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Local Government

Volume 720: debated on Tuesday 16 November 1965

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New Towns (Co-Operation With Delevelopment Corporations)

1.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what steps he is taking to encourage co-operation between local authorities in new towns and the development corporations.

Since I became Minister I have constantly urged the need for the fullest possible cooperation. I took the opportunity in a speech at Redditch in August to emphasise the great importance I attach to this and to point the way to collaboration and partnership in the future.

While congratulating my right hon. Friend on his great efforts to encourage co-operation between new town corporations and local authorities, which is much appreciated in the new towns, may I ask him to be willing to consider representations about the ultimately more democratic form of administration than that which is possible under the New Towns Commission?

Yes, as I think I said at Redditch, we are aware that the present Commission is, from our point of view, a temporary form of government of which we do not approve and which we want to replace by a more democratic form, in which the local authorities would play a far more direct and important role.

Where there is a joint housing list already in operation, how does the Minister intend to deal with the problem of differing rises in rents, for various reasons, in the future?

That is really another question, but let me say that I believe that even under the Commission a great deal can be achieved by getting the corporation or commission houses and the local authority houses under joint management. This is something of which I strongly approve.

Elected Members (Financial Hardship)

2.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government, if he will request the Maud Committee to make an interim report, to relieve the financial hardship being experienced by elected members of the larger municipal authorities.

11.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he will instruct the Maud Committee to review as a matter of urgency the present maximum loss of earnings per diem allowance of £2 10s. payable to elected representatives of local authorities, and make an interim award to relieve financial hardship at present incurred by councillors and aldermen of the larger municipal authorities in discharging their public duties.

13.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government when it is intended to review the loss of earnings allowance payable to elected members of local authorities.

16.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he will request the Maud Committee to make an interim report, to relieve the financial hardship being experienced by elected members.

26.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he will request the Maud Committee to make an interim report, to relieve the financial hardship being experienced by elected members of the larger municipal authorities.

27.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he will request the Maud Committee to make an interim report, to relieve the financial hardship being experienced by elected members of the larger municipal authorities.

As my hon. Friend explained on 4th November, the Government have decided that it would not be right to increase the rates of financial loss allowance at the present time but the position will be reviewed next year. A decision on this matter is not dependent on a report from the Maud Committee. I understand that the Committee do intend to make an interim report on allowances to members of local authorities, but that what they are considering is the basis on which these payments are made rather than the actual amount.

While thanking my right hon. Friend for his reply, may I ask him if he will agree that it is unfortunate as well as destructive of good local government that working men who are councillors, even including the chairmen of major committees in the big authorities, have to work overtime at weekends to recoup their losses from the present maximum loss of earnings allowance of £2 10s. a day, and even some very dedicated people are beginning to call local government service a mug's game?

Yes, I am aware of the very great strain and difficulty in recruiting personnel of the quality recruited 20 or 30 years ago, and this is something to which the Maud Committee is giving its attention. However, I would say that the reference my hon. Friend made to the chairmen of key committees, with the implication that they might be paid differential rates, is something with which in principle I do not really concur.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Is he aware that since May, 1962, when the present maximum of £2 10s. was fixed, average weekly earnings have bounded from £15 12s. 10d. to £18 18s. 2d.—in other words, we have seen an increase in average weekly earnings of 21 per cent. and this burden is intolerable—

Order. The hon. Member must try to put his supplementary question more quickly.

The position of the wage-earning councillor is serious, but in my view it is not so serious as the position of those councillors, such as housewives and professional people, who cannot get anything for broken time. This is why I want the whole position of the allowance for a councillor to be reviewed whether he is a wage earner or a salary earner.

While appreciating my right hon. Friend's remarks, would he not agree that it would be better simply to pay people what they lose instead of the present limited allowances which are actually not subject to tax? Would it not be better to pay them and tax them?

These are all matters on which no dobut the Maud Committee will advise me on the basis of need. When dealing with professional people and housewives this is an even more difficult basis of estimation.

