large numbers of people should go to a new place under the Town Development Act, that the "old stagers" become the few and the newcomers the overwhelming majority.

Further, I would lay down the essential condition that decisions in this matter must not be taken hastily and recklessly and regretted later. If that is what my hon. Friend means when he asks for a tighter hand on the rein, then I am prepared to agree with him, but I hope he will not mind my saying that, as there has been no town development so far in the two years during which the Town Development Act has been on the Statute Book, one can hardly say that things are outwardly moving too fast as yet. Instead of using such a phrase as "a tighter hand on the rein," I should rather suggest that the right plan would be to go over the course again together, to see whether we can all agree on a policy that seeks to reconcile all the various interests.

I am sure, from all I know of my hon. Friend's generosity of heart and his understanding of national and local problems, that he fully recognises that one cannot put a ring fence round London or any other great city and say that everybody inside it must stay there. Before the war there were parts of London in-habitated at a density of up to 600 people an acre. Even now, there are large tracts which have a density of more than 300 an acre. I cordially agree with the County of London plan suggesting that 200 an acre is a sufficiently high residential density even for the central parts.

I do not dissent from the suggestion that the much lower density zone of 70 per acre in South London may need to be carefully examined. It may be that that should be raised to a slightly higher figure. I am expressing only my personal view. Even then, my hon. Friend must not suppose that thereby any great advantage will be achieved quickly in the absorptive capacity of London.

An alteration in density affects only those relatively small parts of a city which are due for redevelopment. One of the problems in London is that enormous tracts south of the river were built on towards the end of the last century, and during this century, at quite low densities; but those are houses which nobody would contemplate pulling down yet, to replace them by tall blocks of flats.

The London County Council has more than 50,000 families on its waiting list who are in category A of urgency. The conditions for category A are rather strict. Anybody who examined those conditions would say at once that those 50,000 families were in need of immediate re-housing. Ten thousand of them have had their names on the list for six years or more.

There is slum clearance to come, and then there are the other needs of London which cannot be left out of account. All of us believe that the playgrounds of old schools were too small and that when one is building new schools, or rebuilding old ones, it is desirable to give the children a larger open space around the schools. Everybody knows that some parts of London are woefully short of public open spaces. There are hospitals in London which must be rebuilt; if they are to be reconstructed as efficient modern units they will need more land, and that will involve the displacement of people who live in houses on the spot.

The very next subject which we are to discuss today concerns road traffic in and out of London. We are all delighted that the Government have sanctioned the Cromwell Road extension. But every scheme like that will displace numbers of extra families far whom new homes will have to be found by the London County Council or someone else.

Unless one is to impose a standstill on all these changes in London which we believe to be desirable for their own sake, the problem of finding places where the people can go must be faced. I am sure my hon. Friend agrees that this is simply a balance of the various considerations. On the London County Council we have not let party politics enter into the matter. We have tried to find solutions that will be agreed by all members of the council, We have never sought to adopt an aggressive attitude towards the Home Counties or anybody else, and yet the London County Council cannot ignore the fact that it is within two or three years of the date when it will be bankrupt of land for housing development. That is the problem which my hon. Friends and I, from our different points of view, lay before the Parliamentary Secretary. We shall be exceedingly interested to hear what he has to say.

2.28 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government
(Mr. Ernest Marples)

The House is grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) for giving us a chance to discuss what he called the "overspill of London." With him I deplore the jargon which is used in planning. We "decant" people and talk about "overspill." We seem to be introducing alcoholic terms into the housing of the people.

First, I should like to deal with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke), who has given great service in housing and other work both in this House and, for many years, with the London County Council. He speaks with expert knowledge of the problems involved. I should like to endorse two or three of the points which he made.

The first is that we must see that the spirit of the existing community predominates over the people who come to the expanded area. That will mean that most people in an expanded town should be in favour of the development. If we had too many people coming into an existing town, that might destroy the spirit and do harm to what was a happy community life.

The second point was about tightening the rein. He mentioned the difference between planning carefully and planning differently. I agree that, if we are to plan carefully, we should go into general development slowly, and proceed by evolution rather than revolution. We must not make the same mistakes as those made in the groundnut scheme. We should have a pilot scheme from which to draw experience and then we should act on that experience. My right hon. Friend is well aware of the danger of proceeding too quickly. He will take care to see that the work goes at a proper pace, so that we can learn from any mistakes that we make.

