asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what initiatives the Government are currently taking to encourage local authorities to reclaim derelict land.
Circular 17/77 drew attention to the benefits of reclaiming derelict land and set out the grants, including 100 per cent. grants in the assisted areas and derelict land clearance areas, which are available to local authorities for this purpose.
As there is about 30 square miles of derelict land in the North-West, would the hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the recent statement suggesting that there will be improved conditions for Merseyside will not mean that there will be a reduction in the support for other areas in the North-West?
There has been a reduction in the allocation of grants, but the problem has been the take-up of the allocation by the local authorities, which has been only 50 per cent. The allocation has therefore been cut for this year—I am sure that hon. Members on the Oppo- sition Benches who are always demanding cuts will support that—but the amount is still above what was requested by the district and county authorities last year.
Will the Minister consider the wisdom of asking local authorities to make a check on the ground that they own already? Is he aware that some months ago in Birmingham the council wrote to a man asking him to clear up a particularly bad piece of land and that he wrote back to say that he agreed that the bottles, tramps, and rubbish should be removed from the land but that it belonged to the council? Would it not be advisable to ask councils to check what land they own?
The hon. Lady should take up that matter with the authority concerned. I have told local authorities of the need to clear up derelict land and I have said that funds are available for that purpose.
Is it enough to leave the matter to the individual local authority? Why do not the Government take the initiative and require local authorities to prepare a Domesday Book of all land in public ownership, and make sure that the land is brought forward for development at the earliest possible moment? If the resources for development are not available to local authorities, the land should be sold for private development and the capital used for public works.
I am sure that hon. Members would not approve of such dictation to local authorities. I hope that the local authorities—which, to the pleasure of the hon. Gentleman, are now mainly controlled by his party—will take full advantage of the grants available, and the hon. Gentleman should urge them to do so.
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.
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment which part of his Department is responsible for assistance to the construction industry; and what are his plans for further help to the industry.
My Department has a general responsibility for the construction industry. We have already this year allocated an extra £144 million for construction work in the inner cities in housing improvement and through provision of advance factories. As the economic situation improves I shall be seeking further ways of assisting this hard-pressed industry.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that since 1974 cuts in public expenditure on construction have reached the enormous figure of about £2,000 million while Government help to the construction industry has been only one-tenth of that figure—a very small amount indeed? Does my right hon. Friend not realise the parlous state of the construction industry?
I realise the very great difficulties facing the construction industry. These arise, in part, not only from the need to restrain public expenditure but from the substantial fall-back in private investment in housing and private industrial building. The building industry has been very seriously affected by the general state of the economy. I am aware of this fact and I have had a number of discussions with the industry. I shall be looking for ways to help, to the best of my ability, as our economic situation improves.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the development land tax remains a deterrent to new construc- tion and particularly to the extension of existing buildings, and that this has an inevitable effect on the construction industry? Is he prepared to recognise this fact and to do something about it?
I should want a great deal of evidence to support that view. There are many factors involved, but the major one affecting industrial building has been the turndown in the economy and the stagnation in investment in recent years. I now see some more hopeful signs, and the indications are that there will be a substantial increase in industrial investment and factory building this year, with a further and larger increase in 1978.
As there are 13 unemployed skilled building craftsmen chasing every vacancy, does my right hon. Friend agree that a major way of assisting the situation would be to enable public authorities to undertake more improvement and renovation work and to give them greater opportunities to make mortgage allocations, particularly to first-time buyers?
My hon. Friend's first point was put by representatives of the construction industry when they met the Prime Minister and myself a short time ago. Their view was that considerable gains could be made in the use of labour by putting more resources into improvement and renovation. My reply is that this is very much part of the general thrust of our policy.We believe that more resources should go to renovation and improvement in our urban centres, and my hon. Friend will know that the arrangements that we have made for virement will enable local authorities which wish to do so to put more money into this form of labour-intensive activity.
As the general state of the economy was perfectly clear in October 1974, does not the present level of unemployment in the construction industry, which is the worst since 1931, make a mockery of the Government's claim in their last General Election manifesto that they would create a permanent and stable work force? Does the right hon. Gentleman really believe that the measures to which he has referred will achieve a lower level of unemployment in the construction industry by, say, December?
I cannot anticipate the pace or rate of pick-up by the industry. Although the situation for private house building in particular has greatly improved, the question is one of timing and how long it will be before this improvement comes into effect. I believe that we shall see significant improvements next year—
It could not be worse.
Next year is often a good deal better than last year, and this has been the case even under Conservative Governments. It does not lie in the hon. Gentleman's mouth to blame us for the state of the construction industry, in the light of the general collapse in house building in 1973-74, when we took over, and the Opposition's insistence on cutting public expenditure programmes.
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what has been the average rate increase in 1977–78 for England and Wales.
