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Local Government

Volume 645: debated on Tuesday 25 July 1961

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Greater London


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs if he is yet in a position to announce his proposals for the reorganisation of local government in the Greater London area.


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister far Welsh Affairs what consideration he has now given to the representations made to him by local authorities with regard to the Report of the Royal Commission on Local Government in Greater London.


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs if he will make a statement on the Government's policy on the Report of the Royal Commission on London Government.

The Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs
(Mr. Henry Brooke)

The Government have the Royal Commission's Report and the representations of local authorities on it under consideration, but I regret it will not be possible to make an announcement before the Recess.

Can my right hon. Friend give some indication of when he is likely to bring forward the Government's proposals; or, at least, to introduce a White Paper on the subject? Furthermore, will will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that many local authority employees are becoming increasingly apprehensive about how their future will be affected by these proposals, if they are accepted, and that local authorities are finding it extremely difficult to recruit new staff?

Whether or not the proposals are accepted, I think that it is desirable to keep the period of uncertainty to a minimum. Therefore, in response to my hon. Friend's main supplementary question, I certainly reply that the Government will announce their decision as soon as they properly can.

When the right hon. Gentleman says that the decision will be announced as soon as it properly can be and, at the same time, says that it will not be before the Summer Recess, is he anticipating that the statement will be made while the House is in Recess, or is it meant to await the return of the House before making the statement? In addition to the present effect on local authority staff recruitment, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the London political parties will shortly be preparing for next year's elections? If there are to be major changes there will, presumably, be no elections, so the sooner we know the better.

I think that the political parties can take it for granted that there will be elections next year, but I really cannot say when I shall be able to make a statement.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think it would be better to have a debate in this House before the Government make their decision, so that they can make it in the light of the opinions then expressed?

There has been nearly a year during which it has been possible for the Oppposition to seek a debate on the question. It seems better now that the Government should reach their decision and make their announcement, and for that to be debated.

Local Government Act, 1933 (Section 76)


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs if he will now make a statement on the operation of Section 76 of the Local Government Act, 1933, in view of the continued uncertainty of those engaged in local government.

I intend to make a statement in due course, but I regret I cannot do so yet.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that on 4th July, 1961, 3rd May, 1961, 28th June, 1960, 29th March, 1960, and 17th November, 1959, we had Answers almost precisely similar to the Answer just given, and can he not give us a definite date when he will make a statement on this matter, which looks like dragging on like the trial of Warren Hastings?

I regret that I cannot give a definite date. In any case, I have no power whatsoever to interpret the law, and any change in the law would naturally require a Bill.

Green Belts


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs whether he will categorise the exceptions permitted by the Government to its policy of maintaining the green belt.

This information is set out in Circular 42/55, a copy of which I sent to my hon. Friend, following his Question on 3rd May.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the deep concern felt among my constituents in the Chigwell urban district and the Epping and Ongar rural district lest there be further encroachments on the Metropolitan green belt, which they value very much? Will he remove any misapprehensions that Government Departments and public institutions are in a privileged position in this matter?

Nobody is in a privileged position, though my hon. Friend will recollect from that Circular that the purposes for which buildings might be erected in the green belt include

"… agriculture, sport, cemeteries, institutions standing in extensive grounds or other uses appropriate to a rural area."


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs whether it is now his policy that new schools should be built in a green belt whenever possible, instead of in areas designated for building development; and what consideration he has given to the effect on the green belts of the present financial incentives to local education authorities to acquire land for schools in the green belt because of the much lower compensation payable.

Schools ought not to be built in a green belt simply because the land there is cheaper. Most schools need to be near to the homes of the boys and girls, and this factor alone will normally rule out a site in a green belt. But there are cases where the most suitable site in all the circumstances may be in a green belt, and I would not think that green belt zoning should be held to preclude absolutely such a use as a school.

May I take it from my hon. Friend's reply that he does not regard it as generally consistent with his green belt policy that two or three schools should grow up side by side in what is said to be a green belt?

It is not my policy to encourage schools in a green belt, but there may be cases where the green belt is really the most desirable place for a school, and if it is surrounded by extensive playing fields it might not be an offensive intrusion there.

Dorell Glass Company Limited (Planning Decision)


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs what inquiries he has made of the Shoreditch Borough Council concerning ex gratia compensation for financial loss by the Dorell Glass Company Limited, arising out of planning decisions, in view of his circular to local authorities on the considerations governing such matters.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government
(Sir Keith Joseph)

I wrote to the hon. Member on 7th June fully explaining the position. The only change since then is that the borough council has decided to pay an additional £39 18s. 0d. in respect of surveyors' fees.

While thanking my hon. Friend for that reply, and for the trouble that he has taken in the matter, may I ask him whether he is aware that my constituents have been brought very nearly to the verge of bankruptcy by the interpretation of policy by this council, and could he see his way to making further representations to that authority?

My right hon. Friend has no power to intervene here, since the compensation payable is only discretionary. Of course, my hon. Friend's constituents did not object to the compulsory purchase order.