The third point was on the question of density. I shall deal with that later, but I would say that we have already looked at the question carefully. Since my right hon. Friend came to his present office, we have published a booklet which had a great success in the Press and of which a large number of copies were sold. In the booklet we emphasised that there should be greater density and showed how it could be obtained without amenities being lost to the inhabitants. We have demonstrated many types of layout in the booklet, and we are already carrying out experiments in two of the new towns to show people what can be done by way of intelligent layout and making good use of roads, services and so on.

I will deal with one of two points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Gough) before I come to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford. I join wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham when he says that my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford seems always to be successful in securing debates on the last day before we go on holiday. I speak from intimate knowledge because I generally have to answer and I cannot remember a holiday when he has failed to secure an Adjournment debate. I shall continue to hope that at some time he will fail.

My hon. Friend the Member for Horsham gave a historical survey of what people thought about new towns and expanded towns, but he did not tell us what the population of the country was at the times in question. If he looks at the population question, he will see what an appalling problem we are up against. In 1821 the inhabitants of the United Kingdom numbered 15,500,000. In 1851 the population numbered 22,250,000. In 1871, which is near the date about which my hon. Friend spoke, the population was 27,500,000. Today it is 50 million. That means that there are 23 million more people, all of whom must be housed somewhere. The magnitude of the task will be realised if one compares the increase of 23 million with the total population of Canada, which is very much less. My hon. Friend really must recognise that it is a difficult problem to house all these people in a very small island.

I was pursuing the same argument. Perhaps I did not make myself clear. I said that the problem today is that there are 35 million people in seven closely-knit large areas. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend.

I am obliged to my hon. Friend.

With regard to rents, the London County Council would not collect the rents in an expanded town but would probably make a rate contribution. The amount would be by arrangement with the authority receiving the people.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford was good enough to give me notice of some of the questions which he proposed to raise, and for that I am duly grateful. I wish to answer them in some detail.

He asked whether there would be enough industry to meet the needs of the expanded towns, and he attached great importance to that. He wanted to know what response there had been from industrialists, and whether the Board of Trade give the necessary priorities. He gave the priorities which he thought the Board of Trade were following. He also asked what is happening to the vacated factories in London, which he said were a great problem.

We accept that it is absolutely essential to have industry to provide local employment in the expanded towns which are a distance from the exporting areas. It must be a balanced community where reasonable equilibrium is maintained between the house's of the residents, the social amenities, such as village centres and so on, and the employment. It is much better for the majority of the people to have employment somewhere near where they live than a long distance away. We accept that.

Towns which are approved for expansion have been or will be selected with close regard to the industry which is already there and the prospects of attracting industry to those places. I believe that I can take my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead with me when I say that it is not the intention of the London County Council to embark upon town development schemes without making reasonably sure that the necessary industry can be obtained.

That is the intention, and, if it is not being carried out, I shall be very glad to look at any case which my hon. Friend has in mind. I say that because my Department has had great success in introducing industries to new towns. In the early stages of the new towns there was considerable apprehension that sufficient industrialists would not go to those places. There were many debates on that point in this House in 1951 and 1952, some of which I had to answer. I believe that I shall take my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham with me when I say that we are successfully overcoming that difficulty and that the apprehensions no longer exist. I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for confirming that.

The Board of Trade really does co-operate. It does not have the priorities which my hon. Friend mentioned. It has the priority of suitability of industry so that a balanced industry can be obtained in a place. Some large basic industry might be suitable for South Wales or a Development Area but be unsuitable for Ashford.

In Peterlee, which was erected to house miners, basic industries already existed but there were no light industries to employ the females living in Peterlee. What we have managed to do there is to persuade an industrialist to erect a very handsome new factory and to bring over some of the most expensive American machinery, and the spinning of wool and rayon will take place there, which will give a great deal of employment to the females living there. The Board of Trade co-operated wholeheartedly to move that suitable type of industry to the place where it was needed. A very much more flexible policy in that respect has been adopted by the Government.