Oxford And Cambridge Colleges (Grants In Lieu Of Rates)

5.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether he will make arrangements to provide special grants through the University Grants Committee to the Oxford and Cambridge colleges in lieu of rates.

Is the Minister in a position to say whether I am right in suspecting that he has no intention of fulfilling the expectations raised by the general secretary of his party last year that the grievances of Oxford and Cambridge ratepayers over colleges' rate relief would be removed by an Exchequer subsidy? If I am right, may I ask him to say so frankly now so that the city and college authorities can get together on an alternative solution?

No, the hon. Member would not be right on that assumption. All I was asked to say was whether special grants would be made through the University Grants Committee. Although I am more impressed than ever by the legitimate irritation of ratepayers of Oxford I am also more impressed than previously by the difficulty of persuading my colleagues of the kind of solution I should like to introduce.

Green Belt, Whiston Rural District

8.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government why he approved the recent proposal by the Huyton and Kerby District Council for development in the Green Belt at Lickers Lane in the Whiston Rural District, contrary to the recommendations of his inspector.

I approved this proposal by Huyton-with-Roby Urban District Council because of its urgent need for more housing land.

Is it not a fact that this land is good agricultural land in the Green Belt, that the application was opposed both by Lancashire County Council and the rural district in which it lies and that the rural district council, rather than seek to build on this land, built on more expensive land? In those circumstances, does not this favouring of Huyton demand some explanation?

There was no favouring of Huyton. The fact is that Huyton is one of the most overcrowded urban areas we know. It was due to run out of housing land altogether by the end of 1966. There and in one or two other cases I had to decide on a choice of evils which it was preferable to make and decided on a small encroachment on the Green Belt rather than to leave this urban district without any housing land.

London Government Act (Effect On Rates)

14.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether he will make a statement on the estimated effect of the London Government Act on rates in the London boroughs during the present financial year.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government
(Mr. Robert Mellish)

No, Sir.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I have had many complaints from ratepayers in my constituency about increases in rates due to this Act?

Yes. I, too, speak as a London Member. I think we had all better wait and see what the position is in the rating assessment which will come up in April of next year, because by that time the London Government Act will have been working for a year and there will be no rough estimate, as I think there was in the last year.

Is it not the fact that the great majority of the major increases took place in Labour-controlled boroughs? Can the Joint Parliamentary Secretary explain why that is so?

Rating

15.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether, following representations made to him, he will make a statement in regard to the inequitable rating position of counties with very rapidly expanding populations.

The Government's proposals on local government finance are to be announced early next year.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will include measures to deal with that problem. Is he aware that this is not a question of planing ahead to meet future hardship? It is an existing problem which is already being aggravated in the current year's financial arrangements, certainly in Hertfordshire, and probably in relation to other counties?

Yes. I am aware of the problem which the Hertford County Council, among others, has presented to me. In our reorganisation of the grant system we will try to work out an improved formula which takes account of that aspect.

Rent Officers, Dorset

18.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government when he expects to appoint rent officers in the County of Dorset.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government
(Mr.James MacColl)

:These officers will be appointed by the Clerk of the County Council personally. I do not expect that they will be operating before next February.

Is it not a fact that in the meantime the granting of tenancies is being held up and thereby the amount of available housing diminished? Is there any good reason why London should have any preference over the County of Dorset?

The main reason is that, as the Milner Holland Report made perfectly clear, London is in an extremely difficult position and requires top priority.

New Town, Humber Estuary

20.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether he will make a statement regarding his plans for a new town in the Humber Estuary.

There is great potential for growth on Humberside; and the special review referred to on page 97 of the National Plan will include among its urgent tasks a study of the possibilities offered by Humberside. Specific proposals will have to be considered in the light of that review.

Does my right hon. Friend know that his statement at the Blackpool conference about this new town was welcomed on Humberside, particularly in Hull? We believe that the Humber Bridge is essential to any future planning of this nature. Does my right hon. Friend share that view? Is the bridge an integral part of his future planning?