Cholwichtown Stone Row


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs whether he will hold a public inquiry into the application of English Clays Ltd for permission to obliterate the ancient Stone Row at Cholwichtown, in the Dartmoor National Park.

No, Sir. The hon. Member for Tavistock (Sir H. Studholme) has already been in touch with me on the same subject. My right hon. Friend gave his decision on this matter on 9th May.

Can the Minister say whether he will reconsider his decision because, after all, Dartmoor is a National Park and is something of a right to the nation? This is a wealthy company which could very well site the spoil heap elsewhere. Surely an ancient monument of this kind should be respected.

My right hon. Friend cannot reconsider his decision now it is taken. The National Parks Commission was consulted before the decision was taken.

Drainage And Sewerage, Onneley


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs if he is aware of the insanitary smell at Onneley, near Crewe, due to the lack of proper drainage and sewerage; and if he will consult with the local authority about ways and means of removing this nuisance and introducing a reasonable standard of sanitation.

My right hon. Friend is making inquiries of the local authority, and will write to the hon. Member.

While bearing that in mind, would the hon. Gentleman take note that several years have been spent trying to bring about a limited land drainage scheme to which the Ministry of Agriculture would contribute? This has failed owing to the difficulty of getting local agreement among the farmers. Could the hon. Gentleman's Department take the initiative and propose a proper sewerage scheme for this rural area?

Aluminium Scrap Plants (Fumes)


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs whether he will issue a Command Paper giving a report on the work carried out by the Alkali inspectorate in conjunction with the aluminium scrap plants industry; and what results have been obtained in diminishing the fumes emitted by such plants.

I would invite the right hon. Gentleman's attention to my Chief Alkali Inspector's Annual Report for 1960, presented to Parliament last month, which records the position reached in England and Wales by the end of 1960. His next Annual Report will record progress during 1961.

Is the Minister aware that, in spite of what he has told me in previous Answers, the results of the Inspectorate's efforts in Derby are nil? Is that due to the fact that there are net enough inspectors, that their powers are inadequate or that new legislation is required to deal with this evil of air pollution?

Their powers are adequate and the number of inspectors has been increased, but if the right hon. Gentleman will look alt the inspector's report he will see that more experience of some other tentative methods of remedying the troubles is needed before we can he quite sure what is the best course to follow.

I have looked at the report. Will the Minister come to look at the fumes emitted by Denby Metals Ltd.?

Property (Compulsory Purchase)


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs whether he is satisfied with the way in which local authorities are acquiring property under the threat of compulsory purchase orders, or by means of compulsory purchase orders; and if he will make a statement.

I have not received many complaints on this matter; and no compulsory purchase order has effect unless the appropriate Minister decides to confirm it. The basis of compensation is no different whether a property is bought by compulsory purchase order or not.

Is the Minister aware that certain practices take place where there is a threat of compulsory purchase? Is he aware, for instance, that the City of Birmingham, when acquiring property and having to evict an owner, frequently charges £500 if alternative accommodation is found? Would he not agree that this is most unfortunate?

I think I know what is in my hon. Friend's mind, but the position is that I have no jurisdiction over the compensation which owners receive under a compulsory purchase order. That is settled, or can on appeal be settled, by the Land Tribunal and I must not trespass on the Tribunal's ground.

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that the whole question should be looked into.

I will certainly examine further any information which my hon. Friend sends to me, but I have not anything before me at the moment and, as I say—and it should be widely known—if there is a dispute about compensation, then an appeal lies to the Land Tribunal and the aggrieved person can take advantage of that.

Is it not true that, while the Minister has no control over the amount of compensation to be paid, neither has Birmingham Corporation? As the Minister has said, the appeal lies to someone outside both the Ministry and local Government.

Yes, but I would add that advice has been given to local authorities that if they are unable to reach agreement on the price to be paid for a property which they wish to acquire and they are not actually exercising compulsory powers, they should refer the matter to the Land Tribunal so that a proper decision can be arrived at.

Public Lavatories (Turnstiles)


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs why he has refused to accept a deputation from the National Council of Women on the prohibition of the use of turnstiles in public lavatories.

The hon. Member is misinformed. I did not refuse to see a deputation, but suggested that the Council should in the first place approach the local authority associations. It has done so, and has now asked to see me; I am arranging to meet it.

While welcoming the Minister's belated agreement to meet this deputation from the National Council of Women, may I ask him whether he will now accede to the desperate plea of a large number of women's organisations that he should take action in this matter? Will he either support my Private Member's Bill abolishing turnstiles or introduce similar legislation himself to the same effect?

I understand that a new Clause on this subject has been tabled to the Public Health Bill, so there seems to be plenty of potential legislation about. The National Council of Women is coming to see me this week and, with respect to the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), I should prefer to say nothing more at this stage until I have seen that deputation, which I am looking forward to meeting.


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs if he will now state the composition of the delegation which he has agreed to meet regarding turnstile entrances to ladies' public lavatories.

