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Commons Chamber

Volume 892: debated on Monday 12 May 1975

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House Of Commons

Monday 12th May 1975

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Energy

Coal Miners (Earnings)

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what were the average gross earnings per week and the number of days worked per week for coalface and surface workers in National Coal Board pits in each of the years 1970 to 1974, inclusive.

I have asked the Chairman of the National Coal Board to write to the hon. Member on this matter.

Can the Minister perhaps be a little more forthcoming and tell us whether there has been any increase in output to match the increase in earnings which, subject to confirmation, I understand has taken place? Can he tell us in particular whether there is any likelihood of the target for coal mined this year being met?

The increase in productivity has been the highest for two years. When the hon. Gentleman receives the reply in detail, he may want to put other questions arising from the information he receives.

Is my hon. Friend aware that that answer will be well received by Labour Members? Does he agree that, given the nature of the work involved and the usefulness of that work, the increase in earnings is both justified and deserved?

Many people throughout the country, apart from those associated with the mining industry, would probably agree with the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend.

When I replied to the question of the hon. Member for Bromsgrove and Redditch (Mr. Miller), I omitted to say that it looks as if the target will be met this year.

Although everyone recognises that there should be proper rewards for this high-risk industry, may I ask whether the Under-Secretary agrees that the competitive power of coal could be seriously eroded by excessive wage demands? What advice would he give to the NUM branches at this time as they prepare for the July conference on their next pay claim?

It would be unwise for me to advise the miners on what they should do and what kind of discussions they should have at their annual conference. No doubt Members on the Government side and Members on the Opposition side will continue to give them information. Part of my mission as I traverse every coalfield is to impress upon miners—and it is well taken—that increased productivity means a larger slice of the cake and will assist the country in its fight back to economic recovery, because it affects the balance of payments.

Gas And Electricity Tariff Structures (Analysis)

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy how many civil servants, and at what grades, in his Department are occupied in analysing the effects of gas and electricity tariff structures on different types of consumer.

In my Department the present study of this question occupies part of the time of one deputy secretary, two assistant secretaries, one senior economist, two principals, one statistician and two higher executive officers along with other officials as necessary.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, contrary to the impression that is being given by some chairmen of nationalised industries, relationships between Government Departments and nationalised industries are not necessarily of the all-or-nothing variety? If this gamut of talent which my hon. Friend has at his disposal were to apply itself a little harder, might he not be able to make more impact on the chairmen of the electricity and gas industries about the problems of small consumers?

The relationships between my Department and the nationalised industries are very good and fruitful. Action has already been taken. The last increases in gas and electricity prices were arranged so as to mitigate the impact on small consumers. The Government have uprated pensions and other social security benefits within the past nine months. A further uprating will be made later this year. We are also engaged in a further review of energy tariffs.

British National Oil Corporation

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make an announcement about the proposed location and staffing structure of the British National Oil Corporation.

As I said in the debate on the Second Reading of the Petroleum and Submarine Pipe-lines Bill, the BNOC's headquarters will be in Glasgow. The staffing of the corporation will be a matter for its board.

If my right hon. Friend is involved, even in an advisory capacity, in the appointment of the chairman and other staff of the British National Oil Corporation, will he bear in mind that it is a public corporation and, therefore ensure that people are appointed who not only know something about the oil industry but are in favour of public enterprise within that industry? In particular, does he agree that it would be most inappropriate to appoint a failed Right-wing politician to head this new public enterprise?

I do not know who my hon. Friend has in mind as the failed Right-wing politician to head the British National Oil Corporation. It is possible that he has in mind the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) or someone of that calibre. However, the person who is appointed will support the corporation and will have knowledge of the oil industry.

Will the Secretary of State indicate who the chairman will be and what his salary will be? Will he also indicate whether he is able to get the necessary staff in order to conduct the affairs of the BNOC on commercial lines?

I have already said on Second Reading of the Bill that where the BNOC works in partnership with the companies it will act commercially. It may well not act commercially where it acts as an agent of the Government. I am not in a position to announce the name of the chairman of the BNOC. However, it is recognised that competitive salaries will have to be paid.

Will the right hon. Gentleman assure us, first, that he has no intention of appointing the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) as Chairman of the BNOC? I am sure that such an answer would be of great assurance to all involved in the industry. Will the right hon. Gentleman explain perhaps a little further why Glasgow has been chosen as the site for the headquarters when most of the oil activities are situated in the north-east of Scotland, in the Aberdeen area? Even though he may wish to adhere to his decision, will he assure us that there will be a substantial presence in the Aberdeen area to enable those actively involved in the industry to have direct access to those involved in the BNOC? Will he also take into account—[HON. MEMBERS: "Speech."]—the fact that a large number of Scots are employed all over the world by oil companies and that some preference should be given to them in the key jobs in this enterprise?

The question of the location of the headquarters of the BNOC was under consideration for some time, as the hon. Gentleman knows. We recognise the difficulties of Aberdeen, with all the pressures that are on Aberdeen at present, such as the question of office space, housing and the pressure on resources in that city. In reply to the question whether I would appoint my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) as Chairman of the BNOC, I must tell the hon. Gentleman that we need my hon. Friend in the House to keep an eye on the Scottish National Party.

Does my right hon. Friend consider that if a greatly enhanced salary were paid to the chairman of this corporation, this would have a very real bearing on the salaries being paid at present to the chairmen of the other fuel industries, notably gas and electricity?

I do not think that is really relevant. The question of the salary for the chairmanship of the BNOC has still be to decided, but I recognise—as does by hon. Friend. I think, and the whole House—that a competitive salary will have to be paid.

How long is it since Ward Howell International was asked to find a chief executive for the BNOC? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that Ward Howell has now advised the Government that the proposed management structure of the BNOC is wholly misconceived and that it has no chance of finding a chief executive on the terms it has put out so far?

The report of Ward Howell is a matter of confidentiality. It would be interesting if the right hon. Gentleman would tell the House how he comes to know of the report and where he has got the information from. However, in any event the right hon. Gentleman has been misinformed. What he has just stated is not the case. There are people who have said they would like to take on this job, and, of course, we shall have no difficulty in finding someone who will support the corporation.

Thermal Insulation

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what help his Department is giving to encourage home owners to insulate their houses against heat loss.

An important part of the summer "Save It" campaign which my right hon. Friend recently launched is devoted to encouraging home owners to install effective thermal insulation and advising them on how to do so. The Department's leaflet "Energy Saving in the Home" includes advice on insulation and lists further sources of information.

In view of the large body of research which now shows that cavity-fill insulation is one of the most effective ways of preventing heat loss, will my hon. Friend consider the possibility of offering some form of financial incentive to encourage this form of insulation and will he ensure that the object is not frustrated by the actions of some local authorities in the over-zealous application of the building regulations?

The building regulations are primarily a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. I understand that he has recently sent out a circular to local authorities about this matter. The general gist of it is that although cavity filling is very often a suitable method of thermal insulation, it can cause trouble in some circumstances. Reference is made in the circular, however, to the circumstances in which the regulations can be relaxed.

What help, support or encouragement is the Minister able to offer to home owners who believed the "Poor Cold Fred" advertising campaign and fitted night storage heaters in their homes? Does he have any word of support for them, to insulate them against the electricity boards' unfair treatment?

The hon. Lady has a Question later on the Order Paper specifically about that matter. On the general question of financial savings, if consumers follow the recommendations in the "Save It" campaign they will receive financial benefit by carrying out those recommendations. At present the Government believe them to be a sufficient incentive.

Coal Reserves

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what are the amounts, in tonnage, of the known coal reserves in the United Kingdom.

The present estimate of total proved reserves of coal in the United Kingdom is about 100 thousand million tons.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Will he break down those figures into regions to let us know where the reserves actually lie? Is he aware that representatives of the NUM have asked for more new pits to be opened? What is the policy of the NCB and the Minister's Department on the opening of such pits, and where they are likely to be?

I regret that I cannot break down the figures, but I shall try to get the information for my hon. Friend if I possibly can. Regarding policy for new pit sinkings, my hon. Friend must be aware that the biggest new sinking of all happens to be in the county part of which he represents. Of course new pit sinkings are taking place, but the NCB's policy has been, as we are having the most expensive boring in history throughout the whole British coalfield, to find new reserves in existing collieries in order to sustain existing collieries and, indeed, to make them, in terms of productivity, more beneficial to the nation. That is the policy.

Will my hon. Friend convey to the mining industry and all associated with it the confidence of the Government in the industry in view of the figures he has just announced? Will he also take into account the fact that France has met very great difficulty in its nuclear power programme? Will he persuade our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State not to rush too much towards a nuclear power situation in Britain until a safe fast-breeder reactor is developed?

My hon. Friend is right that we are very very rich in fossil fuel reserves in Britain, and particularly coal. He is justified in saying that the country has a very rich asset. On the question of nuclear power, the way that successive Governments have proceeded with a view to bringing nuclear power to fruition has always been one of extreme caution. Checks and balances always exist. During the lifetime of a nuclear power station, for example, the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate is in charge of it and has jurisdiction particularly in relation to safety.

Conservation

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he is satisfied with the efforts which are being made by Government Departments and local authorities to conserve energy.

There continue to be encouraging signs that the national effort to save energy is beginning to show results. I am satisfied that Government Departments and local authorities are making their contribution to this effort.

To what extent does the hon. Gentleman think that there is an opportunity to save energy by reducing the swollen and still swelling number of civil servants and those employed by local authorities?

I do not think that that is relevant to the Question. But perhaps I can assist the hon. Gentleman. Since the energy conservation campaign has commenced, there are valuable statistics available to him and to the House. If he takes crude oil imports, in the first quarter of this year they totalled only 22 million tons compared with more than 26 million tons in the two preceding quarters. For 1974 as a whole, total energy consumption was about 4½ per cent. down on the previous year. Up to about 2 per cent. could have been due to savings. Energy consumption in the three months from December 1974 to February 1975 was 7 per cent. lower than in the same three months two years ago. Although there are uncertainties, I think I have demonstrated that energy conservation is very well worth while.

Will the hon. Gentleman accept that the Property Services Agency has shown the way remarkably in saving energy through the proper use of instrumentation and controls? Is not it doubly sad, therefore, that the Government are not prepared to take space at a trade fair like Insulation 1975 at Leeds even when offered a stand for free in order to demonstrate what can be done in the country at large?

I am well seized of the point made by the right hon. Gentleman, but I wish that he would stop listening to gossip and try instead to put forward constructive suggestions for energy conservation. There was an explanation of that point. Since the right hon. Gentleman spoke at the conference first, I took the opportunity to explain to it what had happened—and the date and the time. I wish that the right hon. Gentleman would stop listening to gossip and would try to assist us and the nation in introducing a policy for conservation.

Will my hon. Friend attempt to persuade the Secretary of State for the Environment to extend improvement grants to cover roof insulation? Is not it daft for one Department to pursue energy-saving courses and for another to be cutting out valuable support for the energy saving that my hon. Friend's Department is advocating?

My hon. Friend must be aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has introduced insulation measures. However, I shall convey to my right hon. Friend the point he has made.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the great amount of heat that is being wasted in cooling installations, especially in power stations? Is he aware, further, that Dolphin Square, London, has been heated by heat exchange units since 1938 and that that has worked satisfactorily'? Why are not all power stations using these facilities?

The hon. Gentleman is talking about waste heat from power stations. I concede at once that this is a very important subject which the Government take very seriously. A great deal of work has been done. But there are no quick and easy answers to this problem. I was interested to see, for example, that the valuable National Economic Development Office report on energy conservation published earlier this year was doubtful about the potential in this area.

Offshore Oil Supplies

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what is his present estimate of the amount of oil to be brought ashore from the North Sea in the years 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979 and 1980, respectively.

28.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what is his present estimate of the amount of oil to be brought ashore from the North Sea and the Celtic Sea in the years 1976 to 1980, respectively.

As my right hon. Friend's report to Parliament shows, we expect production to build up rapidly from commencement this year to reach a level of 100 million to 130 million tons per annum in 1980. The report indicates the way in which we expect this build-up to occur. Even if discoveries are made in the near future in the Celtic Sea, it is unlikely that development could take place quickly enough to enable these discoveries to contribute significantly to total 1980 production.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that present estimates are well down on those of about a year ago? Will he agree, further, that part of the reason for the decline is due to the fact that the oil industry in the North Sea has been subjected to doctrinaire Socialist policies?

The estimate made by the previous Government of 25 million tons this year was on any view a wild overestimate. The estimate made by my right hon. Friend when he took over responsibility was much more moderate, although there have been slippages. The slippages have occurred basically because of difficulty with platform sites and unforeseeable accidents to, for example, the Argyll Field. If the hon. Gentleman is trying to maintain that the petroleum revenue tax is not fair as between the nation and the companies and that we should make further concessions to the companies, I shall be interested to see whether the Opposition Front Bench takes up the matter.

Will my hon. Friend make sure that our oil resources are developed in the interests of the British people as a whole? What threats are there of interference from the Brussels Commission in the development of the oil? Will my hon. Friend ensure that this precious asset is used for the welfare of the British people? Can the pipes that are used for bringing the oil ashore be produced by the British steel industry and not imported?

We regret that the British Steel Corporation was not in a position, because of a decision taken some time ago, to compete for undersea pipeline contracts. On my hon. Friend's wider question, I agree that we must control our energy resources in the interests of the British people. The EEC Commission has made it clear that the control of natural resources such as oil within member States is a matter entirely for the member States.

Does it remain Government policy to ensure that the British taxpayer and public take the maximum share in any financial losses on this oil?

I am not clear what the right hon. Gentleman has in mind, whether he is referring to the participation proposals or to others. It is the Government's intention that the British public should participate by way of investment and otherwise in the North Sea developments, which we believe will be a profitable investment for the country.

Energy Use Proposals

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he is satisfied with the advice he is getting from his advisory council on proposals for a more rational use of energy.

Is not it clear from answers already given today that the Government do not give sufficient priority to energy conservation? If they did, would they not drop their irrelevant, damaging and costly proposals to nationalise North Sea oil, which will cost thousands of millions of pounds, and instead allocate some of these resources to investment in energy conservation and not continually give answers either referring Questions to other Departments or saying that they do not have the money?