The average increases in domestic and non-domestic rates over England and Wales are 7·9p and 7·5p, respectively. The House may prefer these expressed in percentage terms—that is, an increase of about 15 per cent. in domestic rates and about 10 per cent. increase in non-domestic rates.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in my constituency rates are going up this year by about 25 per cent? Does he realise that in a low wage and salary earning area this will put a very great burden on people whose living standards have declined considerably in the past two years?
I am aware that in the hon. Gentleman's district and in the county of Staffordshire generally there has been one of the highest rates increases this year—not much short of 30 per cent. Even so, the rates that are being paid are below the average in the West Midlands and below the national average.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that in most parts of Britain ratepayers receive good value for money from the local authorities, despite the hysterical campaign mounted over recent years to bring down the rates? Does he further agree that constant calls on local authorities to reduce their expenditure makes it difficult for them to provide not only services which are within their discretion but, at times, the services which are required by statute?
I understand the problems that face local authorities. I agree that there is far too much generalised abuse of local authorities about their alleged nondelivery of value for money. I do not agree that that is so. Given the general economic situation, we have had to establish a broad standstill in local authority expenditure. That means that many desirable locally-financed improvements have had to be postponed.
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what consultations he has had concerning his proposals on rates following his recent statement.
Consultations with the local authority associations are proceeding urgently under the aegis of the Consultative Council on Local Government Finance. A number of other organisations have been individually invited to comment on the proposals in the Green Paper and my statement contained a general invitation to interested organisations and individuals.
Is it not the case that the first-time home buyer, whom the Secretary of State was so anxious to help yesterday, could find himself worse off if the proposed shift to capital valuation took place?
That is too generalised a statement. As the hon. Member is aware, a consideration of the implications of shifting to a capital valuation system is taking place. No doubt we shall have a clearer view of this as the consultations proceed.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that those who talk about abolishing the rating system without telling the electorate what they would put in its place are talking absolute nonsense?
I agree with my hon. Friend. It is extremely demagogic to put before people the statement that a great national party is proposing to abolish the domestic rating system without saying what is to be put in its place. I want to be fair to the Opposition. Speaking at Ebbw Vale recently, the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition said:
I am sure that the House will be interested to hear that."An indirect tax, and more grant from central Government should replace domestic rates."
May we have an assurance that no steps will be taken by any Government Department to prepare for the transfer to capital values until the principle of the system has been agreed by Parliament?
I hope that we shall have a debate on this subject. A change can come about only through legislation. That would give an opportunity to all those who still feel that this should be opposed to express their opinion.
Will the Secretary of State make it quite clear that until Parliament has so approved the system it would be wrong for officers of the Inland Revenue to use capital values when assessing rateable values?
I am not aware that Inland Revenue officers are using capital values at present. Many discussions must take place. If the Opposition want to bring the matter to a head in Parliament and to seek the view of the House, they have Supply Days which they can use.
Housing (Homeless Persons) Bill
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many local authorities have expressed reservations about the effect, in their area, of the implementation of the Housing (Homeless Persons) Bill; and if he has received any representations from the New Forest District Council.
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many representations he has received from local authorities concerning the additional resources which they will need in order to implement the proposals of the Housing (Homeless Persons) Bill; and what reply he has made to those representations.
Up to 24th June, written representations had been made to the Department by 48 local authorities in England, including the New Forest District Council. Of these authorities, 40 mentioned resources. We have explained that we are satisfied that the Bill will not require any net overall increase in public expenditure. We accept that the effects in particular districts will varry but believe that any increases in individual areas will be very limited in scale.
Is the Minister aware that the view that the Bill will not increase public expenditure is considered by most local authorities and many councils to be pie in the sky? Is he aware that the Bill as drafted, except for the insertion into it of amendments moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi), is believed by many councils, including the New Forest Council, to place an intolerable burden on housing lists? Surely the criterion should be to help those who need help and not merely those who would like it.
Homelessness is the most acute form of deprivation. That is why we are supporting the Bill. I am aware of the representations from district councils. A total of 66 per cent. of housing authorities have adopted Circular 18/74 and authorities in areas where homelessness is most prevalent are carrying out their duties now.
I welcome some of the amendments that were moved by the Opposition and the constructive attitude taken by the Opposition spokesman, but does the Minister agree that there have been other amendments from other parts of the House?
We are bringing into legislative effect Circular 18/74, which has been the subject of continuing discussion with local authorities.
May we have an assurance that the Minister will consider carefully all the arguments that are made, because there are real difficulties in some local authorities, which are liable to be swamped by this legislation?
We have had a continuing dialogue with local authorities. Even if we accept the figures supplied by the Association of District Councils, the Bill will not place upon local authorities anything like the intolerable burden that has been suggested.
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what criteria he uses when overruling recommendations of inspectors inquiring into local planning applications.
When taking a decision on a planning application or appeal, whether he agrees with the inspector's recommendation or not, my right hon. Friend has regard to the merits of the case in the light of the provisions of the development plan, if applicable, and of any other material considerations.
