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Commons Chamber

Volume 932: debated on Friday 20 May 1977

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House Of Commons

Friday 20th May 1977

The House met at Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Sir Peter Kirk

I must inform the House that I have written in the name of the House to the President of the European Parliament to thank him for the courtesy he showed to this House and in particular for his tribute by attending yesterday at St. Margaret's, Westminster, the service in memory of our former colleague, Sir Peter Kirk.

Perhaps I may respectfully thank you, Mr. Speaker, for what you have just said in regard to the visit of the President of the European Parliament and the memorial service yesterday to Sir Peter Kirk.


Disabled Persons (Vehicles)

11.5 a.m.

I present a petition containing over 1,000 signatures. The majority of the signatories are my constituents. The petition recites the concern of the signatories at the statement of the Secretary of State for Social Services on 23rd July 1976

in that it removes the assurance of continued independent mobility for those severely disabled persons now driving invalid tricycles.
It prays for legislation immediately to
guarantee the right of continued independent mobility to current invalid tricycle drivers when the supply of tricycles is exhausted, in order to allay their great anxiety for the future.
It also asks for the restoration immediately of
the option of a suitably adapted car or an invalid tricycle to new applicants for mobility assistance under the powers granted to the Secretary of State for Social Services by Section 33 of the Health Services and Public Health Act 1968,
and for the active promotion of
projects to design and produce specialised vehicles which will enable an increasing number of severely disabled people to enjoy independent mobility.
The petition further asks for the promotion of
a total policy on mobility
and concludes, as is appropriate, with the words
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.

To lie upon the Table.

11.7 a.m.

I beg leave to present a petition to the House on behalf of the Faversham Disabled Club in conjunction with the Kent Association for the Disabled. The petition is supported by 3,935 signatories who reside in or near the Faversham constituency. The petitioners pray that this House should

take all the necessary steps to promote a total policy on mobility which will ensure that a choice is available to severely disabled between a mobility allowance set at a level which will enable the purchase and maintenance of appliances that they need, the issue of a specialised vehicle or the issue of a suitably adapted car; which policy should be implemented with all possible urgency.

To lie upon the Table.

Orders Of The Day

Passenger Vehicles (Educa Tional And Other Purposes) Bill

As amended ( in the Standing Committee), considered.

Clause 4

Short Title, Interpretation, Commencement And Extent

11.8 a.m.

I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 5, line 1, leave out

'Passenger Vehicles (Educational and Other Purposes)'
and insert 'Minibus'.

When this excellent Bill, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt), received its Second Reading on 11th February, I said that it was in every respect a splendid measure because it was beginning to chip away at our archaic licensing laws. I added that the new freedom that the Bill would give to those who wished to operate minibuses and the advantages which it would confer upon the disadvantaged—namely, those who wished to engage in sporting or other activities—were in every respect admirable.

There was only one criticism which I made then of the Bill, and that was concerning its Title. Prolixity—this is a lawyer speaking, Mr. Speaker—is one of the vices of the age, and it is often the vice of the virtuous—the one blemish on an otherwise unstained character. My hon. Friend deserved all those tributes, but I cannot imagine why he described the Bill as the Passenger Vehicles (Educational and Other Purposes) Bill when he could so much better and more fruitfully have described it as the Minibus Bill. That is the only criticism I make of my hon. Friend. Happily, we have the opportunity of putting right this tiny blemish in the Bill.

What is remarkable is that this tendency to prolixity, which is sometimes the vice of lawyers, is a continuing vice of successive Governments. The bureaucracy of the Civil Service rejoices in using 10 words if one will serve the purpose equally well. However—and this is why this morning is such a memorable occasion—the Under-Secretary of State for Transport has indicated to my hon. Friend and to myself that the Government favour this change in the Bill or, if that is going too far, at least will not object to it. Therefore, we ought to pay tribute this morning to the Undersecretary of State. In a Committee upstairs I described him as one of the rising stars of an otherwise really bad Government, and I repeat that tribute this morning.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that "meteor" would have been a more happy choice of phrase, cutting the number of words by 50 per cent?

I now propose to give way to the Minister. I almost called him my hon. Friend, but I suppose I shall get into trouble with the Government side if I do that. No doubt the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud), the Shadow Secretary of State for the Liberal Party, will be able to make his comments later.

I commend the amendment to the House. It has the virtue of brevity. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his splendid Bill, and I hope that the House will on other occasions make further progress in ridding our country of the pernicious licensing laws.

I welcome the suggestion of the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow). If I had to choose, there is only one title for the Bill that I could perhaps prefer to "Minibus", and that is "Hunt". That would be an even shorter title, use even fewer letters and be even more graphic and memorable.

I am sure that the measure will be known as the Hunt Act when it becomes law, just as many other measures have come to be known by the names of their originators. I am thinking of the Dykes Act, whose proper title I can never remember. We do not have a Gow Act, but I am sure that if we had some Gow Acts we should all know what they were about. Nevertheless, I welcome the suggestion that this measure should be called the Minibus Bill.

I should like briefly to concur with all that has been said. Instead of criticising his hon. Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt) for bringing in this very good Bill, which would have been totally unnecessary had it not been for the over-exertion of chief constables in bringing pointless prosecutions, the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) should have directed his criticism to the Public Bill Office which is, of course enormously helpful, but if ever I heard words that seem to have come straight from those helpful people in the Public Bill Office, the Public Vehicles (Educational and Other Purposes) Bill is just that.

Whether it is called the Minibus Bill, which I hope it will be, or the Hunt Bill, which I think would be dangerous—and I speak as someone who has considered a number of Bills trying to abolish anything to do with hunting, coursing and similar recreations—the Title would be unfortunate. It would conjure up other types of pastime than legalising what should never have been illegal.

If a bus is used for purposes other than financial gain, competence, rather than a pernickety licence which is difficult to get, for which there is a long waiting list and which involves many people who are desperately against granting anything the first time because there is always the chance the second time, should be the deciding factor.

I wish the hon. Gentleman well. If I may express one hope, it is that when he is as fortunate in the draw next year as he was this year his Bill will be one that will have more resounding consequences for the nature of life in our country.

11.15 a.m.

I, too, support the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wirrall (Mr. Hunt) on his Bill.

I think that the importance of what is being done in changing the Title is that it underlines the very importance of the Bill. If I were to quarrel in any way with what was said by the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud), it would be on the basis that I regard this as an extremely important Bill not only for what it does, but for what it replaces. Its direct achievement is the help that it will give to voluntary organisations and schools, and no one who has studied those areas will dispute the need for that help.

The Bill is also important for what it replaces. The measure is now to be called the Minibus Bill. That is right, because what it illustrates is that the law that we are changing is not a post-war piece of legislation, but the Road Traffic Act 1930, an Act based on the 1928 Royal Commission on transport, an Act based on the transport conditions in this country in the decade following the First World War and, not surprisingly, that legislation is now out of date.

No one had ever heard of minibuses at the stage when that Act was drafted and brought into effect. The problems with which we are dealing today are not those dealt with by that Act. The Bill has sensibly brought the law up to date. It has recognised the need and by a series of sensible reforms has sought to meet it.

Almost certainly the Bill is not the last word on the subject, because new needs will appear and the law will have to take account of them, but surely what we should learn is that there are other parts of the licensing law that need to be reformed. This is not in any sense the end of the process.

My hon. Friend has produced an extremely valuable Bill. It marks the beginning of a reforming process that an incoming Conservative Government will complete. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne on finding a much better Title for the Bill, which in itself is an important contribution to that process of reform.

I rise to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) on his powers of persuasion and his charm, which have apparently persuaded the Government on this rare occasion to accept an amendment from this side of the House. I applaud my hon. Friend's desire to reduce the length of the Title of the Bill and to cut down prolixity. This is a worthy amendment, but I wonder whether the new Title might not be somewhat misleading.

I very much welcome the Bill and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt) on introducing it. I agree that this is a much needed reform and that it will give great assistance to those voluntary organisations and certain bodies within the educational sphere, but we have to understand that this measure has a limited objective.

Indeed, we know from the Long Title that we are concerned to
"Make provision for the use of certain motor vehicles by bodies concerned with education, with religion, with social welfare or with other activities for the benefit of the community,"
but we know that the benefit of the community in this instance does not allow the making of profit by other individuals, and therefore we are concerned only with a limited use of minibuses. I should not like people to get the impression that the Minibus Act, as it will be known, is somehow to be seen as a charter that at last deals with the problem of allowing the freer use of commercial minibuses, particularly in rural areas.

I welcome the change. I welcome the Bill. I hope that it will be seen as a paving measure for a Minibus (No. 2) Bill that will take away some of the restrictions that are imposed on the use of commercial minibuses in many areas where there are totally inadequate bus services. It should be understood by the public that this measure has a limited purpose and is only a stepping stone, or a paving measure, for a much broader objective for the future—I hope that my hon. Friend will be successful in the Ballot next year and will introduce a Minibus (No. 2) Bill either from the Front Bench or the Back Benches. Let this Bill be seen as a move towards a liberalisation of the bus services in rural areas.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) first mentioned his intention to put down this amendment on Second Reading. Since then I have mulled it over and I have come to the conclusion, as my hon. Friend has urged me on these occasions, to be bold and to accept it.

As my hon. Friend said on Second Reading, the Bill is all about minibuses. I recognise that its Title at the moment is quixotically chivalrous and the amendment makes it much more relevant. The Title proposed by my hon. Friend has the merit of assisting the kind of organisations that I seek to help in the Bill by unequivocally announcing its relevance to their transport activities. Many of these organisations have little acquaintance with legislation. I see now that it is useful that the Title of the Bill should be as clear and concise as possible.

During my consultations I have noticed again and again a widespread lack of knowledge of the present law relating to minibuses. The amendment will go some way to ensuring that my Bill will become more widely known. Originally, I had intended to include larger vehicles, but this is no longer the case. I accept the amendment and recommend it to the House.

Does the hon. Gentleman feel that the one reservation to prolixity in this case is that if someone wished to know what the laws concerning minibuses were he might feel that the Hunt Bill might tell him all, whereas, having got the Minibus Bill out, he would simply learn something which he never knew could be done, namely, that anyone can drive a minibus?

I am much obliged. I wish that the Title of an Act gave one information about the whole subject, but I do not believe that any transport Act tells all about transport.

I happen to be one of those hon. Members who believe that sooner or later we shall have to codify our law. I would welcome that since if a member of the public goes into the public library and looks up minibuses, he should be able to find the whole of the law relating to minibuses, and the same for transport, landlord and tenant, and every other area of the law. But, unfortunately, that time is still far off. At least the Bill will tell him something about minibuses.

My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) said the Bill went some way, and one looks forward to a further Minibus Bill as and when this experiment, which must by necessity be an experiment, has been working for some time. There are two points that I would add. First, I have had a large number of inquiries about when the new system will be in operation. If all goes well, I hope that the Bill will become law in July. Under the terms of the Bill, its provisions come into effect three months after the Act is passed. This will give time for the necessary orders and regulations to be drawn up.

I understand that preliminary informal consultations have already started. I therefore hope that the new permit system will come into operation by about October. All organisations will be able to apply through a simple procedure for a special permit that will be stuck on the windscreen. My Bill has a limited purpose, I agree, but it is aimed at helping charities, schools, churches, voluntary organisations and organisations concerned with social welfare. It will, I hope, provide a much-needed boost to their activities.

Secondly, I should like to say a word about safety. Carrying passengers, and particularly children, is a heavy responsibility. Let me make it clear that the Minibus Bill does not relax any safety requirements. All minibuses from 1st January will have to take a specially extended MOT test at special Government testing stations. Under EEC roadworthiness rules, an annual test will be required in due course once the vehicle is a year old. Fitness conditions will be laid down under the Bill, and these will be minimum standards. I hope that all organisations will ensure that the higher standards of safety will be maintained at all times.

The Minibus Bill establishes for the minibus a special and unique place in our law. It will be seen by many as an important experiment that will be watched closely by other countries. This is the result of months of consultation with more than 250 organisations, and it will, I hope, establish a system that will be effective for many years to come.

I recommend that the House accepts the amendment. It also recognises the work done by the original working party, whose report was entitled "Fare Deal for Minibuses". I hope the Bill provides a fair deal for those minibuses that are used by these organisations.

I am much obliged for all the kind remarks that have been said during this short discussion which, I understand, has been merely on the amendment. I hope that the House will accept the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 56 ( Third Reading), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

Rentcharges Bill

Not amended ( in the Standing Committee), considered.

Clause 2

Creation Of Rentcharges Prohibited

11.27 a.m.

I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 2, line 6, at end insert 'or'.

With this we may take the following amendments:

No. 2, in page 2, leave out lines 7 and 8.

Government Amendments Nos. 3, 12, 16 and 21.

I should like to deal briefly with Amendments Nos. 1, 3, 12, 16 and 21. The other amendment stands in the name of the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page). I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) for withdrawing his proposed amendment to Clause 2 so that I can give it further consideration. I agree with him, and with the right hon. Member for Crosby, that we should try to cut down, so far as practical, any exceptions to the main purpose of the Bill.

I have come to the conclusion that the case for retaining the provisions of paragraph 8 of Schedule 1 to the Leasehold Reform Act 1967 is not a strong one, and we are prepared to forgo it in the interests of the passage of the Bill. The repeal of that paragraph in the 1967 Act is dealt with in Amendment No. 21. That entails making certain consequential and transitional amendments. These are dealt with in Amendments Nos. 1, 3, 12 and 16.

I am glad that the Government are prepared to support the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Evans), who promoted the Bill, in reducing the number of exceptions to rent-charges. The amendments grouped with the one which the Minister has moved relate to another paragraph and another exemption in addition.

If I may just recap on the previous debates, we all agreed that the purpose of the Bill to abolish rentcharges had two reasons behind it—first, to remove what was felt to be an injustice, an imposition, a payment for nothing, because the original consideration for this payment has long been forgotten, and to relieve people of the anxiety of having to pay an annual rentcharge.

But the second reason, as I see it, is to simplify conveyancing, the transfer of property and the title of property. That again, is an important matter when we are considering the cost of sale and purchase of houses.

If we leave too many exceptions to the general rule that rentcharges shall not in future be created and that those which are in existence shall be redeemed, we are not de-complicating conveyancing and we are not simplifying the title to property as much as we might.

This subsection deals with the exemptions to the general rule that rentcharges shall not in future be created. In the first four exemptions, it is quite clear that it is exempting those charges which are paid for some purpose which can be seen. The first two cases, paragraphs (a) and (b) are the case of the settlement and trust for sale. The advantage there is that they do not really attach to the land. Under a settlement and a trust for sale, one can provide for charges which follow the money rather than the land, and they can be detached from the land. Certainly one can see that there is some good reason—some family arrangement—for a charge of this kind.

The next two, paragraphs (c) and (d), are cases where the payment is being made for something—the estate rent-charge for services to the property. In the fourth one, again one can see that it is made for something in return.

But when we get to paragraph (e) and (f), these are the rentcharges created by the court and the rentcharges created when leasehold property is enfranchised. They seem to be exactly the same in their nature as those rentcharges which the Bill is forbidding in future and redeeming where they now exist, and I think that we can do without both of them. In the case of leasehold reform rentcharges, I am glad that the Government are prepared to accept their removal as an exemption, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Caerphilly will be happy about it. But I wish to argue the point about leaving the court the power to create rentcharges in future—in other words, to create exactly that which the Bill is abolishing.

First, is there any need for this? The Commission gave its reasons for this in paragraph 52 of its report. It said:
"Thirdly, rentcharges created by, or in accordance with the requirements of, any court order. Such an order may well take the form of an order for payment of periodical sums, and we do not think that the court should be inhibited from causing the payments to be secured by a charge on land belonging to the person liable".
I intervene to ask, why not? We are forbidding this for every other citizen. Are we to have citizens before the court who will be able, by means of litigation, to create rentcharges which everyone else is forbidden to do?

The Commission goes on in its report:
"In many (perhaps most) cases the result will be a secured 'family' annuity very similar to those included within the first head of exceptions".
That is so. The court can do what it would wish to do in administration proceedings, in proceedings between members of a family to settle some provisions under a will or a settlement, and so on, by means of a settlement or a trust for sale.

I see no reason why we should give the court power to create rentcharges merely by an order of the court in settlement of the case. It will still leave that possibility on the title to the property. Therefore, we are not simplifying conveyancing by leaving this. We are not simplifying the litigation in which it may be created. If there are proceedings in court where a settlement is to be considered by some periodical payment, and if there are a number of alternatives for the parties to the proceedings to put before the court or to say that that operation should not be used by the court, it will only complicate the proceedings.

In this case, we should be clear and forbid the creation of a rentcharge by a court order. There is no need to give the court that power. It can make all its useful orders in family arrangements by means of a settlement or a trust for sale.

I agree with the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) that the purpose of the Bill is to do away with an injustice, that being a rentcharge for which the payer can see no purpose and in which the person who receives it has no other interest in the land than receiving a continual periodical payment.

But it seems clear now—and I agree with the Law Commission—that an order made by the court for security for the payment of periodical sums does not come within that category.

The right hon. Gentleman will know that the usual type of order of this kind is where the court has made an order in respect of maintenance payments in matrimonial proceedings. I cannot think that that comes under the heading of the mischiefs which this Bill seeks to cure. I cannot see why it is right in this Bill to prevent a court making an order of security on a husband's home if that is the only method which it can envisage of securing a payment to the wife. That is the most usual situation in which a court would make that order and, although I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we want to cut out superfluous or unnecessary rentcharges, I do not think that this form is one which the Bill deals with or ought to deal with.

I do not think that I need expand on the very proper and correct reason which the Law Commission gives for including this subsection in Clause 2. So, although I am always eager and willing to listen to what the right hon. Member for Crosby says on this subject, I must tell him that I propose to resist his Amendment No. 2.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 3, in page 2, line 8, leave out from 'court' to end of line 10.—[ Mr. Marks.]

I beg to move Amendment No. 5, in page 2, line 20, after 'services', insert 'or easements'.

This is an amendment to the definition of "estate rentcharge". As was said in our previous discussion, estate rentcharges are an exception to the general rule that rentcharges shall not in future be created and that those which exist shall be redeemed or have the possibility of redemption.

The estate rentcharge is one which is paid for something done to the property, something being done to the property, and something in respect of which the payer can see that he is getting some return.

Again I refer to the Law Commission's Report. In para. 48, it mentions a distinct group of separate freehold houses or a single building divided into separate freehold parts, and it says that in such cases, to preserve the rights against various parts of those properties a rentcharge is imposed.

In such a case, there is a need for a payment of this kind. It is necessary for a charge to be imposed on the property because, otherwise, the positive covenants would not be enforceable or, to put it the other way, there would be difficulty in enforcing the positive covenants in many cases.

We still have the strange legal position that negative covenants run with the land but positive covenants do not. Why have no "Government—I am criticising the Conservative Government when they were in office as well as any other Government—taken the bull by the horns and legislated in accordance with the Wilberforce Report on positive covenants and made them enforceable? We were unable to take leasehold reform to its proper limit and apply it to flats as well as houses because no Government had taken action on the Wilberforce Report and made positive covenants enforceable.

We are now dealing with the same problem because here are charges placed on property merely for the purpose of enforcing positive covenants. Given covenants between flat owners in one building where they each rely on the support of the other owners in the building, the issue can be solved by ordinary long leases, but in many cases the problem has been solved by imposing rent charges on all the property—namely, all the parts of the property in separate ownership. That was a purpose of the estate rent charge.

Clause 2(4) states:
"a rentcharge created for the purpose—(b) of meeting, or contributing towards, the cost of the performance by the rent owner of covenants for the provision of services".
I presume that to that extent one would have to show that services were being provided. I do not think that we are told in the Bill exactly what "services" are. We are not told whether we are to take them as the sort of services that we have described in furnished dwelling house legislation on rent control, but some service has to be shown for that. The paragraph goes on to describe
"the carrying out of maintenance or repairs, the effecting of insurance or the making of any payment by him for the benefit of the land affected by the rentcharge or for the benefit of that and other land."
There are cases in which property has been divided up from a larger area and in which rights of light or rights of way over the property are retained by the vendor, rights reserved as easements over that property. It may be that the promoter or the Minister will be able to satisfy me that a payment made by what we know in law as the dominant owner to the servient owner for the right to use a way or for the right to have his light maintained to his building, may not be a rentcharge at all.

Perhaps it is not one of the matters that we are abolishing but I wish to be quite certain because when payment is made for a right to use a certain pathway or road, or the right to have the light to one's windows maintained and not blocked by someone building too close, it may be described as an estate rentcharge. I hope that that sort of rentcharge, if it be such a charge, can be an exemption from the general rule about abolishing rent charges which is now being applied under the Bill.

11.45 a.m.

It should be made clear that where the owner of one piece of land or one building is providing rights to the owner of an adjoining piece of land or building and is receiving payment for that provision, although he is not under an obligation to keep the right of way in repair or anything of that sort, he will still be able to receive those payments without being obliged in a later part of this measure to have it redeemed, and that we shall still be able to create a liability to pay under circumstances of that sort.

As the right hon. Gentleman said in moving an earlier amendment, one of the objects of the Bill is to reduce to the minimum—he did not use these words but this is what he was implying—the type of rentcharge that can be created. That formed the basis of his argument on Amendment No. 1. The present amendment goes against that principle. I am not suggesting that it is wished that it should do so, but in fact it goes against the principle.

In the view of the Government, the amendment is unacceptably wide. There is no need for the device of rentcharge to be used to pay a rent owner for providing an easement. It is difficult to imagine that a rent owner would covenant to provide an easement or right of way or light and seek to secure reimbursement by way of a rentcharge. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has any examples of that being done.

There are many occasions when an annual payment is made to retain a right of light and to prove that it is a right of light. Payment is frequently made for that very purpose. The payment may be only a shilling a year—sometimes it is considerably more than that—but payments are made for such easements.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. In my experience the more common method is that the owner simply provides an easement right of way of right of light, the value of it being reflected in the price of the property that enjoys the benefit of it. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that that is the more common method, although I do not dispute that in some cases what he says may be correct.

If payments of this nature are made to secure an easement, I am advised that it would be a rentcharge. I can put the right hon. Gentleman's mind at rest in that respect. I accept that what he says does arise but the occasions are very rare. It is the view of those advising me that such payments could be classified as rentcharges. I see no reason unnacessarily to widen the category of types of rentcharge that can be created, and for the reasons I have given I do not think that the amendment is necessary.

Amendment negatived.

Clause 3

Extinguishment Of Rentcharges

I beg to move Amendment No. 6, in page 3, line 18, at end insert

'otherwise than by an amount or amounts on a date or dates stated in the instrument'.

We may consider at the same time Amendment No. 13, in Clause 9, page 9, line 8, at end insert

'and in the case of a rentcharge the annual amount of which alters (as provided by the instrument creating it) by fixed amounts on fixed dates, one sixtieth of the total amount payable in respect thereof during the period of 60 years immediately preceding its extinguishment under section 3(1) of this Act'.

I am much obliged to you, Mr. Speaker, for selecting Amendment No. 13 for consideration at the same time, since the two amendments go together.

In Committee, we had considerable discussion about what is described in the Bill as a variable rentcharge. If I understand aright, variable rentcharges may still be created but they are not subject to redemption until they cease to be variable rentcharges.

Let us go back to the beginning, as it were, and consider the purpose of Clause 3. The clause provides that every rentcharge shall be extinguished at the expiry of 60 years beginning with the passing of the Bill or beginning with the date on which the rentcharge first becomes payable. It is that last provision which affects the variable rentcharge in particular, that is, a rentcharge which is not the same sum each year but which may vary with the circumstances described in the instrument creating the rentcharge. It may be a rentcharge which varies according to some event or circumstance which itself may vary from year to year, such as the rateable value of the property. A change in the rentcharge may take place on a death or some other event which cannot be pinpointed as a date in the future.

That is one type of variable rentcharge. I see the extreme difficulty of saying either that that variable rentcharge shall be deemed to start on a particular date while it is still variable or that one can fix the amount of redemption.

However, where the rentcharge varies by specific amounts on specific dates set out in the instrument, we can say that it is in the nature of a fixed rentcharge, and there is no difference in principle between the rentcharge which varies on specified dates and by specified amounts and the rentcharge which is the same amount every year.

In subsection (4), therefore, which lays down that the extinguishment provisions shall not apply to a variable rentcharge, I seek by Amendment No. 6 to exclude therefrom the rentcharge which, although variable, is by the instrument under which it was created payable on specific dates at specific amounts.

The subsection goes on to say that where a rentcharge
"ceases to be variable, subsection (1) above shall apply "—
subsection (1) being the extinguishment provision—
"as if the date on which the rentcharge first became payable were the date on which it ceased to be variable."
At the end of the clause I have introduced my amendment which would make a variable rentcharge payable by fixed amounts on fixed dates a rentcharge which should be extinguished under Clause 3 in the period of 60 years.