I do not see what our sensible and wise policy for participation in the oil has to do with this Question. But there have been considerable savings as a result of the conservation effort. I know that the hon. Gentleman himself has done some work and has now become a member of the Select Committee on Science and Technology which is studying these matters. I look forward to receiving the conclusions of that Select Committee so that we can take whatever appropriate action is necessary arising out of that report. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will continue to support our proposals constructively and not, as he sometimes tends to do, in a carping and critical way.

Offshore Exploration

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether exploration activity is now increasing in United Kingdom waters.

The level of offshore drilling activity on the United Kingdom Continental Shelf is expected to be higher in 1975 than in 1974. Experience in 1975 has so far conformed to this pattern.

Will the right hon. Gentleman say why he believes that exploration activity is increasing when British Petroleum and other oil producers believe that in the coming year it will fall by as much as 60 per cent. because of uncertainties about the future price of oil, the Government's policy of participation and the fears that inflation in this country is now completely out of hand?

The reason why I am confident is that the figures speak for themselves. There are 28 rigs operating at present on the United Kingdom Continental Shelf. That figure compares with an average of 25 for last year, and our estimate of rig activity for this year is about 30.

In view of the decision to promote exploration for oil on land as well as in the North Sea, will my right hon. Friend ensure that, if significant finds are made on land, especially in Derbyshire, his Department will co-operate with the Department of the Environment and local authorities to ensure the preservation of environmental amenities?

Of course I can give that assurance. Exploration licences have been granted. If there were oil finds, planning procedures would still be necessary.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Opposition genuinely do not know whether his advisers do not understand the position about rigs or whether he is refusing to accept their advice? Does he recognise that the presence of rigs in action on the North Sea now is the result of contracts made up to two years ago and that what matters is what is happening to the contracts for the next two years of drilling? Will he listen to the advice of the industry on this important matter?

Of course I am prepared to listen to the advice of the industry. I know that before the February election last year the right hon. Gentleman said that, as a result of Labour policies, all the rigs in the North Sea would go away. Contrary to that, as I have shown, activity is higher this year than before. We shall keep the matter under review. We are anxious that exploration activity should go ahead. Development activity is equally important and we must concentrate on that, too.

What consideration has the right hon. Gentleman given to the establishment of separate oil corporations for the different countries of the British Isles? Does he appreciate that we in Scotland wish to see development and exploitation in English waters before the Scottish resources are finally dried up? Does he also appreciate that we wish fields south of the border to be explored, investigated and developed so that we can get the English balance of payments problem off our backs?

The question of a separate oil corporation for Scotland makes no more sense than having a separate National Coal Board, a separate Steel Corporation or a separate anything else for Scotland. If that were the case with energy resources, the Scottish people would be worse off. For example, the cross-subsidisation that takes place between Midlands and Yorkshire coal helps to some extent to make sure that the Scottish coal industry continues.

Oil Rigs (Fire Precautions)

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he is satisfied that adequate fire-fighting equipment is constantly available at North Sea oilfields and if he will make a statement.

Under the existing Petroleum Production Regulations the provision of fire-fighting equipment is part of licensees' obligations to follow good oilfield practice. The operators of United Kingdom offshore oilfields due to come into production in the near future have equipped their platforms and will be following procedures which my Department considers will fulfil those obligations. The operators of offshore gasfields which have been in production off the English coast for some six years or more already meet these requirements. In addition, offshore operators will take special emergency measures when required to deploy some of the many vessels available in the offshore production area.

Does the Minister accept that there is considerable alarm and apprehension among those who work in the industry at North Sea oilfields? Will he indicate what measures his Department is taking to ensure that all the regulations are being observed to the full and what proposals it has for improving them?

The provisions which are being made at the moment are inspected by inspectors from my Department. We keep constantly under review the necessity for having safe practices against the danger of fire. The hon. Gentleman may be aware that the United Kingdom Offshore Operators' Association is considering the possibility of fire-fighting vessels. Indeed, I understand that it is evaluating tenders for the provision of such vessels.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the whole gamut of safety in the North Sea or on any other offshore installation should come under the umbrella of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act under the Department of Trade?

I am aware of my hon. Friend's concern about this matter. His concern is shared by many others. The Government are reviewing the matter to find the best way to advance the cause of safety in the North Sea.

International Energy Programme

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he next intends to have discussions with other participants in the international energy programme.

17.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he next intends to have discussions with other participants in the international energy programme.

My right hon. Friend has frequent discussions with colleagues from other countries participating in the international energy programme. He will be visiting Norway and Sweden later this month. He had a series of useful meetings with members of the United States Administration when he was in America last week.

Will the Under-Secretary ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to explain to the House why he objects to British membership of the EEC when his Department's replies to the House on 23rd April and the hon. Gentleman's answer earlier this afternoon show that it would involve no surrender of our national control over North Sea oil, whereas on the other hand he is prepared to recommend British membership of the IEA which would involve a degree of supranational control over our oil supplies?

The hon. Gentleman should recognise, as I have pointed out to him on previous occasions, that the International Energy Agency and the Common Market are two quite different institutions and sets of arrangements.

North Sea Gas And Oil (Production Costs)

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what is his present estimate of the total capital cost of bringing the North Sea gas and oilfields into full production; and how much of this sum will be provided by the BNOC.

21.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what is his estimate of the cost of the development of current proven reserves in the North Sea.

Present estimates of the likely capital cost of developing the proven reserves of North Sea oil and gas, excluding the gasfields already in production, lie within the range £6,000 million to £7,000 million in today's money. The share of the investment to be borne by BNOC will depend on the outcome of the present participation negotiations.

Will the Secretary of State tell the House how that figure of £6,000 million to £7,000 million squares with the fact that the total sum of money available to the BNOC under the forthcoming Bill is only £900 million? Further, is it part of BNOC's borrowing plan that the North Sea oil revenues should be kept in a separate account at the insistence of BNOC's creditors who will be looking to those sums as their collateral and do not wish to see them disappearing in the overall massive public deficit?

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the fact that one section of the Bill sets up the National Oil Account, which will move into surplus in a few years.

Regarding these massive oil reserves, if the people of this country mistakenly vote to stay inside the Common Market on 5th June, shall we then sell oil to Common Market countries—Western Germany, France and others which have no vast reserves—at the same price as we sell it to ourselves through out own system?

It would have to be sold at a common price if that were the case I think that that question has been answered previously.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) has raised a very important point. If the royalties and BNOC's share of the tax are to be siphoned off into the oil account, will that be in order that it should be spent by the BNOC or to protect it for the benefit of our creditors overseas?

The question of the cost of participation—that was the real question asked by the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton)—will depend on the negotiations and how far we are able to get on participation this year. The royalties and payments for participation will be paid into the National Oil Account, and that account can be used, if circumstances require, to pay for participation.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the very unsatisfactory nature of the answer to my Question, I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Crude Oil Prices

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether Her Majesty's Government subscribe to the policy of the International Energy Agency that there should be a floor price for crude oil.

Her Majesty's Government subscribe to the objective of present IEA policy, which is to devise a means of protecting new energy sources in the event of a big fall in the world price of oil.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that international price-fixing has never been very successful? What is the point of seeking to achieve it when we are constantly told that part of our economic problem is produced by the high price of imported crude? Why do we seek to keep it up?

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has taken into account the activities of OPEC in coming to his conclusion about international price-fixing. He should bear in mind that while this country may have an interest in cheaper sources of oil, it also has an interest in preserving its energy investment as a potential oil producer.

Has my hon. Friend taken into account rumours which are going around that if OPEC and Middle East countries reduce the price of their oil below the cost of North Sea oil, this will affect our income from oil in the North Sea? Will he take into account that the other day the Shah of Iran said that profits on oil from the Middle East are not now sufficient and that the price will be increased later this year?

There are conflicting statements and assessments about the future price of oil, which is effectively determined by the policy of OPEC. Whether the price rises or falls, there are sound reasons for developing our North Sea resources, if for no other reasons than security of supply.

Why is the hon. Gentleman trying to do an OPEC on this House and sustain the price of oil at a high level? Will he say what floor price he will accept—$6 to $8 a barrel?—and would the United Kingdom be allowed to buy oil if it had the opportunity at a lower price?

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is trying to be complimentary in suggesting that my activities are like those of OPEC. The question of a common minimum price for oil is being considered by the International Energy Agreement countries. These discussions are proceeding, and Her Majesty's Government are taking a full part in them.

Power Stations

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on the reduction of the power station ordering programme because of the Electricity Council's revised estimate of the likely maximum demand for electricity in 1981–82.

The CEGB's power station ordering programme is being urgently reviewed in the light of the Electricity Council's revised estimate of electricity demand in 1981–82 and other relevant considerations. I cannot anticipate the outcome of this review except to say that it will not affect the size or timing of the SGHWR programme.

Is my right hon. Friend in a position to say how much of this reduction in demand for electricity is due to economies in consumption and how much is due to a falling-off in industrial demand because of recession? Can he also say what the effect will be on employment in the heavy electrical plant manufacturing industry?

I am sorry, but I am not able to give any precise figures or information about the point raised by my hon. Friend concerning the level of economic activity and how this has affected the power station ordering programme. The answer to the second point is that we are examining carefully the extent to which plant manufacturers will be affected, but we are not yet in a position to give any detailed information about this.

Is not my right hon. Friend alarmed at the rundown in the amount of electricity being generated, especially when taking into account the fact that in the Midlands the power stations which have been closed temporarily are coal-fired, whereas oil-fired stations using costly oil are continuing to be used? Will he issue a directive to the effect that we should continue with coal-fired power stations and thereby reduce the costly import bill arising from the use of oil?

I am not aware that the CEGB is deliberately burning oil in preference to coal, but I shall look into the question raised by my hon. Friend. My information is that the CEGB is prepared to take, and can take and burn in existing coal-fired power stations, all the coal that is produced.

European Commission (Consultations)

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on his most recent consultations with the European Commission.

My right hon. Friend met the European Commissioner for Research, Science and Education on 4th March to discuss the Commission's latest proposals for collaboration on energy research.

Can the hon. Gentleman confirm that when his right hon. Friend met the Commission it confirmed that in no way whatsover does membership of the EEC prevent us from controlling our own rate of depletion of North Sea oil, that we alone and not the EEC decide where we can sell our oil and that in no way whatsoever are we prevented from selling it to the EEC or the rest of the world at a price fixed by us alone? Will he communicate those facts to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry, who continues to distort the truth?

I doubt whether my right hon. Friend discussed those matters with the European Commissioner for Research, Science and Education. It does not appear likely that that would be the content of the conversation. I have given answers to most of the detailed points made by the hon. Gentleman and it is open to the House to read the conclusions arrived at and published by the Government in their White Paper.

Petrol Distribution Policy

18.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he will make a statement about the intended petrol distribution policies of the British National Oil Corporation.

It will be for BNOC to formulate its policies when it is set up. I would expect production to be BNOC's first priority.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that currently about 60 per cent. of retail sales and outlets are through oil company-owned sites? As it seems to be taking a Government Department a long time to do something to ensure genuine competiiton in petrol retail distribution, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he thinks that BNOC could do something about this?

In the first instance, as I have said to my hon. Friend, BNOC's priority will be to get into production, but it is the Government's intention to make sure that it becomes a fully integrated oil company.

Is it not a fact that, contrary to what was said by the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield), the margin at many of the retail outlets for petrol has sunk to almost nothing and this is causing grave dismay among those responsible for running this business?

I thought the right hon. Gentleman was going to complain that I had removed price control on petrol. In any case, some of the margins have gone down as a result of competition, and I always thought that the right hon. Gentleman was in favour of competition.

Overseas Development

Aid Programme

36.

asked the Minister of Overseas Development if she will specify the changes to be made in the programme of assistance to overseas countries in view of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's proposal to reduce overseas aid by £20 million.

As I told my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Rodgers) on 25th April, the reduction will affect only the still unallocated element in the aid programme. The programme as a whole is increasing this year by more than £100 million in cash terms. No existing programmes or commitments will be affected and a number of them will be increased.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is misleading to speak in cash terms at this time of hyper-inflation and that by using the word "only" she gives the impression of trying to play down this £20 million cut? Is that true or false? Has she seen the motion signed by more than 100 hon. Members who have pledged their word that they cannot support this £20 million cut when it comes to the vote? Will she draw the attention of the Chief Whip and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to that pledge by 100 hon. Members?

My hon. Friend will wish to know that there is still an increase in real terms, allowing for inflation, in the aid programme. I know that my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip will be taking due note of what is said in the House this afternoon, but I should like to stress that there is still an increase in real terms.

What I think has to some extent happened is that the House did not fully perceive the extent of the increase in the aid programme determined last December, on the basis of which this is now a reduction. Naturally, I very much sympathise with the motion which so many of my hon. Friends and others have signed.

The right hon. Lady will recall saying publicly earlier this month that greater priority was to be given to agricultural production in developing countries, which must mean an even greater outward flow of resources in the future. Can she say quite specifically this afternoon, in development of the question which the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) has put very clearly, whether the cut in planned growth expenditure will hinder the kind of development which she has in mind and about which she has been talking in detail?

As the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, this cut means that there will be £20 million less to spend on things on which I should have liked to spend money. However, it is important to appreciate that there is still an increase in real terms and that we still have an unallocated large amount of cash this year, which means that no existing programmes are affected. Indeed, I shall still be able to do quite a lot of new things in the rural development field, but about £10 million less this year than I should have hoped for.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, although we are increasing the amount in real terms, when we bear in mind that two-thirds of humanity are living in want this is a small amount? Should not the Government get their priorities right? We are spending £3,000 million on defence. Could we not get back a bit more of that and divert more to overseas aid, because if we gave aid to overseas countries it would make a greater contribution to the peace of the world and the prosperity of the people in those countries?

I am sure that the whole Government will wish to take note of that point. I cannot add to what I have already said.

Since the time when the present Government, unlike their predecessors, committed themselves to the 0·7 per cent. target, has the right hon. Lady made an estimate of when that target might be reached? In present circumstances, what does she feel is the likely date when we could reach that target?