Does my hon. Friend realise that there is considerable local anger and dismay at the Secretary of State's decision to uphold the appeal by builders to build on land at Lydiate, despite opposition from three local authorities and the recommendation of his own inspector? On what ground does the Secretary of State believe that his Department's people are in a better position to judge than those three local authorities and the inspector? Will he reconsider this case and overturn the Secretary of State's decision?
I am aware of the feelings of certain groups in the locality but, as I have explained, the reasons for the decision were set out in the letter explaining it. I cannot elaborate, since the Secretary of State has given his decision. He has no further jurisdiction in the matter. There can be no question of reopening the case.
Is there not often a degree of bewilderment among the parties to an inquiry about the reasons for the Secretary of State differing from the inspector, who has heard all the evidence and submissions? Is it not time to give further consideration to the suggestion that I made some years ago that there should be a panel of inspectors to hear these inquiries, to whom should be entrusted the final decision within the parameters of a defined policy, supplied to the inspectors and parties involved before the hearing, in the context of each case?
The right hon. and learned Member has made an interesting suggestion. It is unwise to overestimate the number of cases in which this situation has arisen. I am informed that in less than 5 per cent. of appeals does the Secretary of State disagree with the inspector.
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement about the level of provision of camp sites for gipsies.
The latest available list which I shall publish with this reply shows that provision had been made for 2,254 families, and means that some 5,000 to 6,000 families are still without accommodation.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the 1968 Act, the Cripps Report and his own visits around the country recently have all highlighted the acute problems being faced by gipsies and being posed by gipsies? Does he further agree that it is now high time that, instead of cajoling, begging and pleading with local authorities to get on with the problem, the Government should take some direct action to provide gipsy sites in the many areas, such as Stockport, which need them?
My hon. Friend has rightly drawn attention to the fact that two groups suffer as a result of the failure to provide sites under the 1968 Act, even if that Act itself was adequate—the gipsies themselves, who suffer considerable harassment, particularly in certain areas, and householders who live near the bad, unofficial, illegal and inadequate sites, often without any water supply, without drainage and without refuse collection. The answer, as I recognise from the Cripps Report and my own visits to a number of areas, lies in more good sites. As part of the Government's examination of the Cripps Report, we shall be considering its recommendation that in certain circumstances the Secretary of State should use his powers to direct a local authority to provide sites.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that his answer about the great anxiety which is caused to the neighbours of these people will give them some comfort that at least a Minister knows that they are suffering. But knowing that people are suffering is completely inadequate. In Kent we have a massive pseudo-gipsy population. The fact that the Question calls them gipsies and the Minister has referred to them as gipsies is so much rubbish. Very few of these people are gipsies. A real grasp must be taken of this nettle, which is causing great anxiety in all the fruit-growing counties, where their traditional occupations are no longer available. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will look at this matter continuingly and sympathetically.
I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman said in the early part of his question. We have to realise that if we think only in terms of Romanies and the romantic view of gipsies we shall not solve the problem. The House and the Government will have to deal with the problem, which concerns not only romanies but all the other varieties of travellers—whether they are Irish tinkers, Scottish tinkers, didicois or anything else. This is a serious problem. Some counties have provided no sites whatever under the 1968 Act and I shall bring what pressure I can to bear on them to do so.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is no wish to persecute gipsies but that, as has been said, many families are badly affected by unauthorised encampments, not least in the county of Gwent? Therefore, along with the Secretary of State for Wales, will he expedite the provision of suitable camps throughout the country?
The Secretary of State for Wales and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment are meeting all the various gipsy groups as well as the local authorities. I am meeting the London Boroughs Association on 13th July and hope to meet the other associations connected with local government before the end of July. What I am hoping to get, and what is now being achieved in many areas, is a regional assessment by the people themselves in the region—local authorities and, I hope, the gipsies—of what the needs are, so that they can come to a decision about what a voluntary allocation should be without waiting for legislation.
What consideration has been given, and with what result, if any, to the Cripps recommendation that Exchequer grants for capital expenditure on the provision of gipsy sites—100 per cent. for five years—should be made?
That is an important point and one which we are considering. I think that local authority associations on the whole do not like the idea of specific grants, but the larger number of councillors to whom I have spoken in various parts of the country would welcome it. But the problem is not entirely financial. This Act has now been in operation since 1970. Some authorities have not acted at all since them. The problem concerns not only finance but public opinion, which exerts considerable and understandable pressure on councillors. Those of us who have been members of local authorities know what this can mean. Public opinion is causing a slowing up in the provision of the necessary sites.