I turn now to Amendment No. 13, which would deal with the redemption of a rentcharge of that nature, that is, a rentcharge of fixed amounts which, although they vary, will vary only on fixed dates specified in the instrument creating the rentcharge. Amendment No. 13 applies to Clause 10(1), which sets out what appears to be a rather complicated formula. The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment did splendidly with this in Committee, giving us examples of how the formula would work out and almost producing a sliderule to help us. In fact, however, it is not so terribly complicated. One symbol in it, indicating the amount of the annual rentcharge to be redeemed, is the letter R. That is easy enough to introduce into the formula if it is a fixed sum which does not change annually.

However, since we are here basing our system on extinguishment over a period of 60 years, if the sum is not the same every year, why can we not make a simple addition to the formula, that is, adding up the total payments over the 60 years and dividing by 60, so that, even if the specified amounts vary over that period—starting off at £2 for 10 years, then £4 for the next 10 years and so on—one can tot up the total amount payable over the 60 years and then divide by 60? It seems to me that that would produce the same sort of figure as is produced when the amount is the same each year.

Amendment No. 13, therefore, is designed to introduce into the symbol R the added item where it is not just the fixed annual amount of the rentcharge to be redeemed but the varying amount, provided that the sums are fixed and the dates are fixed. One would then add into the symbol R in the formula one-sixtieth of the total amount payable over the 60 years.

I am not a mathematician. I do not profess to be skilled at these matters, especially when I have to square certain figures, as I have to do in this formula, when I need log tables and the rest. But I have applied what seems to me to be a simple solution to this matter. The serious side of it is that if we say that variable rentcharges of the kind which I have described shall not be subject to the Bill after it becomes an Act, we shall leave a considerable hole through which the Bill can be avoided. I hope that by means of the formula which I have proposed we can close that hole at least partly.

I cannot deal with variable rentcharges where we do not know the dates on which they will vary, the occasions on which they will vary, or even the amounts, but where both the amounts and the dates are known I think that we can introduce this item into the formula and say that such rentcharges shall be extinguished under the redemption formula.

First, I congratulate the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) on endeavouring to invent a formula for variable rentcharges. He has found one which could quite simply be added to the formula which we already have in the Bill.

However, I know that the right hon. Gentleman would not wish to see in the Bill any element of confiscation. The purpose of the formula in the Bill is to find a way of ensuring that the rent owner receiving the payment for redemption should have sufficient to give him the same income, broadly speaking, over the perpetual period which would previously have applied.

The Government would not support any move towards confiscation, and I think it right at this point to explain something about the purpose of the Bill which people in the country, especially in Manchester and Bristol, may have misunderstood. What the Bill does is to prevent the creation of rentcharges in the vast majority of cases, to simplify the apportionment and redemption system, and to cut out some of the charges in that. It does not immediately abolish all rentcharges.

Therefore, before there is any dancing in the streets of Bristol and Manchester, I want that to be clear. There may well have been dancing in the streets of Bristol last night, and there may well be dancing in the streets of Manchester tomorrow night, but the connection will be with football rather than with the Rentcharges Bill.

The Minister must not be so partisan as all that. The dancing will be in the streets of Liverpool tomorrow night.

12 noon.

As the Member for Manchester, Gorton I was modest enough to say that there may be dancing in the streets of Manchester, and I could lose a lot on that, too.

These questions of variable rentcharges were dealt with at great length in Committee and I spoke in particular about the possibility of extinguishing them. But any automatic extinguishment of a rentcharge, even one which rises by fixed amounts on fixed dates, carries with it an element of confiscation which the rent owner cannot provide against with the redemption fee he receives. In particular, any rises in the rentcharge, which would take effect under the instrument creating it, after the end of the 60-year extinguishment period would not be catered for by the formula, and the rent owner could not be expected to set aside out of the annual payments he receives during the 60 years an investment to provide an equivalent rising income after the rentcharge is extinguished. That is precisely what I know the right hon. Gentleman does not want to see. In Committee I dealt with the matter at length, and it is referred to in columns 89 and 90 of the Official Report of the Committee proceedings.

The reasons for not accepting the amendment to Clause 10 are similar. In effect the amendment requires that in the case of this sort of variable rentcharge the figure to be used as the annual amount of the rentcharge is to be the average of the annual amounts payable over the 60-year extinguishment period.

Again, this formula takes no account of any rises which would take place after the end of the 60 years. The amount of the redemption price would on this formula be an artificial figure based on the lower amount of rentcharge payable it its early years and would not provide a fund capable of bringing in a sum equivalent to the higher rent due in later years after redemption.

There is a further reason for not accepting the proposd formula in that it would not work similarly in all cases. The result would depend to a large extent on the amounts of rises in the rentcharge and the intervals at which they should take place. The redemption price arrived at to provide a similar substitute income could vary widely from case to case, even when it is a fixed charge, and that is why we are unable to accept the amendments.

I am disappointed with my hon. Friend's reply. In Committee it seemed that we faced two problems. First, there was the question of how to avoid expropriation, although many Members in Committee were prepared to see a small amount of that. Secondly, the problem was to produce a formula. The challenge was issued for someone to do so. If the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) can produce a formula in about 15 days, surely a Government Department could by now have produced a formula to cover the point.

If the right hon. Gentleman is happy that his formula does not involve too much expropriation, it seems that that would be accepted by the House as being a fair amount. I hope that in rejecting the amendment the Government will not shut their eyes completely to this problem of variable rent charges and that between now and when the Bill comes up for Third Reading in another place they will have further thoughts to see whether they can produce a solution to the problem.

I appreciate that one must consider whether any formula will be a formula of confiscation or expropriation of some right in property which is held by the rent owner. But when one gets beyond the 60 years, even though the instrument creating the rentcharge may provide for rises, those rises will be of a pretty low value.

At the bottom of page 19 in paragraph 58 of its report the Law Commission considers the figures required to be put aside out of the rentcharge each year in order to have a sum at the end of the 60 years which, when invested, will bring in the same as the rentcharge has brought in over the previous 60 years. It is shown that the amounts go down substantially throughout the years. By the time the sixtieth year is reached the figures are very small.

Therefore, the value of a rentcharge after the 60 years is not very great. This was the sort of thing that was recognised in dealing with leasehold reform, and the redemption of rentcharges appears to be very similar to leasehold reform. I agree that a formula which just adds up the total amount payable over 60 years and divides it by 60 is rather rough and ready justice. But I do not think that one would find a very great injustice to the rent owner who is obliged to accept redemption on that basis.

I may have been careless in something I said in moving the amendment when I spoke about the creation of variable rentcharges in future. I think I am right in saying that these are not excepted in any way. They may be excepted from extinguishment—I see the Under-Secretary nodding and therefore I hope that I am right—but I assume that it will not be possible to create them in the future. If I am right, that is a bit more relief to me in moving the amendment since I am dealing only with existing rentcharges.

I imagine that the Department of the Environment has some good idea how many variable rentcharges there are, certainly of the fixed variety. They will have been created perhaps, in the case of building sales for development purposes, but I do not think that many have been created. We know that rentcharges and chief rents of this sort exist only in certain parts of the country. I think that we could get a good idea of how many of these there are and to what extent there would be injustice.

This Bill has another stage to pass through in another place. I hope that the Department will not throw in the sponge over a formula for variable rentcharges and that some suitable formula will be found, even if the one which I have proposed is rather rough and ready. Perhaps the Department could smooth off the rough edges and come up with a reasonable solution. We should try to dispose of these fixed-date, fixed-amount variable rentcharges.

Perhaps I may reply briefly to the debate. On the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett), there is an argument for expropriation and I know that many people who pay chief rents in his area and mine would, whatever their political leanings, vote for expropriation. However, that is not what the Law Commission suggested or what is proposed in his Bill. We want as far as possible to provide justice in this matter.

Often a Bill may give rough justice, but we have gone as far as we can to be fair to the rent owners. In the case of variable rentcharges, what the right hon. Gentleman for Crosby (Mr. Page) said about amounts reducing towards the 60th year does not apply.

Frankly, I do not think we have any idea how many variable rentcharges there are. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that I should not throw in the sponge at an early date, and I do not propose to do so on this amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Clause 4

Application For Apportionment

I beg to move Amendment No. 7, in page 3, line 41, at end insert

'until the expiration of six weeks from the date of completion of the service upon all other owners of the land affected by that rentcharge of an advance copy or advance copies of the application conforming with the provisions of subsections (5) and (6) below.'

I understand that it is convenient to discuss at the same time the following amendments:

No. 8, in page 4, line 3, leave out 'equitably', and insert 'proposed to be'.

No. 9, in Clause 5, page 4, line 33, at end insert
'and upon all owners of the land affected by the rent charge if there has been no equitable apportionment'.
No. 10, in Clause 5, page 5, line 34, after 'applicant', insert
'and all other owners of the land affected by the rentcharge (if there has been no equitable apportionment)'.

Clause 4 deals with the apportionment of rentcharges which may apply or may originally have applied to a number of properties. By agreement between the rent owner and the rent payer, the rentcharge may already have been legally apportioned, but that can be done only if there is agreement between the two parties or between one party, the rent owner, and all the rent payers. Or it may have been legally apportioned by an order of the court. Otherwise, the rentcharge remains unapportioned. One payer may be responsible for the whole rentcharge, even though there is a great number of properties on which it is imposed. It is necessary before one redeems a rentcharge on one's own dwelling house, if it originally applied to several others as well, to have it apportioned and to find out what the amount is on that one property.

However, when one considers the machinery under Clause 4 as to how to go about apportionment, some complications arise, particularly under subsection (4):
"No application for apportionment may be made…in respect of any rentcharge which has not been equitably apportioned as between the land to which the application relates and other land affected by the rentcharge."
"Equitably apportioned" means that it has not been legally apportioned and there must be some arrangement among the several payers of the rentcharge before one may apply for apportionment.

This must put 99 per cent. of the payers of rentcharges in some difficulty. It is very seldom that one can point to an agreement between all the rent payers to share out the rent payment in certain amounts. They do pay them in certain amounts, but it may be difficult to point to any agreement. It is called "equitable" apportionment because the rent owner himself has not agreed with it. One must therefore consider an agreement among all rent payers before any one of them makes an application for an apportionment for his mount to be fixed.

I wanted to deal with cases where one cannot point to an agreement between the payers of the rentcharge to apportion it among themselves. However, I do not want to obstruct the application by the one who wants to redeem his rentcharge and therefore goes for an apportionment to start with.

Therefore, in Amendment No. 9, I have merely provided for a period of six weeks during which that rent payer who wishes to have an apportionment of the rentcharge, so that he knows exactly what is payable in respect of his land, must give notice to the others of his intention to make that application. If those others do not take some step to object to or to modify his proposed application, then the application shall be allowed to go forward. It puts the rent payer in great difficulty if he cannot ask for an apportionment when he cannot point to agreement among all the other rentcharge payers.

12.15 p.m.

It follows, in regard to subsection (5)—
"Every application…shall specify the amount equitably apportioned to the applicant's land "—
that he would not be able to comply with that if the amendment were accepted, but he would be able to propose in his application some amount which should be apportioned to his land. Therefore, in Amendment No. 8, I have suggested the replacement of the word "equitably" by the phrase "proposed to be"—that is to say, that the application should state the amount proposed to be apportioned to the applicant's land.

When the application comes before the Secretary of State under the procedure set out in Clause 5, he may decide that the equitable apportionment, or the proposed apportionment if the amendments are made, is not the right figure. If he so decides, he may be affecting other rentcharge payers, so it would be necessary, if the Secretary of State drew up a different apportionment to that required by the application, to give notice to the other owners of land affected by that same rentcharge. That is the purpose of Amendment No. 9, which adds to the subsection which already obliges the Secretary of State to send a copy of the draft order to the rent owner. It would oblige him also to send it to the other persons liable for the same rentcharge.

When the apportionment is finally made as provided under Clause 5(7) and the Secretary of State is obliged to send copies to the applicant and the rent owner, he would under Amendment No. 10 be obliged to send copies to the other persons affected by that rentcharge.

The whole procedure is an effort to simplify the existing procedure. There should not be an obligation on the person who applies for apportionment to search out the other people liable for the same rentcharge. The present procedure is precluding a rent payer from making the application at all. It is all very well to say, "We shall simplify the procedure. If you show that there has been an equitable apportionment and that all your neighbours agree on who should pay what, you need not notify your neighbours." Of course not, but he is precluded from making the application at all if he cannot show that he has already got the agreement of all his neighbours.

I am trying to provide not too complicated a procedure under which the rentcharge payer, who sometimes remains, both in law and in equity, liable for the whole of that rentcharge even though it is imposed on other property, will have a chance to ask the Secretary of State to apportion it although he has not gained agreement.

This, after all, is the purpose of the Bill. There are so many cases in practice in which, most unfairly, the whole rentcharge has been imposed on the owner of one property in a terrace, who has to collect it from the others. It is not easy for him, although he collects a certain amount from the others, to show that there is any agreement about their paying it. This is the case which would be greatly assisted by the amendments.

One of the special features of the apportionment scheme provided by the Bill, as most of us involved in the discussions on it so far have said, is that it is aimed specifically at simplifying and making the procedure less expensive. Towards that end, we have said that the applicant's co-rentpayers will no longer be made parties to the application. This is made possible by providing that legal apportionment, unless there are compell- ing reasons to the contrary, made under the statute, shall correspond with the existing equitable apportionment, where there is one. On this footing, the applicant's co-rentpayers are in no way affected.

The right hon. Gentleman said that this did not affect 99 per cent. of rent-payers, who are paying simple rentcharges or equitably apportioned rentcharges. If—and the right hon. Gentleman admits, therefore, that it would be an exceptional case—there is no existing equitable apportionment, this provision would not work.

The Department could not fix the applicant's scheme without consulting his co-rentpayers, and it would be wrong for the Secretary of State to be given the function of interfering in the arrangements, or potential arrangements, which exist between the rentpayers, some of whom, in any event, will not have asked the Secretary of State for a legal apportionment. It must, therefore, be up to the applicant to reach agreement with his neighbours as to what his share shall be before he asks the Department to make an order imposing that agreement on the rent owner. I recognise that the agreement of the rentpayers is not binding on the rent owner.

Amendment No. 8 would undermine the procedures. It would be possible for an applicant who had an equitable apportionment to apply for a legal apportionment and to propose a smaller amount, and he could do so without having to notify his co-rentpayers. For these reasons, I advise the House not to accept the amendment.

I am disappointed that the Under-Secretary of State has turned down the amendment, and that he did so very briefly without going in any depth into the very important position which is left in the air by the Bill. We are giving the public to understand that rentcharges are to be redeemed, that they will be extinguished after 60 years, so that all parties concerned had better get down to redeeming them now and clearing them off the title of the property. But we are putting this obstacle in the way of any rentcharge payer applying to the Secretary of State for his rent to be apportioned so that he may know exactly what is imposed on his property and then proceed to redeem it from his property.

I am disappointed that procedure has not been included in the Bill for the case where the person liable for the rentcharge may be unable to obtain the agreement of all those other persons who are liable for the same original charge, and therefore cannot get his apportionment. The hon. Gentleman says that the Secretary of State should not interfere between all the parties to this matter, both the rent owner and the rentcharge payers. But the whole procedure of apportionment and redemption is an interference between the rentcharge payer or payers and the rent owner. The Secretary of State will have in the Bill power to refuse the figure in the equitable opportionment and to put his own figure there. Therefore, he is already given the right to interfere as between the rent owner and the rent-charge payer. If the Secretary of State does interfere to that extent, and refuses to accept the figure in the equitable apportionment which appears in the application for apportionment, he is imposing a different figure on rentcharge payers who are not party to the proceedings at all. Let us take as an example a terrace of 10 houses, each occupier paying a rent-charge of £5 a year, the charges having been equitably opportioned among themselves. They all agree that they shall each pay £5 a year. But one of them wishes to have this legally apportioned. Thereby, having it set down legally that he is to pay £5 a year between the rent owner and himself, he can have it redeemed.

It goes before the Secretary of State, who, for example, says "Your house is a corner house. It is bigger than the others and much better, and you should pay a little more than the £5 that your neighbours are each paying." It may go the other way round. The Secretary of State may say "Your £5 is too much because you are in a corner house and are liable to road charges on either side. Therefore, you should pay a little less." If the Secretary of State does that, he is imposing something on the other rent-charge payers greater than the equitable apportionment.

It is no good using the argument that, under this procedure, the Secretary of State cannot and should not interfere in arrangements between rentcharge payers and the rent owner, because he is already doing so under the procedure. All I am asking is that he shall interfere to the extent of helping the rentcharge payer who cannot produce a firm agreement between himself and his neighbours as to who shall pay what. Without that, some people are suffering extreme hardship from being liable for the whole of the rentcharge when it should be legally apportioned between them and their neighbours.

I give an example from the point of view of the money involved. Again, let us take the case of the terrace of 10 houses. Looking at the legal documents, one finds that the man in the corner house is legally responsible for the whole lot. He wants to get a mortgage on his house. Every building society is prepared to give him a mortgage but wants some indemnity against his having to pay the whole of the rentcharge, or, if he fails to pay, or his neighbours fail to pay, the right of the rent owner to enter that property and to realise the rentcharge.

I do not know what the premiums are now for that. A few years ago, when—if I may declare an interest—I was a director of a building society, we used to provide through insurance companies for an indemnity against failure to pay rentcharges by the neighbours when there was not a legal apportionment. For a rentcharge of about £2, there was a once-for-all premium of about £30. Not a large sum is involved, but it may well be an encumbrance when an owner wishes to sell his property and a purchaser wants to get a mortgage.

The purchaser will go to the building society, whose solicitors find that there is this rentcharge on the property and say "You must have an insurance policy to indemnify us against having to pay that charge". So the circumstances in which an application for apportionment could be made should be extended to those cases where the applicant cannot prove that there is an equitable apportionment. He should be able to go to the Secretary of State by some form of procedure and say "Please apportion it for me". The formal procedure should be to give notice to the others concerned, and that is all my amendment would do.

12.30 p.m.

I wish to support the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page). It seems to me that, in this specific set of circumstances, we are probably dealing with the most needy among those cases affected by the Bill. Those who have had the greatest difficulty in persuading their neighbours to join in an agreement of this kind are most in need of this type of provision.

I can envisage a situation where, as the right hon. Member for Crosby has indicated, an elderly or infirm person who is responsible for collecting rentcharges in a terrace is afraid and unhappy about visiting his neighbours and asking them for money. For example, in my constituency there is a blind woman who would be afraid or worried about having to go to her neighbours to ask for an agreement of the kind described by the right hon. Member for Crosby. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will reconsider the circumstances outlined in the amendment before the Bill completes its final stages.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Noble) and the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) know that I want to have as few exceptions as possible in the Bill. I have great sympathy with what the right hon. Member for Crosby said about finding some form of procedure for dealing with this problem. One of the problems arises with terraced houses in industrial districts where the rentcharges are not equally apportioned. If there are examples where rentcharges are not equitably apportioned, they must be few in number. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale could find an example where the charges have not been equitably apportioned. I know that in some terraces there are all kinds of different charges—for example, charges of £2, £7 or £10.

I assure my hon. Friend and the right hon. Gentleman that I shall look at this matter again to see whether some way round the obvious disadvantage can be found. If so, perhaps this matter can be dealt with when the Bill goes to another place.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Undersecretary is only too well aware, after his consultations with me, as the promoter of the Bill, of the situation outlined by the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page).

In Committee I began to cite an example that I found in London, but I was interrupted by the lunch hour. The example concerned a lady who, as part of her family property, had inherited the receipt of rentcharges in Cheshire. She wrote to all the rentcharge payers to absolve them from any further payments because she was bitterly resentful of the system. That was because, having been north to look at that part of her inheritance, she found that the onus for collecting rentcharges on a sizeable group of houses had been placed on an old-age pensioner who was partially blind and suffered from other disabilities. Her sense of indignation was such that she took unilateral action and decided that she must get rid of the system, which she did.

I have talked about such cases with my fellow sponsors of the Bill and with the two Ministers who are here today, and I know where their sympathy lies. I am sure that if anything can be done on the lines of the right hon. Gentleman's amendment, my hon. Friends will look at it sympathetically and not dismiss it in a cavalier way. I pledge myself, as promoter of the Bill, to see that this particular matter is not dismissed in a cavalier fashion.

Finally, I accept that it is always the dramatic, headline-making issues that dominate the Press, and in our own localities this kind of issue becomes the focus of community attention. Emotive and evocative cases of real suffering, such as the one that I mentioned, would be talked about by everyone in the locality. I do not know how many such cases occur. The Department of Environment, as in the case of variable rentcharges, admitted that it has been almost impossible to obtain a global picture of what is entailed. The Department is perhaps in more difficulty when it comes to the highly personalised cases mentioned by the right hon. Member for Crosby.

I am grateful for the Minister's assurances. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7

Effect Of Apportionment Order

I beg to move Amendment No. 11, in page 6, line 40, leave out 'substitute' and insert 'specify, in substitution'.

This is a little more than a drafting amendment. Frequently, when dealing with Statutory Instruments and considering whether they are vires, intra vires or ultra vires the parent Act, one comes across the phrase about the Secretary of State being able to put into the order something that he considers to be appropriate. The question arises whether he should be able to put into a Statutory Instrument such a figure as seems appropriate to him, or whether it must be a specified figure.

I have suggested a form of words which gets us out of that difficulty altogether. These words make absolutely sure that if the Secretary of State, in making regulations, substitutes some other figure for the figure mentioned in the clause, the regulations themselves shall specify that figure. On the wording in the Bill—the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has looked at this matter from time to time—it is not entirely clear. Under Clause 7(6), as it stands, the Secretary of State can make regulations saving that, in his own discretion, he shall fix a figure whenever he considers it appropriate. I want to make certain that when he intends to alter it—hon. Members know what I am talking about—he must state the actual figure in the regulations. I believe that the words in my amendment will make it absolutely certain that that is done.

Having twice turned down the right hon. Gentleman's amendments, and possibly because I am influenced by the fact that he, like myself, hopes and expects that there will be rejoicing in the streets of Liverpool, I am prepared to accept this amendment. It is rare that three words in the place of one make better sense and clarify an issue. I make no criticism of the existing drafting, but it may be that the wording suggested by the right hon. Gentleman will make the meaning clearer.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 8

Application For Redemption Certificate

Amendment made: No. 12, in page 7, line 18, leave out ( a) to ( e)'.—[ Mr. Marks.]

Clause 17

Amendments, Repeals And Transitional Provisions

I beg to move Amendment No. 14, in page 13, line 15, after 'of', insert 'the relevant provision of'.

): With this, we may take Government Amendments Nos. 15 and 17.

These amendments are designed to ensure that the various parts of the Bill become effective as soon as practicable.

The provisions of the Bill which prohibit the creation of new rentcharges and provide for the extinguishment of existing ones will come into force, together with some of the miscellaneous and general provisions, one month after Royal Assent. The provisions which set up the new apportionment and redemption procedures will come into operation at a later date to be appointed by order.

As the Bill stands, the two schedules to the Bill would also come into force on the later date. However, some of the provisions in the schedules are amendments to or repeals of provisions giving power to create rentcharges. Therefore, these provisions should come into force on the same day as Clause 2, that is, a month after the passing of the Act.

I welcome the amendments, but they do not entirely meet the problem which we discussed in Committee, namely, when will the Bill be brought into operation? We have not had a satisfactory answer to that question. If it depends on regulations being made, will the Department send the regulations in draft to all sorts of organisations—to everybody, indeed, except Members of Parliament—for their comments so that months pass before the regulations are made?

I recall—and this is not entirely irrelevant, Mr. Deputy Speaker—that the Lotteries Bill, which the Government took over from me two years ago, came into operation only 18 months after its passage because we were waiting for the regulations not from the Department concerned with the present Bill but from another Department. In that time, about £60 million was lost to some of the organisations about which we have been speaking today. We do not want delay of that sort to occur in respect of this Bill.

I hoped that the Under-Secretary of State would bind his Department by giving an undertaking that the Bill would come into operation in perhaps two or three months, giving sufficient time to make the regulations, but we do not want a series of consultative documents on the regulations going out to local authorities, Government Departments, property federations and residents' associations while we wait for the legislation to be brought into operation.

I do not oppose the amendments. I simply ask for an assurance that the apportionment and redemption parts of the Bill will be put on the statute book as quickly as possible.

I give the assurance that all the provisions of the Bill will be brought into operation at the earliest possible date. One danger in fixing a date is that one looks well ahead and tries to make arrangements for all the difficulties which may cause delay. I should much prefer to be able to bring the Bill into effect as soon as practicable. I do not think that a lot of consultation will be needed, as the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) suggested. At this stage, I would rather not specify a date but prefer to say that we shall deal with the matter as soon as possible.