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, because he is as expert on the question of targetry, as I am, the problem is that targets relate on the one hand to aid expenditure and on the other hand to gross national product. Until one knows what GNP is, one cannot estimate the percentage of aid expenditure. This has always been the great problem—[Laughter.] This is a serious point, if hon. Members will accept it. There is a serious problem in that the United Nations targetry is not perhaps as well devised as it should be, because in my view it does not necessarily express the efforts of a country in the sense that the GNP comes into the equation.

37.

asked the Minister of Overseas Development whether she has carried out a reappraisal of the British overseas aid programme in the light of the Lomé Convention.

The formulation and appraisal of the British aid programme is a continuing process, which takes account of all relevant factors, including our membership of the EEC. Allowance has accordingly been made for our contribution to the cost of the European Development Fund set up under the Lomé Convention.

While appreciating the sophistication of that answer, may I impress upon my hon. Friend the fact that bearing in mind that the Lomé Convention offers very little to the substantial part of the Commonwealth represented by India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka which is most in need, a thorough-going reappraisal of the British aid programme should be carried out to ensure that those countries benefit?

I agree with my hon. Friend about the sophistication of my answer. Our bilateral aid to the Asian Commonwealth countries which he mentioned in particular will be sustained as planned over the coming years and, I would expect, be increased. We shall certainly continue to press for this to be supplemented by the EEC.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if we withdraw from the EEC a terrible reassessment and reappraisal of our aid will be required, because the Lomé Convention will collapse and those countries which have benefited from it will be the main losers?

It is ridiculous to suggest that the convention would necessarily collapse simply because Britain withdrew. But the hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that our commitment through the Community in these matters is a fairly small percentage of our overall British aid programme. We shall continue our British bilateral efforts whether we are within or outside the Community.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Lomé Convention applies to only about 14 per cent. of the developing population of the world, excluding China?

Yes, that is correct. As I have said, however, we continue to press for the EEC to do far more for the non-associates.

European Community (Ministerial Meeting)

asked the Minister of Overseas Development when she next expects to meet the Development Minister of the EEC.

40.

asked the Minister of Overseas Development when she next expects to meet the other Development Ministers of the EEC.

The date of the next Development Ministers Council has not yet been decided but I expect it to be some time in June.

When the right hon. Lady meets the other Ministers, does she not think that they may be a little puzzled by her attitude? If we were to withdraw from the EEC, as I understand she wishes, would it not at least have a serious adverse effect on the Lomé Convention which she played such an important part in creating? If she bases her wish to leave the EEC on her contention that the Community has not yet done enough to assist the Commonwealth countries in South Asia, has she taken account of the fact that, as shown by the Kingston Conference last week, none of those countries wishes us to leave the Community?

The hon. Member should reflect carefully on the position here. If we remain in the Community, I shall continue to press my European colleagues—

Of course I do not resign [An HON. MEMBER: "Why should she?"] If I may put my reply into a comprehensive sentence instead of responding to what one might call heckling from Conservative Members, those of us who believe profoundly in the principle of letting the British people decide will, of course, abide by the decision that the British people make.

Therefore, continuing from that, if we remain in the Community I shall continue to press my EEC colleagues, as I have in the last year unsuccessfully pressed them, to extend their aid to the poorest countries in the Indian subcontinent. If we were to leave the Community, then of course we should have to make the correct arrangements—I state this purely factually—to protect our Commonwealth countries which are partners in the Lomé Convention. I see no great problems in doing that.

What priority are the Development Ministers giving towards South America, particularly the poorer countries there?

A number of countries of the EEC have bilateral aid programmes to Latin America. We have some limited ones, consisting mainly of technical assistance. It is important to appreciate that not all but most of the Latin American countries now have a level of national income which means that they are not among the poorest developing countries. Nevertheless, they have considerable sections of very poor population within their countries and these are the ones to which our own aid programme is directed.

Is it still the Minister's main objection to the EEC in this sphere that it has not done enough to help the Asian members of the Commonwealth? If so, will she explain how the Asian members of the Commonwealth would be helped if she put at risk the Lomé Convention and thus threw the African, Caribbean and Pacific members of the Commonwealth back into confusion?

I think that there must be some misunderstanding about this. The Lomé Convention affects the Commonwealth countries and other countries of the Pacific, the Caribbean and Africa. The problem is that the Asian subcontinent is not part of the Lomé Convention. My efforts over the last year have been to try to get the EEC, as I put it in one speech, to turn a smiling face towards them as well as to its associates. In that I failed, but this is a continuing process. I could only make the assessment that, since this was my major renegotiation objective, on that objective I did not succeed.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm, however, that one of the main topics of discussion at the next meeting of European Development Ministers will be the possible provision of several hundred million pounds precisely to the Asian Commonwealth countries by the EEC?

I hope that my hon. Friend is right. I hope that this will be a matter of discussion at the next meeting of Development Ministers of the Community. The difficulty is that I have been trying to get that precise discussion since April of last year and it certainly had not occurred, despite my efforts, before we judged the results of our renegotiation in March.

But if we remain in the EEC and the right hon. Lady remains in her office, as I understand she wants to do, will it not be difficult for her colleagues in the Council of Ministers to feel the enthusiastic confidence in her that we should like them to feel?

The right hon. Gentleman may find this difficult to understand, but I have friends among the Ministers of the EEC countries.

On a point of order. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the Minister's reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment as soon as possible.

Oil Price Increases

39.

asked the Minister of Overseas Development what specific action is being taken by her Department to help developing countries hardest hit by the rise in oil prices.

The contributions we have made to the United Nations Emergency Operation for the hardest hit countries have totalled £84 million. Of this sum, £72 million was contributed directly either as bilateral aid or through various international agencies and £12 million through our share of contributions made by the European Economic Community.

I welcome that reply. Does my hon. Friend agree that, although the oil crisis has been serious for us, it has been disastrous for many developing countries, particularly the Asian countries? In the light of that, does he agree that perhaps the Government should rethink the question of cutting £20 million from the aid programme?

I certainly agree with the first part of that question. My right hon. Friend has already dealt with the subject of the second part.

Does the Minister agree that many countries affected by the oil crisis also suffer from natural disasters affecting food? Does he not agree that there is room for the Government to take positive steps on matters such as commodity prices to bring immediate help to those countries?

We have already done a fair amount in terms of food aid and we propose to do more. My right hon. Friend and her right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will be attending a meeting in Rome in the not very distant future on this subject. As for commodity prices, that subject was very much under discussion at the Kingston Conference and any further reference to it will probably need to come from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

Private Notice Questions

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My point of order arises from the present situation in regard to sterling, but I am not using this procedure as an excuse to draw attention to the unwillingness of the Government to make a statement and to their determination, seemingly, to draw the bedclothes over their heads. I refer to a Private Notice Question which apparently, from the tape, was submitted spontaneously by my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor), Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) and myself, each seeking a statement from the Government on their intentions in view of their seeming lack of success in holding the current exchange rate of sterling.

In accordance with the traditions of the House, I submitted that Private Notice Question very early this morning. I have not communicated it to anyone else, yet that fact is now evidenced on the tape. I cannot believe for one moment that the information emanated from yourself, Mr. Speaker, or any of your officers, and I am, therefore, driven to the conclusion that the information must have been divulged by the Treasury.

This is an unfortunate practice, and it draws attention to an incident which should be the subject of an inquiry to determine that when an hon. Member submits to you a Private Notice Question, he should do so in the belief that it will be treated as a confidential matter between him and the Chair. I find it most disturbing that information of this character should have appeared on the tape in respect of the submission by my hon. Friends and myself. I hope that the House will deem that it is a matter of such significance that it deserves investigation and a statement, Mr. Speaker, on your behalf.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) has described the circumstances. I should like to make it clear that I did not know that either he or my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) was putting in an application for a Private Notice Question. It is, therefore, impossible that the leak could have come from us. The three names are mentioned on the tape whereas each of us knew only of his own application. I am certain, as is my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry, that it could not have emanated from you. Mr. Speaker, or your office.

I wonder whether you could make an investigation into the names of all the people who knew about the applications so that we could perhaps trace whose fault it is that the information appeared on the tape.

This instance is of very wide concern to the House because the fact that a statement on this subject is or is not made is of importance in terms of the value of sterling and the confidence which people hold in the currency. There could be motive in disclosure of the fact that the application for a Private Notice Question had been turned down, and that motive could be either sinister, or, to say the least, highly political.

I believe that the House would do well to ask you, Mr. Speaker, to make an investigation into who is responsible for this and how hon. Members can be protected in the event of their Private Notice Questions not being accepted, because of the implications for confidence in the currency?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As I was the third Member to apply for a Private Notice Question, it may make it easier for investigations to proceed if I make clear that I did not keep secret the fact that I had put down a Private Notice Question. However, I was unaware that my hon. Friends the Members for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) and Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) had put down similiar Private Notice Questions.

There are two quite different issues here. The first is the wisdom of putting down Private Notice Questions relating to sterling and the making of statements concerning sterling. I shall not go into that issue today, although I have strong views on whether it is helpful. Perhaps I had better not say more than that.

On the subject of Private Notice Questions generally, the Chair is put in an intolerable position if hon. Members communicate to the Press either that they are putting down a Private Notice Question or that one has been refused. I am not saying what has occurred in this case, but it does sometimes happen. If this practice continues, if hon. Members say that they intend to put down a Private Notice Question and then say that the application has been refused, or if there is in this House reference to disallowment Private Notice Questions I may have to refuse to exercise my discretion, and ask the Procedure Committee to lay down the rules by which Private Notice Questions are to be governed.

This is a difficult matter on which the Chair has to exercise discretion. That discretion can be exercised only on the basis of complete confidence and on the basis that hon. Members do not refer to it.

It is clear from what my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathchart (Mr. Taylor) said that he told the Press that he had put down a Private Notice Question, but I would point out that the tape refers to three such Questions being submitted and therefore the information could not have come from any of those who were submitting the Questions.

I should, therefore, like again to put my question to you, Mr. Speaker. What action do you feel you are able to take to protect hon. Members and to inquire from what source the information emanated that three Questions had been put down?

I shall return no specific answer to that specific question, but I am not prepared to leave the matter where it is. I shall certainly make such inquiries as are open to me as to how this has happened. How far I shall get, I do not know. I have stated the general position that one can continue to exercise this discretion only on a basis of confidence.

I have no wish to take this matter beyond the patience of the House and I hope that I am sufficient of a parliamentarian to know when I am getting near the limit. Is it your intention, Mr. Speaker, to make your findings known to the House?

Order. I shall make that decision when the time comes, depending on what I find. The hon. Member must leave it to me. I am aware of the seriousness of the point which he has raised, and I am certain that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Treasury, the Leader of the House and the Whips Office are equally aware of the seriousness of it. This is a vital House of Commons matter, quite apart from the immediate context in which it has arisen. I will do the best I can in this situation and what I report to the House will have to be a matter for me.

Flixborough Explosion (Inquiry's Report)

I will with permission, Mr. Speaker, make a statement about the Report of the Court of Inquiry into the Flixborough Disaster. My right hon. Friend deeply regrets not being able to make this statement himself, but I know the House will well understand the reasons why he cannot do so and, equally, why there should be no delay in making a statement to the House on this matter.

My right hon. Friend set up the court of inquiry under Section 84 of the Factories Act 1961 on 27th June 1974 and appointed Mr. Roger Parker, QC to be its Chairman. The report, which was presented to my right hon. Friend on 11th April 1975, is now available and copies are in the Vote Office. I am sure that the House will not wish me, in presenting this report, to recapitulate the tragic events of 1st June 1974.

The court concludes that the cause of the explosion was the ignition of a massive vapour cloud formed by the escape of cyclohexane under conditions of high pressure and temperature consequent upon the rupture of an inadequately supported 20 inch diameter dog-leg pipe which had been temporarily installed between two expansion bellows as part of a bypass assembly to bridge a gap following the removal of one of a train of reactors. The integrity of a well-designed and constructed plant had thereby been destroyed.

Although other hypotheses were presented the court came firmly to the conclusion that the disaster resulted from the failure of this 20 inch assembly and that no prior explosion or other mechanical failure occurred.

The report says that:
"the fact that the bridging of the gap presented engineering design problems was not appreciated by anyone at Nypro, with the result that there was no proper design study, no proper consideration of the need for support, no safety testing, no reference to the relevant British Standard and no reference to the bellows manufacturer's Designers Guide".
As a result of these omissions the assembly was, in the court's judgment, liable to rupture at pressures well below safety valve pressure and at, or below, operating temperatures.

My right hon. Friend asked the court to report on any immediate lessons to be learned from the disaster. It has identified a number and makes recommendations for dealing with many of them. These recommendations require careful scrutiny and all industry—especially the chemical and petroleum industries—should as a matter of urgency consider them carefully and take steps to implement them.

My right hon. Friend has referred the recommendations in the report to the Chairman of the Health and Safety Commission who has already discussed both immediate and long-term implications in a meeting of the commission and with the Health and Safety Executive. The chairman has assured me that the commission will take full responsibility for pursuing the action needed to follow up all recommendations of the report. He is confident that the legal powers in the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, which has come into force since the Flixborough explosion, provides an adequate framework for action now seen as necessary on immediate issues or long term developments. The Health and Safety at Work Act provides powers to enable any immediate remedial measures to be required. The Act provides very wide powers for the making of regulations, including licensing of premises, processes or individuals where appropriate and the control of individual factories.

The report contains a number of recommendations of a general nature on wide issues such as management structure, the maintenance of plant integrity, the lay-out and the siting of plant. These are issues which require further study.

The commission has asked for the advice of the Committee of Experts on Major Hazards which it set up last year and which has already started its deliberations. The chairman of the commission is meeting the committee next week to put the report to it. Among the questions it will consider is the conditions which would be necessary if licensing was required in special circumstances. The committee is already considering how the present arrangements for giving advice to planning authorities on industrial risks can be improved.