Following is the information:
|GIPSY SITE PROVISION IN ENGLAND AND WALES AT 1ST JANUARY 1977|
|(Sites marked † are temporary)|
County and District Council (name and/or location of site)
Number of pitches
|South Bedfordshire (Pepperstock, Caddington)||12|
|South Bedfordshire (Chiltern View, Eaton Bray)||20|
|Bedford (Kempston Hardwick, Stewartby)||24|
|Newbury (Burghfield Common)||19|
|Beaconsfield (Mansion Lane, Iver)||32|
|Fenland (New Bridge Lane, Wisbech)||16|
|Peterborough (Oxney Road)||21|
|Crewe (Wrenbury Heath)||15|
|Halton (Warrington Road, Widnes)||15†|
|Chester (Hapsford, nr. Helsby)||15|
|Stockton-on-Tees (Bowesfield Lane)||20|
|North-East Derbyshire (Corbriggs, Grassmoor, Chesterfield)||15|
|East Devon (Broadclyst, nr. Exeter)||10|
|East Devon (Sowton. nr. Exeter)||20+20†|
|Poole (Mannings Heath)||22|
|West Dorset (Piddlehinton, Dorchester)||16|
|North Dorset (Thornicombe, Blandford)||10|
|Purbeck (Coldharbour, Wareham)||16|
|Darlington (Honeypot Lane)||20†|
|Darlington (Neasham Road)||20|
|Sedgefield (East Howie (near Ferryhill)||12†|
|Weaiden (Severn Barn. Hailsham)||3†|
|Wealden (Polly Arch, Polegate)||3†|
|Epping Forest (School Lane, Standford Rivers)||12|
|Harlow (Fern Hill Lane)||16|
|Harlow (Peldon Road) Wintering site||20†|
|Forest of Dean (Cinders Caravan Site, Crump Meadow, Cinderford)||8|
|Tewkesbury (Cursey Lane, Elmstone Hardwicke)||14|
|Tewkesbury (The Willows, Sandhurst Lane, near Gloucester)||30|
|Barking (Eastbrook End, Dagenham)||16|
|Barnet (Colney Hatch Lane, Finchley)||12†|
|Bexley (Powerscroft Road, Foots cray, Sidcup)||15|
|Bromley (Star Lane, St. Mary Cray)||12|
|Croydon (Beddington Farm Road)||15|
|Ealing (Kensington Road, Northolt)||16†|
|Enfield (Montagu Road, Edmonton)||15|
|Greenwich (Thistlebrook, Abbey Wood)||54|
|Harrow (Watling Farm, Elstree)||15|
|Havering (South Park, Dennises Lane)||15|
|Hillingdon (Colne Park, Cricket field Road, West Drayton||26|
|Hounslow (The Hartlands, Church Road, Cranford)||17|
|Kingston-up-Thames (Hook Rise North, Tolworth)||15|
|Kensington and Chelsea|
|Lambeth (Lonesome Depot, off Leonard Road)||15|
|Lewisham (Thurston Road)||15|
|Merton (Durnsford Road, Wimbledon)||15|
|Newham (Clays Lane, Stratford)||14|
|Redbridge (North View, Forest Road, Hainault)||16|
|Richmond upon Thames (Bishops Grove, Hampton)||16|
|Southwark (Dog Kennel Hill)||15†|
|Sutton (Carshalton Road, Woodmansterne, Banstead)||15|
|Waltham Forest (Folly Lane. Walthamstow)||16|
|Wandsworth (Trewint Street)||12|
|Manchester (Dantzic Street)||16|
|Bolton (Hall Lane)||16|
|Bury (Todd Street, Fernhill)||13|
|Wigan (Bickershaw Lane, Abram, Hindley)||15|
|Wigan (Miry Lane)||15†|
|Stockport (Hatherlow Street)||15†|
|Southampton (Redbridge Lane)||20†|
|Southampton (Kanes Hill)||20†|
|Hart (Star Hill, Hartley Wintney)||20†|
|Rushmoor (Minley Road, Cove)||20†|
Hereford and Worcester
|Wychavon (Hipton Hill, Evesham)||15|
|Bromsgrove (Houndsfield Lane, Wythall)||12|
|Welwyn/Hatfield (Holwell Court, Cole Green)||20|
|Hertsmere (Sandy Lane, Bushey)||27|
|St. Albans (Barley Mow Lane, Smallford)||15|
|Dacorum (Three Cherry Trees)||15|
|Watford (Tolpits Lane, Watford)||4†|
|St. Albans (Watling Street)||6|
|St. Albans (Park Street)||17 †|
|Beverley (Middledyke Lane, Cottingham)||45 †|
Isle of Wight
|Swale (Church Marches, Milton)||12†|
|Dartford (Claywood Lane)||12|
|Maidstone (Stilebridge Lane)||12|
|Ashford (Chillmington, Great Chard)||15|
|Canterbury (Vauxhall Road)||32|
|Blackburn (Aqueduct Road, Ewood)||17|
|Preston (London Road)||15†|
|Leicester (MeyneJl Gorse, Golf Course Lane, Braunstone)||15|
|Bosworth (Aston Firs, Sapcote, Nr. Hinckley)||15|
|North West Leicestershire (Station Yard, Castle Donington)||3|
|Lincoln (Washingborough Road)||15|
|South Kesteven (Grantham)||16|
|Liverpool (Oil Street, Waterloo Dock)||24|
|St. Helens (Sherdley Road)||12|
|Norwich (Mile Cross Road)||15|
|Wellingborough (Gypsy Lane, Irchester)||16|
|Wansbeck (Shields Road, Hartford)||15|
|Nottingham (Moor Bridge)||151†|
|South Oxfordshire (Sandford-on-Thames, Wallingford)||10+6†|
|Oxford (Slade Park)||15|
|Vale of White Horse (Woodhill Lane, East Challow)||12|
|Taunton Deane (Otterford)||5†|
|West Somerset (Farringdon Hill Lane, Stogursey)||10|
|Yeovil (Chilworthy Donyatt)||5†|
|Yeovil (Chubbards Cross, Ilton)||15|
|Rotherham (North Anston)||15|