Will my hon. Friend give an assurance that before debate on the Bill is concluded in the Lords the Government will indicate a date from which they expect it to be operative?

I shall try to do that, but I do not wish now to specify a date because there may be a tendency to specify a date some way off which allows for all eventualities.

I accept the amendments. I, too, urge on the Department the need for speed, because people expect to be able to rid themselves as soon as possible of what has always seemed to be a hardship or an irritation.

Amendment agreed to.

12.45 p.m.

Amendments made: No. 15, in page 13, line 21, after 'of, insert' paragraph 3 of.

No. 16, in page 13, line 24, at end insert—

'(6) Nothing in the repeal by this Act of paragraph 8 of Schedule 1 to the Leasehold Reform Act 1967 shall prevent the creation of a rentcharge under that paragraph in a case where written notice has been duly given to the reversioner by the claimant under that paragraph before the coming into force of the repeal; and paragraph 8 shall, notwithstanding the repeal, continue to have effect, subject to the provisions of this Act, in relation to rentcharges created under it.'—[Mr. Marks.]

Clause 18

Short Title Etc

Amendment made: No. 17, in page 13, line 30, leave out '17(3)' and insert

'in section 17, subsection (1) (so far as it relates to paragraph 2 of Schedule 1), subsection (2) (except as it applies to the entries in Schedule 2 relating to section 10 of the Inclosure Act 1854 and section 191 of the Law of Property Act 1925) and subsections (3) and (6)',—[Mr. Marks.]

Schedule 1

Minor And Consequential Amendments

I beg to move Amendment No. 18, in page 14, line 27, leave out from beginning to end of line 28 and insert:

"be substituted the words 'redeemable under sections 8 to 10 of the Rentcharges Act 1977 and those falling within paragraphs (c) and (d) of section 2(3) of that Act (estate rentcharges and rentcharges imposed under certain enactments)'".

With this it will be convenient to discuss Amendments Nos. 19 and 20.

These are technical amendments altering paragraph 4 of Schedule 1 which contains amendment to the Leasehold Reform Act 1967 in order to ensure that the provisions of that Act are brought into line with the general scheme of the Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 19, in page 14, line 34, leave out from beginning to end of line 37 and insert:

'(b) in subsection (4), for the words from '191(4)' to '1925' there shall be substituted the words '13(2) below'.

No. 20, in page 14, line 47, leave out from beginning to end of line 48 and insert:

"there shall be substituted the words 'redeemable under sections 8 to 10 of the Rentcharges Act 1977'".—[Mr. Marks.]

Schedule 2


Amendment made: No. 21, in page 15, line 26, at end add:

'1967 c. 88. The Leasehold Reform Act 1967. In Schedule 1, paragraph 8'.—[Mr. Marks.]

Order for Third Reading read.—[ Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, and Prince of Wales's Consent on behalf of the Duchy of Cornwall, signified.]

12.48 p.m.

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

It has given me great pleasure that throughout the exercise of promoting the Bill there has been agreement about ending an ancient injustice which was highlighted in Committee and during the Bill's other stages, particularly on Second Reading, by cases of individual hardship and suffering, including the suffering mentioned in an inimitable speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Stock-port, North (Mr. Bennett), who had armed himself with the deeds of his house, because he was not only the payer of a rentcharge but was a designated rentcharge collector.

We are having a Third Reading debate simply because the Report stage was so technical legally that it was difficult for me to find a peg on which to hang my few remarks. I should like to pay great tribute to the tremendous amount of work done by the Law Commission, in its thinking and physical effort, in examining the problem of rentcharges. In particular, I should like to express my thanks for the help I have been afforded by the officers of the Law Commission and by the Lord Chancellor's office in preparing material for the Bill.

I wish to express my personal gratitude to my hon. Friends the Undersecretary of State for the Environment and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Law Officers' Department, who have given me all possible help and who have harnessed the resources of their Departments from which I have received a great deal of co-operation. I should like also to express appreciation to the only Member on the Opposition Benches who has put forward amendments, the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page). Debate on the Bill has risen above party politics and has been fair and expeditious.

The people in Bristol, Greater Manchester and North-East Lancashire are very heavily hit by this problem of rent-charges. I hope that when the Bill is enacted the machinery of operation for the redemption of rentcharges will be adequately publicised by the Department concerned, so that people will know exactly how to set about securing what the Bill has obtained for them.

On Second Reading some colourful phrases were used. In Bristol rentcharges were described as "the Bristol twist". In the North rentcharges were described as "the landlords' pension fund", and so on. It is an ancient abuse, and everyone involved in this matter regards it as something which should no longer be repeated. It has imposed personal hardship of the nature I mentioned earlier and to which the right hon. Member for Crosby referred.

Now at long last this abuse is coming to an end. The view of the Law Commission is that there should be no attempt at direct expropriation, and the formula worked out for redemption over a 60-year period may be a matter of argument. Some people may feel that this is too long a period or that some other formula should be used. These are matters of legitimate argument, but beyond peradventure there cannot be any charge other than of almost purely notional expropriation, and that element must always remain, even if the period went on for 100 or 150 years.

Had the original concept of the use of the district councils with an almost over-the-counter transaction been used, we might have seen a great simplification of procedure, to which reference has been made on Report in a couple of the amendments. But, because of the economic climate and other difficulties, it was not possible to do this, and therefore the Department of the Environment, rather than see such a worthwhile reform fail, has undertaken the onus of overlooking and meeting the expenditure on this side of the Bill.

It is, therefore, within the realms of possibility that before this summer ends the Bill will become an Act. In this Bill I embarked on an aspect of property ownership which does not really affect my own area very much. The curse of my part of the country, in South Wales, has been the 99-year lease and not the rentcharge, although I have unearthed pockets of houses in cities such as Cardiff and Swansea which are so affected. But since embarking on the exercise I have come more and more to feel that, like many other hon. Members, I might have the satisfaction of leaving Parliament having in my name an absolutely essential reform, and by so doing leaving the tiniest of tiny footnotes in the tiniest of tiny handwriting on a page of history in this Parliament.

12.55 p.m.

My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Evans) has done a great service to the House by promoting the Bill. Now that we have come to Third Reading he is indeed to be congratulated.

My two hon. Friends on the Front Bench, the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Law Officers' Department, have both done great work on the abolition of these charges during the period in which this measure has been working its way through the House.

As I said on Second Reading, there have certainly been occasions when such Bills have been brought forward and have floundered for one reason or another. I should have liked to see the House giving a Third Reading today to a Bill to abolish rentcharges completely, because in my view the cities of Manchester and Bristol are still in an iniquitous position and they will be even after the Bill is enacted. We are still not on a par with the rest of the country. That must be completely understood by my hon. Friends. That is why there will be no dancing in the streets of Bristol or of Manchester, even though there may be dancing in the streets over other matters.

To my mind the fly in the ointment is the 60-year redemption period. I have fought for a long time, together with other hon. Members from the Bristol area, to get some formula for the redemption and I believe that 60 years is much too long a period. In the area that I represent, where there are very many rentcharges, people have said to me when I have tried to explain to them that the Bill is before the House "I shall be dead and gone by then. It will not benefit me." That is the great regret that I have now that we have come to Third Reading, because we are still in an iniquitous situation and the anomaly in the Bristol and Manchester areas will remain. But in order to persuade the Opposition to allow the Bill to proceed and so that we shall not be thwarted as in the past, we have had to agree to the lines of the report of the Law Commission, and I acknowledge this.

Certainly on two issues there has been great success, and this will be widely welcomed. The first is the provision in the Bill to prohibit new rentcharges for new buildings. The second is the formula, which has been agreed in the Bill, for the redemption of rentcharges. These two items will certainly help my constituents in Kingswood and people in the Bristol and Manchester areas in particular.

Perhaps it can be said that we have half a loaf in this Bill. There is an old saying that half a loaf is better than no bread, but the main problem has been the 60-year redemption period. I hope that this aspect can be examined again. As I stated earlier, it is because this problem has not been overcome that there will not be dancing in the streets.

But my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly has done a great service to us on the two counts of prohibiting new rentcharges and of bringing about a formula for redemption that will be widely welcomed and used by many of my constituents.

1.0 p.m.

I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Evans) on getting his Bill so far, but I hope that he has not concluded his toils. In Committee we pointed to one of the areas of concern, and I trust that when the measure gets to the other place my hon. Friend can act in an advisory capacity and persuade some of their Lordships to bring in amendments that will make the Bill more welcome to this side of the House.

In this connection I am referring particularly to the 60-year period. It is clear that there is a lot of concern and feeling about this, and I ask my hon. Friend to have another go at discussing the matter with Ministers to see whether some improvement can be made.

There was an interesting amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) that was not selected. I can think of good reasons for its not being selected, but it would have looked at the question of the tax on income from rentcharges. I wonder whether, if someone had considered granting a tax concession, there could have been a considerable reduction in the 60 years. Such a change would have helped to tidy up the statute book.

We have pressed the Minister about the date on which the measure will come into effect. I hope that he will take to heart the strong feeling on this side of the House that the Bill should come into effect as quickly as possible.

I propose now to deal with the question of organisation. In Committee we expressed considerable disappointment and concern that local authorities had refused to take on this responsibility and that it will have to be carried out by the Department of the Environment. Most hon. Members feel that it would be much more satisfactory if there were someone in each area to whom people could talk across the counter rather than have to write to some remote Department. We pressed that if this task could not be done by local authorities paid to do it by the Government, the Department of the Environment should consider the possibility of setting up regional offices, so that somebody could go to an office in the centre of Manchester, or Bristol, and present his problem face to face with an official there.

Yesterday one of my Labour councillors received a query from one of his electors about a notice from the Department of the Environment. I did a little checking this morning and I rang the Department. It took me nearly five minutes to get through. It took the Department a little time to find the relevant papers and only about two seconds to answer my question, which was whether the property was freehold or leasehold. Having received an answer to my query, I knew how to proceed.

The situation is not too bad if someone is phoning a London office from the House of Commons. One has to allow the switchboard time to put the call through and the Department time to find the relevant papers. One then asks a short, simple question and gets an answer. If, however, somebody 'phones from, say, Manchester, it is annoying to find the money ticking up for the call. I hope that local people can be used to deal with these problems.

It would be helpful if the documentation were simpler and more easily understood. Let me quote from a letter sent by the Department of the Environment. The letter deals with leasehold, but I understand that this is the standard form of letter. It says:
"You will note that your property has been included in Part Four of the draft Order in the unapportioned residue. This has been done as your property forms part of the security for the rent and as such it must be shown in any Order which may be made. It does not however in any way affect the amount of rent you may pay or your possible indemnity against this rent."
I have probably read that rather badly, but that is that sort of phrase that leads people to wonder what is meant. The recipient of the letter was not sure what it was all about and whether it was not a notice that the charge had gone up.

Having checked the matter, I can give the answer that the charge has not gone up and that it is possible that the person concerned has been overcharged for some time. The receipt of the letter caused considerable concern and worry. I think that it could have been phrased better. It could have said at the beginning of the sentence that there was no change, or no extra charge, and then, if necessary, set out all the legal wording.

I hope that the Minister will be able to assure us that the scheme will operate quickly and simply and that there will be someone in each locality from whom those who are involved can get personal advice instead of having to write to London or make telephone calls.

My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) is well placed. If we do not receive the kind of service for which we are asking we shall advise people to go to his advice bureau rather than come to see us. I hope that my hon. Friend can give us the assurances for which we have asked.

1.5 p.m.

Let me first congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Evans) on steering the Bill to its Third Reading. It is always a formidable task for a non-lawyer to attempt to present a Bill fraught with legal technicalities. Not only are there such technicalities, but almost inevitably one faces the formidable but genial figure of the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page). That is something for which we all have to be prepared and do our homework. The right hon. Gentleman's amendments and his contributions to the Bill have been extremely helpful, and for that I pay tribute to him.

Not only is it a pleasure for me to have played a part in helping to steer the Bill through the House, but I have a direct constituency interest. In Accrington and North-East Lancashire there are probably more houses directly affected by rent-charges than there are in any other part of the country, and for many years the collection problem has been a scandal.

Many elderly people are extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for having introduced the Bill. For years people throughout North-East Lancashire have had to collect rentcharges from their neighbours. They have done that with patience and fortitude, whereas I am sure that I and many other hon. Members would have done so far less happily. Now at last they know that the procedure for getting rid of the burden of collection will be very much easier and simpler, and if that will not cause dancing in the streets, it will at least give them a measure of pleasure.

I pay tribute to the Law Commission for the great and scholarly work that it has done on this subject. It beavers away on what to the public appear to be erudite subjects, but, as a result of its work, life is made that much better for many members of the community. I assure the right hon. Member for Crosby, who mentioned the subject of positive covenants, that the Law Commission is studying the whole topic of appurtenances to land. It will, I hope, soon be ready to report, and perhaps that anomaly will be dealt with in a way that will satisfy the right hon. Gentleman.

Like my hon. Friends, I am disappointed that the extinguishment period has to be as long as 60 years. If it were possible to reduce that period nobody would be happier than myself or my hon. Friend. I am sure that their Lordships and my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor will take note of what has been said today.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment will deal with the points about procedure, and how it can be simplified, because that is the responsibility of his Department.

I thank all hon. Members who have taken part in the debate. It is a great pleasure for me, because many years ago almost one of the first things that I did in the House was to introduce a Private Member's Bill to abolish rent-charges. At least now something has been done about it. I would again thank my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly and congratulate him.

1.10 p.m.

I welcome the opportunity to pay a warm tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Evans) and to say to him that I can speak on behalf of my constituents, who widely welcome the measure that he has steered through the House. I wish him continuing success in getting the Bill on the statute book.

I regret that, because of illness, I was unable to be present during the Second Reading debate. I would say to my hon. Friend that, while nothing detracts from his measure, many of my constituents would have welcomed a much more radical measure. However, in the opinion of my constituents, the Bill is a move very much in the right direction.

I shall be brief, because I know that many of my hon. Friends want to add their congratulations. I do not want to let this occasion pass without saying that there are other hon. Members, particularly my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Cocks), who made valiant attempts years ago to bring a measure of this kind to success and fruition. There was my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. Davidson). As my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) has said, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) will have a distinguished place in the history of this Bill. We very much welcome the assistance that he has given to it.

I should also like to pay tribute to the Law Commission for its efforts in assisting the Bill to reach this stage. I welcome the opportunity of saying on behalf of my constituents that this is a step in the right direction. It may well be that we could have had a more radical measure but, nevertheless, nothing should detract from what my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly has done. I know that he will receive the grateful thanks of many individuals in my constituency and in the larger area of Manchester.

1.13 p.m.

I, too, welcome the Bill. I have played no part in the proceedings so far, either on the Floor of the House or in Committee, but, as the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Evans) will remember, I did privately express my support for the Bill and offered him any help that I could give. I am glad that that has not been necessary both from the point of view of the success of the Bill and from my own point of view.

I should not like the occasion to pass without welcoming the Bill and congratulating the hon. Member for Caerphilly on being the latest but successful of a long line of hon. Members who have been pursuing this matter. I think it has been an ancient custom rather than an ancient abuse, the phrase used earlier. The system has been capable of abuse, but it has not always been abused. It did not necessarily grow up in an abusive manner.

I would add to the list of hon. Members my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester), who introduced a not dissimilar Bill a short time ago of which I was one of the sponsors, but my hon. Friend did not have the luck and the success of the hon. Member for Caerphilly.

I do not want to go into the details but, as has been mentioned by other hon. Members, I agree that the 60 years' period in the Bill is on the long side. I am not one of those who favour the immediate abolition of rentcharges. It seems to me that that would be unfair particularly to some of the owners of the rentcharges, although, naturally, there are others with whom I have less sympathy. However, 60 years is on the long side and if during the course of debates in another place this period can be reduced, hon. Members can count on my support, for what it is worth.

The Law Commission Report was an excellent document. I do not pretend to have understood more than a small proportion of it, but it seems to me that it came down in the right direction. The Bill follows that report and is a small but useful improvement to the law of the land.

1.16 p.m.

I shall be brief. I join other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Evans). When one has the good fortune to draw a high place in the draw for Private Members' Bills, it must be a great temptation, when one looks at the vast number of subjects that are possible, to introduce a Bill dealing with some of them, particularly affecting one's constituency. But my hon. Friend recognised, in fine Socialist tradition, an anxiety which scarcely, if at all, affected his constituents and introduced this measure to benefit our constituents in the North-West. The fact should be recognised that my hon. Friend did not choose a measure directly affecting his own particular area but rather one which had wider implications. We are all very grateful to him, particularly those of my constituents who face this problem.

Like other hon. Members I am concerned about the 60-year period. It is interesting to see that the concern about the 60-year period stretches far beyond the Labour Benches and disturbs hon. Members opposite. I hope that we can look at the possibility of getting rid of these rentcharges in a much shorter period. Perhaps the Government Departments concerned will be looking at that possibility in the next few weeks.

I am still attracted to the idea of having the redemption procedures conducted by the local authorities.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) outlined the kind of approach which is possible at local authority level. In my experience older people are more at ease when they can go to a counter and deal with someone on the other side of it than when dealing by telephone or, perhaps, worse still, experiencing the protracted delays that arise from time to time through correspondence. I hope that we shall look at this point and deal with it at local level.

The strength of the Bill is that no more rentcharges are to be created. We are extremely pleased about that, but I can see some anomalies arising. Only recently I lived on a housing estate containing about 60 houses, half of which have been sold. Some have rentcharges imposed on them of about £12, some are subject to rentcharges of between £15 and £16 and some are not yet sold. What will be the situation for those houses which are not sold once the Bill becomes law? I can imagine the discussion that will take place in my "local" among the people who live on that estate about the various anomalies that arise in these circumstances.

I hope also that the Department of the Environment will be able to get away from legal jargon when we come to devise the redemption procedures. It will be necessary to draft them in a way which will be intelligible to people like me, and that may be extremely difficult. They may have to be simple beyond belief. But I want to be able to understand them, as do my constituents. I hope that there will not be a great chunk of legal jargon being sent to people who have to go through these procedures. There is a great deal of virtue in simplicity.

I want to thank the Ministers who have been involved in our consideration of this Bill. I know of the great interest of my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. Davidson). We have a common constituency boundary, and we have discussed this problem on many occasions. He was quite right when he said that it was North-East Lancashire, especially its terraced properties, where there was one of the highest concentrations of rentcharges. I know, too, of the long interest of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks). I thank them both for the immense amount of work that they have done, and I am sure that we shall soon see this measure on the statute book, to the great relief of many people in the South-West and the North-West who have faced this iniquity for far too long.

1.22 p.m.

I, too, pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Evans), whose constituency is not far away from Bristol, anyway. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Noble) that it was a very unselfish act on the part of my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly to introduce a measure which affected certain areas of the country but which was not a problem in the area which he represents. There are many people in my constituency who very much appreciate the fact that my hon. Friend is putting through this Bill, which we hope will become an Act of Parliament very quickly, and who also appreciate that the Government have given it their support.

At the same time, I, too, feel that the measure does not go anything like far enough. These rentcharges seem to me to be almost symbolic of feudalism. They are an anachronism going back almost to feudal days, and I think that we could have found ways to abolish them even more quickly than we have decided to do.

I am also a little concerned that, under Clause 2, we are to retain estate rent-charges for the carrying out of services, and so on. We have left open the possibility there for a load of rentcharges which will not be covered by this legislation. The right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) referred to this difficulty in Committee, and I am still concerned about it.

I, too, feel that the 60-year period which we have provided is far too long. In my view, that becomes even more apparent if we sit back and think that, in the year 2037, these rentcharges could still be in existence and that presumably by then there will be developers active on other planets. I do not know whether they will support rentcharges.

How right my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Walker) was when he saild that his constituents and mine will say "In 60 years, we shall all be dead and, therefore, this legislation will not help us". I am afraid that many of us will be dead by then, although I do not include you, Mr. Speaker, in that category because I know that you will still be here. But certainly many of my constituents will be dead by then, although I suppose that some of them who are very young now will be going round collecting these pernicious rentcharges.

It has been suggested that we should ask the other place to consider this matter with a view to amending the Bill as it is now drafted. I must confess that I am reluctant to ask an anachronistic institution to amend an anachronism. I have no time at all for that body down the Corridor and, for that reason, I am not inclined to agree with that suggestion. However, if I may hide my conscience a little, I hope to find that, when the Bill comes back from the other place, it contains a provision stipulating some period less than 60 years. I was pleased to hear the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Cope) make the same point.

I do not believe that we should call in aid the views of the Law Commission on this matter. It makes it clear on page 20 of its report that it regards the acceptance of the principle that existing rentcharges should ultimately expire without compensation as more important than the actual period chosen. It goes on to say that the final decision about the period is a matter for political decision.

We are making a political decision, and in my view it is not right to call in aid the fact that the Law Commission has laid down that it must be 60 years, although in its report it talks about the "appropriateness" of 60 years. For that reason, I hope that we can cut this period considerably.

Finally, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and others have done, I ask the Government to think again about the possibility of local authorities dealing with this matter. I know that the Association of District Councils said that it was not very happy about taking on the job. I do not know whether that is because the Government, with their views about capital expenditure, were not prepared to provide a little additional money for the purpose. I suspect that it would cost far less to give local authorities a small additional sum for the purpose than to let the Department of the Environment do the job. Bristol, for example, has a first rate Housing Aid Centre which could do the necessary work very easily. I do not know whether Rossendale has a similar set-up.

As I say, the Association of District Councils would not like to take on the job. I wonder whether that is said from the financial point of view, or whether the Association as a body has made that judgment when the problem exists in the areas of only two or three of its constituent members.

The Bill will be welcomed in the Bristol, North-West constituency though, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kings-wood said, there will not be singing in the streets. Many people will look to us to bring in a far more radical measure. However, in that respect no blame attaches to my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly. We all pay tribute to him for bringing forward this measure, and we hope that it will not be too long before it is an Act of Parliament.

1.27 p.m.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Evans) on his success in getting his Bill to this stage. I hope that it will be given a good passage through another place.

The hon. Member has achieved far more than the great F. E. Smith. Of course, he has always achieved more than F. E. Smith in terms of eloquence. But this reform was started by Lord Birkenhead in 1925, and he failed to do it very well. Section 191 of the Law of Property Act 1925 is an utter nonsense. Over the years, it has achieved nothing. That is why, when we needed some measure of redemption here, the Law Commission looked into it. However, it has taken rather a long time.

I recall that, when I first entered this House, there were hon. Members thinking about presenting Bills on rentcharges. Incidentally, we in the North-West call them "chief rents". I hope that this will not confuse people when it comes to advertising what the hon. Member for Caerphilly has done in this Bill and that they will realise that it applies to chief rents as well as to rent charges. I hope that that fact will come out in the circulars and advertisements which the Department of the Environment is to issue.

As I say, we have been trying to get a redemption of rentcharges for many years—in fact, for nearly the 60 years that we have been discussing. When I saw the Patronage Secretary enter the Chamber during this debate, I was disappointed to discover that it was only to give the Queen's Consent. I was hoping that he would join in the debate and tell us about his own struggles, because he presented at least two Bills to the House. I remember supporting him at the time and urging him to go on with them. He tried and failed where the hon. Member for Caerphilly has succeeded.

It may be thought that when one is lucky enough to come out of the Ballot it is easy to take a Law Commission report because there is a draft Bill at the end of it available for one's use. It was not as easy as that for the hon. Member for Caerphilly. For one thing, the draft Bill had to be altered considerably because the Law Commission had proposed that the local authorities should take on the task. There is also the disadvantage that Law Commission reports always put both sides of an argument, which stimulates debate. I must admit that many of the ideas that I have put forward have not be original; they have been stolen from the Law Commission. Anyone who promotes a Bill recommended by the Law Commission has to face those obstacles.

The Ministers and the hon. Member for Caerphilly have met extremely well the arguments that have been advanced. Their replies have not always been entirely satisfactory to me but we have a Bill that will work. The two major points that arise from it that are subject to criticism concern the arguments that I have already put about local authorities. Many of us wished the local authorities to take on the task, but perhaps this is the wrong time when local authorities are being criticised on the ground of expenditure and when we in this place are being criticised for putting more and more duties on local authorities that create expenditure.

Perhaps this is the wrong time to oblige local authorities to take on even this small job. Of course, the work would relate only to a few local authorities. Surely it could have been done on an agency basis, the Department of the Environment appointing local authorities as its agents and paying the money for the work. I suggested that in Committee but it has not emerged in the Bill.

Am I correct in thinking that the Bill does not prevent the Secretary of State, if he wishes, from appointing agents through local authorities at some later stage, if they are willing to take on the task on an agreed financial basis? Presumably the Secretary of State will not be doing the work personally. He will present the task to some agents, whether they are his own officials or the local authorities. It does not seem that the Bill rules out the possibility of the local authorities doing it.