There are a number of more immediate lessons to be learned from the inquiry's report. The commission has already discussed these and agreed action. Since the explosion resulted from the failure of a part, albeit a modified part, of the plant containing flammable material under pressure, the report directs attention to the crucial need for the utmost care in maintaining the integrity of such systems. Therefore, inspectors of factories have been instructed to reinforce the advice on this point which has already been given. This follows up the action started when the Chief Inspector wrote to manufacturers 10 days after the Flixborough explosion.

It would be appropriate to issue regulations to cover these pressure systems and the commission has instructed the executive to pursue urgently the action to prepare such regulations. In the meantime inspectors of the executive have powers under the Act to enforce their advice. Immediate advice will be given by the inspectorate on other relevant matters as, for instance, the manufacture and supply of inerting material. Technical advice on metallurgical phenomena will be provided to industry.

The commission has instructed the executive to enter into consultations immediately with appropriate bodies representing local authorities on the responsibility for control of the storage of large quantities of flammable materials.

This is not a complete list, but I think it is enough to show that the commission has already tackled with determination the many problems to which this report has directed attention, and that action based on the report will be carefully considered and resolutely pursued.

The House will, I am sure, wish me to thank the chairman and members of the court for their report and also those who assisted the court—especially those scientists and engineers whose research in the service of the court has led to an increase of our knowledge of the technical problems involved in these large-scale chemical plants.

I am sure the House is grateful to the Minister for his lengthy statement and for the fact that the Government have not hesitated to make a statement now that they have had the report of the Court of Inquiry into the Flixborough Disaster.

May I ask three short questions? First, when will the advice from the Committee of Experts on Major Hazards be available, particularly on the layout and siting of plant and the advice to planning authorities?

The Minister referred to the executive being instructed to pursue urgently the need to prepare regulations relating to the problems of pressure systems. May we know when the Government expect such regulations to be published?

Third, will the Government ensure that in the consultations between the executive and the local authorities on the question of storage of large quantities of flammable materials the public will have an opportunity to make their views known? As the Minister is aware, there are certain parts of the country where there is acute public anxiety about the storage of flammable materials.

We are all anxiously awaiting an early report from the Committee of Experts, but the hon. Gentleman and the House will understand, I hope, that that will inevitably now be delayed because of the necessity for that committee to have a full scrutiny of the recommendations of the court of inquiry. None the less, I am anxious that we should be able to make a report as soon as possible. I can say that the Committee of Experts established four sub-committees which are expected to report shortly to the main committee.

With regard to regulations on pressure systems, I was astonished to learn that apparently pressurised processes such as this process with which the report concerns itself are apparently not at present the subject of regulations and statutory control. We now have the powers under the new Act to make regulations. I am asking the Chairman of the Health and Safety Commission to deal with this as a matter of some urgency, but the general powers under the Act enable us to have statutory control and statutory means of enforcement that we did not have previously.

With regard to the public involvement in consultations which will take place on the storage of flammable liquids, these consultations will take place with the local authorities, and to that extent there will be public participation.

I ask the hon. Gentleman to allow me to reflect on what he has said and to draw his views to the attention of the Chairman of the Health and Safety Commission.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the report says that if the recommendations are carried out, the risk of a similar incident will be lessened? Will he also confirm that the report draws attention to the fact that there was insufficient mechanical engineering expertise available in the considerations which led to the fitting of the 20-inch diameter dogleg pipe which subsequently collapsed, and also the serious fact that the post of the works engineer was vacant at the time?

Does my hon. Friend agree that we must remedy a situation in which, however safe the basic design, it will be of no avail if adaptation and repair are not subject to the same stringent considerations as are applicable to the basic design? Does he agree that if this is not done, the tragedy which overtook so many of my constituents and, I understand, one of his, is inevitable?

Finally, will my hon. Friend pay tribute to the work which the Transport and General Workers' Union and other unions did in representing their workers at the hearing? Does my hon. Friend also recognise that they have incurred considerable costs, and will he give sympathetic consideration to making a contribution towards meeting those costs?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for recognising my constituency interest. I am sure the House will want me to pay tribute to the way in which he has assiduously pursued the interest of his constituents since the disaster occurred, in connection with the various consideration involved.

Paragraph 226 of the report, in the summary, says:
"We"
—that is the court—
"use the phrase 'already remote' advisedly for we wish to make it plain that we found nothing to suggest that the plant as originally designed and constructed created any unacceptable risk. The disaster was caused wholly by the coincidence of a number of unlikely errors in the design and installation of a modification. Such a combination or errors is very unlikely ever to be repeated."
The report goes on to say:
"Our recommendations should ensure that no similar combination occurs again and that even if it should do so, the errors would be detected before any serious consequences ensued."
Likewise there are paragraphs in the report, in particular paragraphs 209 and 210, which follow the point which my hon. Friend made about the way in which the integrity of the plant was destroyed by the introduction of this modification, and the court recommends
"that any modifications should be designed, constructed, tested and maintained to the same standards as the original plant",
which is the point which my hon. Friend stressed and for which he says there is obviously a need. In my main statement I said that these recommendations and the lessons to be learned were the subject of consideration by the Health and Safety Commission and its executive.

The report draws attention to the fact that the key post of works engineer was vacant at the crucial time and that apparently none of the senior personnel of the company was capable of recognising the existence of what was in essence a simple engineering problem, let alone of solving it.

I join my hon. Friend in his tribute to the work done by the trade unions in representing their members during the proceedings before the court, and the work which was done by the legal representatives of those unions. As to the question of costs, the report makes reference to this issue in the summary, and lays no obligation on Nypro, in view of the commitments already undertaken by the company, to meet any further legal costs. In the light of that conclusion of the court, it is for the Government to give further consideration to what they can do with regard to the costs incurred by the unions.

My hon. Friend will know that during the proceedings of the court the trade unions involved wrote on this subject to my right hon. Friend. Clearly, a decision had to be deferred pending the outcome of the court of inquiry. In the light of the court's recommendation, we shall have to give careful thought to the representations made by the unions.

Order. This is obviously an important matter, and I wish to say this to the House: it is not often that I have control over the matters put down for business, but next week on the day when we rise for the Whitsun Recess I shall look favourably on an application for a short debate on this matter. Today, I remind the House, we are to debate the Second Reading of the New Towns Bill—I already have the names of about 12 hon. Members who represent new towns, all with cast-iron reasons for wishing to speak—and we have other matters to deal with before we come to the New Towns Bill. Therefore, if the House will allow me, I shall call only one or two more hon. Members to put questions. I repeat that I shall look favourably at any suggestion for an Adjournment debate on this matter on Friday week.

Will the Under-Secretary of State agree that this terrible disaster has wide implications for all communities which are obliged to live close to concentrations of oil, chemical and gas installations, and that the sooner the lessons of Flixborough are learned the better? With regard to the implications, is the hon. Gentleman aware, for example, that if it be true—I have not yet seen the report—that at Flixborough an underground pipe was fractured by an aboveground explosion, the implications of that for places such as Canvey Island, where the main United Kingdom gas grid and the main United Kingdom oil pipeline pass in parallel between a sea wall and a proposed new refinery, are extremely serious? May we be assured, therefore, that the Committee of Experts on Major Hazards will look specifically at our situation on Canvey Island?

I recognise the hon. Gentleman's continuing concern about the situation on Canvey Island, and we acknowledge the basis of his concern there. I regret that I cannot answer his specific question about the fracture of an underground pipe at Flixborough, and I am not sure that it is dealt with in the report. No doubt, the hon. Gentleman will carefully examine what the report says. As regards problems which might arise in connection with coping with the possible fracture of underground pipes in the hypothetical situation to which the hon. Gentleman refers, I think that there are relevant recommendations in the report. For example, it is said in paragraph 222:

"In any area where there is a major disaster hazard a disaster plan for the co-ordination of"
all the relevant services
"is desirable"—
and the court goes on to suggest that this problem and the need to give further consideration to it should be drawn to the attention of the special committee. There is a relevant reference to be found also in paragraph 194.

However, I stress to the hon. Gentleman and to the House that the crucial need is to take all necessary steps to prevent an incident of this kind occurring in the first place. We must seek to avoid the problems to which the hon. Gentleman refers by following up the recommendations here which, I suggest, if they are fully implemented, will minimise the likelihood of such a disaster occurring.

Will my hon. Friend agree that the lesson of the Flixborough disaster is that there ought to be a continuing high level of inspection by the Factory Inspectorate? Is my hon. Friend satisfied that the proposed reorganisation, which, as he knows, has been bitterly opposed by the inspectorate in one of the trial areas at Slough, will lead to the maintenance of such high levels of inspection? Second, does my hon. Friend agree that the Flixborough disaster shows that the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 needs toughening so that absolute duties are not weakened by codes of practice or qualified duties?

Third, what hope can my hon. Friend give the House that the new regulations on pressure systems which he mentioned will be produced with alacrity, since the Health and Safety Commission has signally failed to produce the trade union safety committee regulations in conjunction with the implementation of the Act on 1st April, and does not my hon. Friend agree that the institution of trade union safety committees would lead to the sort of scrutiny which would prevent further Flixboroughs?

My hon. Friend has asked me a number of questions, and because of his propensity to misunderstand or mishear what I say at this Box, I shall spell out my answers carefully, if I may. My hon. Friend returned yet again to the question of reorganisation. I regret that he chose to misinterpret my reply to him at Question Time on the last occasion when my Department was answering Questions. Perhaps he will do me the courtesy of looking at the correction in Hansard to correct his misleading article in the Tribune newspaper last week. As regards the Factory Inspectorate, I gave a full Written Answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Ford) last week, and I suggest that my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) looks carefully at it.

My hon. Friend knows full well that the Health and Safety at Work Act was not in operation at the time of the Flixborough disaster. It became fully operative only on 1st April this year, whereas the Flixborough disaster occurred in June 1974. Of course, there are many lessons to be learned. Those lessons are spelled out in the report, and we expect the Health and Safety Commission and its executive to have full regard to them. As regards the qualifications in the Health and Safety at Work Act, in connection with "reasonably practicable", I urge my hon. Friend to look at the evidence submitted by Dr. Marshall, the safety adviser to the Transport and General Workers' Union, which is referred to in paragraph 195 of the report of the court of inquiry. Dr. Marshall having stated that
"hazard analysis recognises that hazard cannot be entirely eliminated and it is necessary to concentrate resources on those risks which exceed a specific value".
On my hon. Friend's final point, I cannot add to what I said in reply to the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Madel). We recognise the need for urgently making regulations regarding pressure systems, and we have asked the Health and Safety Commission to urge upon the executive the need to produce them quickly.

Since the Act has been fully operative only from 1st April, and the executive was established on 1st January, I think that it was rather unfair of my hon. Friend to expect the commission and the executive to move with excessive haste. These are early days yet. There have been many meetings of the commission, and, as for delay in producing the regulations on work safety representatives, I share my hon. Friend's anxiety to get these put before the House as soon as possible.

Will my hon. Friend take it that many of us who represent areas with huge chemical complexes within them take the attitude "There but for the grace of God go we", and we are very sympathetic? On one specific issue, did I understand my hon. Friend to say that there has been no proper design study? If that is so, could not a similar incident take place elsewhere? Is it a general problem? If it is, it is astonishing news.

I am not sure that I follow my hon. Friend's question about a design study. The report points out that the plant as originally designed and constructed did not create any unacceptable risk, and the court said in paragraph 225 that

"The integrity of a well designed and constructed plant was … destroyed."

In common with the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), I am concerned about chemical plants in my area, and an ammonia plant, in particular. Will the hon. Gentleman take it that all of us who are involved in these matters are now extremely concerned since the ghastly disaster at Flixborough? Believing as he does that prevention is better than cure, will he discuss as a matter of urgency with the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Secretary of State for Scotland whether local authorities are sufficiently well staffed to be able to deal with planning applications from chemical and oil companies, and whether some interim guidelines could be issued by the Department to ensure that the design of any new plant conforms to the very high standards that I am sure the Minister wishes to see?

I recognise the hon. Member's legitimate concern. That concern is shared by the whole House. In 1972 a circular was issued by the Department of the Environment along the lines of the action for which the hon. Member is calling, stressing to local authorities the crucial need to have the fullest consultation with the Factory Inspectorate, as it was then, and the Health and Safety Executive as it is now, where there are applications for installations that might cause a major hazard.

The circular defines what constitutes a major hazard and gives advice to the local authorities about steps they should take. I understand that since then, and more particularly since the Flixborough disaster, the process for consultation between the inspectorate and the local authorities has been strengthened. I hope that the hon. Member will have regard to the passage in my statement which stressed that the Health and Safety Executive has been instructed to enter into further urgent consultations with local authorities.

Will the Minister give an assurance that he will at least consider publishing any reports that the Committee of Experts on Major Hazards may make? Is he aware that there are no fewer than 184 major hazard sites containing more than 100 tons of liquefied petroleum gas in this country, 23 of them in Wales, and one in my constituency? They are causing deep concern. Is it not time that the Government at least prohibited in future the siting of such installations in urban areas, and considered removing those already located in urban areas to places of greater safety?

I have said that the question of siting is being carefully considered by the Committee of Experts. He asked whether we would consider publishing the committee's eventual report. That is primarily a matter for the Health and Safety Commission. I shall draw his remarks to the committee's attention, but I must stress that any idea of a report listing the various hazard sites and the degree of hazard is not on. That would be to misunderstand the purpose and function of the Committee of Experts which is to draw up guidelines and other general advice and guidance.

Is it correct that the crux of this whole matter is that the person who designed the temporary structure was not professionally qualified to do that job? If that is so, and if regulations cannot be made for some time, is the question of prosecution under existing law being considered? If not, will my hon. Friend in the meantime warn employers that even without regulations there is plenty of power under Section 2 of the Act to prosecute, and that this power will be used to save lives?

On the first part of the question, it would be inadvisable for me in ally way to depart from the words of the report, and hence of the court of inquiry. It says in the summary that

"The blame for the defects in the design, support and testing of the by-pass must be shared between the many individuals concerned, at and below Board level but it should be made plain that no blame attaches to those whose task was fabrication and installation. They carried out the work, which they had been asked to do, properly and carefully. As between individuals, it is not for us to apportion blame."
It would be unwise for me to go beyond that.