There is no guarantee that sufficient industry will be found to fill the towns to be expanded. Frankly, that would be impossible unless the Government began to direct industry. However, we have used persuasion and negative controls, and have not been without success. If my hon. Friend wishes to direct my attention to any area where he thinks there is not sufficient industry, I can promise him action. We will try to seek out industrialists to go to such an area.

In the expanded town programme we intend to move only in a small way so that we may see how it goes. Only a few schemes, probably not more than half a dozen, are expected to start within the next two years or so, and they will go ahead at a modest rate. The timing of each scheme will be closely related to the industrial prospects, and we shall try to keep housing and industrial employment in step. That is not always easy. Sometimes we get too many houses and not enough factories, and sometimes the balance is the other way round. We shall try to maintain the balance if we can.

My hon. Friend also referred to vacated factories in London. Frankly, this is an awkward question. My hon. Friend is right in what he says. In the past, when a factory in the centre of London had been vacated and the industrialist has gone to a new town or an expanded town to erect another factory, some other firm from the North has immediately stepped in and occupied the vacated factory. The only complete answer to that would be for the London County Council, or whatever authority was concerned, to buy every factory that became available.

That would be a very expensive process, and I doubt very much whether either the Exchequer or the local authorities could bear the charge because generally speaking, the sites are expensive. Under the Bill which has recently been going through the House, the Government are now to provide assistance at a flat rate of 50 per cent. Hitherto in the County of London the rate has been only 20 per cent. To increase the rate of grant still further would simply transfer the cost to the Exchequer, and the amount would be too great. The only way is for the London County Council to buy up where it can afford to do so and so bit by bit get rid of factories in the wrong places.

In any case, not all industrial premises which are vacated in London are used again for production. Some are left vacant and some are used for storage or similar purposes. Thus, while the decentralisation policy is not being fully effective in the sense that a flow in of industry to London is not forcibly prevented, the flow in is not as great as the flow out.

I will give my hon. Friend an example of that to show what I have in mind. Thirteen put of the firms for whom we are building at Crawley have given up their London premises and the remaining three are being used mainly for storage. Of the 13 which have been given up, six have been re-occupied by other firms for production, three are unoccupied, three are being used for non-industrial purposes, and one has been bought by the L.C.C. and is being extinguished. That is a typical example of what is happening, and it shows that some progress is being made in central London, though it is not absolutely 100 per cent. I think I have dealt with my hon. Friend's question.

Now I come to the question of London's overspill needs. My hon. Friend asked whether the estimates of the L.C.C. are reliable. He asked what was to prevent the area filling up again after the overspill had gone out. What effect would slum clearance have on the amount of the overspill, and would private enterprise building alter the position? I will try to answer those questions.

The L.C.C. have worked out their housing needs in considerable detail, and they are given in the County of London Plan. They estimate that 40,000 families must be rehoused outside the council's area in the first five years of the plan alone, and another 200,000 in the following 15 years. These figures are arrived at after allowing for the development during that period of all available sites in the county, including slum clearance areas to be dealt with on an increasing scale under the Bill which has just received its Third reading, and finishing off the out-county estates.

May I give an estimate of what they will do within the area? In the next five years, they will displace 20,000 families and rehouse 66,000 within the central area. In the next 15 years, they will displace 70,000 families and rehouse 100,000, so that they are going to rehouse more than they displace, because they are redeveloping thinly-developed areas, such as those with Victorian houses with large gardens, as well as densely-built slums, and they will make a contribution to that problem which will accelerate as the years go on. We shall need schemes of slum clearance, and that will apply particularly in central London.

The next question was whether the estimates are right. Necessarily, they are very broad estimates, but we do not think that they are seriously exaggerated, if exaggerated at all. There is no mistaking what they mean. Even with active and full redevelopment of the inner part of London, there is not enough room in the County of London to satisfy the huge and urgent housing needs arising there. We have to do two things simultaneously—redevelop inner London and find somewhere outside for the overspill population. It means that we must do these two things simultaneously, and that they are not competitive but complementary.