It is true that the Bill does not rule that out. It may be that the Department of the Environment will consider that the best way of proceeding is by appointing local authorities as agents to carry out the work.

I have offered my congratulations to the Ministers for helping the hon. Member for Caerphilly to get the Bill through the House, but I must also congratulate their servants in the Department. With my knowledge of these matters I know that they have acted extremely efficiently in applying the procedure that is now laid down. That is the present procedure before the Bill comes into operation. They have acted expeditiously, but it was difficult to expedite the present procedure. I congratulate the Ministers' officials on the efforts that they have made and the help that they have given to the Bill.

My anxiety about the local authorities not taking on the job and my eagerness that the Department of the Environment should appoint local authorities to do it is that I can see that right hon. and hon. Members will be the ones who suffer. We shall meet these inquiries at our surgeries. Most of us have plenty of other inquiries to answer whenever we offer our services in the constituency surgery. I should like to be relieved of this task. I should like the local authorities to answer these questions. I should like to be able to pass people on to whoever is dealing with them at the local authority.

The other major issue is the period of redemption of 60 years. I do not criticise that period. That is because I do not believe that it means what it says. In the Bill it is stated that rentcharges shall be extinguished after a 60-year period. I take that to mean that it is an element in the formula for redemption.

It may be assumed that there will be very few rentcharges that last out the 60 years. When it becomes known to the payers of rentcharges that they can redeem, there will be almost a rush to do so right away.

Redemption will improve the value of the house when it is sold. I think that on almost every occasion when a house is sold with a rentcharge on it there will be a redemption. This will become the advice that is given by the solicitors and the estate agents to those buying and selling houses. They will gradually be redeemed on that basis if not before someone thinks of sale.

The 60-year period shows the fair way in which the hon. Member for Caerphilly has dealt with the issue between confiscation and compensation. The figures that the Law Commission were given by the Government Actuary are set out in page 19. The Law Commission states:
"We also asked the Government Actuary to state how much of each £1 of rent charge income received annually by a rent owner during a given period would have to be set aside by him and accumulated in a sinking fund in order to provide a full £1 a year in perpetuity after the period had elapsed, independently of the rent charge."
The Commission was asking for fair compensation, replacement of what the rent owner would lose by not being able to collect the rentcharge. It was supplied with the figures. They are given for periods of 10 years from 20 to 90 years. Assuming a rate of interest of 8 per cent., at 60 years it is necessary to put aside only one new penny a year to have at the end of the period a sufficient sum to invest to bring in the same £1 rentcharge. That seems to be a reasonably fair way of compensating the rent owner. If we assume an interest rate of 10 per cent., it needs only·33 of 1 new penny. It seems that a fair basis has been set.

There is a difficulty that will arise in respect of tax. A certain amount is being paid as capital and a certain amount as interest during a fixed period. For the remaining period for rentcharge it will be said that there will be redemption at so much, whatever the figure may be, and that part of the payment is capital and part is interest. That issue has not been settled in the Bill but the Finance Bill is now passing through the House. Perhaps at the dead of night I may be able to sneak through a little amendment in Committee on the Finance Bill to provide that some of the payment should be treated as capital and not as the income of the rent owner, and that if treated as capital it should be disregarded as part of the taxable income.

I am glad that we have reached this stage at last in the redemption of rent charges. I warmly congratulate the promoter.

1.39 p.m.

I add my congratulations and thanks—indeed, not only my thanks but, I am sure, the thanks of a great many of my constituents—to my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Evans) on reaching this stage with his Bill. I should add that he will deserve the thanks not only of the citizens of Manchester and Bristol but of others elsewhere, since one of the dangers of the system was that builders were getting hold of the idea and it was spreading.

Information was coming to us from Southampton, Sunderland and a great many other places that, as house building came to be done by builders on a national scale, big firms were bringing in the idea for other areas. Thus, my hon. Friend has saved a great many people from some expense and frustration in the future. Moreover, the amounts spoken of were not small sums such as £2, £5 or £7, as they were in the 1950s, but were up to £25, £30 and probably much more.

My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly has performed a service also by the way in which he has kept in touch with hon. Members on both sides, giving them information—true, with the help of my Department—about various possibilities regarding certain amendments.

It has been suggested that my hon. Friend drew a high place in the Ballot. In fact, he drew No. 8, which is not in the first six favourites. However, because of his parliamentary knowledge and, I suspect, the great liking which so many right hon. and hon. Members have for him, by dint of persuasion and debate he has now reached No. 3 in Bills to reach Third Reading.

I came into the House at the end of 1967. In 1969 I saw the first Law Commission working paper on rentcharges, and I realised that it applied to the deadly chief rents of my own area. In the eight years since then I have turned from Back Bencher to Minister, from poacher to gamekeeper, perhaps, but as a Minister I have encountered some of the difficulties in matters of this kind, with the need for all the i's to be dotted and the t's to be crossed. We have had to maintain fairness in what we have done. Moreover, we were involved in the minefield of land law, in which the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) is so adept. I confess that on many occasions I have felt that I was absolutely in a forest.

I come now to the question of publicity and administration so far as it affects my Department. I have already assured the House that we shall go into action as soon as possible in implementing the parts of the Bill concerning redemption and apportionment. I shall do all I can to ensure that whatever forms are issued are understandable. My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Noble) was a bit worried about this. Perhaps I may tell him that for about five years I was a teacher of backward children, and I am sure that the level of understanding, about which he was concerned, will be such that people will be able to know what is necessary if they wish to take advantage of the Bill.

We all know—especially those of us who regularly have surgeries in our constituencies—that many people would rather come and talk than try to write a letter. There are various facilities nowadays that help people in that way. We ourselves provide one such facility at weekends. The citizens' advice bureaux will be given full information about the Bill and a collection of the forms. The district councils have done a great deal to assist us in helping people under the Law of Property Act 1925. A great many people have been able to redeem their chief rents in that way—or their ground rents, as they are called in Bristol—and I hope that that will continue. Although they do not want to have the job of dealing with implementation of the Bill directly, I know that the district councils will ensure that their information officers provide a great deal of information to people who need it.

Although I said earlier that there may not be dancing in the streets of certain cities on account of the Bill, we ought not to underestimate its value.

Before leaving the question of administration, will the Minister comment on the point I raised with my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page)? Would it be possible at some future stage for the local authorities to be appointed agents?

My advice is that we can divide the work—I have in mind here the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett)—having centres where the Department could run the thing in, say Manchester and Bristol, but I am advised that under the Bill as it stands at present it would not be possible to appoint local authorities as agents.

There have been references to consultation with the local authorities. My Department is bound to have such consultations through the local authority associations, and it has been the advice of both the AMA and the District Councils Association that the local authorities did not want the job. Therefore, we could not deal directly with individual local authorities. I suggested in Committee that hon. Members themselves might care to contact their local councils in order to ascertain their view.

I am surprised—and I saw expressions of surprise on other faces in the Chamber—that the Department cannot appoint anybody as agent to do this job, and certainly cannot appoint the local authorities. What prevents the Secretary of State from having power to ask anyone to do the job, if he pays for it to be done? Indeed, what prevents his asking a local authority to do it? The local authorities do not need statutory powers to do it if the Secretary of State employs them to do it. He could employ the chief executive to appoint administrators for him. I am puzzled that it cannot be done unless there is a statutory power.

I can only say that I asked for advice immediately before 11 o'clock this morning, and that was the advice I received. However, I shall have another look at it. When things are easier for local authorities, we might well be able to do something on those lines in the future.

I hope that that is possible. If it is not, may we have my hon. Friend's assurance that he will accept the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett), and that it will be done by the Department of the Environment in Bristol? I can give my hon. Friend a short example to show why that is necessary. The noise insulation regulations, which were a problem in my constituency, were handled from Taunton, and this created difficulties. In my view, if we cannot have the job done by the district council, it should certainly be done by the Department of the Environment in Bristol.

As I said in Committee, I cannot give an assurance on that. Only a small section of my Department will be involved, and it may be possible to split it in that way under the Bill. That is the only assurance I can give.

The right hon. Member for Crosby has dealt in detail with the period of 60 years. I know that some of my hon. Friends and a great many of my constituents would have liked to see us going nearer to expropriation, but we must realise who the rent owners are nowadays. They are not the builders who made their pile under the system immediately after the building of the houses. My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly gave various names which have been used to describe the system. In my area it was known as the builder's bonus, meaning that the builder built the houses, put chief rents on, and then sold the chief rents.

Now, however, a great many of the chief rents in my area are owned by charities and friendly societies. This is not, therefore, a matter in which we could deal unfairly with the rent owners. The idea of choosing 60 years came forward because the Law Commission asked the Government Actuary to give us the period that would deal with the matter fairly.

We have managed to interweave into our debate the subject of a football match to be played tomorrow, as well as the possibility of dancing in the streets. Whatever the result of that match may be, I am sure that both teams will receive a tremendous welcome in their own areas. I can only hope that their Lordships will give this Bill the same tumultuous reception as those teams will have tomorrow night.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

Skyline Protection Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

1.50 p.m.

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

I am delighted to have the opportunity to move the Second Reading of the Bill. It is perhaps rare for someone who has introduced a Bill under the Ten Minutes Rule then to have the prospect of upwards of two hours of debate on the measure. I hope that the Bill will receive from the Minister the same enthusiastic acclamation afforded to the Rentcharges Bill from the Government Front Bench. I congratulate the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Evans) on his success.

My Bill is another step on the road to protecting our remaining architectural and scenic heritage. Concern for this heritage has, I think, become more articulate during the last decade than at almost any time since William Morris founded the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings a century ago. This concern has been reflected in this House and in another place in a number of important legislative milestones, probably the most notable of which are the Civic Amenities Act and the Town and Country Amenities Act.

I pay tribute to Lord Duncan-Sandys, who was responsible for the first of these measures, and to those who assisted him in getting it on to the statute book. That gives me the opportunity of mentioning in parentheses that although at the moment the House as usual on a Friday is absolutely crowded, nevertheless there is considerable support in all sections of all parties for the sort of measure that I am proposing.

Although a great deal has been achieved in this area, and although it would be wrong to criticise and denigrate what has been done, since our country has done more than most, there is no cause for complacency. From the Eustou Arch to the emptying of Mentmore, by way of the demolition of hundreds of listed buildings, the inadequacies and deficiencies of our system of heritage safeguards have been revealed.

One of the greatest single deficiencies is our lack of protection for the skyline. The broad vista and the noble view have all too often been obliterated or deformed by unsightly and obtrusive new development. No one who lives in this fair city—and it still is the fairest of all capital cities, with the possible exception of Cardiff, Mr. Speaker—can avoid feeling a sense of shame and remorse on looking around.

It is in London that the distortion of the skyline at its most grotesque is most readily apparent. Perhaps that is the most unhappy feature of post-war development. Even in the last century there were many battles between those who wished to redevelop and pull down and those who wished to conserve. It was the activities of the developers which inspired William Morris and his fellows to found their society in 1877 and no one who has seen the collections of prints and aquatints we have in this Palace can but feel great regret when he realises what has been lost in London.

Nash's Regent Street, the great buildings like Norfolk House and Grosvenor House, such places as Grosvenor Square and Berkeley Square, and the great Adelphi itself have all disappeared in the last century. But the point is that when they were replaced, the buildings that replaced them were of a scale which did not distort and dominate such glories as remained.

The reason for that was the London Building Act 1888. This had its origin—it is perhaps appropriate to record in this year of all years—in the Royal displeasure of Queen Victoria who saw her privacy being threatened by developments adjacent to Buckingham Palace. The Act restricted the height of new buildings in the city to 80 feet or the width of the street on which the building stood. These restrictions had a most powerful, salutary, and inhibiting effect.

The restrictions were removed only in 1956—at the beginning of the period of post-war redevelopment when, after a third of the city had been destroyed by enemy action, the developers moved in. We all know the result. All we have to do is look towards St. Paul's Cathedral. From most points we cannot see it because that most magnificent of all national monuments has been caged in and hedged about by unsightly and overpowering developments.

When we consider what has happened we could be forgiven for suggesting that it is now too late in the day to call a halt and introduce a Bill such as this. I would be among the first to regret that nothing was done to keep the centre of London low scale and to preserve as many vistas as possible as has been the case in Paris, with one or two notably ugly exceptions.

However, much remains. While doing my homework for this Bill I jotted down some of the views that still delight and enchant. There are 200 of them and I shall not bore the House by reading out the full list, although it would no doubt be useful to have such a list inserted in the Official Report. One can think of the Temple roofs from the Victoria Embankment, the Gray's Inn roofscapes, and, still in a legal context, the Law Courts and St. Dunstan's in the West from Ludgate Circus and Fleet Street, or the Law Courts from the Strand, or of Nelson's Column from the Strand, the National Gallery from Whitehall, and the Houses of Parliament from Lambeth Bridge. When I drive in from that side of the river, as I frequently do, and suddenly see what I consider to be one of the most glorious buildings ever created, it is an uplifting experience. It is an experience which is not always assisted by what goes on inside.

I think of the view of the Houses of Parliament from the Albert Embankment, and of this building from Westminster Abbey. There are also some little-known buildings of great charm. There is the view of the Ukranian church in Duke Street from Oxford Street, One could go on, and I am glad to see the Minister nodding in agreement. I am particularly glad that it is he who is to reply to this debate. There may be differences of emphasis on what we think and say, but I believe that at heart we are at one on this issue.

These and many more buildings remain, and therefore the aim of the Bill is to ensure added protection for the views. I say "added protection" advisedly because it would be churlish not to admit that the LCC and the GLC have had a high buildings policy for more than 20 years. Although much of what I say is critical, I would not like to question the underlying sincerity of those who sought to evolve this policy and struggled to implement it. However, in its early days it did not prevent the construction of the Shell Building. Many of us can remember the controversy over that. The plans were exhibited at the Royal Academy. There was universal condemnation, but the building went up.

There was a great argument over the Hilton hotel. The Royal Fine Art Commission produced a paper in which it said that if the building were erected it would be the beginning of a scheme of things which would lead to the ruining of the pastoral character of our London parks. How right it was. The London County Council refused initially, but on appeal, with certain modifications, the Minister gave his sanction, the building went up and we know the result.

When the GLC was created, it was given a strategic prerogative by the London Government Act. Proposals for building higher than 150 ft. within Central London or 125 ft. elsewhere had to be submitted by the appropriate borough authority for the GLC's approval. So far, so good. In 1970, the GLC published a high buildings policy, to which was appended a list of protected views and skylines, including Buckingham Palace from the Mall, Kensington Palace from Kensington Gardens, the towers of this Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey from the Serpentine, and others. Yet in that same year, the GLC approved plans for the 600 ft. National Westminster Tower, which, seven years and £72 million later, was finally topped out a few weeks ago.

In 1973, the Layfield Committee recommended that statutory high building maps and policies should be part of all development and structure plans, but legislation has not followed. I emphasise again that I am making no party political point. From the dates that I have given, the House will understand that parties have come and gone, both in County Hall and in this place, but that those recommendations have not been acted upon.

Admittedly, last year the Greater London Development Plan included a high buildings policy, but, considering the policy and the urban landscape diagram which accompanied it, one cannot help wondering whether it will stand up to the assaults of the developers.

Those doubts are reinforced by any consideration of what has happened around St. Paul's. It is now 42 years since views of St. Paul's were first given certain consideration and protection, yet all we have now is the odd exhilarating glimpse; the broad vista has gone. Anyone studying aerial photographs or photographs taken from some of the monstro buildings around cannot but wonder what Sir Christopher Wren would think about what twentieth century architects have done. His famous epitaph is, "If you want my monument, look around." If one wants the monument of twentieth century architecture one should look around St. Paul's, where one will not feel so elevated and uplifted as did those who looked upon it when he built it.

Today, 55 sites in the City alone have, in the official phrase, been "deemed appropriate" for high buildings and a mini-Manhattan is burgeoning down Victoria Street, not far from the House of Commons. Since 1956, 2,089 buildings over 150 ft. high have been erected in the GLC's area. Anyone who doubts the need for stronger control must surely reflect on those facts and figures.

No one should reflect with more chagrin than a Minister who has the misfortune to have an office in perhaps the ugliest building within sight of the Palace of Westminster. It is a supreme irony that the Department of the Environment, created to protect the quality of life, is housed in the most insensitive of all the temples of bureaucracy. I doubt whether the Minister would shed a tear if it was suddenly suggested that he should move into one of the nobler buildings in Whitehall.

The Bill seeks to give the sort of stronger control that I hope my speech so far shows is needed. It would place a duty upon county planning authorities, first, to designate skyline views when they were either preparing or reviewing their structure plans and, second, to formulate policies to protect those views. In making the designations, they would be obliged to consult the appropriate district council.

That is an important provision, because the district council has a key rôle to play. Among the letters that I have received about the Bill are a number from officers and elected members of district councils, agreeing in outline with my suggestions but pleading to be given a proper say. The Bill seeks to give them just that.

Any district council would have the power to suggest which views should be protected and to include them in the structure plan. There is always the problem of the reluctant or even philistine authority, and in such cases the Secretary of State himself would have reserve powers to designate skyline views.

There is also provision for proper public notice and for consultation. In the schedule, I have tried—imperfectly, I know—to give examples of the criteria for designation of views and control of development. The kind of view which may be designated includes national monuments, listed buildings whose architectural effect depends on or includes skyline views, and groups of buildings whose skyline depends upon their remaining as a group.

I say that my attempts have been imperfect. This is the fifth Private Members' Bill that I have introduced and in varying forms a couple have got on to the statute book, one of them having been taken over by the Minister's own Government. I therefore realise the limitations of Private Members, particularly when one has not been lucky enough to draw a place in the Ballot and therefore does not have all the facilities of parliamentary draftsmen. I pay tribute to those in the Public Bill Office who have helped me with the Bill, but it is imperfect; it needs amendment and change.

No one could suggest that the Bill does not need detailed and critical scrutiny, because it does. If the Minister wishes to suggest amendments which do not alter the essential purpose of the Bill, he will find me more than ready to listen to him and to enter into discussions about their form. I stress, however, that the Bill has been given a real welcome. When I wrote an article about it in the magazine Country Life, it produced many letters from all over England from people who said that something along these lines was needed.

I also suggest that the list of sponsors of the Bill shows not only the breadth of support but also the experience and expertise involved. I am particularly glad to see in the Chamber today our new colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for the City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) because it is within his constituency that so many of the enormities have been perpetrated. I am flattered that he should have lent his name to the Bill.

The sponsors include a previous Secretary of State for the Environment, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) and the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Thomas), in whose city a great deal has been done to deface, obliterate and despoil. They also include the Leader of the Scottish National Party, the right hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) and the right hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Prentice), who had a ministerial responsibility for historic buildings—as did my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), another sponsor. These right hon. and hon. Members and others have lent their support because they feel that something along these lines is necessary.

It is an impressive list. These Members, many of whom have indicated that they would be more than happy to serve on a Standing Committee to consider the Bill, could transform the Bill into an acceptable vehicle for what we want to achieve.

I said that I have received letters from local authority elected representatives and officials. The officials have, for understandable reasons, asked to remain anonymous. I respect their wish. However, in discussions with the Minister I should be more than happy to show him letters that I have received.

I urge that the Bill be given careful consideration and be allowed to go to Committee. I know that there are objections. Only yesterday an article in The Guardian said that there was
"a considerable body of professional opinion"
which considers this sort of legislation to be superfluous and that existing laws are adequate to protect important views.

I find that an extraordinary argument. In the light of what I have said, I sug- gest that the facts are unambiguous. Our existing legislation contains no reference to the protection of skyline or other views. The words do not appear in any of our planning laws. The present system of leaving the protection or the designation of such views to the total discretion of the planners is inadequate.

In recent years thousands of fine views—not all of them in London by any means—have been ruined or marred by insensitive development. It would be a daunting and gloomy task to have to catalogue them. They provide ample evidence that the present arrangements are insufficient. It is not that the intentions are wrong. It is not that the motivation of those who introduced them or the dedication of those who seek to implement them is wrong. It is that the arrangements that are at fault.

The argument that there will be no more high buildings in London—even if it were true—which it is not—is not entirely relevant. A relatively low building can be just as destructive of the beauty and scale of a scene as a relatively high one. We have only to go out on to the Terrace and look across at the vulgarly insensitive St. Thomas's Hospital to know what that means. Even to look at it, if one has the sort of soul of which Wordsworth wrote when he wrote "Upon Westminster Bridge", is sufficient to make one want to be an inmate there. It is a terrible building.

The GLC's protection of buildings is limited by law to buildings in excess of 150 ft. and the number of views which the council has chosen to place under its limited protection is pitifully small. When I was trying to draw up the list from which I quoted a little earlier I think that I reached 200. I do not pretend that my list is exhaustive. However, the GLC's current high buildings policy actually names only six of those views.

Those six views are—the Houses of Parliament from St. James's, Buckingham Palace from the Mall, the towers of Westminster from the Serpentine, Kensington Palace from Kensington Gardens, St. Paul's from Parliament Hill, and St. Paul's from Westminster Pier.

Projects that have recently been approved or which are now threatened suggest strongly that the pattern of the past two decades will continue. Among the current plans within London there are the following—the new Fresh Wharf development, the Monument Street block and Liverpool Street Station—many hon. Members will have followed the argument about that—and the Cannon Street building near St. Paul's.

It is not just a question of what happened early in the past two decades or what is threatened now. Recent constructions built under the current protective legislation include Guy's Hospital, Southwark, which impedes the view of St. Paul's from Parliament Hill; the towers of South Bank, which dwarf the National Theatre—I am not talking just about ancient buildings which need protection—and the views of St. Paul's from the Monument. All these have been encroached upon or spoiled in varying degrees.

Only last week a number of hon. Members from both sides were disturbed and exercised about the Holloway Prison proposals. I speak with the full support of the hon. Member whose constituency is concerned, who regrets that he cannot be here today. We saw the Minister two or three times and we made representations. I do not blame Lord Harris or the Home Secretary, because much of this was decided a long time ago. The fact is that in an area of London which is particularly deprived, where there is little to uplift the soul or enliven the view, this extraordinarily interesting and, some would say, beautiful facade is being ripped down completely and replaced by something which can hardly inspire the residents living nearby.

So it is still going on. Again I refer to the National Westminster Tower. I have not yet been invited up the tower, and after what I have said today I doubt whether I ever shall be. I am glad that my account does not remain with the bank. I am told that the view from the tower is stupendous, but certainly the view of it is terrible.

I am delighted to have the enthusiastic support in this matter, as in all these cultural matters, of my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell). When considering what experts other than my hon. Friend have said about this matter, I looked at something written by Louis Kahn, the celebrated American architect, whose recent building—the English Literature Library at Yale—drew rave notices, if I may use the terms in this context, in The Times two weeks ago. Mr. Kahn was writing about high buildings in Jerusalem. He said:

"It isn't so much whether it is eight storeys or ten storeys. There is a point at which a building becomes so assertive that everything around it is crushed…. This is not only a developing city, but something which has a trust, which has qualities you can't easily measure…. It hasn't to do with the aesthetic value of high and low, nothing at all; it is a matter of heart."
Those are moving and significant words from a modern architect of enormous repute.

I say that because some people might get the idea that what I am suggesting is a stop on all modern architecture, that I am saying "A plague on everything that has been built since 1945". I say nothing of the sort. I do not think that architecture, which is the queen of the arts, has been particularly nobly represented or enshrined since 1945, but there have been notable exceptions, and the really sensitive architects are just as concerned about these things as I am.

I have had tremendous help in the work I have been doing from a very remarkable man called Arthur Kutcher, who was city planner for Jerusalem for a time but who could not abide what was going on there, so he did not remain city planner. He wrote a remarkable book about it. He wrote to me about the Bill. He said that he did not think that it went far enough. He said:
"I think it important that local authorities be required to make policies suited to their own situations, and that the material which explains policies, maps, photos, diagrams, etc. be made available for public inspection."
Mr. Kutcher detailed how and why it should be done.

Again, Mr. Kutcher drew my attention to a rather interesting quotation from perhaps the greatest of all experts on the city and its development—Lewis Mumford.
"Actually the skyscraper, from first to last, has been largely an obstacle to intelligent city planning or architectural progress. Its chief use was to overcrowd the land for private financial advantage, at no matter what cost to the municipality, and to provide, in the form of the meretricious towers that graced successive boom periods, a costly means of publicity and advertisement, conceived without any prudent calculation of the return on the investment."
That was Mumford in 1956.

I hazard a guess that there are many families living in tower blocks in this city and elsewhere in this country who only wish that Lewis Mumford's words had been taken more carefully to heart by those who decided to incarcerate them on the twenty-first storey.