|Sheffield (Tinsley Park)||15†|
|Barnsley (Smithies Lane)||15†|
|Newcastle-upon-Lyme (Lyme Valley)||15†|
|Tandridge (Tupwood Lane, Caterham)||10†|
|Tandridge (Green Lane, Outwood)||30|
|Waverley (Runford, Guildford Road, Farnham)||15†|
Tyne and Wear
|Gateshead (Abbott's Road, Oak wellgate)||15†|
|Birmingham (Castle Bromwich)||16|
|Sandwell (Brierley Lane, Coseley)||15|
|Wolverhampton (Showell Road, Bushbury)||15|
|Dudley (Oak Lane, Kingswinford)||15|
|Walsall (Willenhall Lane, Bloxwich)||15|
|Mid Sussex (Walstead, Nr. Lindfield)||7|
|Horsham (Two Mile Ash, South-water)||4†|
|Leeds (Cottingley Springs, Gelderd Road)||15|
|Bradford (Esholt Lane, Baildon)||16|
|Wakefield (Heath Common)||20†|
|Bradford (Bradford Metro, Mary Street)||16|
|Salisbury (Lode Hill, Downton)||12|
|Thamesdown (Hay Lane, Wroughton)||30|
|No. of permanent sites provided at 1st January 1977 102=1,652 pitches|
|No. of temporary sites provided at 1st January 1977 32= 489 pitches|
|Total 134=2,141 pitches|
* Site provided jointly with Hammersmith L.B.
NOTE: On some temporary sites there are no pitches as such and the size as shown in terms of pitches relates to the general level of occupancy. These levels clearly fluctuate from time to time.
District Council (name and /or location of site)
No of pitches
|Llanelli (Morfa Llanelli)||16|
|South Pembrokeshire (Kingsmoor Common, Kilgetty)||15|
|Preseli (Under the Hills, Haver-fordwest)||10|
|Preseli (Withy bush, Haverford-west)||10|
|Blaenau Gwent (Blaina)||15|
|Torfaen (Upper Race, Pontypool)||20|
|Cardiff (Rover Way)||21|
|No. of permanent sites provided at 1st January 1977 7=107 pitches|
|No. of temporary sites provided at 1st January 1977 1=6 pitches|
|Total 8=113 pitches|
Grand Totals: 142 sites (109 permanent, 33 temporary) with 2,254 pitches (1,759 permanent, 495 temporary).
House Purchase (First-Time Buyers)
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his policy on house purchase for first-time buyers.
I want to make it easier for people who wish to become home owners to do so. The Government's specific proposals include new savings bonus and loans schemes, as set out in Chapter 7 of the Green Paper on Housing Policy.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that no Minister before has ever felt it necessary to produce a Green Paper the day before answering a parliamentary Question of mine? Does he accept that, although one welcomes the proposals on low-start mortgages and longer-term mortgages, the real nub of the problem is the deposit? Is he satisfied that a maxmum loan of £500, which will carry interest after five years and a relatively small savings bonus, will be adequate? What consideration was given to the alternative proposal that to a couple who save £1,000 a grant of £500 will be given by the Government?
I personally rather agree with the hon. Gentleman that the deposit is the most important thing. It is not the only one, but it is for many people the major obstacle to starting on the journey of becoming home owners. Therefore, the proposals are designed to help overcome that hurdle. Whether a £500 loan linked to matching savings is insufficient, as opposed to a £500 grant linked, presumably, to an equivalent amount of savings—
No, it would be £1,000.
But the individual has to do the saving and nothing in my scheme would prevent a person from saving £1,000. He could easily save £1,000 and would still attract a £500 loan. Thus, the difference between the two proposals is the difference between the £500 loan, the interest on which is cancelled for the first five years, and a £500 grant. Perhaps that is not as spectacular a difference as the hon. Gentleman has suggested.
May I direct the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the recent General Election in Southern Ireland, in which the Fianna Fail Party got into power after promising outright grants to first-time purchasers of as much as £1,000? Surely this country can at least offer £500 as an outright grant.
There will be time, as I said, to debate particular proposals. We have put forward what we believe will be a sufficiently attractive proposal to enable many people to overcome a serious hurdle. We obviously will consider the details of the scheme as we debate it in the House, but I must take account of many other claims on the housing budget generally.
