asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received about Government policy following his recent statement on new towns.
The consultations promised in my statement on 5th April about the reappraisal of new towns led to a series of meetings with the authorities concerned and I am now receiving comments from them and from other interested organisations.
No doubt the Secretary of State is aware of the lobby of NALGO representatives that took place on Monday and therefore accepts that many organisations fear a conflict over resources to meet the demands of inner city developments and new town development. Will the right hon. Gentleman give a categorical assurance that any expenditure on inner cities will be in addition to expenditure on new towns? Will he bear in mind the rôle of new towns in attracting industry, and does he agree that it would be ridiculous to reverse this policy at a time of high unemployment?
As the hon. Lady knows, we must try to balance the undoubted and continuing need for new towns development—although a need rather more reduced in scale in the 1980s than had previously been thought—with the development of the inner cities. I cannot give a categorical assurance that no diversion of resources will take place but I can certainly assure the hon. Lady that the greater part of the increased expenditure on the inner cities programme will not come from cuts in the new towns programme. I am aware of the lobby which took place and I have had an opportunity of meeting and talking with NALGO leaders.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in spite of the assurances that he gave a couple of weeks ago that the new towns would not be seriously affected by the cuts, the 2¼ million people who live in new towns are anxious about the situation? Will he give consideration to the possibility of encouraging development corporations to indicate to industry the possible changes, and where they will apply, so that local communities may feel that there is some sort of dialogue going on, because that would avoid this anxiety?
Inevitably at the earliest stage in our thinking about the future size of the new towns we had to conduct the discussions rather discreetly—as I am sure my hon. Friend knows. Following the statement that I made on 5th April, we believe that the people of the new towns who are interested in the future of their towns—as I know they are—will take and will be given every opportunity to take part in the debate on their future.
Following the representations from all sides about the need for the provision of health facilities in new towns, has the right hon. Gentleman had consultations with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services on the general point and, particularly, on the provision of a new district general hospital at Redditch?
I am in frequent touch with my right hon. Friend on the health provision needs in new towns. If substantial changes that are made as a result of the current review would affect the provision of health facilities, I shall have the benefit of discussions with my right hon. Friend in coming to any decision.
Will my right hon. Friend comment on any plans he may have to vary the composition of new towns' boards, especially with a view to extending the representation to local authorities and trade unions?
We keep the composition of the boards under review and as vacancies arise we seek to fill them. We have been paying increasing regard to the local communities in which the new towns are situated, rather than, as in the past, to the exporting authorities from which people have come.
Will the right hon. Gentleman emulate the decision of the Secretary of State for Scotland, who cancelled plans for the Stonehouse New Town in order to provide funds for the East End of Glasgow? Will the right hon. Gentleman cancel the Central Lancashire New Town in order to provide resources for Liverpool and other hard-pressed urban areas of the North-West? May I press him again to see that the commercial and industrial assets in new towns are realised, so that the capital can be used for new town expansion or inner city development, thereby avoiding further public sector borrowing?
The hon. Gentleman has made these points before and I have told him that I am considering them. I have nothing to add to that at this stage. The hon. Gentleman has twice made the same point about the Central Lancashire New Town and I should like to know whether his view is now the policy of the Opposition Front Bench. I have made a substantial change in the target for the new town, but, on balance, I believe that it is right to provide this new growth point for industry, commerce and people in that part of North-East Lancashire. Many Opposition Members support my decision, and I should like to know whether the hon. Gentleman is really speaking for his party.