My enthusiasm is as strong now as it was at Blackpool. I also think the bridge is very important, but I still think that we have to look at this carefully and I am waiting for the report of the Regional Council and its views on the subject.

Welwyn Garden City And Hatfield Development Corporations

21.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether he will make a statement about the future employment of the staffs of the Welwyn Garden City and the Hatfield Development Corporations in the light of his announcement that he intends to dissolve the Corporations on 1st April 1966.

If it is finally decided to transfer responsibility from the Welwyn Garden City and Hatfield Development Corporations, I will then send to the New Towns Whitley Council details of what is proposed so that the Council may have an opportunity of considering any matters which may appear to affect the staff of the two Corporations.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect that he has already announced that the Welwyn Garden City and the Hatfield Development Corporations are redundant? He has done this without any discussion with the staffs involved. This has been the cause of very considerable worry to these people, whose employment prospects are involved. When are these discussions likely to take place, because these people are very worried?

I should like to tell the hon. Gentleman that since I made that announcement the Hatfield side has come to me and asked to have the decision reconsidered, in view of a possible expansion. I have given them eight weeks. If the hon. Gentleman would table another Question in a few weeks, I will try to give him a further answer.

Local Authority Housing Loans

22.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he is aware of the dissatisfaction that arises from the fixed nature of housing loans granted by local authorities; and whether he will seek to make some simplified movement of interest rates mandatory.

Housing loans may carry fixed or variable rates of interest depending on the method of financing adopted by the local authority. My right hon. Friend is aware that there have been complaints where rates have been fixed for the period of the loan. He is reviewing the lending policies of local authorities including the methods of fixing lending rates.

Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that many authorities refuse to have a varying rate because of the inconvenience which this causes to them and that this matter of convenience ought not to stand before the interests of the ordinary citizen?

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that the dissatisfaction varies directly with the rate of interest originally fixed? Will he also bear in mind that it is desirable to leave some functions with local authorities to decide locally, in the light of requirements in their areas?

Yes. My right hon. Friend will be making a statement very shortly, I hope, in regard to interest terms which will be available to local authorities.

Bognor Regis Inquiry (Report)

25.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether he has received the Report of the inquiry conducted in Bognor Regis by Mr. J. Ramsay Willis, Q.C.; if he will make a statement on its findings; and what arrangements he is making to ensure that the Report will be available to the public.

I have studied very carefully Mr. Ramsay Willis's comprehensive Report. It seems to me to put the events which led to Mr. Paul Smith's resignation as Town Clerk of Bognor Regis into their true perspective—as an unhappy domestic quarrel, revealing no fundamental weakness in the administration of the Council or of local government generally. The Report will be on sale from tomorrow as a Stationery Office publication, and I am arranging for copies to be available to hon. Members in the Vote Office from 9.30 a.m.

May I thank the Minister for that reply and for the efficient way in which the inquiry was conducted? Is he absolutely certain that the whole matter is to be completely and thoroughly aired so as to reduce the possibility of any ill-informed speculation which has already done harm to a very fine seaside resort?

I would prefer to leave it to the hon. Member to judge the report for himself. My view of it has been described in the Answer. I think that it has cleared the air, which is most important, and it has made clear that charges of widespread corruption in local government were completely unsubstantiated.

Machinery Of Local Government

36.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government how much information is at the disposal of his Department about the machinery of local government.

A lot, Sir. But if the hon. Gentleman will let me know what he has in mind I will give him a more specific reply.

I shall be interested to know how much more information the Minister needs. Would it not be better to deal with the reform of local government on the basis of a national plan—

Order. That is very interesting, but it does not arise on this Question.

I had not finished my supplementary question, Mr. Speaker, because of the interruptions opposite.

The hon. Gentleman must come to the subject matter of his supplementary question.

Would it not be better to deal with the reform of local government in the way I suggested rather than deal with it on the basis of a piecemeal tabling of Orders for separate areas?

My right hon. Friend found this difficulty as soon as he came into office, and he has said that he is looking at the possibility of a much broader approach to the problem of the reform of local government than is possible under existing legislation. He is not responsible for that legislation.