As for prosecution, I understand that under the law as it was at the time of the disaster there were inadequate grounds on which to base a criminal prosecution. However, my hon. and learned Friend is correct in pointing out that the new Act, particularly in Section 2, enormously widens the scope. I am advised by the director of the Health and Safety Executive that had this disaster occurred at a time when the provisions of the new Act were operative and effective, he would not have hesitated to go for a prosecution on indictment.

It would be unwise for me to go beyond that, since the inquest on those who died was adjourned and will be resumed. It is not for me, notwithstanding what I said about non-prosecution by the Health and Safety Executive, in any way to preclude the possibility of the papers being referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions as a result of the findings.

Sterling (Exchange Rates)

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration; namely,

"the accelerating fall in the value of the pound in foreign exchange markets and the urgent need for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to take emergency measures to restore national and international confidence in the currency."
I do not think it necessary to argue that this matter is either specific or important. Both those propositions are self-evident. I submit that it is also a matter which should be debated urgently, and for four reasons. Last Thursday the Chancellor of the Exchequer told the House that he did not want to see any further depreciation in sterling. As we all know, there has been a further substantial depreciation since then. I believe that that fact alone warrants an urgent debate.

Secondly, the Prime Minister, in addressing the country yesterday, gave an impression of great complacency in this matter. That the Head of the Government does not consider this matter to be urgent is again, I submit, a matter for urgent debate. Thirdly, the country will be bewildered that at this time the House of Commons does not address itself to a matter of this importance.

Finally, it is of the greatest importance not just for our country but for the world to see that the Government have stopped fiddling while the currency burns.

I have listened to the hon. Member's submission. I do not think it would be right for me to say exactly what I think of it, but the answer is "No".

Business Of The House

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That, at this day's Sitting, Mr. Speaker shall put the Question on the Second Reading of the New Towns Bill not later than Seven o'clock; and if the proceedings on the Second Reading of the New Towns Bill shall have been concluded before Seven o'clock Mr. Speaker shall put the Question on the Motion relating to New Towns [Money; not later than Seven o'clock, but that if the Question on the Second Reading of the New Towns Bill shall have been put at Seven o'clock Mr. Speaker shall put the Question forthwith on the Motion relating to New Towns [Money].—[Miss Margaret Jackson.]

I shall take no more than a moment or two to demonstrate once more that this type of motion is both unnecessary and objectionable. There is, I assume, broad agreement that, however important the first item of business, it is desirable that the House should move on to the guillotine motion at about seven o'clock. There would be no difficulty in this result being secured if, as is usual, and no doubt by arrangement between the two Front Benches, as is possible, the Minister who is to wind up the debate were to intimate that he would be rising, let us say, 20 minutes before seven o'clock. When he had sat down if there were a disposition to continue the debate, which I very much doubt, it would be within the power of the Government—and they would no doubt succeed—to seek a closure, and, if necessary, to carry the closure by a Division. We have normally managed to divide the day's business in this way, by policing the Divisions on the rare occasions when it was necessary to do so.

Most hon. Members would presumably think that there was not sufficient scope for debate in the Money Resolution. Nevertheless, it is not impossible that an hon. Member might have a point to make on that motion which he could very properly and very briefly put to the Minister. Under the motion which is now before us, he would be precluded from doing that. On the other hand, if there were any disposition to use the Money Resolution as a means of wrecking the intended division of business over the day's sitting, once again the House have, both formally and informally, a remedy in their own hands.

I say once again, therefore, Mr. Speaker, that the growing prevalence of this type of motion removes a necessary flexibility from the management of our business but does nothing to assist the Government in what they have a right to achieve—substantial control over the business of the House. Before it goes much further I believe that it should be submitted to the Select Committee on Procedure.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Edward Short)

The House will be aware of the views of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) on this subject, because he has expressed them on a number of occasions. On the last occasion when he did so I said that when the Select Committee on Procedure had finished its present remit I should be prepared to send this matter to it. However, at present it is still engaged on its present terms of reference.

The House divides its parliamentary day either by Standing Order or by ad hoc motion. The major business of the day finishes at 10 o'clock. If we have an order, the debate on it is limited by Standing Order to one and a half hours. However, frequently we extend, by motion, the major business of the day by one or two hours. From time to time we extend the one and a half hours on an order by one hour or any given time. Therefore, the House accepts the principle of dividing up its parliamentary day either by Standing Order, which is based on a motion, or by a motion to deal with some particular business.

Today we are dealing with an important Bill, but it is not highly controversial. I understand that many hon. Members wish to speak on it. The Bill is followed by a timetable motion which is intensely controversial. The second matter, the timetable motion, is limited by Standing Order to three hours. Therefore, it seemed to us sensible to begin that business at seven o'clock. We discussed this matter fully through the usual channels and there was no dissent from what we proposed. I believed that this arrangement was for the general convenience of the House. However, I realise that the right hon. Gentleman feels strongly about the matter, and I undertake to refer the matter to the Select Committee on Procedure.

Question put and agreed to.

Business Of The House

Ordered,

That, at this day's sitting, the proceedings on the Motion relating to the Industry Bill (Allocation of Time) may be proceeded with, though opposed, after Ten o'clock.—[Miss Margaret Jackson.]

Orders Of The Day

New Towns Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

4.13 p.m.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

We have two and three-quarter hours for this debate, for four Front Bench speakers and approximately 12 hon. Members who represent new towns.

From time to time, as the new towns programme proceeds, it is necessary to ask the House for authority to increase the total borrowing limits for the new town development corporations and for the Commission for New Towns. This has resulted in an agreeable practice whereby the House is enabled to examine the way in which the new towns are progressing and to consider what ought to be the future policy.

Before I deal with the wider issues, however, I should perhaps mention that the basis of the present Bill is to increase the borrowing limit for the development corporations and for the commission to a total of £2,250 million net. Immediately £250 million will be needed, raising the total required from £1,500 million to £1,750 million; but the Bill gives power for the Minister to ask for a further £500 million by instalments using the affirmative resolution procedure to see the programme through for the next two or three years.

New town money Bills normally follow an established pattern, but the House will see that there is a new provision in Clause 2(i) which enables pensions to be paid to past and present development corporation chairman. This brings development corporations into line with other public sector bodies.

Clause 1(i) is designed to bring new town practice into line with that in other comparable spheres. Hitherto the advance has been limited to the cumulative total of all moneys paid, but the Bill alters this by substituting for cumulative advances the net sum outstanding and thus takes into account repayments made.

In addition, Clause 2(ii) allows payment to be made to members of local town committees of the Commission for New Towns. Members of the commission are already paid, as are the chairmen of the local committees, but, clearly, the work required for ordinary committee members justifies their payment also on the grounds of equity.

In December of last year my right hon. Friend and I published a consultation document entitled "New Towns in England and Wales". A parallel document "New Towns in Scotland" was published in January. My right hon. Friend and I felt that the time had come to consider the development of new towns in general, and to ask those most concerned with new towns to give us their views upon the future programme.

We ourselves set out in the consultation document not only the issues that we though ought to be discussed but the way in which we saw the future developments of the whole programme. If there is a common theme in all the points that were made in that document, it derives from the quotation with which we introduced the topic of the local community—the words of Nicias, 2,500 years ago—that
"Men, not walls, make a town",
for, it is the basis of the new town philosophy that what is to be created is not just a series of houses, important as they are, not a just a group of factories, vital as they are, not just new shopping centres, attractive as they may be, but an environment in which men and women may bring up their families in new and happier surroundings than those in which they themselves were born and grew up.

The idea is an accepted part of Britain today; indeed, so accepted that visitors not only from Britain but from every country in the world come to inspect our new towns and to take away with them ideas for their own countries. But when the first New Towns Bill was debated only 30 years ago, the philosophy appeared new, questionable and, to some, fanciful. Since then new towns, as an instrument of social policy, have widened their scope both geographically and functionally.

The first new towns drew their populations from the overcrowded conurbations of London and Glasgow. Later, new towns grew up to help other places like Merseyside, the North-East and the West Midlands. New towns were used to extend existing towns like Northampton and Peterborough. New towns were used to deal with derelict land, as in Telford. Some new towns—for example, Washington—are a potent force in revitalising development areas in need of modernisation.

Today in Great Britain there are 29 new towns in various stages of development.

Now I suppose it is housing—first and foremost—that most people consider when they think of new towns. This is hardly surprising when one realises that one in 10 of the houses now being built in the public sector are in new towns. The early development corporations went into areas not necessarily happy to receive them. They built the houses sometimes in the teeth of opposition from the local inhabitants. But, as the years went by, and as the population increased, so the need for housing—not just for those who came into the towns, but for their children also as they grew up and had children of their own—began to be felt.

Just over a year ago, when I first undertook my present duties, I found that under the previous Government housing waiting periods in the new towns had virtually doubled. In those early days I decided that I should see as many new towns as possible. I found the same complaint everywhere. There were houses for sale in all those new towns—many of them empty. I found that houses to rent were being sold while, at the same time, the waiting periods—particularly among the second generation of new town dwellers who could not afford to buy houses—were growing the whole time. Something had to be done. So, because of the overwhelming need for rented housing, I immediately gave instructions to stop the sale of tenanted homes, and I asked that greater emphasis should be placed on houses to rent rather than houses for sale.

I am not against home ownership. On the contrary, I believe that a new town which consisted almost entirely of rented accommodation would not really reflect the society in which we live. Indeed, I would go further. I believe that there is room for a great deal of variety in new town houses. Housing associations, co-ownership and co-operative house building groups all have their part to play, and I hope that the development corporations will make the necessary land available to them. But as long as there is a need for rented housing, that need must be met. I am happy to be able to tell the House that whereas, as I have said, the waiting periods in the last 12 months of the Conservative Government doubled, they have now been halved again in the 12 months since I assumed office.

Nor is the housing need confined to the second generation alone. We must take account of those who are moving to take a job in the new towns, and of those who want to live in a new town but work somewhere else. The parents of those who are already living in new towns, and the disadvantaged, too, must all be suitably housed. A new town will always appear to be something set apart unless it has the problems that are common to all other towns. So it must have its share of the incapacitated and disabled. It must provide hostels for single people who are in housing need and homes for single-parent families. In doing so it will not only assist the older and hard-pressed conurbations but will also enrich and vary the lives of its own citizens.

Are not the new towns already under enormous pressure of resources for education, for which the rate support grant does not anticipate the incoming children? If the right hon. Gentleman is now saying that in addition the new towns must provide for old people and the physically and mentally handicapped, they must be given special financial help to meet the extra provision, or the right hon. Gentleman will be breaking the camel's back.

I have said very clearly that I believe that these are necessary provisions for the new towns. Other considerations must be given their priority, and obviously one of the priorities must be the resources. The new towns will not become the same as the older towns, will not become accepted as the older towns are, unless they have their share of the various categories of people of whom I have spoken.

I have spoken of housing in the new towns as if this were solely the problem of the development corporations, but, of course, this is not so. As the older new towns have grown in size, so their district councils have matured. They have also grown in stature as a result of local authority reorganisation. They are now properly concerned to manage their own destinies. The time has come to consider with them the scope for closer co-operation and partnership, including the eventual transfer to the local authorities, on appropriate terms, of housing and other assets closely associated with housing. Such changes—particularly the transfer of assets—require great care in their operation. For this reason I set up a working party of officers of the Stevenage Development Corporation and the local authority under the chairmanship of an official in my Department. It has produced a report on the practical aspects of transfer as they concern English new towns.

The report contains a number of specific recommendations, but I shall not, of course, reach decisons on these until I have received the comments of all interested parties. Among them are the financial basis of transfer, where the working party recommends outstanding loan debt, and the practical timetable of any programme, where it makes it clear that the earliest practicable date would be April 1977. I shall be coming to the House in due course with my proposals on all these matters.

I am indebted to the Stevenage Borough Council for its co-operation in this exercise and to the working party for its detailed consideration of the means whereby housing assets could be transferred. Even in the early stages of transfer the number of new town houses which could be involved is of the order of 90,000. This shows at one and the same time the size of the problem and the contribution which development corporations have made in providing homes for those in need.

I am particularly pleased that the working party has dealt with the problem of the effect of transfer upon staff in the corporations, the commission and the local authorities. In the process of transfer it would be ungracious to ignore the claims of those who have played so great a part in this changing field, and it would be short-sighted to lose the knowledge, skill and experience which they have demonstrated over the years.

The House will understand that this statement of policy on the transfer of housing assets is one that gives me especial pride. The originator of the 1946 Act had no doubt that this was the right way to proceed. In doing this we shall be changing the political decision made by the Conservative Government in 1959 to establish the Commission for New Towns—a decision designed to avoid giving to the communities of the new towns their democratic rights in the housing field.

Within the framework of a policy with which I disagree, the Commission for the New Towns has done a first-class job. Over the years it has created an expertise of management, and the four new towns in its care have reason to be grateful for its work. But its housing management has nothing to do with local accountability. For this reason, the Government propose to introduce legislation as soon as possible to change the rôle of the Commission for New Towns into one more fitting for the democratic age. The housing which, in any event, has been completed in Crawley, Hemel Hempstead, Welwyn and Hatfield will be among that to be transferred to the local authorities.

It would be wrong to dispute the expertise and skill that has grown up in the New Towns Commission. In addition to owning the houses in the four new towns concerned, the commission also owns the commercial and industrial assets. It seems to us that the benefits of each new town should be shared between three groups—the local community in which the assets are situated, the taxpayer in general, who has supported the early expenses of the new towns, and the other new towns in process of building or yet to be built. The new rôle of the New Towns Commission will lie in the management of commercial and industrial assets in the interests of all these three parties.

I should perhaps also say that, while the development corporations and the New Towns Commission in its new rôle exist, it will be a fundamental principle that commercial and industrial land shall remain the property of the community. I have never understood the argument that once a public authority has bought land and developed it, it should then sell it off to the private sector. On the contrary, it should then be kept safe for the generations to come. So, as with the proposals under the Community Land Bill, commercial and industrial land may be leased but not disposed of on a freehold basis.