This Bill is not just about high buildings. It is about protecting what is beautiful and delightful to look upon and what gives an extra dimension to life. We often talk in Parliament about the quality of life, but it is equally often a meaningless slogan until we start to put it into a real context. What I am seeking to do is to put it into a particularly real and appropriate context.

Although, inevitably, I have drawn most of my examples from London, this is not merely a question of my seeking to trespass on the territory of colleagues on both sides of the House who have the honour to sit for London constituences. This is a national problem. Fine buildings and beautiful views are not confined to the capital; they stand in equal need of protection elsewhere.

I think here of my own part of the country, the West Midlands, and of the new town of Redditch. In the village of Ipsley, there was a delightful pastoral scene of which the village church was the focal point. It is now totally dominated by a vast office block. I think, too, of the sadly disfigured skyline of Tamworth—I am sure that Peel would turn in his grave if he could see it now. I think of Lincoln Cathedral, in my native county, where some of the most beautiful views from Brayford Pool have been significantly disturbed or destroyed, or the rape of Worcester and Gloucester, where two of our supreme medieval buildings have had their environs mutilated and desecrated to an almost unprecedented degree since the war.

It is not just in the towns. In the countryside, too, pastoral beauty and tranquillity are not always immune to insensitive developments. The Countryside Commission, in a report in 1974, called "New Agricultural Landscapes" said:
"siting, scale and materials used in new farm buildings in the more open countryside continue to be controversial".
Indeed they do, and in many cases the sylvan scene has been rudely shattered by the concert intruder.

The Bill seeks in effect to extend the conservation area concept. It does not say that nowhere, no how, shall any new building be erected or any old building pulled down. It seeks to make the planners look through a microscope at such proposals as would endanger the beauties that remain.

I believe that the Bill needs detailed examination. I hope that it will go into Committee and be examined, not only in detail in this place but also in the other place, where there are so many people, such as my noble Friend Lord Duncan-Sandys, who have a great deal to contribute and an enormous expertise at their command.

On the statute book, the Bill would be another milestone in the road towards a true conservation policy. I think that it would also inspire people in other countries. We can learn from other countries in some respects. For example, Switzerland has a regulation that one has to erect in scaffolding the shape of the building for so many days so that people can look upon it and reflect before final approval is given. That might have been difficult in the case of the National Westminster Tower, but I approve of the general philosophy. In Berlin, a gentleman rejoicing in the title of Landskonservator has the power of veto over certain developments.

Every country has its own means, and we have no need to be ashamed of what we have achieved. We have in many ways blazed the trail. But there is a deficiency. Let no one say that our laws are adequate. They are all right so far as they go. To take some of Canaletto's views, some nineteenth century drawings, and photographs taken before and just after the last war and superimpose them on views of London in 1977 must make everyone shudder. What can be done in London can be done in Lincoln, Gloucester, Worcester and many other parts of the kingdom.

Therefore, I urge the Minister to approach this Bill, as I am sure he will, in a constructive way and to allow it to go into Committee, where it can be examined in detail in the hope that, at the end of the day, we shall have a workable piece of legislation which will afford adequate protection to the buildings and views that we have, and therefore ensure for our children a delight that we enjoy, and equally ensure that the millions of tourists who come here, not for our food or weather but for our heritage and history, will still be able to admire in a way that we cannot admire when we go to Naples or Jerusalem.

2.27 p.m.

It is a great pleasure to support the Bill. The House and the country owe my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) a great deal for the constructive vigilance that he maintains on behalf of us all and the national heritage. As I have pointed out before in the House, the majority of the monuments that the non-Londoner thinks of as London are in my constituency, so I have a natural constituency interest in the Bill.

I imagine that I should declare what one's biographical data would describe as an outside interest. I am a card-carrying member of all the national conservation societies and a fair number of the local ecclesiastical and specialised ones as well. I hold my membership of these societies for the purposes that they have, and I hope that it will not be thought frivolous in a Friday debate if I say that their annual reports make ideal bedside reading—in shape, because they are easy to handle, in length, because they ideally occupy the 15 minutes that one needs before going to sleep, and in content, in that they concentrate the mind not only on the past but on the vigilance which will be needed tomorrow.

I am delighted that the movement of conservation societies should have seen the growth that it has seen in recent years. It has been one of the happier developments in our national life. At a time when the pressures of the economy are encroaching on the amount of time that volunteers are giving to conservation, I pay tribute to the amount of free and voluntary time given by members of such societies to make our planning procedures more effective.

I am also conscious, in the context of the Bill, that I should be wearing a filial hair shirt, at least as far as my hon. Friend is concerned. My father—I suppose that I should call him my noble father, and in so doing I am following the usage and etiquette of the House rather than expressing undue pietas—was not Minister of Housing and Local Government when the restrictions of the London Building Act 1888 were removed. But I fear that he was the Minister of Housing and Local Government the following year when a decision was taken about the Hilton Hotel in Park Lane.

I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West was not totally fair to my father when he described the modifications as having been slight. In fact 80 ft. was taken off the top of the building which, ironically, was the height formerly allowed under the London Building Act. That represented about a quarter of the present height, so it was more than a slight modification.

I offer my hon. Friend as a small olive branch the fact that later my father, as the then Member for Hampstead, intervened to prevent a development to the North-West of St. Paul's affecting and interrupting the famous view of St. Paul's from the Whitestone Pond in Hampstead. That is a totally incidental example of the vigilance of hon. Members in cases of this sort.

I have lived for the past 12 years in a Georgian terrace on the southern side of Highgate Hill. I should not like to speculate whether my hon. Friend's Bill would have prevented my Georgian terrace being built, but, apart from the cedars growing on the old estate of Baroness Burdett Coutts, where the Chancellor of the Exchequer used to live before moving to Downing Street, the view across to Crystal Palace on the far side of the Thames is entirely uninterrupted. Therefore, for the past 12 years I have had a vivid illustration of what has been happening to the skyline of London. This illustration has been even more vivid as a consequence of the clean air legislation passed in the middle 1950s, in which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton), who is also a supporter of this Bill, played such a part in the old Ministry of Power.

The impact of that legislation has had costs as well as blessings. It has increased average visibility from 1½ miles to 4½ miles. In line with Balfour's remark to Asquith—that his well-known lucidity of style was a positive disadvantage when he had nothing to say—the greater clarity that we have in consequence of the Clean Air Act means that we are much more conscious of the eyesores than we might otherwise have been. With binoculars, on a clear day, I can see Big Ben, which is six or seven miles away from my home, but the same process has brought the Shell Building into much clearer focus than it would otherwise have been—and, even at that distance, it is not a pretty sight.

The great problem is how to introduce large modern buildings into an environment where the scale belongs to past centuries. The English parish church has been a remarkable example of how buildings have evolved over the years and have embraced a whole series of architectural styles, but that is within the context of a single building and the limited space that it implies.

The only city that is absolutely rigorous about the height of buildings is Vienna, where I believe there is a total ceiling of less than 100 ft. embracing the whole city. It is not a city that I know well. I do not know what constraints that places on developers there, or what demands there are for development.

Amsterdam and Helsinki have always seemed to be cities where concern for the skyline has been sensibly observed. I do not think I should be as charitable as my hon. Friend about Paris, where, at least in recent years, developments have been going in the wrong direction. But Paris has always had a different planning tradition from ours, deriving no doubt from the legendary Haussmann. It is a city of boulevards and vistas rather than, as London is, essentially a city of villages with little planned connection.

I remember driving in my constituency with Oscar Stonorov, the architect and city planner from Philadelphia who did so much for that city and who was tragically killed with Walther Reuther when advising the United Automobile Workers on the great union complex in Michigan. As we were driving down a one-way street, he sagely remarked that, although one-way streets might dramatically accelerate the traffic, they had one consequence for which architects had never allowed—that the buildings would be seen by motorists from only one direction and from one side, whereas they had been planned to be looked at from every side.

His great friend Ed Bacon, the city planner of Philadelphia, who earned a rare distinction among city planners by appearing on the front cover of Time magazine and who has latterly served as adviser to the Grosvenor Estate, has expressed the view that planning procedures and arrangements in this country are perhaps over-cumbersome. In supporting this Bill, I shall at some stage have to ask his indulgence for having sought to make procedures even more complicated. Philadelphia is a city where the marriage of old and new has been very successfully accomplished.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West, I have also taken soundings among those who have to pass judgment on these matters. Though I did not read the article in The Guardian to which he referred, I sense that there would be enthusiasm for stricter legislation in the area covered by the Bill.

I remember a comment in the long-running serial on the conservation of Bath—that it was very difficult for laymen to know what effect new developments would have on a view in advance of the buildings being put up. That was a problem for those who were making the decisions, essentially as laymen, as members of the local planning authority. Once the buildings have gone up, it is too late. One is put in the ludicrous situation of a man who has cramp and is told that the best cure would have been to take salt three days beforehand. By then it is too late and the damage has been done.

Whatever view one takes about the Bath controversy, I cannot help thinking that if legislation such as my hon. Friend's Bill had been in force and it had caused people to ponder a moment longer before perpetrating the Beaufort Hotel behind Robert Adam's Pulteney Bridge, we should all have been beneficiaries.

The Speaker of another House, the House of Representatives in the United States Congress, that great Texan Sam Rayburn, sagely said that the three wisest words in the English language are "Wait a minute". It is in the spirit of that remark that I enthusiastically support the Bill brought forward by my hon. Friend.

2.38 p.m.

I have great sympathy with the Bill proposed by the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack). I apologise for not being here earlier. The hon. Gentleman managed to ruin the lunch that I was hosting, because my eyes could not stray from the monitor. It may be that he has covered some of the comments I wish to make on the Bill.

I have sympathy with the Bill, but it would be wrong if the impression were to get about that nothing is done in this area. The hon. Gentleman will know that this country has a good record with regard to listed buildings. I live in the old area of a new town. The local authority has been diligent in putting orders on old buildings. That is most important in a new town.

I understand that there are about 250,000 listed buildings in England alone. That means that the consent of the local planning authority or the Secretary of State is required before any of those buildings can be altered, extended or demolished. I suspect that hon. Members welcome that, but I am not sure that some of those who live in listed buildings have as sympathetic an attitude towards them as they should have.

We have an extremely good record on national parks. About 9 per cent.—quite a sizeable chunk—of England and Wales has been designated as 10 national parks. I was about to say that it is almost impossible to cut a blade of grass in them. It is right that we should pay proper attention to our environment. I agree with the hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) that once brick has been put on brick damage is done to the environment in a way that makes it extremely difficulty to put right.

One of my worries about the Bill is that it seeks to impose yet another responsibility and duty on local government when, as the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West will know as well as I do, the comment which perhaps is most often made to hon. Members is "Stop passing laws which give us things to do and then cutting back on the money which you give us to do them with". Local authorities have discretion in this matter. They may formulate policies appropriate to their areas.

I envisage problems arising, especially perhaps in the larger cities where more than one local authority is concerned. There is evidence in London of the difficulty, to put it no higher, of achieving agreement between, for example, borough councils and the GLC on certain matters. The Covent Garden redevelopment is a good case in point. I am not sure of the stage that that has reached, but for donkey's years there have been arguments between the local authorities interested in it.

I am generally in favour of giving local authorities as much discretion as possible in the hope that they will sensibly exercise it in response to the wishes of the people they are in business to represent and to serve. The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West will know as well as I do that there is immense delay in the submission of structure plans. Many of the plans are hopelessly out of date. With the work on the structure plans nearing completion, if the Bill were to go on the statute book it would impose a new duty on local authorities to take this matter into account and it could have the effect of delaying the submission of structure plans, which could have undesirable consequences in other respects. I am sure that that is not the hon. Gentleman's intention, but that would be a practical effect. Perhaps he will think about it.

Because the Bill would impose an extra obligation on local authorities, there would be a cost consequence in terms of time. In the past two years my district council—indeed, the county council—has frozen posts which are vacant and has a general policy of non-replacement of posts which become vacant as a result of people leaving or retiring. A smaller number of people than would normally be employed in our town halls and county halls are expected to carry out an increasing amount of work, and the Bill would put an added burden on them. That is not a particularly serious objection, but it is a factor. What worries me more is that the submission of structure plans would be delayed.

Clause 6(1)(a) provides:
"the local planning authority shall publish in a local newspaper circulating in the locality in which the land is situated a notice indicating the nature of the development in question and naming a place"
where the plans can be inspected. This highlights a general problem with planning applications. My view, for what it is worth, is that existing legislation and practice in this matter are totally inadequate. The provision is based on the assumption that most people in a locality regularly read a local newspaper and cannot wait for their eyes to light upon a notice on the submission of a planning application or an advertisement.

Usually such notices are displayed in such a way that, although they may be legally beautiful, they are extremely difficult to read. I have had many complaints about proposed developments, not in the new town which forms the major part of my constituency, but in a village called Bovingdon, a community of about 1,500 souls. Even people living six doors away from a development may not be told by the local authority that a planning application has been made which, if approved, would have a great effect on the environment in which they live.

I dislike the assumption that everybody reads the local newspaper. I dislike the assumption that, if they do so, they will pore through the fine print of the advertisements. I should much prefer a duty to be laid on the proposed developer to have not only to cause publication in a newspaper but to ensure that a leaflet is put through the letter boxes in houses of people who will be affected by the development. I should be generous about the interpretation of the area to be defined. We have all had experience of people saying to us "I did not know that it would happen". The first they know about it is when the bulldozers move in and the work starts and they appeal to their Member of Parliament to get on a white horse and try to slam the bulldozers into reverse. By that time it is far too late.

I acknowledge that there is a dilemma. People generally wish to involve themselves in the making of decisions on planning applications. Both those who wish to see the development go ahead and those involved in its construction argue that involvement of this kind inevitably means delay which adds to the expense of the development. That is a dilemma. However, I come down on the side of saying that a choice must be made. We must accept that there will be delay, and it is right that there should be delay. If as a consequence the developer is involved in extra costs, the developer should be prepared to bear it.

Perhaps that would make some developers think a little more about what they propose to do, particularly in areas where developments are especially serious. I have in mind, not just Bovingdon, but another village in my constituency where the erection of one building of the wrong sort in the wrong place can ruin the aspect and the environment. I refer to Wilstone, on the edge of my constituency. It had a village school and the houses had been built around it, but it was no longer needed and was demolished. An appalling block of flats, an absolute eyesore, was put up in its place. The development went though the planning procedures. People objected, and I did my best to help them, but it is the elected councillors who have the voice and votes in these matters.

That is why I dislike the way in which Clause 6 is presently written. I hope that if the hon. Member gets his Bill a Second Reading he will have further thought about this in Committee to see whether we can put better teeth into it.

2.50 p.m.

I speak briefly in support of a Bill embodying a principle that will be of immense benefit to the people of this country in years to come. It is a principle that will certainly enhance the quality of life and help the cause of conserving all that is good in our British heritage. I emphasise the word "principle", because there could well be details in the Bill that might not be perfectly appropriate, and I do not claim to have studied it in that sort of depth.

I concur with those hon. Members who have emphasised the undesirability of adding yet further burdens to the already complex and tortuous business of getting planning permission. We have to get the balance right. But in essence it is a desirable principle and it will fill a gap that undoubtedly exists in our planning laws at the present time.

In making a case for a Bill of this kind there is always a tendency to point to the failures which have occurred and to the mistakes, and by so doing to distort the picture slightly. It is true, as the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett) said, that there have been very great conservation successes. While I cannot make comparisons with other countries, the conservation of historic buildings in this country is something of which we can be proud.

If that is so, it is due to the very considerable efforts of certain societies and organisations and the efforts of a number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack), who has been diligent in this cause ever since he came into this House. It is right to point to the successes. There are many areas in which the skyline has been well preserved and where local authorities have been enlightened in preventing skylines, landscaping and the like from being ruined by the wrong buildings.

I pay particular tribute to the landscape work done by the county councils and by many of the road authorities. I have in mind particularly a bypass through my own constituency—the A2, which bypasses Boughton. I was immensely struck by the care taken by the road authority in ensuring that the road cut through a high wooded hillside at such an angle and with such grading that it did not produce an unsightly scar on the landscape.

This sort of effort has been reproduced in many other road plans throughout the nation in recent years. At the same time as urging a need for greater skyline planning we should pay tribute to the many architects and planners who have always taken this factor into account.

While I would be somewhat critical of many modern buildings, we should emphasise the immense success of British architecture in the post-war years. The success of British architecture at home and abroad is one of the unsung success stories of this country. British architecture and planning are admired throughout the world, and in this respect we are seen as something of a world leader. This puts into perspective one's criticisms of some of the undesirable things which have taken place.

I welcome the Bill and hope very much that it will receive a Second Reading. I hope that it will go into Committee and that when it is considered there great care will be taken to ensure that it is made workable in practice. This is the essential thing. The principle is right. Let us make sure that it is acceptable in practice and does not place unreasonable burdens on architects and others.

The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead probably exaggerated the difficulties and delays that would ensue. Surely all we are saying is that in a certain number of cases—probably a limited number—the skyline impact would have to be taken into account. I cannot believe that once that principle is established it would cause particular delays in planning or in producing structure plans. Be that as it may, this is a matter that should be considered in Committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West mentioned the report that someone had criticised the Bill as being superfluous. Frankly, I cannot agree with that proposition. I believe that the Bill is needed and I hope that it will get on the statute book for that reason. I am sorry that I missed my hon. Friend's opening remarks and he may well have said what I now say about the skyline of London. If anyone believes that this Bill is superfluous, he has only to look at what has happened to the skyline of London in the last two decades. Had we had the foresight to plan on the lines suggested by my hon. Friend, we should have preserved much of what we have traditionally regarded as fine and beautiful, and which has been substantially obliterated.

That unique and characterful skyline with which we are so familiar, portrayed so often by Canaletto, dominated by St. Paul's and dozens of church spires, is now very largely submerged among high-rise buildings. Its appearance is almost the same as that to be seen in any other city. This change from the city of Christopher Wren to a skyline more typical of a third-rate New York has not happened because somebody willed it. The planners did not say "We will make it a high-rise London." It happened almost by default.

Certainly there would have been planning of individual sites and the authorities would have refused to have a high-rise building in a particular place, or said that it must not be as high as the builders! desired to make it because of its impact on a particular locality. But I do not believe that the planners said after the war "We will have a high-rise London and change its skyline". It did not happen in that way but by default and neglect.

It is tragic that some of the things of which we are proud and which have been built up over centuries have changed their character in only 20 years. I believe that the Bill will prevent this sort of thing.

It is easy to quote London as an outstanding and glaring example, but there are many examples in the villages and towns throughout the country. In my own town of Faversham we take pride in the fact that from a number of vantage points we can still see basically the old town dominated by a church spire. I have no doubt that the planning authorities will maintain that particular vista for many years to come—for ever, I hope. But it does not follow that that is happening in all other towns and villages. We destroy something very valuable if we allow buildings to ruin skylines. To do so can alter the whole quality of life in a particular area.

Earlier I mentioned roads and the importance of road planning to ensure that we maintain attractive landscapes. I am not quite sure whether the Bill relates only to structures or whether "structure" includes roads. This is a point to be considered in Committee, unless I have misunderstood the position.

Another feature of the Bill is that it extends somewhat the need to protect conservation areas. I can think of specific examples of a designated conservation area where there is no effective control over construction or demolition of buildings outside the conservation area, but which have a considerable visual impact on the conservation area itself. I can think of specific examples where industrial buildings have been allowed beyond the conservation area.

Sometimes when one is standing in a narrow street looking at ancient buildings one can see industrial buildings that spoil the skyline. The Bill extends the area of control and will mean that a developer will not be allowed to consruct or demolish buildings that affect the skyline outside and beyond the conservation area.

I am a believer in the concept that at same stage planning control must be extended to demolition generally—to almost all demolition. This is one of the recommendations of the Dobry Report, but it is also a recommendation that has not commanded total support. It is an integral part of planning to require permission for the demolition of a building, and I cannot believe that it could present insuperable problems. The Bill takes a step in the right direction, because it proposes to extend demolition control to areas outside conservation areas, which could have a considerable impact on the conservation area itself.

I believe that the present laws are not adequate. I cannot say that the Bill is perfect in all respects, but it might be that, because my hon. Friend is sponsoring this measure, there is a fair chance of its being very good in detail as well as in principle. It will be of immense benefit to the people of this country if this principle of the skyline protection is embodied in statutory form, and I hope that the Bill will receive a Second Reading and go on to receive the Royal Assent.

3.0 p.m.

I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) on introducing, if I might so call it, such an ambitious Bill. I am not surprised that it is the hon. Gentleman who has introduced it, not because the measure is ambitious but because of its content. He is well known in the House as the founder and secretary, I believe, of the all-party heritage group and for his continuing and positive interest in conservation matters. Therefore, as I say, I am not surprised to see his name as the sponsor of the Bill.

The hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) and the hon. Member for the City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) mentioned the growth and importance of conservation societies and postive interest in this direction. I have a number of societies in my constituency, and one of the reasons for my interest in conservation is that I happen to represent Greenwich where, to use the words of the hon. Member, we have a very noble vista.

We also have—and this is an interesting illustration of the point that I am making—a building known as the Paragon. It is one of the finest buildings in the area. I am told that not long after the war there was a serious proposal to demolish that building. The fact that conservation societies are as active as they are is an important change from the situation that existed 10 or 20 years ago.

I can understand why the hon. Gentleman has tried to pin down and control the elusive phenomenon of the sykline. I can understand it partly because I occupy an office on the seventeenth floor of the building to which he referred, where the Department of the Environment works. I believe I am correct in saying that the late Tony Crosland once said that the greatest advantage of being Secretary of State for the Environment was that he did not have to look at the building. At any rate, I see the skyline from my room. Indeed, I see on the horizon many of the buildings that were described by the hon. Gentleman. If I were on the fifth floor or the tenth floor, I should see a different horizon and a different skyline, and this is an issue that I want to raise in a moment.

I referred a moment ago to the skyline as an elusive phenomenon, and that is one of the difficulties with which we are faced. It is the reason why, speaking on behalf of the Government, I cannot lend support to the measures that are proposed in the Bill. What I want to do is to try to show that desirable though the proposals in the Bill may appear, they may, in fact, achieve very little besides the duplication of existing power.

I think it right to remind the House of the means that can already be used to protect both whole areas and individual buildings. Starting with built-up areas, the Secretary of State for the Environment is required, under Section 54 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, to compile lists of buildings of special architectural or historic interest for the guidance of local planning authorities.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett) referred to the fact that nearly 250,000 buildings have been listed in England alone. Listing means not only that the consent of either the local planning authority or the Secretary of State is obtained before the building in question is altered, extended or demolished, but also, under Section 28 of the 1971 Act, that local planning authorities must publicise any proposal that would affect its setting. DOE Circular 23/77 which was issued to all local planning authorities in March gives advice on the interpretation of the word "setting", and I think that it might be helpful if I quote that advice:
"The 'setting' of a building may be limited to the immediate surroundings of the building, but often may include land some distance from it. For example, where a listed building forms an important visual element in a street, it would probably be right to regard any development in the street as being within the setting of the building. A proposed high building might also affect the setting of a listed building some distance away. This provision—that is, that relating to the advertisement of proposals affecting the setting of a listed building—should therefore not be interpreted too narrowly, and, if there is doubt, in favour of publicity."
In the same circular, authorities were asked to ensure that they
"bring fully instructed opinion to bear on any development which, by its character and/or location, might be held to have an adverse effect on buildings of special architectural or historic interest".
In specially important cases authorities were advised to consider seeking independent professional advice on the proposals before reaching a decision on them and they were reminded that the advice of the Royal Fine Art Commission could also be sought in such cases.

Buildings which are not considered worthy of listing individually are often listed for their value as a group and are thereby given all the protection "listing" confers. But local authorities do not have to depend entirely on the Secretary of State to introduce protective measures for particular areas. Instead, under Section 277 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 they can themselves designate conservation areas, which are defined as
"areas of special architectural or historic interest the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance."
This definition is clearly very broad, indeed Circular 23/77, to which I have already referred, suggests that areas appropriate for designation as conservation areas will be found in almost every town and many villages. Such areas may be large or small, from whole town centres to squares, terraces and smaller groups of buildings; they are often centred on listed buildings but not always, for exampe, peasant groups of other buildings, open spaces, trees or a village green may equally well contribute to the special character of an area. There are aready more than 4,000 conservation areas in Engand.

The designation of a conservation area has three main consequences: first, under Section 277A of the Act, the demolition of all buildings within it is brought under control; second, under Section 277B, the local planning authority may be required to prepare a scheme for its preservation and enhancement, and, third, proposals for new development which is likely to affect the character of the area to any significant extent must be advertised, under Section 28(2) of the Act. As regards the latter, the planning authority is required to consider any representations it receives in response to the advertisement.