Does not yesterday's Green Paper recommend the building societies to help first-time buyers, those who cannot raise the deposit, and those who want to get the cheaper, older houses? But have not the building societies, unlike local authorities, failed largely to do this? Will my right hon. Friend therefore require the building societies to make available part of their vast funds to the local authorities precisely for that purpose?
It would be helpful if the building societies could increase the amount which they make available to help would-be purchasers to overcome that obstacle. One looks upon this as a developing relationship among Government, building societies and local authorities. We have made a good deal of progress this year, but, like my hon. Friend, I am by no means satisfied. We shall keep in touch, together and with the building societies, to see what further needs to be done.
In welcoming the help which is to be given to first-time buyers, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman for an assurance that he has looked at the corollary of this situation and will make available an adequate supply of starter homes and extendable homes so as to help young married first-time buyers?
I am not certain about the particular categories that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned, other than the first-time buyer. It is the first-time buyer to whom this proposal is precisely directed.
In terms of encouraging building societies to join local authorities particularly to help the first-time buyer of older property, is my right hon. Friend aware that that has been done on South Tyneside, where some extremely valuable schemes in the inner areas are now in operation, with the co-operation of building societies and local authorities?
I am encouraged to hear that from my hon. Friend, because we have had many examples—I do not complain of them—of failure of co-operation. It is good to hear of cases where we are beginning to get what we very much wish to achieve, namely, effective co-operation between building societies and local authorities.
Will the right hon. Gentleman understand that one of the greatest harms done to the ability of people to buy low-price houses has been the dramatic reduction in the ceiling on local authority lending for that purpose, as imposed on the authorities by the Government? Bearing in mind the right hon. Gentleman's acceptance that it is often the deposit that presents a difficulty for first-time buyers, does he recognise that by putting forward a policy that will provide a loan and not a grant he is reducing effectively the creditability of the couple concerned, and that the money that he is making available will come off the mortgage that they can obtain from other sources? In fact, the scheme that the right hon. Gentleman announced yesterday is a con. The only way effectively to move forward in this area is to implement a one-to-two grants-to-savings scheme that will dramatically help people to get the deposit together.
It is obviously not a con; it is an effort to enable many of our fellow citizens who wish to become home owners to overcome a considerable obstacle. As for whether we have judged the terms of the scheme exactly right, we shall be interested to hear the views of the House in a considered way. The objective is to help. It is no good the hon. Gentleman brushing it aside. The real difference between a £500 interest-free loan for five years and a £500 grant is a good deal less than he is suggesting. As for damaging prospects by reducing local authority lending, the truth is that much local authority lending in the past has not been directed in precisely the way that we would have wished. I have been making every effort to get the building societies to fill the gap that we had to create in local authority lending last year.
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what discussions he has held so far with those large industrial cities which were not included in the inner city aid programme about help with their particular problems.
My right hon. Friend and I have met representatives of Newcastle and, separately, representatives of the other authorities of Tyne and Wear to discuss their partnership requests for inner city assistance. Prior to my right hon. Friend's statement on 6th April we met with several other authorities and their associations.
I welcome the aid that is being given to London, the West Midlands, Liverpool and elsewhere, but is my hon. Friend aware that there is considerable concern in other major industrial cities, whose inner city problems are just as serious as those in the areas to which I have referred, and that they have been overlooked in the first round? Will that be taken into consideration, and will some new proposals be brought forward at an early date?
We were aware of a very special concentration and intensity of problems in the cities and areas that have already been selected. We are also aware that similar situations exist in other cities. That is why we intend to meet representatives from Sheffield, Wandsworth, Haringey, Islington, Hackney and Hammersmith. There are other authorities that we may also meet in making a final decision on the list that will emerge. I should make it clear that if the money that is available is to be effective we cannot, unfortunately, widen the list too far.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is not only in industrial areas that the problem of deprivation arises, it being present in many rural areas? Is he aware that there has been a sad decline in a whole series of services, whether it be local transport, village schools, building new roads or making improvements, helping the elderly and, unfortunately, the closing of many beds in cottage hospitals? Does he realise that a very real problem exists? Will he bear that in mind when considering the rate support grant for next year? Is he aware that many people in rural areas are coming to the conclusion that they are having to pay more and more to receive less and less?
I am well aware of the point that the hon. Gentleman has made, namely, that there is deprivation in rural areas. However, the Question is concerned with a very high concentration and intensity of deprivation that exists at the centres of some of our industrial cities. It is that with which we are primarily concerned. That is not to say that the problem does not exist in other areas, including the smaller cities and towns and rural areas.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the depth of feeling in Newcastle upon Tyne and the Tyneside and Wear-side area generally about the way in which his right hon. Friend's policy is developing? Will he give us an assurance that the point made to him will be seriously considered, namely, that the level of deprivation in the areas that I and others represent is at least as serious as in the areas chosen? Will he give some indication when he will come to a decision, as the delay is causing great uncertainty locally?