It is just over 29 years since Stevenage was designated by Lewis Silkin as the first new town, as you will recall. Mr. Deputy Speaker. Very few Acts of Parliament in so important and fast-moving a field can have remained virtually unchanged over the years as the New Towns Act of that year. But the first new towns have grown up, and it is time to take another look at our new towns policy—a look which, while maintaining the vision of the founding fathers, nevertheless combines with it the requirements of a new generation. In the meantime, I commend the Bill to the House.

4.28 p.m.

The number of hon. Members wishing to speak in the debate is a clear indication of the welcome that there is for the opportunity the Bill provides to consider not only its terms, by which we are brought face to face with the scale of public resources involved in new town development, but the Government's consultative document, "New Towns in England and Wales", published last December. I listened with great interest, as I am sure all hon. Members present did, to what the Minister said about that.

As I see it, the main question in the debate must be the justification for the vast sums involved, and whether they are being wisely used and directed, in ways which will produce the optimum social and financial benefits.

The right hon. Gentleman has looked back to all that his father did for new towns and planning as a whole. The scale of expenditure is indicated by the fact that in 1946 the sum involved was £50 million. The limit of advances was raised to £1,500 million in 1965, and it is now proposed to be extended to £2,250 million. Those are tremendous sums of public money commitment.

I should like briefly to recall the garden city concept and to refer to the tremendous pioneering work of Ebenezer Howard. It is appropriate to recognise the part played by the Town and Country Planning Association over the past 75 years. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has been closely associated with the commemorative celebrations. In the early days of Letchworth and Welwyn, effective development and good planning standards were ensured and land assembly achieved without the benefit of the Community Land Bill. The right hon. Gentleman appears to hold the view that his proposals are taking us to El Dorado and marching us towards a State abounding in gold. I think that that is not an unfair reference to his Second Reading speech.

A glaring omission from the consultative document lies in the admission which appears in paragraph 4.17, which reads:
"This paper makes no firm proposals with regard to finance."
During this debate some of my hon. Friends may refer to the political bias which runs through the document, especially in section 4, under the heading "Proposed Action".

In additon to the main question which I have already posed—namely, the wise use of resources—my purpose is to highlight the gravity of the financial position facing the new towns and the entirely unfair burden falling on the ratepayers in those counties and districts in which new towns lie.

In the grave circumstances with which the country is faced, and with the continuing calls by the Secretary of State for the curtailment of local government expenditure, is the right hon. Gentleman able to tell the House whether or not resources will continue to be made available for new towns? Can he give a firm assurance in that respect? With the level of temporary debt at £1,500 million, how long is it anticipated that the extension of £250 million, as proposed, will last? I know that he will be aware of the concern, as all of us are, among the membership and staffs of the development corporations not only that the projects in hand can be kept going but that future plans can be made, confident in the certainty that expenditure in terms of staff time will not be wasted.

The right hon. Gentleman will also know that in some parts of the country the building and contracting industry relies heavily on work in new towns, some of it on a vast scale. I am thinking here especially of Milton Keynes and Northampton, which I know well. The building industry relies heavily on such work to keep its work force engaged and to ensure continuity of employment for employees. These programmes are also significant in terms of manufacturers' plans and distributors' facilities.

Reference has repeatedly been made in the House to the burden falling upon the ratepayers. I took the point made again this afternoon by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) about a matter to which he has drawn the attention of the House on many previous occasions.

With colleagues from both sides of the House representing Northamptonshire I joined in making representations arising from the circumstances there, where there are no fewer than three town expansion schemes in addition to Northampton, which was designated a new town in 1968. The county council has made continuing representations to the Department, and I know that the right hon. Gentleman has given the question careful attention and spent a good deal of his time on it. I am grateful to him personally because he has given me a deal of his time in which to discuss the issues involved.

Here I refer to the provision of public services connected with the new town schemes, so that local authorities can develop the services for which they are responsible in pace with population growth. I quote from a document giving the views of the chairmen of the development corporations on the consultative document. They refer at paragraph 2.9 of their paper to the provision of statutory services, schools, health centres, social and recreational facilities, roads and transport, and policing and fire cover. Their paper says:
"These call for separate capital allocations by the Government for the expansion of local authority services in pace with each new town's planned population and housing growth; and provision for development corporations to contribute to the costs of advance provision so as to prevent any undue burden on the ratepayers as such."
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman or the Government spokesman who winds up will pay attention to that question.

With rate burdens now excessive beyond the wildest of expectations, and further increases unavoidable in the absence of reform, a refusal to commit their communities to further expansion is entirely understandable. In the special circumstances of Northampton, the development of the southern district must be called in question because I am informed that the resources to finance the provision of a principal road network cannot be programmed within prospective budgets.

I now refer to a letter addressed to the right hon. Gentleman by Mr. Gordon Roberts, the leader of the Northamptonshire County Council, on behalf of that county and five others similarly placed, in which he says:
"The county councils are caught between the restrictions imposed by the Treasury on development corporations' freedom to contribute towards the expenditure of local authorities and the wish of the Department of the Environment that housing programmes should continue unchecked. The objectives of the Treasury and the Department of the Environment are apparently irreconcilable and the county councils are caught between the two."
The right hon. Gentleman is well aware of the situation and the depth of feeling there is on the matter. I know that he was successful in securing some support for the Northamptonshire County Council from the Treasury but I think that there is a great deal more to be done in this respect.

I now turn to what I referred to earlier as the main question, which arises from the terms of the Bill and the consultative document. Public expenditure on the vast scale incurred under new towns legislation must be subject to close scrutiny and the proper establishment and monitoring of financial objectives and obligations. I believe that over the years there has been no real endeavour in that regard.

Paragraph 100 of the memorandum which was submitted to the Department of the Environment and Home Office sub-committee of the Expenditure Committee, Session 1974, by McKinsey and Co. referred to information on new towns and said:
"Obtaining information from Government Departments is a slow and painful process, often ending in failure, since much of the information was not available in a form that would allow expenditures related to the new town to be established."
[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I believe that I heard hon. Members opposite applauding the content of that quotation. That quotation is important for the case which I am trying to make.

Paragraph 143 of the memorandum continues:
"The accounts do not, for example, allow easy comparisons to be made between forecast and actual results, or between current expectations and previous forecasts."
Paragraph 145 of the memorandum, which referred to the new towns' directorate and an overworked section of the Department of the Environment, said:
"The Directorate is also seen by some in the corporations to lack sufficient staff with the technical and professional skills that would enable them seriously to challenge the assumptions and plans of the new towns as exhibited by the accounts."
That is to some extent a condemnation by McKinsey and Company, which submitted a comprehensive memorandum to that sub-committee in 1974. What it says is confirmed in a memorandum of evidence to the Expenditure Committee by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, paragraph 2 of which reads:
"The Institute believes that the financial implications of any large project should be considered at the earliest possible stage. It assumes that, before an area is designated under the New Towns Act 1965, available alternatives have been considered and appraised."
Interesting points emerged during the examination of witnesses. In reply to subsequent questions, Mr. W. C. Evans, the chief finance officer to the Redditch Development Corporation, when asked to confirm an assumption in the report that, before an area is designated under the New Towns Act 1965, available alternatives have been considered and appraised, said:
"We have not any really. This is what we would expect to happen."
When asked if it had happened, he replied:
"I think it probably has not, but I cannot be sure of that."
He went on:
"What I do say is that there was no definite information available to us when Redditch was designated."
That evidence shows that investment programming is not in operation as expected, quite rightly, by municipal treasurers and accountants.

It is my submission that inadequate attention is given by the Department of the Environment to new towns' expenditure in terms of financial objectives and their monitoring. The creation of vast capital assets appears to be considered only in terms of eventual loan repayment. Would it not be wiser to apply judgment in terms of management, the utilisation and optimum use of resources, as McKinsey and Co. put it in paragraph 132 of its report:
"By capturing the value created by a new town development to finance the development and provide further amenities and services."?
This is the whole issue of the roll-over of assets—the realisation of capital values flowing from the development should provide resources for further expenditure on both social and development provision.

If a policy of this nature were followed in new towns, the Government could well find that the Bill and the substantial demand that it makes on public resources would be unnecessary, adequate capital resources flowing from the sale of residential properties together with office and industrial premises to occupiers or institutions for investment purposes. Private money would be used for development rather than Government sources funded over 60 years at the Public Works Loan Board rate, which today stands at no less than 14⅜ per cent. fixed for the full loan period. That is the burden with which new towns and development corporations are being lumbered.

The whole concept of borrowing in these days of high interest rates fixed for a 60-year term plays havoc with the use of public resources. That is why I am utterly amazed that the right hon. Gentleman has not dealt fundamentally with the financial considerations in his consultation document.

As a Member representing a new town and as Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party New Towns Group, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would like the House to know the official Opposition view of the reference to finance in the consultation document. He spoke about the transfer of assets. Surely the Conservatives have a view on this subject. The hon. Member is right to raise the problem of finance, but will he say what is the Opposition's view of what should happen in terms of the transfer of assets?

I am not dealing with the transfer of assets. I hope the hon. Member understands that I am discussing the sensible use of the vast assets that have been created in the new towns. They could be utilised if sold off.

It is not transfer. It is the sale of assets. That is the point that the right hon. Gentleman was making, and I shall deal with it in the final part of my speech.

As on so many issues, the Government take decisions on ideological grounds and in the furthering of their stated aims of State Socialism. That was just the point that the right hon. Gentleman made when he said that once land had been taken into public ownership it should never be released, presumably whatever the financial consequences. He and his right hon. and hon. Friends will have to learn that lesson very soon now, or the whole of the new towns scheme will come to an abrupt halt.

The consultation document tells us that in the new towns there are to be no further sales of houses—paragraph 4.13—and that land for industrial and commercial development will normally be made available on leasehold terms only—that is in the following paragraph. The Commission for the New Towns will retain in large part the industrial and commercial assets of corporations that have already been wound up—no suggestion here of the release of assets to save borrowing at the punitive interest rates that I have mentioned.

The hon. Gentleman should correctly state what is said in the consultative document. The words are:

"For the time being also, there will be no further sales, without the prior approval, of development corporation or Commission housing built originally for rent."
That is the whole point. That is the basis of ensuring that those who are in need can get homes.

We cannot look after those in need unless we handle the resources correctly and most effectively. It is no use having palliatives like "for the time being". What are essential are long-term objectives, especially in the use of money.

The reputation that the Government have earned for themselves of the profligate use of the taxpayers' money and resources on a beg, borrow, or steal basis takes second place only to their blatant efforts to realise their political objectives of State Socialism. We have many examples before the House. Indeed, a guillotine procedure to accord with this policy is to be debated later this evening. The consultative document is clearly part of that overall strategy. It is to be regretted, and the changes inherent in its proposals will be damaging to the new towns and to their future.

4.46 p.m.

I am astonished that the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones) is surprised that the objective of the New Towns Act in the first instance was a great ideological and sociological concept. If his ideas on sociological development are in keeping with the last few sentences of his speech, woe betide us all.

I commend my right hon. Friend for the interest that he has taken in the whole new towns concept and the way in which he has kept me and some of my colleagues informed about the Government's proposals. As he said, the new towns idea is not about making speculators rich. It is about making a richer and fuller life for ordinary people who live in the new towns and who have come from areas not as pleasant as their new surroundings. I have the honour to represent a new town so different in its whole outlook from the congested areas from which its people came as to make my support of the concept complete, whole and total. It has nothing to do with the making of money for speculators.

I want to discuss the possibility of even easing the situation in some respects, because I do not like the commercial and industrial rates being charged in new towns, especially the commercial rates, because the small shopkeeper, who can provide a good service for the community, is being squeezed out of any possibility of doing so because the multinationals can afford to pay the fantastic rents now being charged by the new town corporations.

This may be a note of mild criticism. I am glad that the waiting time for housing in new towns in England and Wales has been reduced, but will my right hon. Friend note that that is not the case in Scotland and that in East Kilbride the waiting time for housing increases month by month?

The Bill is all right as far as it goes, but it does not go very far. It does not deal at all with most of the problems associated with new towns. The new town of East Kilbride, which forms a large part of my constituency, is a case in point. The Bill is based on the consultation document, but I hope that it will not be long before much more comprehensive proposals are brought before us. The consultation document poses more questions than it solves and it certainly poses many more questions than are being attempted in the Bill. Perhaps that is the very nature of the document, it being consultative.

My right hon. Friend the Minister alluded to the $64,000 question; namely, what follows after the consultative document and after the Bill is passed? I admire his continued interest in this matter. His late father's devotion and dedication to this subject was a tribute to that gentleman and was a tremendous advantage to the country. The Act may have been one of the most important Acts of Parliament passed at that time.

As my right hon. Friend said, in England and Wales we have the New Towns Commission which can take over the functions of the new towns. I want to confine my remarks to Scotland.

In Scotland the Secretary of State has power or authority of a similar nature. The new town of East Kilbride was born 28 years ago and is just one year younger than Stevenage. Therefore, it is no longer a baby; it is a big boy. It should now be weaned. It is the sixth largest town in Scotland, with a population approaching 75,000. It has over 300 factories of every kind on modern industrial estates. I want to pay tribute to the chairman and members of the board and to all the officials of the East Kilbride and Stonehouse Development Corporation because they have done a truly magnificent job during the time they have had control of the development corporation.

I should like to ask the Minister of State, who is to reply, a few questions about current Government policy for new towns in Scotland in general and, in particular, the new town of East Kilbride especially in view of the period of economic stringency which we face. First, are any cuts proposed in the construction of schools for the new town of East Kilbride? Secondly, are all the community projects proceeding as agreed? I have in mind health centres, one small day hospital which is being developed and, in addition, the development of Hairmyres Hospital, which is a well-established institution. Regardless of what Conservative Members say, is there any sign of the rents of houses in East Kilbride being brought more into line with the lower level applying in Scotland, rather than the higher level?

Did the hon. Gentleman read the article published in yesterday's Observer about the position of rents at present? Perhaps he could relate his remarks to that.

I do not have time to read all the newspapers. I did not read the Observer yesterday, although I am sorry I did not. However, I do not want to be diverted from what I was saying.