I know that criticism has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead about the effect of advertising and so on. One could well find that many conservation societies favour the monitoring of advertisements to make sure that new proposals are brought to the attention of not just those people immediately affected but also anyone further afield who may be concerned. More generally, in determining applications for development in conservation areas, planning authorities have been advised that special regard should be had to such matters as bulk, height, materials, colour, vertical or horizontal emphasis and design.

I turn to the subject of ancient monuments. Noteworthy buildings not suitable for occupation may be scheduled as "ancient monuments", a term which can include almost any building or structure of historic interest made or occupied by man in ancient times and a number are still occupied today.

There are now about 11,700 scheduled ancient monuments in England. Local planning authorities have been asked to consult my Department about any applications for planning permission to carry out development which would affect an ancient monument, and they have been advised that the desirability of preserving both the monument and its setting should be a material consideration when determining such applications.

There has, rightly, been some mention of rural areas, not least because they are also covered in the Bill. But I am afraid that I do not believe that the Bill will add anything useful to the existing comprehensive machinery for safeguarding the landscape of the countryside which has been created since the war in the Town and Country Planning Acts, the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 and the Countryside Act 1968. Many of the most valuable skyline views in the countryside are in areas of great landscape importance already designated either as national parks or areas of outstanding natural beauty by the Countryside Commission, where they are of national significance, or as areas of great landscape value by local planning authorities. These areas are very extensive. National parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty between them already cover almost 20 per cent. of the land area of England and Wales. Although these designations do not, any more than does this Bill, confer extra powers of control on local planning authorities, they are indicators of where special attention should and will be paid to development and the basic framework around which, with the advice and help of the Countryside Commission, local planning authorities evolve policies in their structure and local plans for the care of the countryside.

To add a further designation for special skyline views might, I believe, detract from the importance of the rest. Indeed, when the report of the National Park Policy Review Committee suggested, with some hesitation, the idea of a special new "national heritage area" designation for especially sacrosanct parts of the national parks, the Government view expressed in Circular 4/76 was that to add another designation within an existing one would tend to reduce the status of, and therefore the protection afforded in practice to, the remainder of the area already under designation. This danger is obviously also inherent in the measures this Bill seeks to introduce.

In that connection, I was interested to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Faversham in which he referred to roads. When one is looking at a view, it is not just the skyline which is important. The scarring effect of a motorway or new bypass on the landscape can be equally damaging.

Absence of designation does not, of couse, mean no control, and all the powers to control development referred to in this Bill are already available to be used if local authorities wish to use them. Although it may be valuable to remind all concerned that skyline views are important in the countryside, I do not think that legislation is the right way to do it. Though I have not been asked for it, I think that it is not unreasonable to give an assurance that, in the light of the interesting speech by the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West, we shall look at the circulars and see whether there are new wordings which may be of use to draw more attention perhaps than is the case at the moment to the importance of the skyline, because I think that the hon. Gentleman's case has been well made. However, there are other aspects of country landscape which need conserving, and I cannot see any reason to single out the skyline for exceptional mention, because of other vitally important factors.

Before I leave the subject of the countryside, I should also say that I am sorry to see a Bill affecting the rural landscape drawn up in such a way as to exclude the Countryside Commission. I know that the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West apologised for mistakes in and omissions from the Bill, and I well understand that. But it is important to place on record that the Countryside Commission is not only the Government's statutory adviser on country matters but is also responsible for the designation of areas of national importance. It has statutory functions, too, in helping local planning authorities on the designations that are their responsibility and on countryside policy generally. I have received no indication from the Commission that it sees any need for legislation of this sort to protect skyline views.

Apart from all these formal designations I have described which afford some protection to skylines, there is nothing to prevent local planning authorities from designating specific skyline views that they want to protect. Structure plans are prepared by the county planning authorities, or, in the case of the Peak District National Park and the Lake District National Park, by the relevant planning board. It is for the planning authority to decide what matters should be dealt with in the plan, although the Secretary of State is concerned with the relationship of the plan to national and regional policies, the policies of neighbouring authorities, with the reconciliation of conflict within the plan and with the resolution of substantial controversy.

The county planning authority can therefore use the structure plan to set out policies and proposals for protecting the skyline. These could only be described in broad terms because a structure plan is not the place for the specific indication of sites. The identification of precise areas of land affected would be left to be settled in the local plans which are prepared by district planning authorities. But the new development plan system does provide the necessary machinery.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned London a good deal. As he knows, the Greater London Council, as the strategic planning authority for London, has already taken action to protect skyline views in the Greater London Development Plan which, now that it has been approved, is the structure plan for Greater London. The plan lays down the principles which local planning authorities should follow when considering planning applications for high buildings. London is divided into three categories for this purpose—first, areas where high buildings are inappropriate, and these areas are described as including those within or with a visual relationship to famous areas of special character, such as Whitehall and Trafalgar Square; those within or with a visual relationship to other areas of high environmental quality, such as the central Royal Parks; those situations in which high buildings would spoil traditional viewpoints of, for example, the Houses of Parliament or St. Paul's Cathedral, and, finally, major high points and ridges such as Sydenham Hill. The plans policy for these areas is that proposals for high buildings within them should normally be refused.

The second category of areas is those which are particularly sensitive to the impact of high buildings and includes areas of visual significance such as high points and ridges, like Alexandra Palace ridge, not included in the first category; areas of rural character such as Epping Forest; certain Thames-side areas and areas of architectural or historic interest, or other special character. Among the conditions under which high buildings may be allowed in such areas is that they would not harm the essential character of the surrounding area.

The third category of areas includes the rest of Greater London and here, as in areas in the second category, one of the seven necessary conditions for approval of a high building is that it should not mar the skyline nor intrude to the detriment of any famous or pleasant view. The Greater London Council is able to enforce these policies because the Town and Country Planning (Local Planning in Greater London) Regulations 1965, made in pursuance of the London Government Act 1963, provide that planning applications for development exceeding 150 ft. in a specified area of Central London, or exceeding 125 ft. elsewhere in London, shall be referred by the appropriate borough to the GLC before approval is given. The GLC can then give a direction as to how the application should be dealt with.

The hon. Gentleman has suggested that applications for planning permission for development affecting skyline views should be advertised in local newspapers. But local newspaper coverage of planning applications is already substantial, as shown by a survey undertaken in 1974 in connection with the Dobry review. This showed that in more than a third of districts local papers printed fists of all applications and in another 43 per cent. of districts a selection from these lists was published.

This brings me to the specific proposals in the hon. Gentleman's Bill. As well as duplicating existing powers which I have already described, they are, frankly, in many respects impracticable. First, structure plans should not be used for precise designation of skyline views. As I have explained, such plans are intended to be used to set out policies and proposals in general terms, and these are then worked out in detail in local plans. Thus, the Greater London Development Plan gives only a general diagramatic indication of the distribution and extent of the three categories of area described in its high buildings policy.

Second, I am a bit puzzled by what is intended by Clause 6(2);
"Any buildings, structures or landscape features which have been designated as constituting an integral part of a designated skyline view shall be protected as if they were unlisted buildings in a conservation area."
The major protection afforded to such buildings is that they may not be demolished without the permission of the local planning authority, yet Clause 6(3) provides:
"The demolition or alteration of buildings, structures or landscape features which constitute an integral part of designated skyline views shall not be prohibited "—
with some exceptions.

Third, I can foresee problems arising particularly in rural areas where sight lines can be very long because the designated viewpoint, the skyline, and the proposed development are all in the areas of different district councils. This could well lead to conflict among the councils and would reduce the value of advertising proposals for development in the area where it would be located.

In that connection, I have already hinted at the difficulty of defining a skyline. The hon. Gentleman attempts to do it in his Bill, but, as I read it, it suggests that the definition of a skyline is what the local authority defines it as.

Let me read the definition in the interpretation clause:

"'skyline view' means the visible horizon, or part thereof, as seen from viewpoints to be designated by the local planning authority….".
The skyline depends on the point from which one happens to be looking at it. The same is true of the horizon; it changes as one moves along. One is almost tempted to ask "Where does the rainbow end?"

Inevitably, there is difficulty in defining precisely what one is aiming to do, and this also would impose considerable difficulty on the Secretary of State or, indeed, on anyone else in attempting to require a local authority to do something which depended for its definition on what happened to be the viewpoint at the time.

There is another point to be raised here, and I raise it quite seriously. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have great sympathy with the Bill and with his objectives, but I have to be careful in what I say because this is a matter of taste. No doubt, there are some people who admire some of the high buildings which we now have. It is difficult to bring matters of taste into our planning law. I think that it was the hon. Member for Faversham who spoke about the conflict which may exist—indeed, it always does exist—in planning decisions between what may be aesthetically desirable and the other considerations which have to be borne in mind. One can only hope that planning committees at county and district level take decisions in the light of all the considerations rather than in the light of only a few.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead referred to the timing of the Bill, and he spoke of it first in terms of local government expenditure. I underline his point in that respect. He spoke of it also—this is important—in relation to the present structure planning exercise. It seems to me that, if the Bill were to become law, it would make that exercise more complicated.

County planning authorities have been asked to determine and concentrate on issues of key structural importance and their inter-relationship in preparing the structure plan for their area, and to leave the less important issues, even though structural, to be dealt with later in the review of their plan. They have been requested to submit their structure plans to the Secretary of State by 1st April next year. The preparation of plans is well advanced in most parts of the country. I do not wish to place unnecessary hurdles in the way of planning authorities preparing their initial structure plans.

To conclude then, my main argument against this Bill is that it seeks to introduce measures which would duplicate those already in existence. Some hon. Members may feel that local authorities have not used their present powers effectively to safeguard the skyline. Much of the speech of the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West described the results of past decisions. But the need to protect a particular skyline must always be balanced against the need for development which would intrude upon it. I am sure that local planning authorities are well aware when these issues arise and are well placed to take a carefully-balanced decision.

If they are not aware, the answer lies in the work of the conservation societies and bodies of one kind or another and the work of the excellent all-party heritage group, to which I referred at the beginning of my speech and of which the hon. Member is the secretary.

3.26 p.m.

I apologise for not having been here for the beginning of the Minister's speech. My absence was not because of skyline problems, but the problems of traffic congestion in certain parts of London.

I wish to support the purposes of the Bill and to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) on introducing it. Almost no one has been more dedicated to the problems of conserving the best of our built and natural heritage than my hon. Friend. This Bill is very much in the tradition of his great pursuit in that sphere.

I understood the many points of hesitancy expressed by the Under-Secretary about the drafting of the Bill. I can remember receiving that type of brief from the Department setting out the complications that a measure such as this would create and the increased volume of work it might involve if it reached the statute book.

However, I hope that the Bill will go to Committee and be discussed in detail, and I hope that during the Committee stage the planning departments of the local authorities will take a great deal of interest in what is said and in the aims of the Bill. If in some changed form the Bill reaches the statute book and has an impact in this sphere, that, I believe, would be all to the good.

By their very nature, planning departments certainly tend to avoid the wider impact of individual planning decisions. Perhaps too many planning decisions of every possible kind are taken in committee with members looking at pieces of paper and failing properly to visualise the effect of the development on the immediate neighbouring districts and the long-term effect on the skyline itself.

Two frequent pleasures of my life are constantly interrupted by the products of planning decisions on the skyline. One of my greatest pleasures as the hon. Member for Worcester is sitting in our famous county cricket ground, which is illustrated in calendar after calendar and in picture after picture as one of the most beautiful sites in England—or, at least it was until the new technical college was built.

Now many of the best calendars carry the pre-war picture of the ground, not the post-war picture. This beautiful location, with the cathedral as a fore-cloth, now has this quite hideous building alongside it, giving a permanent reproduction of a war-time pillbox. This is one illustration of how the impact of a development on the skyline was ignored by the planners.

The second normal routine of my life is exercising my Old English sheepdog—or rather he exercising me—through Hyde Park each morning. Permanent damage has been done to Park Lane by the Hilton Hotel and its incredible intrusion on that skyline now affects one of the most used facilities in Greater London.

These are two examples of where, if provisions such as those contained in this Bill had applied, the decision taken by the planners would have been markedly different.

The skyline is one of the great pleasures of this country, both in the countryside and in many of the older and more historic towns. Without benefit of planning committees, our predecessors showed a remarkable ability to keep a consistent skyline and to use similar building materials.

Another factor which I hope will enter the thinking of planning committees is the use of certain materials. The constant insistence of Cotswold planning authorities on Cotswold stone as facing material on buildings has helped to retain the characteristic beauty of that area. If the same insistence had been applied in other areas, far less of our skyline would have been ruined.

As a former Secretary of State for the Environment and one who is as enthusiastic as my hon. Friend for preserving the best of the British environment, I hope that the Bill will be given a Second Reading, that it will be carefully discussed in Committee, and that as a result the quality of planning decisions will be enhanced.

3.32 p.m.

By leave of the House, I should like first to thank those colleagues, on both sides of the House, who have supported the Bill. I am particularly grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker). When he entered the Chamber, I reflected with some trepidation on what I had said about Worcester and was delighted to hear him confirm what I had said. That fair city has indeed been considerably despoiled.

My right hon. Friend's support was refreshing after the Minister's somewhat guarded remarks. I greatly appreciated his personal good will but regretted that he had had to rely so heavily upon a certain document. One felt that, while the words were the words of the Minister, the thoughts had come from elsewhere. I make no real criticism, because I know that the hon. Gentleman is greatly overworked, as are all Ministers in his Department. If I may make a plug, that merely shows the absolute necessity for a Minister whose total responsibility is our heritage.

I fully accept what the Minister said about circulars, but they are not Acts of Parliament.

I am glad to see the Minister nodding.

I appreciate the Minister's promise to look at the circulars again to see whether they deal properly with the skyline, but, although I hope that that will be done soon, it is no substitute for extending protective legislation.

Although the Minister gave an adequate and lucid summary of our planning laws so far as they affect conservation, he did not adequately deal with the points made about disfigurement of the skyline. Although authorities can do certain things, they manifestly have not done them. The enormous damage to the built environment in London and outside during the last two decades is clear testimony to the inadequacy of our present regulations.

I would again point to the sponsors of the Bill. After an eloquent speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester, I would remind the House that one sponsor is another former Secretary of State for the Environment, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), and that two others are former Ministers who had similar responsibility. That shows that this area needs investigaion and that the Bill should receive detailed consideration in Committee.

I refer again to what I said earlier about the report of the Layfield Committee, which recommended that statutory provision should be made along these lines. In view of the weight of experience that the sponsors of the Bill collectively represent and of the remarks of Layfield, it is not an adequate answer to refer to circulars and to promise to amend them, much as I appreciate the promise.

I therefore greatly hope that the Bill will receive a Second Reading. I reiterate my promise to consider all amendments that the Minister feels constrained to suggest. I hope that we shall be able to sit down together and work out amendments in a true all-party spirit. This is very much an all-party Bill. I accept what the hon. Gentleman said about taste, but taste is no particular answer. In the very listing of a building one is expressing taste, and in that respect the concept of taste is already enshrined on the statute book.

I hope that the Bill will be given a Second Reading and allowed to go to a Committee. It is my earnest hope that from that Committee will emerge the Act that will safeguard such beauties as we in this country can still enjoy, and thank God there are many of them.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 ( Committal of Bills).

Cruelty To Animals Act 1876 (Amendment) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Water Charges (Amendment) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

3.36 p.m.

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

As I indicated when I sought the leave of the House on 19th April to introduce the Bill, the general principle it embodies is that all householders in England and Wales should pay for the removal of sewage from their homes on the same basis irrespective of whether the house is connected to the main sewers or whether the property has a cesspool or septic tank.

The present situation is somewhat confused, varying from one local authority area to another. Households connected to the main sewers are liable to pay the general sewerage charges levied by the water authorities. Houses not connected to main sewers and with cesspools or septic tanks do not have to pay these charges. That was the result of the judgment of another place in the Daymond case. The water authorities have no statutory responsibility for the emptying, treatment and disposal of sewage from cesspools and septic tanks.

In practice, those local authorities which are still continuing the service of emptying cesspools and septic tanks are having to make their own charges schemes for that service. This varies greatly from one part of the country to another, but in some instances it means that such householders are faced with very large bills, particularly householders who have cesspools that need emptying frequently.

The purpose of the Bill is to impose a duty on water authorities to carry out the service of emptying cesspools and septic tanks and to require that the charges made by the water authority for this service should be on the same basis as the charges made to householders whose premises are connected to the main sewers. In other words, the general sewerage charges, which are worked out on the basis of a rate poundage, should also apply to those ratepayers whose premises have cesspools or septic tanks and who have required that the water authority should empty them when necessary.

However, in conversations and in communications that I have received since being given leave to introduce the Bill two difficulties have come to light. In the drafting of the Bill I hope to have been able to get round them. The first difficulty put to me was "Why should people have to pay the general sewerage charges if they are getting no services from the water authority?"

As I have pointed out, the situation in law at the moment is that no duty is imposed on water authorities to empty cesspools and septic tanks, so Clause 1(4) specifically states that a water authority shall perform these services, subject to a proviso which I shall mention later. This would mean that no one would be required to pay the general sewerage charges who was not receiving services for the emptying of cesspools and septic tanks.

The second difficulty brought to light was that many ratepayers whose premises are not connected to the main sewers have septic tanks which need emptying only very rarely. The principle of a septic tank is that there is a chemical reaction within it that enables most of the liquid content to be purified and to drain away into the soil and the sub-strata, leaving only a chemical residue inside which is minimised. Such appliances may need to be emptied only once every so many years, and if such ratepayers were having to pay the general sewerage charge on a regular annual basis, they would have to pay a lot more for the service than they are now paying.

Consequently, it seems to me that such householders should have the option of contracting out of the water authority's scheme to empty cesspols and septic tanks. That is why I have added wording to Clause 1(4) to the effect that the duty imposed upon the water authority shall not apply if the ratepayer indicates in writing that he does not want that service to be performed.

I think that that proviso will have the added advantage that, where such ratepayers are using commercial contractors for the emptying of their septic tanks, the charges of the contractors will act as a kind of brake on the charges levied by the water authorities for similar services. In other words, there will not be a monopoly in the work of emptying septic tanks and the treatment and disposal of the contents.

The principle of the Bill is straightforward. Instead of the present situation, in which many ratepayers without main drainage are having to pay excessive charges for the emptying of their cesspools and septic tanks, they should be paying on the same basis as those ratepayers whose homes are connected to the main sewerage. It is with that main principle in mind that I commend the Bill to the House.

3.45 p.m.

When the Minister replies to the Second Reading of this Bill, so ably moved by the hon. Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall), I should be grateful if he would deal with a problem that has arisen in the villages of Peatling Magna, Peatling Parva, Bruntingthorpe and Shawell, in my constituency, which are not on a main sewer. These villages have a certain facility for discharging some of their sewage into a local brook, but they must have septic tanks because they are not on a main sewer and do not have proper sewerage.

Following the Daymond judgment, the householders concerned were refunded the sewerage charge that they had paid. They still have to pay for the cleaning of septic tanks. That is fine. But, under the 1976 Act, they have been told that they will have to pay back all the money that was refunded to them after the Daymond decision. This is a decision of the Severn-Trent Water Authority acting through the Harborough District Council. Therefore, they have to pay full charges even though they do not receive a full sewerage service, and they have to pay for the emptying of their septic tanks.

Of all the cases that I have encountered, this is the hardest of all. Surely it cannot be right. I ask the Minister to confirm whether this is the position. If so, is it the intention to change that position by the Bill or in any other way?

3.47 p.m.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) on his initiative in seeking to do something about a prob- lem and an expense borne by many of his constituents. It is not the only sphere in which he takes the initiative and puts pressure on Government Departments. If he puts the same pressure on other Departments as he puts on the Department of the Environment, he is doing a good job.

The aim of the Bill is to allow the owners of domestic properties without mains drainage to elect to pay a sewerage charge to a water authority in return for the emptying and treatment of their cesspools or septic tanks. At the moment the emptying is carried out by the local authority or a contractor and treatment is carried out by the water authority.

Under the Bill, the water authority would be required to make no distinction between sorts of sewerage, whether mains sewerage or cesspools and septic tanks, in setting charges. The owners of properties unconnected to mains sewerage would therefore be given the option of paying the standard sewerage charge in return for immunity from any supplementary charges for the emptying and treatment of their cesspools. This would be an option under the Bill. It would not be compulsory.

Following the 1975 Daymond judgment and the Water Charges Act 1976, owners of unconnected properties have not been liable to pay any sewerage charges to water authorities. Many owners rejoiced in that decision. But they have had to pay separate emptying and treatment charges. The emptying charges are paid to the local authority or contractor and treatment charges are paid to the water authority.

Properties with cesspools that require frequent emptying have in some instances faced very high charges. There is tremendous variation between the charges levied by different local authorities. For example, if a property owner had a 1,000 gallon tank and had to pay so much each time it was emptied, the total charges could run into hundreds of pounds.

The responsibility is split between the local authorities, which do the emptying, and water authorities, which carry out the treatment. Both are entitled to charge. Although many local authorities used to provide a free or subsidised emptying service, they have tended to raise their charges to something near an economic level to end the burden on the general rate. At the same time, water authorities, which, under the Water Act 1973, have a statutory obligation to break even, have introduced treatment charges.

I assure my hon. Friend that we are well aware of the problems that have arisen. There are between 900,000 and 1 million examples of properties that are exempted from sewerage charges following the Daymond decision, although most of them are not for cesspits. It was for this reason that a consultative document on the review of the water industry raised the question whether the same body might be made responsible for both emptying and treatment.

Perhaps if I read what we put into the consultation document it will paint the picture. The Water Act 1973 left unchanged the power of local authorities to make provision for and to charge for the collection of sewage from cesspits serving houses not connected to main sewerage. These powers were left unchanged after consultation with the local authority associations.

The Control of Pollution Act 1974 provides for local authorities to be collection authorities with the duty to arrange for a free collection service of the contents of privies and a service on request and at reasonable charge for removing the contents of cesspits. Both water authorities and local authorities are considering their policy in this area in the light of the Daymond judgment.

Some of the combined charges are now very high. The review provides an opportunity to consider whether the present division of responsibilities in this area between local authorities and water authorities should continue or whether the water authorities should be made responsible for the collection and disposal of sewage from all properties.

We said in our consultation document that we would welcome the views of those concerned on this question. We have received a great many views, not all of them agreeing with those of my hon. Friend the Member for Goole, particularly from people who own septic tanks.

Therefore, the main question is whether we should hand over to one authority the whole job of emptying pits and deal- ing with the treatment of sewage. We might then manage some rationalisation of the charges. The Government will be announcing their conclusion on this and the other issues raised in the consultation document in a forthcoming White Paper. In view of the printing situation and the fact that decisions have not finally been made, I cannot give a date for the publication of the White Paper, but I hope that it will be before the recess.

To give some temporary easement, we removed value added tax. Originally VAT was levied on the emptying charges and on the treatment charges. We have done a great deal of work on the White Paper, which includes a passage on this subject. Unfortunately, I cannot say today what it is. Therefore, it is not possible to anticipate the White Paper, but let me make some points.

First, cesspool emptying is an expensive business and somebody must pay for it. As the water authorities have a statutory obligation to break even, a subsidy to cesspool owners could be provided only at the expense of higher charges to everyone else.

The hon. Gentleman talks about a subsidy to cesspool owners, but will he address himself to the problem faced by some of my constituents, who are having to pay a full sewerage charge and a full cesspit charge? They are being asked to repay the refunds which they received going back three years to 1973–74. Surely that cannot be right.

That matter will be dealt with in the White Paper, but the local authority can do something about it now if it feels particularly concerned. It can decide the charges for emptying. That can be done while awaiting the White Paper and a major Bill, which I hope hon. Members opposite will support. There has been no precise definition by the Government or in legislation of the charges which local authorities shall make for emptying. The local authority may, if it wishes, make an arrangement on the basis to which I referred—[Interruption.] The Severn-Trent authority is not emptying the cesspits.

The water authority is levying a full sewerage charge but is not providing a full sewerage service for the villages.

The water authority will be charging for the treatment of the sewage when it receives it. The local authority is the body which will be dealing with the emptying of the tanks and charging for that.

Since the water authoritities have a statutory obligation under the 1973 Act to break even, a subsidy to cesspool owners could only be provided at the expense of higher charges to everyone else. Since that is done at the moment by the local authority, there might be a local authority with a great many of these people within its boundaries, and that would involve a heavy charge.

I take the point that one of the possibilities under my hon. Friend's proposal is that the water authority should take on both jobs and that that would spread the load of the subsidy over the ratepayers in a much wider area. The average domestic sewerage bill at the moment is just under £18. The average cost of emptying a cesspool is about £12. Many cesspools require emptying a great many times in each year. Mostly it is about once a month.