I understand from the National Council of Women that the deputation will include representatives of that Council and of the British Federation of University Women, the British Rheumatism and Arthritis Association, the National Federation of Women's Institutes, the National Union of Townswomen's Guilds, the Royal College of Midwives, and the Women's Co-operative Guild.

Would my right hon. Friend agree that, in view of the large number of women's organisations represented on this delegation, this is obviously a matter of great importance to all women in this country? In view of his answer to an earlier supplementary question to the effect that he preferred to say and do nothing until after he has met this delegation, and since two new Clauses on this point have been tabled for consideration during the Report stage of the Public Health Bill on Friday morning, which will naturally come before Parliament before he meets the deputation, will he reconsider this matter?

I am extremely anxious to find a solution of this genuine problem which will be satisfactory to everybody, but I also want to meet all these important bodies when they come to see me.

Planning Appeal, Saffron Walden


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs on what grounds he concluded, when deciding the planning appeal of Messrs. D. Heath & Son against the Saffron Walden Rural District Council, that there was need for the production of chalk in the area.

What I actually said was that chalk from the appeal site would make a useful contribution to an area which is partly dependent on pits lying at a distance. But, as I made clear in the House when the case was debated in May, my decision on the appeal did not turn on this. It turned on whether there would be serious nuisance from chalk dust blowing on to neighbouring land. Once I was satisfied that there would not, there was no reason for withholding planning permission.

Clean Air Act, 1956


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs what progress has been made in the five years to 30th June, 1961, in securing implementation of the provisions of the Clean Air Act, 1956, notably in the establishment of Smoke Control Areas in black areas denoted in the Beaver Report.

In the black areas of England and Wales, over 623,000 premises and over 102,000 acres are now covered by confirmed smoke control orders. Over 128,000 more premises and over 29.000 more acres in these areas are covered by orders submitted for confirmation. These figures, which are correct to 30th June, indicate a substantial start, but continued vigorous use of all the Act's provisions is needed.

While this is impressive progress in the first five years, will my hon. Friend recognise that the whole of the policy for clean air is being vitiated by the fact that no progress is being made in the abatement of diesel oil exhaust fumes? As there is divided executive responsibility between the Ministers of Transport and Housing and Local Government, cannot we have a combined policy to rid us of this public menace?

I cannot accept that the clean air policy is being vitiated for this reason, but consultations are taking place on the subject.

Alkali Inspectorate


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs what improvement has occurred in the effectiveness of the Alkali Inspectorate and associated facilities in his Department during the five years to 30th June, 1961, since the Clean Air Act reached the Statute Book; and whether he will make a statement upon the adequacy or otherwise of current alkali arrangements.

The annual report shows how many distinct problems there are in this field. While in most cases the necessary techniques are known and are being applied, there are some processes which cannot in the present state of knowledge be entirely without undesirable emissions. Research continues and the co-operation of all concerned is unstinted. To deal with its increased responsibilities, the staff of the Inspectorate in England and Wales has been increased from 10 in 1956 to 25 now. My right hon. Friend has in mind extending the Alkali Acts by order to cover certain additional processes, where control is now on an informal, though satisfactory basis.

Having regard to the very great increase in chemical production and associated processes in this country, is my hon. Friend satisfied that, notwithstanding the increase in staff among the Alkali Inspectorate, it is likely to be sufficient to enable the members of the staff to tackle their formidable duties in all parts of the country?

My hon. Friend must bear in mind that a number of manufacturing processes are converting to smokeless techniques and a number of other undertakings, particularly gas and coke works, are concentrating in fewer hands.

Roads, Oxford (Inquiry)


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs if he will announce his decision on the Oxford roads inquiry when the House reassembles after the Recess.

I cannot yet say when I shall be able to announce my decision, but I will do so as soon as I can.

Can the Minister give an assurance that he will neither come to a decision nor announce his decision while the House is in recess, because of the very important issues involved, especially if he finally decides to sanction the pernicious proposal to drive a road through the Meadows? Before coming to a decision, will he also have a word with the Chancellor of the University of Oxford about it?

Having a word with people after public inquiries is just what I am not allowed to do and do not want to do. I should not like to give an undertaking that in no circumstances will I announce my decision on this matter before the House reassembles, because there are many people who are extremely anxious for a decision one way or the other to be reached. What I will say to the hon. Member is that, after a decision is announced, a very long procedure has still to be followed and it will probably be several years before a single sod is dug.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that everybody will breathe a sigh of relief if he can bring to an end this inter-collegiate road warfare at Oxford in good time and once and for all?

Does not my right hon. Friend recall having a word with the Minister of Agriculture after the public inquiry on the chalk case?

My hon. Friend cannot have been present when I said in the House, in the early morning of 17th May, that I reached my decision that that appeal should be allowed because there appeared to be no substantial agricultural or amenity objection to it. I let the Ministry of Agriculture know that that was my view. I am quite sure that it was proper for me to do that, and the Ministry of Agriculture had no comment or objection to raise.