Naturally, the first preoccupation of the L.C.C. must be with slum clearance and building inside the county, but their out-county estates are already beginning to run down, and they must have a few selected town developments to enable them to continue that effort. My hon. Friend asked whether people will be driven into London and what we are doing to discourage more people flooding in as the overspill moves out. If this plan is to be fully effective, we should have to direct them. Let us face up to it, and recognise that that is really impracticable, just as it is with factories.

What we can do is steadily refuse to allow London to expand into the Green Belt and steadily decline to allow its industry to grow, so that employment will be moved out, while steadily increasing the attractions of other towns, including the new and expanding towns. If my hon. Friend can think of any measures by which that plan can be implemented, I should be very grateful if he would let me have them.

Another point raised by my hon. Friend was about density. He asked whether the London figures were fixed and final, or whether they could be looked at again. As I said when we first came into office, we had a look at the density figures, and the town planning experts changed their minds several times in the early stages, when schemes included enormous gardens and very wide roads. Gradually, these Utopian ideas have come down to a more practicable level in accord with what we can afford as a nation, both in terms of land and money, and I think that the Ministry's example in that respect has been very salutary, as I think my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead would agree.

Not necessarily lowering the standard at all, because so many people who have gone to the new towns complain bitterly that they are far away from their neighbours, and a lot of them have been used to having their neighbours quite close to them next door. Quite a number of people do not like the arrangement. Some do, and some do not, and we have to cater for both, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we have not lowered the standard.

The densities in the L.C.C. areas are different. In the central areas, there are 200 people to the residential acre; there are 136 people to the acre over large areas surrounding the central area; and there are 100 or 70 people to the acre in the outer areas, or in a few small inner areas selected for house building as distinct from the development of flats.

That means that most people will have to accept the idea of living in flats, many of them in fairly high blocks. We think that the L.C.C. are going as high as they reasonably can with these densities. The higher we build, the more the cost of each unit increases; the more people accommodated, the greater is the provision required for schools, open spaces, etc., and the fewer people who can be accommodated in houses. The tradition of this country is still opposed to flats for families and children, though many Londoners will have to put up with them.

One of the reasons for this is the necessity to save our agricultural land, and I should like to say a word or two in that respect. We agree that, wherever it is humanly possible, agricultural land must be saved from building. In the Ministry, we often consult, first of all, the local authorities as to what their plans are, and very often we have to tell them that they must not build on good agricultural land. Then, again, if they have same idea of building on agricultural land, when they come to the Ministry with detailed plans we refuse them, but these cases never get any publicity at all. In fact, I think I shall ask my right hon. Friend whether some publicity would not be given to some of these cases in which we have prevented the use of agricultural land for building, because in many cases the Ministry has refused such permission, but the cases have never seen the light of day.

Next, my hon. Friend asked whether the Ministry has a programme for the whole country over the next few years. He asked what share of the housing programme would it represent, once it was seriously under way in 1956. What provision was there for a review of the programme to make sure that there is no over-provision of services? The short answer to these questions is that, over the next three or four years, the total number of houses that may be built to meet overspill requirements for both London and the Provinces, including the new towns, is not likely, at a rough estimate, to exceed a maximum of 14,000 or 15,000 houses in any one year; that is, 5 percent, of the 300,000 houses, which is the rate at which we are now building.

Later on, the expanded programme can be expected to increase as the new town programmes begin to run down, but it is most improbable that this total annual figure will go beyond the 5 percent, of the total number of houses now being built. The alarm has been caused by the fact that the L.C.C. have made a number of inquiries all over the country, and there have been altogether 60 such cases. Like the Grand National, there are many hurdles to get over, and all the starters do not finish.

Let us take the first hurdle. An authority very often starts off by being very willing, but eventually the difficulties become overwhelming and it withdraws. The second hurdle is the planning difficulty. The planning authorities say that a scheme is impossible because it is proposed for agricultural land. The London County Council deserve recognition for the loyal way they have tried to work the town development policy instead of looking for further housing estates inside the Green Belt. There were members of the L.C.C. who wanted to raid the Green Belt, but that is not desirable. We already have sufficient numbers of people concentrated in London and we must have breathing space. I will not criticise the L.C.C., but thank them for the work they have done.

I hope I have satisfied my hon. Friend that we shall proceed with town development at a reasonable pace and shall learn from experience as we go along.