Rents are a question for the community to decide and not for individual Opposition Members to decide. Is my right hon. Friend the Minister aware that in the Greenhills area of East Kilbride—an area which is growing, which has nearly 2,000 houses and a population of about 7,000—there is no community centre, bus facilities are totally inadequate, there is a scarcity of play areas for children, there is not a single public telephone—although I understand that as a result of representations from myself and others one is proposed in an entirely unsuitable location—and that the whole area requires landscaping? I hasten to add that this district is part of a much larger area. I am pinpointing it only because something should be done for it.

When my right hon. Friend referred to the object of new towns I am sure he meant that when people are encouraged to move out of their old environment it is unfair not to provide them with the facilities and amenities which they were led to believe would be forthcoming.

I should like to ask the Minister of State a further question about future employment. Gratified as we are in East Kilbride about the number of industries and jobs available—and it is interesting to note in this connection that there are 50 per cent. more male jobs than female jobs—we are not complacent about this, because there are problems associated with unemployment, and we are concerned about the rôle of the multinational companies in new towns, companies over which neither the Government nor the East Kilbride Development Corporation seem to have any control at all.

I have already indicated that the new town of East Kilbride has come of age. I now ask the Minister the $64,000 question. Since it is of age and since it should no longer be dependent upon its mother's milk, would it not be better to let it go its own way under its new local authority structure, in the same way as other larger towns in Scotland? The concept of a development corporation is an excellent one. It is essential and of the utmost value in the setting up of new towns and in the intermediate stages of a new town's development. However, when maturity is reached it is time to move over to a more democratic structure of control. When will steps be taken to transfer the functions and assets of East Kilbride New Town to the East Kilbride District Council? I know that problems and difficulties are involved, but there is no reason why some formula cannot be worked out to arrive at a basis of assessment of the assets and how they should be apportioned.

The East Kilbride District Council comprises 15 councillors and has three representatives on the Strathclyde Regional Council. Therefore, I would suggest to my hon. Friend that paragraph 9 of the consultative document is highly pertinent in a debate on new towns in Scotland. It is headed "Completed New Towns" and is concerned with their future. I would commend to my hon. Friend that this paragraph should be discussed now in order that action can be taken in the very near future.

4.58 p.m.

I rise to speak for the first time on the subject of new towns in this House, having been elected last year as the Member of Parliament for Hitchin. That constituency includes Letchworth, the first of the garden cities, which has had honourable mention from my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones). I have a second constituency interest, because until the recent boundary reorganisations the constituency of Hitchin included the first of the post-war new towns, Stevenage. My constituency now surrounds that new town on three sides, rather like a wizened banana in that but in no other respects.

I was interested in the Minister's remarks about the inquiry which he has launched to discuss the means and methods of transfering new town assets to local authorities, statutory undertakers and the New Town Commission. To some extent I find myself following the argument of the hon. Member for East Kilbride (Dr. Miller) in that I wish to express concern over the perpetuation of development corporations beyond their natural and acceptable life in the area.

The last debate on this subject was held on 11th November 1971, the very day of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the designation of Stevenage, which is a matter of pride for the Minister and for his late father. It is also a matter of some anxiety because in the meantime other new towns such as Hemel Hempstead, Welwyn, Hatfield and Crawley—the first three of which are in Hertfordshire—have been wound up. It was, I believe, expected that the development corporation of Stevenage might have been wound up in or about 1975, but this has now been delayed and there is strong local anxiety that this is because of the repeated proposals for the expansion of the designated area of Stevenage.

Early in the 1960s there were proposals that the ultimate population of Stevenage should be increased from a projection of about 100,000 to about 150,000. After a lot of inquiry and consideration this proposal was squashed in 1965—to great relief. Then, in 1972, there was a revised proposal for 3,000 or 4,000 acres to be added to the designated area. Again there was much local resistance, both from within Stevenage and outside it, and regardless of political party. In 1973 these proposals were shelved. I remember marching at the head of a demonstration with the right hon. Lady the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection—which demonstrated that there was a common attitude and interest between both parties. The fact that the right hon. Lady represents Stevenage and I represent the neighbouring constituency of Hitchin indicates that these anxieties are widespread and are not confined to particular groups.

These reprieves have in the past been temporary. Therefore, it is with some concern that we now view new proposals for an increase in the designated area of Stevenage, albeit on a smaller scale. I do not wish to give currency to this idea by repeating it, but many think that the development corporation of Stevenage has been to some extent interested by motives of self-preservation and perpetuation. I see that the Minister is, properly, shaking his head. However, the very fact that such suggestions have been made emphasises my point: that there is a time beyond which the development corporation does not retain the approval and sympathy with which it may have been launched.

There is inevitably some conflict of interest between the proposals of a local authority and the county council and those of a development corporation, because the expansion of a new town inevitably, to some extent, must pre-empt development and plans for adjacent areas. After all, we have at present in Hertfordshire a county structure plan in preparation.

The county planning officer has recently circulated a document seeking ideas from residents of Hertfordshire. In it he says:
"The Members of the County Council and District Councils have not taken any decisions or expressed views on any of the matters … in this booklet. As County Planning Officer I put forward these choices so that your elected representatives can make their decision in the light of your comments."
That is not the procedure which is followed in the case of development corporations.

I should like to quote from a leaflet circulated by the Stevenage Development Corporation in connection with the latest proposals for expansion. It contains a very sinister paragraph which, in describing what is calls the "next step", says,
"These proposals are being considered by the Secretary of State and if he so decides he will make a Draft Designation Order. Thereafter, if objection is raised there will be a public inquiry and an Inspector's report leading to a final decision and Designation Order by the Secretary of State."
It seems to me that that totally prejudges the issue, before it has been considered. If we are told that there is to be a designation order regardless of what may be revealed by the public inquiry or an inspector's report, the whole exercise is a fraud.

That is why anxieties develop about the continued behaviour of development corporations. New towns, after all, are very much part of their own region. The west-central area of Hertfordshire includes Hatfield, Welwyn Garden City, a little to the west Hemel Hempstead and Stevenage, and just to the north the towns in my constituency of Hitchin, Letchworth and Baldock.

As the Minister, with usual parliamentary courtesy, advised me last week, like myself he spent the early part of last Saturday morning in Hitchin. He knows that it is not very far away from Stevenage and that there is only a matter of three miles between these urban areas. There is a real danger of urban coalescence if new towns are allowed to expand in an uncontrolled way beyond their original area. I am worried about the prospect of a long strip of industrialised and urban country stretching up through Hertfordshire towards the Midlands. This is not the concern merely of my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry. It must affect many other hon. Members who represent such areas.

It is of vital importance that there should be truly rural countryside in between carrying on the business of agriculture, and not merely a few fields from which one can see houses in both directions. One needs to continue true rural life if one is to preserve the real amenity value of the countryside between urban developments. One needs this also for ecological reasons, because until the appalling rainstorms of last winter the water table in Hertfordshire had fallen by several feet. This was causing the drying up of ponds and the death of trees and had effect on brooks, streams and ponds. It affected not only farming but also rivers running through and near towns and villages, with all the consequences of that.

Any area can support only so much in the way of housing, industry and infrastructure. Extra housing in one part will limit resources for other parts. There is bound to be a conflict of interest between further increases in population in new towns and the need for second generation housing and, indeed, the wider housing needs of the whole area. If an area such as Hertfordshire is overloaded with new development, it becomes increasingly unbalanced. There have been shifts of focus and activity from my constituency to Stevenage. Shopping facilities have been moved. The Lister Hospital is in Stevenage. The railway line with a new station at Stevenage means that long-distance trains now stop there instead of at the old railhead at Hitchin. Although these are gradual and to some extent inevitable changes, it must be understood that these are the consequences of the development of new towns for surrounding areas which have their own needs for housing, key workers and industrial growth. Decisions affecting them should be taken on an overall view, since there is a natural interaction with neighbouring areas which is essential for balance in the future.

Like the hon. Member for East Kilbride, I believe that new towns reach their maturity when they have borough status and their own elected local authority councillors. The perpetuation of a development corporation when a vigorous local council is established can lead only to conflict and differences of opinion—a waste of time, effort and good will. Therefore, I support the hon. Gentleman in his suggestion that the development corporations should not be perpetuated beyond their acceptable and reasonable life.

In the final period of a development corporation's life it would be very dangerous to depart from the original concept of a designated area. After all, each town has an optimum size, which may vary according to its location and according to surrounding towns. Most of the early new towns were set up with a view to a size of about 60,000 or more, and not as large as the present generation. Stevenage was contemplated to reach 100,000.

One of the reasons why the designated area of Stevenage has now been proposed to be extended is a change in the population figures. The number per household is reduced from 3–21 heads to 2–95. That is equivalent to saying that if one is to have the same number of people, one must have up to 10 per cent. more houses. But surely in the original concept of the size of a town not only the number of souls living in it but also the physical area it was to occupy must have been of equal importance. When a new town is very close to other urban developments, it is very dangerous to fix solely on the population indicator and ignore the question of total area.

Therefore, I believe that the decisions about the future of new towns, as far as they reasonably may be, should be planned with long-term needs in mind. That means that when local authorities are established and if they can do the job, they should be permitted to get on with it. Beyond that point, the longer the delay the greater is the risk to the natural development of the new town as a community and to its settled social fabric.

I make these points with great emphasis but without acrimony, and I hope that the Minister will respond to them.

5.10 p.m.

Debates in this House about the new towns are almost as unique as new towns. For that reason, the hon. Member for Hitchin (Mr. Stewart) must not feel too badly if he has not spoken before in a debate about the new towns. There have only been three or four such debates in the past 10 years. However, hon. Members who have spoken before in debates of this kind, like my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens), will realise that we are a small and unique band and, therefore, that we get somewhat impatient when we hear Front Bench spokesmen on both sides talking in generalities about new towns and that we tend to enjoy discussing our own constituency interests. Today I do not intend to discuss my own new town of Basildon, because I consider it is more important to try to get down to some basic solutions to the problem of new town development and organization.

Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones) has left what is to be a very short debate. However, I hope that someone on the Opposition benches will answer the question which I have asked before. The hon. Member for Daventry appears to be frantically upset because the consultative document contains elements of ideology. However, no one should be surprised at that. As a moderate member of the Labour Party, I hope that we shall have more ideology in new towns, and not less. I asked the hon. Gentleman for the Conservative Party's policy towards the statement in the consultative document which deals with the transfer of assets. Having failed to answer the question earlier, the Opposition should tell us now, because it would be unfair if we concluded this debate without some reference to that, and it might even help the hon. Gentleman's own back-bench colleagues.

My right hon. Friend the Minister kept his remarks short because he was anxious for all hon. Members representing new towns to get a look in. He will concede that the consultative document is thin, though it raises many questions. My right hon. Friend should look again at paragraph 4.17. He says in that paragraph:
"This paper makes no firm proposals with regard to finance or to the terms on which any transfer of assets might take place."
One matter which causes great concern in local Labour Parties and amongst the communities of new towns, as well as in the national Labour Party, is the way in which this should be done. It is important to have an intelligent understanding about how we are to deal with the financing. Some would want it done by the outstanding loan debt. I hope that we shall have some insight into this complex problem.

The new towns are of great interest, not only to people in this country but to people abroad. The critical attack that was made on Government expenditure on the new towns by the hon. Member for Daventry failed to take into account the fact that the most famous of the new towns in the United States, Columbia, is also undergoing a critical time at this moment. We need to look beyond the financing of new towns which have been established or supported by the Government. The experience of private enterprise in Columbia is causing grave concern and is worthy of review.

It is essential to look to the future rather than to the past. However successful the first 30 years of new towns have been, we must give some attention to the way in which they might be examined in the future. One of the omissions in the consultative paper is that there does not appear to be any attempt to relate the new towns to the total context of the responsibilities of my right hon. Friend's Department. There needs to be some sort of relationship between the industrial policy, the housing policy and the environmental strategy. I regret that this is not given sufficient emphasis in the consultative paper. Many of the practical problems that we face as Members of Parliament for new towns heighten this very unfortunate difference. There are serious risks to the new towns, and to the older cities too, if there is no overall strategy and if new town development is considered in isolation.

An error in previous debates on new towns is that we have tended to look in isolation at the new towns. There cannot be new towns without reference to the commitment to rebuild the older cities. Many of the new towns are a reflection of the way in which decisions were made in those cities many years ago. That is my general point, and I come now to four or five specific observations.

I deal first with the development corporations. They have done a fine job. I do not think that anybody doubts that. With enormous influence and great competence they have established the new towns. Now that they have started to grow up, however, one would like to see local authorities representing the people, many of whom have lived there for 20 years or more, working much more in co-operation with the corporation. As a result of the efforts of my right hon. Friend and his predecessors, this has started to happen. There is in some of the more mature new towns a much better spirit in the relationships between them and the local authorities, and one simply wants to see this continuing.

The second issue is employment. One of the main aims must be to keep housing and employment growth in balance. Over the past decade this has not always been achieved, largely because there has been no special incentive to get manufacturing industry into the new towns unless those new towns were in development areas. This is what I mean when I say that new town development must be part of a total strategy. The rôle of the new town must be considered in any national employment planning, because houses without jobs for the people and without taking account of other aspects of the environment would make a mockery of what we are trying to do.

My third point is that surely, after 25 years, it is apparent that the housing responsibility of the new towns is twofold—to accommodate newcomers from the inner city areas but also to accommodate the second generation. I suspect that most Members who have been concerned with the mature new towns certainly have far more inquiries relating to the second generation than to any other domestic issue raised by constituents. The second generation cannot be left to the local authority, on which already a tremendous responsibility falls to deal with the people there. The local authorities do not have the resources to meet the need which arises directly from the policy of bringing a vast number of young families into one area at the same time. It is necessary to explain to people who are not aware of the way in which the new towns have grown that it is because of the development and movement of this population in going through a phase of growing up and having families, that we have this complex problem of the second generation.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was not here when I asked the Minister to make sure that there were so many community facilities per 1,000 dwellings. Will the hon. Gentleman encourage the idea that for every 1,000 or 2,000 dwellings there should be a minimum of community facilities prescribed by Parliament in terms of play schemes, adventure playgrounds, shops and so on, so that a community is built rather than simply a large number of houses?