I was not aware, from meeting representatives of Newcastle upon Tyne, or Tyne and Wear, of the depth of concern about the way in which my right hon. Friend's policy is developing, which is how my hon. Friend put it. I am aware of their depth of concern about the problems that exist in their areas. That concern was forcefully put to us in the meeting that they had with us. My right hon. Friend and I will come to a conclusion on the whole issue as soon as we can.
Will the hon. Gentleman be frank and acknowledge that the Government's White Paper indicates that there is little hope of practical help being given to the areas outside those that benefit under partnership agreements as defined under the Government's criteria? Will he admit that the disappointment is justified in large parts of the industrial West Midlands, Lancashire and Yorkshire, which feel badly neglected under the policy?
I would not admit that. The hon. Gentleman knows that the rate support grant is one means that the Government have used to try to recognise the problems of the areas that he has described. We have also made it clear in the White Paper that the main policies and programmes of the Government as a whole will try to recognise the new priority in inner city areas. The urban programme, which has been transferred to our Department, will also be available to assist areas where deprivation exists, though perhaps not on the scale that exists in the partnership cities and the others that may be selected for partnerships.
Water Authorities (Staff)
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what guidance he has issued to water authorities concerning the salary levels of employees and the number of staff employed, in the light of existing salaries and numbers.
Salary levels and staff establishments are matters for the internal management and negotiating procedures of the water industry itself, but we have made clear to water authorities the need to exercise restraint.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that rising water rates are resented? Does he accept that it is undesirable that an unelected body, which in practice is responsible to no one, should have absolute power? If salaries were excessive, perquisites were excessive and the provision of motor cars was excessive, am I right in supposing that the public would have no remedy and Ministers would have no responsibility?
If Ministers have no responsibility and if they have no powers except over the capital expenditure of the water authorities, it is because the Conservative Government enacted the Water Bill that took away those responsibilities from local authorities and from the Government. However, they are not entirely unelected bodies. The majority of the members of regional water authorities are members of local councils. I trust that the hon. Gentleman will support what the Government have to say in the White Paper on the water industry, which we hope to publish soon.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that not only was it a Conservative Bill that caused these organisations to be instituted but that the rates have roughly doubled, because the cost of sewerage is included, and that about £100 million of rate support grant that otherwise would have gone from the Exchequer to support sewerage services is now no longer available to regional water authorities?
That is true. I hope that ratepayers will recognise that the sewerage element in their rates is now in the water rate and not in the general rate.
The Government appear to have done precisely nothing, arising out of last summer's drought, to prevent a repetition. Does the hon. Gentleman expect a firm programme to be announced to meter water supplies in the forthcoming White Paper?
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, who is unable to be here this afternoon, will be most disappointed at the suggestion that he has done nothing about providing the necessary water. I am sure that my right hon. Friend, the Early-Day Motions from Members of the House, the Prayers and whoever answered them have provided the answer, to the extent that there is no danger of any shortage of water this year, even if we have fine weather for the rest of the summer.
Housing Policy Review
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he now expects the Housing Policy Review to be published.
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he can now give a firm date for the publication of his housing finance review.
A Green Paper was published yesterday.
On the local authority aspects, is the Secretary of State aware that some—perhaps many—local authorities feel that they would be better able to meet the housing needs in their area if they were allowed to devote a little more resources to local authority mortgages and home improvements? This year many authorities, such as my own South Norfolk District Council, have been savagely cut back in these respects.In the Secretary of State's proposals, with their emphasis on local authorities knowing their areas best, is it his intention to give them greater freedom of choice to make up their own minds on these aspects or, as he rather suggested in answer to an earlier question, still to carry on with central Government diktat?
Not exactly diktat, but we are embarking on this new approach to local housing expenditure and local housing plans. We gave a degree of virement between different previously restricted separate categories of housing expenditure in 1977–78, and I hope to broaden that in the period ahead, 1978–79.
I welcome what was said yesterday, and the Green Paper, but is it the Secretary of State's intention to wait until after November before making any changes in the rateable value and cost limits of improvement grants? Cannot we have that decision speedily?
We are prepared to look at individual cases. I should not wish to mislead the hon. Gentleman and to say that I was intending to change this before we have had time to receive the general comments that we have now invited from the public and from all those concerned with the Green Paper. On the other hand, I am not necessarily saying that we have to have everything in before we can make a decision on this matter.
Will my right hon. Friend be prepared to consider bringing together the new housing people in the Greater London Council and representatives of the Ealing and Hillingdon Councils concerning the Willow Tree Lane project? If that development had gone through, it would have been a massive contribution to easing the very severe housing problem in that part of London, particularly in the Middlesex area, but the new GLC has decided not to proceed. This means that there are literally thousands of people who might have been rehoused in a few years' time and who will not now be rehoused, because of the Tory policy on the GLC.
I am indeed concerned about the apparently wholesale cancellation of GLC projects in outer London. We shall be studying these proposals with great anxiety as they come forward. I shall consider what my hon. Friend said. If he would like to write to me giving me more details of this, I shall certainly give him a reply.