In certain districts there would be a need for a very large subsidy indeed. The Bill appears at the moment to be pointing in the direction of a large subsidy, although there is no indication of the sort of figures that my hon. Friend has in mind. Perhaps he has not the facilities available for working this out

In my area we are in exactly the same position as that indicated by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson). Most of the villages do not have main sewerage and are being charged by the authority. It is always the least well off who have to face these charges and they are unable to do so. I agree that subsidies must be high, but surely there is some way of getting round this problem.

I shall write to the hon. Gentleman about this. In the main it is not the septic tank owners who have any grumbles about the present situation. They are quite happy about it. It is the cesspit owners who are in difficulty. Cesspits need frequent emptying during the year and if cesspit owners were to pay the economic cost of emptying the cesspits it would be a very high charge indeed.

The Bill is giving an option, and the people who would take the option would be those who would benefit by it and who would be subsidised. There would be no subsidy to the others from the septic tank owners, who would contract out, and therefore the subsidy would come from the general ratepayers.

There are some drafting difficulties in the Bill. I am sure that my hon. Friend's intention would be to transfer the whole of the duties of emptying and treatment to the water authorities, but the Bill does not actually say so.

One of the matters raised—I know that my hon. Friend has raised it in the past, and Conservative Members have mentioned it today—relates to the question of local authorities when they have come to a decision to make a reasonable charge, such as the charge that people were paying before the Daymond case. They have gone to people and sought to get back payment from them. They have said "You have not paid for three years. We shall now provide a service for you, but we want the charges that we should have been getting before."

That sort of permissive power is one of the defects of the Bill. I assure my hon. Friend that we are very conscious indeed of this problem. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have raised it on a number of occasions, and we have had a great many representations from hon. Members on behalf of their constituents, as well as from local authorities, pointing out their difficulties in charging the general ratepayers for a service which other people are getting.

We accept the need for change. We have carried out a very extensive consultation. We shall be publishing a White Paper which should lead to legislation—I hope at an early date, but that can never be guaranteed nowadays. The whole subject of water and sewerage and all the problems connected with paying for services needs to be solved by a major Bill rather than being dealt with in this way at this time.

With the leave of the House, may I thank my hon. Friend for his attention to this problem and for the way in which he has indicated that future policy—

It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Friday next.

Animal Welfare (Export Of Live Animals For Slaughter) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Second Reading deferred till Friday next.

Local Authorities (Discretionary Grants To The Disabled) Bill

Read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[ Mr. Scott-Hopkins.]

Question put and negatived.

Bill accordingly committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 ( Committal of Bills).

Companies (Audit Committees) Bill

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Second Reading [ 13th May.]

Debate further adjourned till Friday 15th July.

Housing (Shorthold Tenancies) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 15th July.

Dunfermline College Of Physical Education For Women (Change Of Name) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Second Reading deferred till Friday next.

Business Of The House

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My point concerns the appearance on the Order Paper today of the Money Resolution relating to the Housing (Homeless Persons) Bill, when the House will recall that at Business Time on Thursday a week ago I raised the fact that it had come to my attention that on the following day, Friday, the Government had intended to put down this motion without giving the House any advance warning of their intention to do so. That information had come to me from outside sources. In other words, people outside the House had known before hon. Members had been informed what the business of the House was to be.

As a result of the questions directed to the Leader of the House, he eventually decided that he would withdraw the Money Resolution for that following Friday. But it seems that the lesson that was learned last week has not been learned this week, because again no mention has been made to the House at any time at business, either last Thursday or yesterday, that the House would be confronted with this Money Resolution.

Yet this morning we find this Money Resolution on our Order Paper relating to the Housing (Homeless Persons) Bill although hon. Members have not been given proper warning. I know that there is a great deal of anxiety in the country as a whole. I would venture to say, without any hesitation, that—

Order. What is the hon. Gentleman's point of order to the Chair?

My point of order is whether it is within your discretion to have this Money Resolution deleted from the Order Paper today for further consideration at a time when hon. Members have an opportunity to consider it and apply their minds to it as well as to outside representations.

As the hon. Gentleman well knows, the arrangement of the business of the House is not a matter for the Chair.

Housing (Homeless Persons) Money

Queen's Recommendation having been signified

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to make further provision as to the functions of local authorities with respect to persons who are homeless or threatened with homelessness, to provide for the giving of assistance to voluntary organisations concerned with homelessness by the Secretary of State and local authorities, and to repeal section 25 of the National Assistance Act 1948, it is expedient to authorise—
  • (i) the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any sums required to enable the Secretary of State to give financial assistance to a voluntary organisation concerned with homelessness or matters relating to homelessness; and
  • (ii) the payment into the Consolidated Fund of any sums falling to be so paid by virtue of the said Act;
  • and for the purpose of this Resolution 'voluntary organisation' means a body the activities of which are carried on otherwise than for profit, but does not include any public or local authority.—[Mr. Armstrong.]

    Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is not the first occasion when objection has been made about Money Resolutions appearing on the Order Paper on a Friday afternoon without notice. My recollection is that two or three weeks ago there was a similar objection. We thought that the Government had at that time taken on board that we should receive notice. It is extremely unfortunate for hon. Members to have this motion on the Order Paper without notice.

    Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) is in his usual form. He delayed the House for one and a half hours on the Rent (Agriculture) (Amendment) Bill and did not have the decency to appear last night when it was debated in the House. Is it not a fact that this matter was subject to negotiations through the usual channels? The hon. Gentleman is making a fuss about something which is very normal practice indeed.

    Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is this not in fact a debatable motion? Is it not—

    Order. Let us get on to the business, because these points of order are coming out of the time allotted for the debate. It is debatable.

    My point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is that if the motion is debatable, why do not hon. Members opposite, instead of raising points of order, debate the subject and explain their points?

    Because of the weakness of the occupant of the Chair. I think I have taken enough points of order.

    I have already indicated that the Chair is not responsible for the business to be debated by the House. I do not see why I should take any further points of order on this particular matter.

    Can you assist me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I am one of the newer additions to the House, having been here for only three years? Is it in order to have a Money Resolution on a Bill, to which the Second Reading has already been given, which clearly states that

    "There will be no net addition to public expenditure"?
    Is it in order to have a Money Resolution when we have already granted the Second Reading on the declared statement that
    "There will be no net addition to public expenditure"?

    It is absolutely in order. I have already proposed the Question. Does anyone wish to take part in the debate?

    4.9 p.m.

    In view of your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker I shall restrict my remarks to the merits of the resolution before the House. But I also protest at the timing that the Government have selected to bring this Money Resolution before the House. It is a gross abuse of the convenience of hon. Members to put such things on at 4 o'clock on a Friday evening. We know why the Government have done it. Clearly, they suspected that there would be very few hon. Members present and hoped that they could slip it through without any debate whatever.

    I am surprised that the Government Chief Whip has not yet realised that the best way to get this sort of thing through is to put it on at a sensible time. Today is a Private Members' day. The right hon. Gentleman fully expected that it would be a quiet day with very few hon. Members present and that this Money Resolution could be slipped through. If we are permitted to go on until 4.45 on a Private Members' day on a Friday, how much more sensible it would be to allow that time to those hon. Members who have failed to secure Second Readings for their Private Members' Bills? It is a misuse of a Private Members' Friday to put on Government business after 4 o'clock.

    It is also of great inconvenience to the staff, who were probably expecting to go home at 4.30 p.m., as is their right. It is also inconvenient to the occupants of other offices and posts. I was hoping that the Under-Secretary of State would rise to say that he understood this and would not move the Money Resolution but would bring it forward on another occasion. That would have met with approval from all sides of the House. But he decided not to do that. I believe that it is very regrettable and that it will make the conduct of business that much harder. The Government should think seriously about proceeding in this way in the future.

    The Under-Secretary might argue that the original Bill was considered on a Friday three months ago and, therefore, that the Money Resolution should do so as well. However, the Money Resolution is entirely a Government measure. If the hon. Gentleman argues that this is a proper use of a Private Members' Friday, perhaps it could be said to have been an improper use of a previous Private Members' Friday to have debated the Bill on Second Reading. In fact, what the Government have been doing is to use Private Members' time for Government legislation.

    The hon. Gentleman says that it is not Government legislation. That comes as a surprise to me. I understand that the measure has full Government backing and, of course, the Government are moving this Money Resolution. I fail to see, therefore, how they can say that it is not their Bill. The hon. Gentleman cannot shuffle off responsibility for this procedure in that way.

    The Under-Secretary was ill-advised to press ahead with this resolution on a Friday evening in this way. I have no doubt that he has discovered that there are precedents for doing it. I do not know whether there have been discussions through the usual channels. But, whether there are precedents and whether there have been discussions, neither has very much to do with Back Benchers. We are entitled to proper notice of resolutions of this kind and to know that the Government are aware of the convenience of hon. Members.

    I said that the Second Reading was three months ago. I suspect that it is almost unique to have a Money Resolution coming forward three months after Second Reading. Why has there been this extraordinary delay? Is it due to the incompetence of the Government? Is it due to the incompetence of the Government's business managers? Did they forget about it? If they forget about it, were they so embarrassed that they decided to move it at 4 o'clock on a Private Members' day? I hope that we shall be told the reason for the three-month delay.

    Then one has to look at the Bill itself, with specific reference to the Money Resolution—

    Not only has the hon. Gentleman to look at the Bill itself. He should also look at what we are discussing. So far, all that I have heard has been a procedural contribution. I should like the hon. Gentleman to get to the matter before the House, which is a Money Resolution and a specific part of the Bill.

    I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. When I said that it was necessary to refer to the Bill itself, I should have said "to the Explanatory Memorandum".

    That brings me specifically to the motion before the House. I turn to the financial effects of the Bill. We were assured in the Explanatory Memorandum that there would be

    "no net addition to public expenditure."
    Today, three months later, we have before us a Money Resolution which presumably, unless the world is standing on its head, is about public expenditure. Perhaps we ought to go back and debate the Second Reading again. I hope that the Under-Secretary will tell us what the public expenditure implications are.

    The Explanatory Memorandum said that the Bill would require a transfer of resources from social services to housing authorities and that there would be
    "no net addition to public expenditure."
    It went on to say that the needs of the homeless for public sector housing would continue to be reflected in local authority housing programmes within the expenditure limits which had already been approved. There we had a clear and categorical assertion that there would be no public expenditure implications.

    If there are no such implications, I can find no justification for a Money Resolution being brought before us at any time, let alone at this time on a Friday. If we are now presented with the proposition that public money is to be spent, let us consider how much is required. We look to the resolution to ascertain the sum for which the Government are asking. We look in vain because the resolution states:
    "for the purposes of any Act".
    Further on in the resolution it is stated:
    "it is expedient to authorise—
    (i) the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any sums required to enable the Secretary of State to give financial assistance to a voluntary organisation concerned with homelessness or matters relating to homelessness; and (ii) the payment into the Consolidated Fund of any sums falling to be so paid by virtue of the said Act".
    It is an extraordinary proposition that the Government can say "Please authorise us a Money Resolution to spend any sums that we deem necessary". Perhaps some of my hon. Friends will refer to the recipients of the money. There have been considerable doubts about whether all the voluntary organisations concerned with homelessness in all parts of the United Kingdom have been worthy recipients, or whether the funds have been properly controlled. This is an important matter that is introduced specifically into the Money Resolution.

    I am sure that there have been times in the past when money was flowing so plentifully through the coffers of the Treasury that we could authorise Money Resolutions without limit, but I thought that we were now in the days of public expenditure constraints. I thought that we were in the days of talking about cash limits. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State will tell us what cash limit is introduced by the Money Resolution. As I read the resolution it refers to "any sums". That does not place any constraint on the Government. Perhaps the Minister will tell us what public expenditure he considers to be involved.

    :The hon. Gentleman says "It is there", but the only specific reference is in the Explanatory Memorandum, which includes the following:

    "no net addition to public expenditure".
    If that is so, perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell us why we have a Money Resolution and why the Government are trying to slip it through on a Friday afternoon.

    How does the Money Resolution fit into the Government's public expenditure programme. Has it been approved by Dr. Witteveen as fitting in with public expenditure constraints as agreed with the IMF? I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take up that point. If there is an element of public expenditure involved, presumably it must come out of some other budget or pocket. If it is not to come out of another Government pocket, I fear that it will be yet another burden imposed on local authorities without any additional resources being given to them. That is my real worry about the whole proposition.

    Even if it is just shuffling off the responsibility on to local authorities, pre sumably at some stage there will be considerable implications for Government public expenditure. If there is a net increase in the housing duties of local authorities, it cannot be denied that the effect of the resolution is that at some stage such expenditure must be met at least in part through rate support grant or other subsidies. The figure should be spelt out specifically in the resolution. The Government may say that they cannot measure the figure in a financial resolution, but surely they should be able to do so.

    Is this not an example of passing the buck to local authorities with a vengeance? The Government must take account of the considerable indirect burdens that could result and the implications for local authority housing management and housing programmes. I do not want to go into detail because that would be out of order, but such matters as rent arrears and the encouragement of self-induced homelessness are arguments that must be considered. They cannot be brushed aside lightly.

    Real consideration must be given to whether a Bill of this sort, with its broad definition of homelessness, would encourage rent arrears. Would it encourage the minority of non-payers and rent dodgers not to pay their rent? If they fail to pay their rents, that will have implications for the housing fund of the local authority and, ultimately, for our national expenditure programme.

    It goes rather further than just non-payment of rent. My hon. Friend may be interested to know that in my constituency I have had examples of actual connivance between landlord and tenant to get a court order so that people could put themselves into the sort of position envisaged in the Bill.

    My hon. Friend is quite right. I shall now quote from a letter written by the Kent Housing Managers Association:

    "Councils are becoming increasingly concerned with the problem of escalating rent arrears. The Bill will remove the one threat that has proved the greatest deterrent to the non-payment of rent, namely, eviction. Once it is known that evictions are not possible, the problem could well grow to unmanageable proportions in some areas."
    I refer to that not in regard to the general principles of the Bill but simply to show that this is a matter in which public expenditure could increase as a result of what is proposed. The Government will have to seek money from the House to cover such developments, yet we are not told how much.

    Even if I did not object to the timing of the Money Resolution, I should object even more to a vague blank-cheque proposition of this kind being brought before the House. I hope that either the Government will decide to withdraw the Money Resolution and bring it in at a more civilised and sensible time or that the House will decide to reject it.

    4.21 p.m.

    I strongly endorse the plea put by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) that the Government withdraw the Money Resolution at this time.

    I start, however, by taking up at once the point thrown across the Floor at me by the Minister when he said that on the Rent (Agriculture) Amendment Bill I delayed the House and did not bother to turn up for the debate last night. He knows perfectly well that, during the course of the week I informed him that that Bill could go through on the nod. I made that known also through what are known as the usual channels. Moreover, I made known my reasons, which, quite simply, were that the two issues I had raised on that Bill were fully ventilated, first, on Second Reading, and secondly, in Committee, and there was therefore nothing further to discuss on the Floor of the House.

    I could have put down a whole series of amendments last night if I had been minded to play with the House and waste its time, but I was not minded to do that, and I gave the hon. Gentleman the courtesy of advance warning that the Bill could go through on the nod. There was no need for any debate.

    It ill becomes the hon. Gentleman now, therefore, to try to throw such an accusation in my face after I had extended to him every possible courtesy, in stark contrast—I have checked this—with what is happening today. There has not been the slightest communication through the usual channels informing us that this Money Resolution would be on the Order Paper today. That is again in contrast to the assurances given us last week by the Leader of the House when he was forced to withdraw this Money Resolution and say that there would be full and proper consultation.

    The truth is that the Government are treating the House in their usual arrogant way. They have no consideration whatever for the convenience or interests of right hon. and hon. Members. They put these matters down when it pleases them. They do it when they choose in the hope that by so doing they will be able to slide matters through without the smallest opportunity for debate, in the knowledge that on a Friday most hon. Members are away in their constituencies unless some pressing matter requires them to be here.

    This is a pressing matter, because, as I was about to tell you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on my further point of order, I know of no Bill concerning local authorities on which I have received more representations expressing anxiety about its terms and the financial consequences for local authorities. Not only have the local authority associations approached me, but over 100 individual local authorities have written to me personally on the matter expressing their anxiety about the financial implications. Moreover, virtually all my right hon. and hon. Friends have been approached by their own district councils, and they in turn have written to me. Therefore, if I had had sufficient warning of this matter, I could have come here with about 250 letters to produce to the House to show how great is the anxiety.

    Precisely for that reason, because they do not want hon. Members to be here to show the difficulties which will arise as a result of the Bill, the Government try to slide their Money Resolution through in this underhand way on a Friday, without due warning. I register my protest in the strongest possible terms.

    I shall turn now to the Money Resolution itself. I understand that it relates to only one aspect of the Bill, namely the provision of money for voluntary organisations. It makes no mention of the provision of money for local authorities which in due course will have to work the Bill. But there is an open-ended commitment in it to the voluntary organisations. Parliament is being asked to provide for sums required by the Secretary of State. There is no limit on the figure for disbursement to voluntary organisations. Which voluntary organisations—Second Genesis, Novo and the Paddy O'Connors of this world?

    This is a matter which should concern the House very much. My understanding of the Housing Act 1974, and particularly of Section 84, is that it provides that public money should be made available only to properly registered housing associations. Yet experience has shown us that certain unregistered housing associations which have not been properly vetted were provided with properties and considerable sums of public money without any proper accounting by the last administration of the Greater London Council.

    There has been a great public scandal over the matter which was demonstrated by a film "Goodbye Longfellow Road" produced by Yorkshire Television. I have tried to pursue that matter in the House during Questions directly with the Minister for Housing and Construction. I asked whether he intended to ensure that money was not provided to unregistered associations. After the Yorkshire Television film and all the publicity that went with it, he said that he had no evidence that money had been used in this way. I then asked whether he had taken the trouble to contact the television company to see its documentary evidence on the misuse of public funds. I got a sheepish grin across the Dispatch Box by way of reply. I can tell the House that as of yesterday the Minister for Housing and Construction had not taken the trouble to contact Yorkshire Television to see what written evidence it has on the misapplication of public money in order that he can decide what corrective measures might be taken to ensure that it does not happen again.

    Is it the intention of Section 84 that public money does not go to unregistered housing associations? Secondly, if there is a loophole in the law which enables the GLC to give money to Novo and Second Genesis, what steps is the Minister taking to plug that loophole? I have heard nothing from him which would suggest any concern or desire on his part to protect public money in this way. Instead we have an open-ended commitment in the Money Resolution with the Secretary of State, unconcerned with these problems, asking Parliament to vote any sum to be given to the voluntary associations.

    That is not good enough. We in this House have a responsibility for the proper discharge of public moneys and the Government have not acted responsibly in this matter. One is even more worried when one sees the method by which they have introduced this matter into the House. One can only speculate about why, given the history of the matter.

    Having dealt with the problem of the Money Resolution in the open-ended commitment to voluntary associations, the unsatisfactory situation which remains under Section 84 of the 1974 Housing Act, I should like now to turn to what is not in the Money Resolution. As my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham said, the Financial Memorandum says that there will be no consequences in terms of financial expenditure as a result of the transfer of this duty to provide for the homeless from social service departments to housing departments. We have had assurance after assurance to that effect.

    The local authorities do not agree, in which case it is only right to ask why the Money Resolution makes no provision to assist the local authorities which will receive additional burdens and duties under the Bill. It is useless to tell local authorities that they now have the absolute duty to rehouse the homeless if they are not given the financial resources to do so. The whole thing becomes a sham and a mockery. It is deluding homeless families into believing that local authorities will help them if the Government do not give the authorities the wherewithal.

    The Minister has already answered that question. On Second Reading, dealing with my hon. Friend's own assertions that the financial resources would have to be made available, the Minister said:

    "…We have to establish priorities and shift resources because additional funds are not available."
    He went on to say:
    "Having established that this Bill cannot for the time being lead to a net increase in local government expenditure, there are three further points about resources that I should like to make."—[Official Report, 18th February 1977; Vol. 926, c. 966.]
    He then talked the matter away. Thus, the Minister's answer was that there is no money available for allocating further resources.

    I recall very well that answer to my question and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding the House of what was said.

    The Association of District Councils has produced to me a sample survey of 10 per cent. of the local authorities, in which it says that the survey
    "would seem to bear out our fears as to the costs of the Bill despite the financial memorandum. You will see that the estimated net annual cost for the non-metropolitan districts is £5 million".
    The association draws on experience of local authorities which have already sought to do this voluntarily under Circular 18/74 to show what the extra costs are.

    It says that the 16 authorities which have already partially or wholly implemented that circular have not yet received any staff from the county councils, although the proposal is that the social welfare departments of county councils should transfer staff and resources to the housing departments. The 16 districts have therefore had to recruit additional staff for the purpose.

    There then follows a schedule. I am reluctant to delay the House further, but I am willing to table it or leave it in the Library. It shows that over the whole area of additional staff accommodation and so on the 16 authorities have incurred costs of about £5 million. Further figures are projected for the rest of the local authorities which appear to show that a total of £9·6 million will be required in additional resources by housing authorities to discharge their duties under the Bill. Yet there is not a word of that in the Money Resolution.

    This makes the whole Bill a sham. Until such time as the Government bring forward a Money Resolution dealing with all the financial aspects of the Bill in a proper manner and at a time at which it can be properly debated by hon. Members representing their local authorities I invite my right hon. and hon. Friends not to give way to the Government on this matter.

    4.35 p.m.

    I join my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) in complaining bitterly about the way the motion has been put on the Order Paper and about its contents, or its lack of contents. If I read the Money Resolution correctly, it does not deal with any expenditure by local authorities.

    It is clear that expenditure under the Bill by local authorities, if they are to carry out the duties placed on them, will be about £9 million to £10 million. None of that is to be provided in any way by the Government. The Money Resolution makes that perfectly clear. It is not to be provided because the Government, in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, under
    "Financial effects of the Bill"
    say something which is absolutely nonsensical—that there will be no increase in public expenditure.

    The Government claim this because under the Bill the duties of local authorities are being transferred from one department of a local authority to another department of a local authority and, therefore, there will be no extra public expenditure. One need only look at the Bill to see the duties placed on local authorities. Clause 2 places a duty on local authorities to investigate when someone is said to be homeless to see whether it is true. Staff have to be set up to do that. There is a duty to house such a person if he comes under the definition of homeless. Local authorities have sufficient difficulty in housing those on their waiting lists already without being obliged to house others who jump the queue.

    As one goes through the Bill one sees that there will be a considerable increase in expenditure for local authorities. They are required to store the furniture or household effects if necessary of those who are made homeless. They must take action when they think that an offence has been committed. They must comply with guidance issued by the Secretary of State.

    The hon. Gentleman disagrees. Clause 7(2) states:

    "The Secretary of State may give guidance either generally or to specified authorities or descriptions of authorities."
    Clause 7(3) states:
    "It shall be the duty of a relevant authority to furnish the Secretary of State with such information as he may from time to time require".

    What I had in mind was that the requirement to take account of guidance issued by the Secre- tary of State under Clause 7 is a requirement that the local authority shall have regard to guidance, not necessarily that it shall comply with it. The two things are very different.

    The hon. Gentleman may be perfectly correct in his interpretation. Clause 7(3) states:

    "It shall be the duty of the relevant authority to furnish the Secretary of State with such information as he may from time to time require with regard to the exercise, in relation to homeless persons and persons threatened with homelessness, of their functions or the manner in which they propose to exercise them."
    So local authorities have to go to some little trouble to provide any information that the Secretary of State may require. That is only one item of the several that appear throughout the Bill.

    Clause 9 is extraordinary, in that under it the Secretary of State can order local authorities to transfer not only property but employees from one authority to another. Is it suggested that no expenditure will be involved there from increased administration?

    Therefore, it is not so much what is in the Money Resolution as what is left out of it. The Money Resolution, while reciting the new duties of local authorities—and one gets quite pleased when one starts to read the first few lines—goes on to make it clear that it is only authorising financial assistance to voluntary organisations. The Secretary of State will, by means of the Money Resolution supporting the Bill, be able to give financial assistance to voluntary organisations. I approve that. As my hon. Friend has said, we ought to have a better definition of the voluntary organisations to be assisted and not be asked under the Money Resolution to authorise the Secretary of State to provide money for all and sundry voluntary organisations, but in general I approve the principle.

    But the Money Resolution disregards the major part of the Bill placing new duties and new administration on local authorities. The Secretary of State for the Environment made a statement yesterday about the expenditure of local authorities—about not only finding new sources for the money they have to expend but about trimming their expenditure. Again and again we are told that we are placing more duties on local authorities and, therefore, more expenditure. Yet here we are in this Bill providing that the local authorities carry out duties, which my hon. Friend has said will cost £9·6 million, without providing any money under the Money Resolution.