That will probably depend very much on the stage that a new town has reached.

There is a critical stage in the development of a new town, as I have no doubt will be confirmed by another hon. Member who leas represented my constituency, about the way those facilities can be improved. However, this is less of a problem in the mature new town. I suggest that when it comes to the stage where there is already a second generation there is quite an interplay with the new locality. With the city, of course, this is much less of a problem. In general, however, I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman. It is a matter to be considered.

I ask, fourthly, how far have the new towns succeeded in creating real communities. Between 1946 and 1973, nearly 2 million people came to live in the designated new towns. In other words the new towns have become big business, involving capital expenditure of more than £1,400 million. In material terms, the environment of the new towns is excellent. But all too often a sense of real community is lacking. It takes time and demands from development corporation officials and local authorities a keen understanding of what is involved.

Finally, in developing our new towns we have failed to think about what we leave behind. One of the main purposes of Howard's garden cities was the re-ordering of cities whose populations were thinning out. In Paris this is being translated into action, but in Britain there has as yet been no more than a late mention in the Layfield Report on the Greater London Development Plan.

The development of those areas, opened up by the demolition of hundreds of acres of slums in cities like Liverpool and London, is too big a problem and burden for the city authorities, who need something like the powers and backing of a development corporation to plan the housing, jobs, open spaces and recreational facilities which will make them live again.

The hon. Member for Daventry referred to the Select Committee. We are both Members of the current Select Committee. Therefore, it would be wrong and improper for me to comment on the current evidence of the Select Committee, and which has still to reach a decision. The hon. Gentleman quoted from the evidence of the last two or three years, which has been published, and I should like to do the same.

The Select Committee, dealing with the environment of new towns, has already begun to point to the problems. Are we making the right judgments in terms of the mechanics and organisation of the new towns? Despite the considerable volume of evidence taken by the Select Committee in the past, little material has been placed before the Sub-Committee by the Department which would enable Members to judge the extent to which the towns are effectively doing their jobs in relation to housing or, indeed, regional policy. For example, while the preferred size of a new town has risen over the years from about 50,000 up to 250,000 people, there was little evidence before the Sub-Committee about the effects of variations in size on costs, revenue, regional impact and so on. Nor is the impact upon the surrounding areas or existing local communities clear, despite the fact that larger partnership schemes are clearly favoured, and the Department openly admitted in evidence that the effect of size is problematic.

Therefore, when we come to try to solve the controversial matter about whether we are making the right judgments on the structure, organisation, size and financing of new towns, we begin to realise that the management accounting system is not directed towards answering these questions and that the rôle of the management accounts as an instrument of policy evaluation as opposed to on-going annual management is questionable.

I have referred to finance, administration and planning. Therefore, it is only right that I should end on the most important aspect of all associated with new towns—the people themselves. It is because I feel so much that the people in new towns matter that I raise the question of democracy and the Government's intentions in terms of a commitment made by the Labour Party at successive annual conferences towards the question of partnership, control, administration and the transfer of assets. There can be no dodging that important point. I am sure that is not my right hon. Friend's intention. We want reassurance on that matter, because we have to go back to our constituencies and explain why there has been delay up to this moment and why there has been no major debate. However, we are grateful that this debate has taken place today.

Above all, new towns are people. I should like to conclude with a quotation from an important work, "Mental Health and Environment", by Taylor and Chave, who state:
"By conventional standards a new town is a good society. It is happy and healthy. Its families have good homes. Its children have good schools. Work is varied and close at hand. Working conditions are good. There are wide facilities for active recreation. The strains of industrial life are reduced to a degree not achieved in unplanned communities."
I suggest that most hon. Members who have some connection or association with or who represent new towns sincerely believe in that expression.

Those who have had no connection with new towns might be cynical. They may believe that new towns are merely extensions of large cities—a couple of estates placed together and perhaps with pressure to bring some industry together. But there is, I suggest, both accuracy and validity in the statement. It is up to the Government to implement the intentions of the consultative document. I should think that there will not be a great deal of conflict on either side of the House and that all hon. Members will give them the support and time to get a Bill through as quickly as possible if a new deal is offered to our new towns on the lines proposed.

5.26 p.m.

I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Moonman). As he made his speech, the thought passed through my mind that hardly any hon. Member does not have a particular perennial problem. Mine seems to be the problem of new towns. In my former constituency there was the new town of Basildon, which the previous speaker now represents. I thought that now town was one of the best.

The Central Lancashire new town is to be built in South Fylde. We are fortunate in having as chairman of the new town corporation for the Central Lancashire new town Sir Frank Pearson, who was and is a friend of many who sat in this House with him when he was a Member. Sir Frank has described the Central Lancashire new town as he sees it for the future—there is nothing much to be seen at present—as
"Lancashire's biggest opportunity of the century … an absolutely unique urban development."
The Lancashire Evening Post, which circulates largely in the area which will compose the new town when it is built, used the words that the new town
"is the biggest think ever to hit Lancashire."
Of course, one has only to talk of plans as ambitious as a new town for Lancashire to get immediate benefits. One of the benefits has been that the express trains from Euston to Glasgow make their first stop at Preston, which will be the centre of the new town. The journey takes two and a half hours. It is very comfortable and is enjoyed by all those who can afford it.

Basildon, as I remember, did not have a railway station, and all the best and fastest trains used to pass through Basildon on their way to Southend without stopping.

There is a railway station for the Central Lancashire new town.

Basildon was near completion when I first knew it. The Central Lancashire New Town is still suffering, and will continue to suffer for many years to come, from the pangs of birth which always attend the creation of a new town. I am sure all hon. Members will agree that nothing so profoundly affects the life of a man as the change in use of the land on which he lives and works. Nothing so dramatically changes the use of land as the development of a new town.

Unhappily, the pangs of birth for most new towns, and certainly for the Central Lancashire new town, are made worse and more uncomfortable and painful by the attendant evils of delay, uncertainty and secrecy.

The way that delay and uncertainty affect people who are about to have their land taken from them or are about to become part of a new town, if the House will not think that I am becoming too domestic and local, is well and vividly illustrated by what has happened in the area which will compose the Central Lancashire new town.

There are two villages, Grimsargh and Haighton, in some of the attractive parts of the Flyde. Families have been living there for generations back. The people, who are very fond of the countryside, are concerned about the future. They do not want anything to happen which will injure the future of their area or of the larger interests of Lancashire.

In 1967 it became clear that Grimsargh was to become part of the area where the new town would be developed. In 1969 there was a public inquiry into the issue of designation and the inspector recommended that Grimsargh should be taken out of the new town plan. The Labour Minister of Housing at that time did not accept the recommendation of his inspector and put the village back into the plan.

In 1972 the farmers in the area were told that compulsory purchase orders were to be imposed on their farms and on the land. In 1973 the compulsory purchase orders were served. In the same year there was a public inquiry to deal with the issue of the CPC's, and the new town corporation said that it wanted 2,700 acres of land—mostly good agricultural land—upon which 68 owners and farmers, mostly farmers, lived and worked. The land was wanted for a land bank, and from the time when the announcement was made that 2,700 acres were required the whole thing was shrouded in silence and secrecy and no one could discover what on earth was happening.

Now, after the inquiry which started in November of last year and ended in January of this year, it seems that instead of 2,700 acres being wanted immediately, all that will be required until about 1986 is some 300 acres of land. Ever since the inquiry, which ended in January of this year, those who live in the Grimsargh and Haighton areas whose land has been subject to this uncertainty have been wondering whether their areas will, in the end, be included in the new town.

I hope that I do not use extravagant language, but this seems to be planning gone crazy and it is driving the people in these areas to despair. They want certainty, and I beg the Minister to let them know as soon as possible precisely what is to happen to them and their land. They ask for no more.

Is not the true position that the people of Haighton and Grimsargh know for certain what the plans were but are fighting them because their chief concern is not over the countryside but to prevent corporation tenants from living in the area, and that for that reason they have formed an organisation called Scrap which wants to scrap the new town entirely?

One could not hear a more absurd suggestion, and that intervention on a point which I was trying to make with some gravity and seriousness could not be more inopportune or inexact.

These people are farmers. They have owned and worked the land for many years, and in some cases it has been in their families for centuries. If they wish to fight the invasion, as they see it, of a new town into their area, they have every right to do so and I shall give them every support I can in their fight. I am shocked to hear the hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) suggesting that the only motive for opposing the use of this good agricultural land is that the people do not want council tenants to move into their area.

If the hon. Gentleman thinks that it is ersatz indignation he ought to visit the area and hear for himself what these people say and feel about their land. I, as their Member of Parliament, am trying to express their indignation. It is my duty to do so, and I shall do it in spite of the kind of comment made by the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Kerr). I ask the Minister to assure the people who live in these areas that delays will be kept to a minimum.

As I understand it, the Bill increases the amount of capital that will be available for investment in the new towns from £1,500 million to £1,700 million, and with the consent of Parliament up to £2,250 million. These are astronomical sums. The original cost of the Central Lancashire new town was estimated to be £500 million, but the figure is now £900 million. It was said originally that it would take about 20 years to establish, but now it will probably be 30, 40 or even 50 years before it is developed, and what the cost will be then I should not dare to calculate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones) said that getting information from the Government was a slow and painful process. Anyone who has tried to get information about the future of a new town knows that the process is even slower and more painful. I address the Minister on just one matter. I am sure it is one that troubles him just as it troubled many of his predecessors. It is the problem of how to balance the need for confidence, which in some issues must be preserved in the public interest, with the need to keep the public who are immediately affected by decisions as fully informed as possible.

I know that there are difficulties—we all appreciate that—but I ask, and I know that I shall not ask in vain, the Minister to understand that the people in these areas need to know, and deserve to know, as soon as they can properly be told, just what is to happen to them and their land. I beg the Minister to do all in his power to achieve that simple exercise in communication.

5.38 p.m.

I am grateful for this opportunity to speak in the House on the New Towns Bill. As the House knows, I represent Cumbernauld new town. In fact, it is the major part of my constituency. Apart from having that honour, I have personal and happy associations with the new town because I stayed there for three years after my marriage and taught at two of the local high schools. I have also had the great pleasure of working in local elections in Cumbernauld new town, invariably with great success for my party.

Cumbernauld is the third oldest of the Scottish new towns, having been designated in 1955, and no one in the West of Scotland can doubt the service which it has provided in giving decent accommodation to the overspill population of Glasgow. In fact, 80 per cent. of the current population of Cumbernauld—which is 44,000—about 40,000 are Glasgow overspill, and surveys on Cumbernauld have shown that the people of Glasgow like living in the town. The University of Strathclyde conducted a survey which showed that 87 per cent. liked the town as a whole, 89 per cent. were satisfied with their houses, 76 per cent. felt that they had bettered themselves by moving to Cumbernauld and more than 90 per cent. commented on their friendly neighbours.

Cumbernauld is not there just to solve the housing programme of Glasgow, major though that problem is. It must become an economic growth point in West-Central Scotland, an area that is crying out for economic growth and revitalisation. Two years ago, the new town doubled in size in one day when an extra 3,638 acres was given to it for development. The Cumbernauld Development Corporation has worked hard and long to build up the present community but it has expressed several fears about this new designated area. I hope that the Minister will be able to answer some of these points—if not today, perhaps when we have a fuller debate at some later stage.

Cumbernauld relies heavily on service and distribution industries and would like more manufacturing industries. We hope that the Government have some schemes in mind. Perhaps when the official Opposition stop blocking the Scottish Development Agency it will have some powers to do just this.

Second, we are concerned about the lack of employment opportunities for school leavers. Since the town was designated a new town in 1955, and we have a predominance of young people, our school leavers are now looking for employment. Cumbernauld should not be just an outer suburb of Glasgow. We should like more offices—perhaps Government offices, whether of the British Government or, as we hope, ultimately the Scottish Government.

Third, there is a fear that the cut in Government education expenditure will affect the new towns adversely. The educational facilities of Cumbernauld have been one of the major attractions to industrialists as well as to ordinary people. We want to ensure that children who live in the new designated areas will not have to cross the busy Glasgow-Stirling trunk road to reach the schools in the older part of the town in Ravenswood and Seafar. Could the Minister discuss this problem with Strathclyde Regional Council, which has a great problem in providing educational facilities? We do not want Cumbernauld to be adversely affected.

Many hon. Members have spoken of the development of a community as a new town. One of the most important things is that it should have all the vital services. Cumbernauld sadly lacks one vital service—that of a hospital. There are very poor dental and medical facilities there. Although we have a predominantly young community, we also have our share of old-age pensioners. We were greatly distressed to learn that the Greater Glasgow Health Board has said that it can no longer cope with the geriatric patients from Cumbernauld. Those people now have nowhere to go. We hope that a geriatric unit will be set up in the near future and that ultimately we shall have a full general hospital. This is essential since the town is to have a population of 90,000 by the mid–1980s.

Turning to local government relations with the development corporations, I was distressed to read in paragraph 8 of the consultative document that the Government have no plans to encourage direct elections to the corporations. When I go around Cumbernauld and in my surgeries residents refer to members of the Corporation as the faceless bureaucrats, the people they do not know and who are not interested in them. This is very sad, because the development corporation has worked hard for the community. Direct elections could help to eradicate that attitude. The people would then feel that they were participating in local decision making which affected them.

The appointment of people to development corporations lays them open to political patronage, to which my party is strongly opposed. I should like to cite an example of this from Cumbernauld New Town, One of the leading lights of the local Labour Party, soundly beaten at the local elections, was immediately appointed deputy-chairman of the development corporation on a salary of £2,000 a year. That has caused very bad feeling in the community, and I am sure that such things happen in other new towns, irrespective of the parties concerned. This kind of patronage cannot go on if the people in the new towns are to feel that they are participating in decision making.

The hon. Lady is making extremely sweeping criticisms. Is she suggesting that appointees to development corporations should not have party affiliations? If it was always the same party involved, one would agree with her, but surely people who take part in public life and politics are the best appointees, if there are to be appointees.