Will the Secretary of State specifically repudiate the persistent suggestion by his hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) that there should be new statutory controls over the building societies requiring them to lend to any particular class of person or in respect of any particular class of property? Will the Secretary of State confirm that any such proposals would only lead to suggestions from the building societies that the State should reimburse them for bad debts, and from that to proposals for the nationalisation of the building societies?
They have had £500 million.
What my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) is concerned about—and this represents the views of everyone on the Government side and a good many Opposition Members—is that there are classes of people—and classes of property—who have not been served as well in the past by building societies as we would wish. It is precisely those people whom we are trying to help. I believe that we can get a considerable way with the building societies through the kinds of arrangements that I have already discussed with the House.
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what consultations he has now had concerning the distribution of the £17 million available for dockland redevelopment in London.
The Docklands Joint Committee and the constituent authorities agreed a programme of projects at their meeting on 21st June. This has just been submitted to me and I am considering it urgently.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that information. As Mr. Percy Bell has now resigned as chairman of the Docklands Joint Committee, which now has Sir Hugh Wilson as its independent chairman, will my right hon. Friend confirm that this indicates a consistent policy of the new GLC and no change in direction?Will my right hon. Friend have a word with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services concerning the closure of Plaistow Maternity Hospital, which is in dockland, an area where we hope to have 20,000 new inhabitants in the next five or six years?
I know my hon. Friend's intense interest in the whole dockland development, but he will appreciate that, while I well understand the anxieties and worries experienced over the closure of the Plaistow Maternity Hospital—it happens also in my own part of East London—that really is a question for my right hon Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.As for the wider issue of continuity of policy in the Docklands Joint Committee, it would be ridiculous to pretend that there will not be differences between the new incumbents of County Hall and their predecessors. Of course there will. But I very much hope that the interests of dockland will be judged in a sober way and that every effort will be made to carry forward the work of the Docklands Joint Committee.
Is the right hon. Gentleman able to confirm that the sum of £17 million and other support for the dockland programme is central Government funded money and not just an authority for the GLC to spend its own money?
What we have said is that £17 million of increased public expenditure would be authorised in dockland in the period up to the introduction of the proper inner city grant. That will comprise local and central Government expenditure. But if the money comes under the urban programme, the central Government will finance 75 per cent. of any project. If it comes under housing programmes, it will be over 60 per cent., as the hon. Gentleman knows.
Government Offices (Expenditure)
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his latest estimate of the expenditure on Government office accommodation during the current year by the Property Services Agency.
The estimate is about £250 million on office rents, new construction, furniture, and maintenance.
Is the Minister aware that that figure is to some extent misleading, because about 60 per cent. of the office property held by the Property Services Agency is held on old leases, where the rent payable does not represent the full value? Does he accept, therefore, that it would be advantageous for his Department and also for all Government Departments occupying office premises if they were made aware of the true cost of the space they occupy?
The true cost to the Government is the rent being paid now. It is true that certain leases are ending and that people are moving into newly-built Crown buildings or other rented property. The £250 million is rather different from the figure in the Supply Estimates, because it does not include spscialised accommodation, such as prisons, courts, and so on.
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what information he has on recent movements in the supply of private rented accommodation in the urban areas.
Some indications can be gained from recent studies and I shall be glad to write to the hon. Gentleman about these.
I welcome the somewhat timid remarks of the Secretary of State in the House yesterday on the private rented sector, but does the Minister realise that the rigidity of the law of tenure of private rented property has been a greater cause of homelessness than almost anything else in our society?In 1977, when there are grown-up people wishing to rent for a short period, particularly in the urban areas, why on earth should not they be allowed to do so?
The hon. Gentleman has mentioned one factor among many which have affected the private rented sector. They are being carefully considered in our Rent Act review.
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he remains satisfied that the present system of allocating resources to local authorities for house building and improvement is meeting the housing needs of areas with serious housing stress.
Areas with serious housing stress are receiving first priority under the current arrangements for allocating resources. This will continue under the new system of housing strategies and investment programmes, to be introduced next year, which will enable us to allocate resources according to local comprehensive assessments of housing need.
Does the Minister accept that much of what has been said about the housing review is for the long term? Does he agree that in areas of stress there is a need to get ahead with the building programme and to create employment in the construction industry? Does he see any possibility of an improvement in that situation in the near future?
The Secretary of State has referred to the improvements for which he is looking. I suggest to my hon. Friend that in the allocations made to stress areas the Secretary of State has recognised this problem. The Government are well aware of it and are anxious that resources should go where they are most desperately needed.
Order. I wish to make an appeal to the House before I call the statement. We have a half-day Supply debate and a considerable number of hon. Members wish to speak in it. There is a Ten-Minute Bill and there are several applications under Standing Order No. 9. Therefore, I shall not be able to allow as long on the statements for supplementary questions as I would normally. I must be fair to those who wish to take part in the Supply debate.