    I do not know how a Bill can go ahead based on a Money Resolution which takes account of less than half the Bill. That is an impossible way to proceed. If the Bill proceeds to the next stage on the basis of this Money Resolution, one might well argue that all that part which provides for extra expenditure by local authorities should be removed from the Bill because, in that respect, it is an extra expenditure from the Secretary of State himself. The Secretary of State will have to contribute through the rate support grant to the extra expenditure under the Bill. Therefore, the Money Resolution does not cover all the money which will require to be spent under the Bill itself. It is nonsense to say in the Explanatory Memorandum there there is no further expenditure. I join my hon. Friends in opposing the Money Resolution.

    4.44 p.m.

    Never at any time have I intended to be discourteous in any way to any hon. Member. I have had experience in the Government Whips' office, in the Opposition Whips' office, and as a Back Bencher, as well as in the Department, and I submit that bringing forward a Money Resolution was never the subject of the ordinary procedures, such as giving notice and so on. I assure the House that this Money Resolution has not been tabled to shift anything through or to avoid anything.

    This is a serious Bill. I understood that it had the support of both sides of the House. Homelessness is perhaps the most acute form of social deprivation. I understand that hon. Members opposite may be anxious to say that we are indulging in a bit of sharp practice, but it is not true. I want to deal with the true issues of a very serious social problem in the few minutes that I have left.

    I am sorry, but I cannot give way. I am not being discourteous. I have important points to make about this very difficult problem.

    I remind the House that although this is a Private Member's Bill it has full Government backing. Let there be no mistake about that. It has been the result of two years of urgent and sustained negotiation and consultation with voluntary bodies and the local authority associations. It has not been planted on them in any way. The complaints made by Opposition Members were also made more than a year ago because a Private Member's Bill dealing with these matters was not accepted by the Government.

    I followed closely the legitimate complaints of the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate), but I must point out that the Money Resolution was first tabled on 24th March. Only the Government can move a Money Resolution, even though this is a Private Member's Bill.

    I say to the House, and particularly to the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page), whose knowledge of local government is acknowledged on both sides of the House, that there will be no net addition to public expenditure. That is the truth of the matter.

    The Money Resolution deals with a new power to spend money, but it also implies a shift in priorities. The circular that suggested that local housing authorities should take the responsibility for homelessness, a responsibility which had hitherto been with the social service authorities, went out when the right hon. Member for Crosby was an eminent member of the Government. That circular has been accepted and is working in a great number of authorities. Some of those authorities have dealt with homelessness in a remarkable and encouraging way. The Bill envisages not new expenditure but a re-ordering of priorities. In some respects there will be savings, as evidenced by that joint circular.

    Our main concern today is with the specific terms of the Money Resolution. It is to enable the Secretary of State to make grants and loans to voluntary organisations concerned with homelessness. This is not the occasion for reviewing Section 84 or for dealing with "Goodbye Longfellow Road". That is a very serious matter and we are concerned about it, but it does not concern this Resolution.

    Existing powers and authority are adequate to cover other heads of expenditure. There has been criticism of the wording in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, which states quite clearly that there will be no net addition to public expenditure arising from the Bill. The main aim of the Bill is to replace the existing duty of social services authorities in respect of accommodation for homeless people by duties on housing authorities.

    Does the right hon. Member for Crosby want us to do nothing about the homelessness problem? I suppose that he wants us to provide extra public expenditure. Is that what he suggests that we should be doing? On every other occasion he is saying that we should reduce public expenditure.

    Either we do not have a Bill at all, in which case there is no expenditure, or, if the Bill is to be passed, the local authorities must be backed with public expenditure and should not have to draw from the rates.

    That is a typical Tory approach—that if one has a genuine problem one should try to settle it, but, if one cannot get a perfect Bill, one should do nothing at all about it. That is what the right hon. Gentleman is saying.

    Homelessness is a growing problem and we are determined to do something about it. That is why we support the Bill. I would have hoped that the Bill would be supported by Conservative Members.

    Division No. 143]


    [4.52 p.m.

    Archer, PeterLatham, Arthur (Paddington)Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
    Armstrong, ErnestLoyden, EddleWise, Mrs Audrey
    Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Moyle, RolandWrigglesworth, Ian
    Bottomley, Rt Hon ArthurParker, John
    Cocks, Rt Hon MichaelPavitt, LaurieTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
    Douglas-Mann, BruceShore, Rt Hon PeterMr. Ted Graham and
    English, MichaelSilkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)Mr. Ronald Brown.
    Freeson, ReginaldThomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
    Huckfield, LesTuck, Raphael


    Brooke, Peter
    Lawrence, Ivan
    Mr. Graham Page and
    Mr. Roger Moate.

    No, I shall not give way. I remind the House that the main aim of the Bill is to transfer responsibility to housing authorities. This follows through the policy spelled out in the joint circular on homelessness issued in February 1974.

    We are not dealing with a new problem. Local authorities are dealing with it every day. Even without this Bill the homeless could not simply be set on one side until economic circumstances improved. Is it suggested that housing authorities are not dealing with this problem day by day? The homeless are with us. Authorities are dealing with their needs and will continue to have to deal with them.

    The trouble is that the present statutory framework is quite inconsistent with the generally agreed policy. Section 21(1)(b) of the National Assistance Act 1948 puts the duty to accommodate homeless people on social service authorities. This Bill will put the obligation where it should be—on housing authorities. That means that social service authorities should spend less on homelessness and housing authorities should take over that expenditure responsibility. When we think of the howls of complaint from hon. Members opposite—

    It being three-quarters of an hour after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3 ( Exempted Business).

    The House divided: Ayes 21, Noes 2.

    It appears from the result of the Division that 40 Members are not present. I declare that the Question is not decided, and the business stands over until next week, pursuant to Standing Order No. 29.

    Merchant Shipping (Safety Convention) Bill Lords

    Order for Second Reading read.

    Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 66 ( Second Reading Committees), That the Bill be now read a Second time.

    Question agreed to.

    Bill accordingly read a Second time.

    Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 ( Committal of Bills).

    St Mark's Hospital, Finsbury

    Motion made, and Question proposed, that this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Graham.]

    5.01 p.m.

    St. Mark's Hospital, in Finsbury, is a small and highly specialised hospital dealing with diseases of the rectum and colon. It has a worldwide reputation in this field and has trained a large proportion of the surgeons with a particular interest in colon and rectal surgery in Britain and abroad. It has been responsible for much new work, not least in the recognition and treatment of pre-cancerous conditions. The double contrast barium enema was introduced to this country at St. Mark's, and a large number of teaching hospitals in this country refer cases to St. Mark's Hospital.

    St. Mark's is in no sense a local hospital. I have, so far as I know, not one constituent as a patient in the hospital at the present time. One-third of out-patients, and half the in-patients come from parts of Britain outside the London region. For certain specialist services, like colonoscopy, 60 per cent. of patients are referred from outside the London area, and over 500 requests for second opinions on histopathological specimens are received from other hospitals each year, half of them from outside London, and 30 per cent. from overseas.

    The large post-graduate teaching hospitals have their national rôle recognised by being excised from the regional structure of the hospital service. They have their direct link to the Department of Health and Social Services, and are funded separately. St. Mark's, however, is within the regional structure and falls under the control of the City and Hackney District Authority, which falls under the area health authority, which falls within the appropriate regional health authority.

    Last November, because the district had exceeded its financial budget, an order went out from the district administrator that St. Mark's must close two of its wards—40 per cent. of its beds. The closure was to take place at only five weeks' notice at the end of the year, and there had been no advance consultation with the medical staff to see whether other steps could be taken to save funds and to assess the consequences of the proposed closure. On protest, the closure was reduced to one female ward of 14 beds.

    The closure of wards and even of whole hospitals on purely financial grounds cannot always be avoided. However, I say that when a hospital gets an order by letter, without advance consultation, to close wards at five weeks' notice, that is clear proof of incompetent administration. It was indicated that the ward would probably be opened again when the next year's money became available on 1st April of this year.

    Responsibility for detailed decisions on hospitals ought to rest with regional, area and district authorities. But the Act of Parliament gives the Minister powers to oversee, and if necessary to overrule, those bodies. We gave him that power so that he could ensure that the quality of administration comes up to some minimum standard.

    I arranged with the Minister to visit St. Mark's at the beginning of the year and the staff were encouraged by the interest he showed in their work and their particular situation during that visit. He and I were then led to believe that the ward would be opened again in April. Instead, once again, the district administrator issued without consultation an edict that the ward would be open only at some unspecified time before April 1978.

    No rational case has ever been set down in writing putting the pros and cons for the continued closure. In his letter to me on 19th April the Lord President of the Council promised me that the Minister would be writing to me again in the near future. He has not done so. All I have is the brief explanation in the Minister's letter of 31st March with its vague references to bed occupancy rates. I have sent on to the Minister the comments of medical staff on that point with a wealth of supporting facts. I asked him on 4th April, and again on 29th April, to set out his side of the argument. He has not done so. Instead the authorities and the Minister rely on one brutally simple point, that the City and Hackney District has overspent and that savings must be found within that district and that no arguments about the consequences, particularly for a non-local facility like St. Mark's, can be allowed to interfere with that stern accountancy. All this despite the fact that the Department had to admit to a House of Commons Select Committee the other week that the NHS lost £40 million last year because the Treasury under estimated the effect of inflation on hospital procurement prices.

    The quality of the administrative machine in this case has been reflected in the various statements made about the savings produced by the ward closure. The first figure was that the three months' closure would save £18,000. In the Minister's letter to me of 31st March, that got bumped up to between £50,000 and £60,000. That turned out to be a mistake and was corrected down to £12,000 by a telephone call. Now the Minister is standing pat on a figure of £6,000 per month which he says, includes savings of £750 a month for administrative and clerical staff. That is another mistake, because the Minister knows perfectly well that the staff represented by that figure would not be re-engaged when the ward is re-opened and that figure ought to be something very significantly less.

    More important, the Minister has admitted that the effect of closing one ward in a small hospital is to increase the overheads on the remaining beds. He puts the increase at £95 per bed per month—that is over £7,000 a month extra expenditure on the remaining 70 to 75 beds. So the extra expenditure on the remaining beds actually exceeds the net saving of the operation. On the best interpretation, therefore, more than half the gross saving is being totally neutralised in unproductive extra expenditure on the remaining beds.

    But that is not all. The Minister has been forced to admit that he has left out of account the extra costs created in other hospitals in other districts where patients who would have been treated in St. Mark's are admitted. It is the Minister's replies on this point which have brought out the total imbecility of the way the case has been dealt with. Asked why he claimed that one should take no account of increased expenditure created in other districts by the St. Mark's closure, the Minister replied:
    "Beds have been temporarily closed at St. Marks in order to reduce the rate of spending and assist the City and Hackney Health District to maintain its allotted cash limit. The reduction in the rate of spending in the District…cannot be affected by the cost of treating a patient outside it."
    What that reply means is that so far as the Minister is concerned what matters is not whether there is a saving to the Health Service as a whole but whether there is a saving in that particular page of the accounts that relates to the City and Hackney District. He is saying that if we save £6,000 a month on this page and increase the spending by £6,000 on another page relating to another district, so long as the other district is under-spent, the closure of the ward is justified.

    The Minister has not said that he cannot in practice calculate the additional costs elsewhere, though I accept that it is impossible to be remotely accurate about them. He is saying that, even if he could calculate them, he would not do so and that it is irrelevant to do so. As he said in his reply on 9th May,
    "The number of patients admitted to other hospitals because of bed closures at St. Mark's is not known and no account should be taken of them in calculations."
    When asked to calculate the savings to the National Health Service as a whole, he replied with these deathless—or perhaps it should be lifeless—words:
    "No. The purpose of the closure was to reduce the rate of spending in one district of the Health Service."
    I have great personal regard for the Minister of State and, as I have said, I know that his visit had a good effect on the morale of the St. Mark's staff. But I must say to him that a Minister of Health who is capable of that kind of approach should not be in charge of the hospital service.

    In any large spending organisation it is necessary to adopt working figures for the control of expenditure in sub-units, and they must not lightly be allowed to be exceeded. But to regard them as unbreakable in all circumstances and without regard to the consequences is absurd. On that basis facilities would be shut down in one area and opened up in another just to switch figures from one account to another. If these are the management and accounting procedures which govern the service below and at ministerial level, it is time for Parliament to take more interest than it has in the past in the quality and answerability of the hospital administration.

    It is because of those considerations that the St. Mark's incident ought not to be seen as just one hon. Member's efforts on behalf of one of his local hospitals. It raises the issue of the management quality of regional, area and district authorities. It raises the question of the Ministry's rôle as the highest tier in the hierarchy.

    We have in this country some of the most expert and devoted medical expertise in the world. But the medical staff feel increasingly that they are the victims of bad administrators who are just not up to their jobs. If one goes into a hospital and asks the staff when they last saw district, area or regional administrators coming round to keep in touch with people at the sharp end, the normal response is a bitter laugh, as it was at St. Mark's. In the view of the medical staff, the administrators are somewhere up there, above them, taking decisions without sufficient understanding of what their decisions mean in the wards and the operating theatres. They are the staff officers who rarely go to the front line.

    It is the Minister's job to put that right, and without waiting for the Royal Commission. I am not asking the Minister to take local decisions as a normal practice. But it is his responsibility to see that the quality of administration reaches the minimum standards that I have spoken about, which were certainly not reached in the St. Mark's case. That case has been firmly on the Minister's plate for six months now. Instead of correcting the errors, he has defended them and given me replies which show that he and, I presume, the Secretary of State are just as capable of them as those at lower levels.

    I finish with three quotations from leters written by medical staff at the hospital. The first says:
    "…as a direct result of the closure of Fournier Ward our surgical staff have been forced to see fewer new patients per clinic because they do not have the same back-up of beds for admission. This means that the waiting list for new surgical appointments in the clinic is now four weeks instead of two."
    Another writes:
    "The closure of half our female beds is unbalancing our clinical work. It is putting the staff in the invidious position of having to discriminate against the admission of female patients. There are now no less than 22 women awaiting urgent admission."
    My final quotation is from a letter written by the Chairman of the Colostomy Welfare Group and General Secretary of the International Ostomy Association. He writes:
    "I am appalled to hear that one of the few specialist facilities within the National Health Service should be in danger of being closed or reduced in size to become ineffective, due to lack of funds."
    We know that it is not lack of funds in the National Health Service. It is lack of funds on the relevant page in the Minister's mind that is at issue. He goes on:
    "As General Secretary of the International Ostomy Association, it has become clear to me from my discussions around the world, that many of the predictable problems of ostomates are in fact caused by operations being carried out by general surgeons in non-specialist hospitals."
    This is a very wide issue yet it has been subjected to the narrowest of accounting techniques. It is to that problem that I hope my hon. Friend will give his attention, and give the word that the ward is to be reopened immediately.

    5.16 p.m.

    I have pleasure in lending my voice in support of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham). I appreciate that he should think my support worth having by the gift of a tithe of his time. I have a constituency interest in the matter because of the link- age of St. Mark's Hospital to St. Bartholomew's Hospital in my constituency, the hospitals being linked by coming under the same area health authority.

    It is a fair charge against my party that from time to time we have argued for cutbacks in public expenditure in general and then have argued for increases in particular. However, within the total framework of public expenditure there must be an argument for cases of national priority and national exceptions that should be taken outside the general perspective. The hon. Gentleman has argued his case admirably and I am delighted to support it.

    5.17 p.m.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) has raised the question of the continued closure of one women's ward at St. Mark's Hospital, although he has extended it as an example of a national problem. I take into account straight away one aspect of the national problem—namely, the fine reputation of the hospital both nationally and internationally and the record of service that it has given to the community.

    In an attempt to argue things on a wider plain than has sometimes been represented, I take up the claim that the closure is a result of a movement of funds away from London, inadequacies in management and a misjudgment of priorities. My right hon. Friend is committed to ensuring a fairer distribution of resources between the regions to allow equality of access to patient care irrespective of where the patient lives. This policy is generally regarded as fair and right.

    There is to be no precipitate removal of resources from the Thames regions. My right hon. Friend explained on 21st December 1976 why he had decided that even the Thames regions should get some growth in resources in 1977–78, The lowest increase in funds in real terms for any region this year is about one-quarter of 1 per cent. Thas is for the North-East Thames Region. The region in which St. Mark's Hospital lies is within the Thames regions. In addition to the problem of inequality of provision in the North-East Thames region, there is a growing need for extra beds in Essex to match its increasing population. That must be balanced against the speed at which the movement of resources can take place.

    I have no hesitation in saying that the roots of the problem to which my hon. Friend has drawn attention do not lie in the reallocation of resources between areas but in decisions as to the pace at which it is desirable to move towards balanced health services in the area and region and the need to keep spending within cash limits in the battle against inflation.

    The problem was that in 1976–77 in the City and Hackney district the revenue allocations increased by about 8½per cent. During the year the City and Hackney district was found to be overspending its budget and in spite of some economy measures the amount of overspending had risen to over £500,000 at the end of September 1976.

    There must always be a delay in presenting accounts, and when the accounts were presented it was realised that the position was not known until November last year. It could then be seen that if the rate of overspending were to continue unchecked there would be a deficit of about £1 million by the end of the financial year.

    That overspending has to be seen against the background that we as a Government place an important priority on reducing inflation. To that end we have imposed cash limits on all the major Government spending Departments and sub-formations under them. To achieve those limits is fundamental to achieving our particular aims in the battle against inflation. That is the background against which the management team had to act. It felt that urgent action was necessary. Therefore, it decided that a number of temporary bed closures should be made in its district and put into effect by the end of the year. In all, about 10 per cent. of the district's beds were affected, in about five hospitals, and the effect at St. Mark's was ultimately the closure of one female ward of 14 beds at five weeks' notice.

    I accept that there has been criticism of the way the decision was promulgated, and there was a failure to observe normal consultative processes. That is quite clear. Following these events, as my hon. Friend said, I visited the City and Hackney District twice, once at the behest of my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South, and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) and once at the behest of my hon. Friend himself, in order to see its problems at first hand, especially the problems of an inner city district, and to discuss plans for their solution. On the second occasion, as I recall it, my hon. Friend and I visited St. Mark's Hospital together.

    That is the background. The action taken was drastic, and the consultation was imperfect. But the maintenance of cash limits was of paramount importance, and in the end the district management team has to manage with that end in view. However, some lessons have been learned, and I am anxious that they should be applied. Incidentally, I also visited St. Bartholomew's Hospital in the constituency of the hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke).

    I should say that the original plan at St. Mark's was to close more than 14 beds, and that caused an outbreak of feeling. The result of the outbreak of feeling was a reduction in the number of beds proposed for closure from 43 to 14. However haphazard the lines of communication were at that time, and however emotional the situation, it must be put on record that the district management team, with colleagues at St. Mark's and both St. Barthomolmew's and Hackney Hospitals, listened and reacted in a favourable way. On the other hand, I would not want the exercise to be repeated in the way in which it was carried out.

    In the course of correspondence with me, my hon. Friend has made play of the unreasonableness of closing the ward at five weeks' notice and has asked for an assurance that such indecent haste will not be used again. I am afraid that I cannot go to that extent. I cannot give that assurance, because wards are always being closed on a temporary basis in the Health Service, for all sorts of reasons, and often at much less notice than five weeks. This, of course, is where the closure is temporary. Sometimes, five days' notice may be all that is given, although naturally, I favour as long a period of notice as is conveniently possible for all change in human and health affairs generally.

    I am anxious to secure smoother consultation, however, and as a result of my visit to St. Mark's I have met the fairly recently appointed unit administrator in the hospital, and I am impressed with her desire to get on with her new job.

    First, there is the problem of consultation within management, which was at fault as well. Here, I am advised that within St. Mark's it is now accepted practice for the unit administrator regularly to meet the heads of departments within the hospital to convey to them the thinking of the district management team and to receive their observations. This is a welcome strengthening of the machinery within the hospital, and it ought to be encouraged.

    There remains the problem, which I regard as equally important, of consultation with the staff. Here again, there was a gap in the arrangements last autumn. At present, I believe that the staff channel for consultation is one seat only on the consultative committee which covers both St. Mark's and the much larger St. Bartholomew's Hospital, so that they tend to get lost in the bigger unit.

    I do not believe that that is a strong enough link between the administration and the staff. As my hon. Friend knows, it was proposed in principle when he and I visited St. Mark's that St. Mark's should have its own staff joint consultative arrangements within the overall structure of the existing joint consultative machinery.

    I am advised, however, that in spite of the general feeling in principle that that should happen, not much progress has yet been made because the strong feeling among the staff with regard to the closed ward tends to distract attention from further progress in this direction. We must hope that, in an atmosphere of greater trust which may prevail when the ward is opened, a joint consultative arrangement will be set up. If that is so, the circumstances which prevailed in St. Mark's towards the end of last year ought never to recur. It is important to realise that.

    St. Mark's Hospital has enhanced the world-wide reputation of British medicine for research, discovery, innovation, development of sophisticated procedures and superlative standards of skill and care. I cannot accept that any hospital, no matter whether it be a centre of excellence, can be sheltered from the necessity of adhering to financial allocations. In my view, no matter what machinery there is for bringing a hospital like St. Mark's within the Health Service, at this juncture it is a machinery for arguing about where restriction should be applied.

    At St. Mark's I am pleased to hear that there has been a temporary reallocation to female patients of a seven-bedded male unit in the hospital, and that has allowed pressure on female surgery caused by temporary closure of beds to be reduced.

    In the ultimate, other action can be taken which might reduce the pressure. Some weight has been given by my hon. Friend to the national nature of this hospital and its service, certainly to its supra-regional function. Clinically, however, 60 per cent. of the patients come from London postal districts while over 90 per cent. come from the South-East of England. Nevertheless, on the day I visited St. Mark's there seemed to be a predominance of people from Wales occupying beds in the female surgical wards.

    Within the management of many districts, particularly in London, there are centres of excellence providing services to a wider catchment area than that of the district alone. Under the management of the same district as St. Mark's is St. Bartholomew's Hospital, which is also internationally famous, and it is with this hospital that St. Mark's is linked.

    St. Bartholomew's has had to contribute to urgent economy measures as well and there some 60 beds have been temporarily closed. I cannot accept, therefore, that St. Mark's should be singled out for some special treatment and that its finances should be protected at the expense of other hospitals or of some other services to the community. I think that my hon. Friend accepts that that is what protection would mean.

    It would mean that extra funds would have to be found from somewhere in order to preserve St. Mark's, and there is just no coffer from which some selective services can be essentially funded, regardless of the priorities and demands of the wider service given in the regions.

    No doubt my hon. Friend has had pointed out to him the position of some other specialist hospitals which, having academic institutes and independent boards of governors, were not assimilated into the regional and area structure as St. Mark's was on the reorganisation of the health service.

    But my hon. Friend will know that while no easy solution could be seen at that time to assimilating the management structure of such hospitals, they are not regarded as having an overriding priority call on the resources of the health service. We shall be meeting them, considering their future with them and bringing them into the structure of the Health Service, albeit perhaps on a different basis. But they, too, have had to tighten their belts in the last two years and live within severely restricted cash limits.

    I turn now to the future. The North-East Thames Regional Health Authority has not abandoned its policy of seeing that Essex gets a fairer share of the region's resources, but, in common with people living in underprovided areas elsewhere, the people of Essex may have to wait another 10 years or more for what they see as their full and fair share of the resources available.

    My hon. Friend probably knows that on 22nd March the district management team of the City and Hackney district issued a statement on their financial position in which they listed an order of priority for reopening three wards now temporarily closed. Their priorities were—and I am not going to question them—to open first the observation ward as St. Bartholomew's Hospital, secondly to open an acute ward at Hackney Hospital and thirdly to reopen the closed ward of 14 beds at St. Mark's. I am very pleased to be able to tell the House, that because of the easing financial position in the City and Hackney district, a timetable has been agreed for reopening those wards provided that is what the district continues to wish to do.

    I know that arguments about priorities continue. Recruitment of the necessary staff is now under way and the dates for reopening could be as follows: St. Bartholomew's Hospital observation ward by the end of June, Hackney Hospital acute ward, also by the end of June, and St. Mark's Hospital, by about the middle of July—I have been given the date of 15th July.

    There is also the question of moving funds about between areas and regions, and my hon. Friend said that we could get to a situation in which we were closing units in one part of the health service and opening them in another. We have always been in that position. While these three wards remain closed in East London, I shall be in Wakefield next Thursday opening a new unit. That is because there are sufficient funds available in Wakefield for that purpose. There are not the allocated funds readily available in the Hackney area at the moment for opening these three wards.

    There have to be some sort of economies in order to get to grips with the particular problem of how funds may be moved. There is a time element as well, because people are given certain allocations. Their colleagues depend on them keeping within those allocations—

    The Question having been proposed after Four o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

    Adjourned at twenty-nine minutes to Six o'clock.