Derelict Land (Colliery Spoil Heaps)
1. Mr. Boardman
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what plans he now has for dealing with derelict land and, in particular, colliery spoil heaps.
The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Richard Crossman)
I am anxious to see much quicker progress on this and I hope to be able to make grant available to local authorities for this purpose in the context of the present review of local government finance.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Will he bear in mind that the existence of the spoil heaps in the coalfields is due to the exploitation of one of our greatest national assets and that it is strongly felt by the local authorities concerned that the removal or landscaping of the spoil heaps ought now to be accepted as a national charge?
Yes, I am aware of that. In our survey we discovered that no less than 51,000 acres are suitable for treatment and I hope that I shall be able to give a specific grant, but I am afraid that my hon. Friend must wait for the announcement of that until we come to the second Rating Bill.
Sub-Standard Property, Wellington
2. Mr. William Yates
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he has decided to give loan sanction [column 1842]to Wellington Urban District Council in order that it may bring up to date its sub-standard property in Regent Street and Urban Gardens, Wellington.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Robert Mellish)
The council asked my right hon. Friend on 2nd December to approve a scheme in principle.
It may be necessary to consult it on one or two aspects but he hopes to write soon to say that a formal application for loan sanction will be approved.
I take this opportunity to say that that news will be received by these people as one of the best bits of news which they have heard this Christmas time.
6. Mr. Allason
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether he is aware of the severe rise in rates likely to arise next year in counties with an expanding population; and whether the remedies that he proposes will be in time to take effect in 1966–67.
I cannot forecast next year's rates. Although there will be no changes in the grant system until the following year, there will be relief in 1966–67 for ratepayers with small incomes.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that all ratepayers in countries with an expanding population are going to suffer very severely in the coming year, as year by year they have to pay more of the rateborne expenditure and less and less falls on the Exchequer?
That would not be strictly true. I am not going to under-rate the burden of rates—I have often repeated that it is very heavy—but the assistance we can give to the general ratepayer will come in our second Bill. Our first Bill was only an interim relief for the 2 million worst-off families.
Although the right hon. Gentleman says that he cannot forecast next year's rates, did he not forecast an average increase in rates throughout the country of 10 per cent. next year when he spoke at Plymouth on 20th November?[column 1843]
I said at Plymouth, and I think it was a reasonable thing, that I thought that 10 per cent. was the kind of increase likely. It might be more in some areas and less in others. I cannot make a very precise prediction on that.
8. Mr. Armstrong
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what proposals he has to give financial assistance to local authorities similar to those in West Durham where there has been a decline in rateable value because of the run down in the mining industry.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. James MacColl)
Where, as is the case in West Durham, the local authorities get rate-deficiency grant, it automatically compensates for a loss of rateable value.
Is my hon. Friend aware that in this area additional burdens are now being placed upon local authorities because of the tremendous scars left by the mining industry, which has declined so rapidly? Will he continue to look at this question so that local authorities, which are already doing all that they can to rehabilitate the area, may have extra help?
As my hon. Friend knows, I visited the area during the Recess and was very much seized of its problems. We will certainly keep them in mind.
Woolwich Arsenal Site
12. Mr. Hamling
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what discussions his Department has had with the Greater London Council and the borough of Greenwich on the redevelopment of the Woolwich Arsenal site.
Both authorities are represented on a liaison group with officers of the Government Departments concerned and of the public transport undertakings. This group meets from time to time to review progress and to consult on major problems.
Industrial Plants, Birmingham
13. Mr. Julius Silverman
asked the Minister of Housing and Local [column 1844]Government what steps he will take to protect the people of Cranemore Street and other adjacent streets in Nechells, Birmingham, from the emission of noxious fumes and gases by nearby industrial plants.
The industrial plants in the area are under the regular supervision of either the Alkali Inspectorater or the public health inspectors of the Birmingham City Council. At the sulphuric acid works, alterations now being carried out should improve the quality of the chimney gases and methods of improving their dispersal are under consideration.
Is the Minister aware that so far there have been no substantial improvements and that the emission of gas results in the aggravation of bronchial complaints suffered by people in the area? Is he further aware that there is a nasty smell in the neighbourhood, that vegetation dies because of the emission of these fumes and that local authorities are completely dissatisfied with what is being done? I hope that the Alkali Inspectorate will look at the situation again.
It is true that any industrial area with heavy chemical industries suffers from these problems, which create a nuisance to residents in the area. The firm has made various experiments to try to improve the position and my right hon. Friend will keep an eye on the situation.
Noxious Fumes (Emission)
14. Mr. Julius Silverman
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he will now introduce legislation to amend and strengthen the Alkali Act in order to protect the health of people menaced by the emission of noxious fumes and gases.
No, Sir. I have and reason to believe that the levels of emission permitted from processes registered under the Alkali Act an dangerous to health.
Does the Minister realise that that is contrary to the experience of people, not only in this area but in many other areas? Will he consider whether the power to deal with industrial emissions could be dealt with by local authorities, perhaps by an extension of the Clean Air Act, 1956?[column 1845]
I will consider that, but I must say that I have doubts, because these times, although extremely unpleasant, according to a special inquiry which I have had made, show no evidence of danger to health. This is similar to sea pollution where unpleasantness and violation of amenity is not necessarily bad for health.
New Local Tax
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government upon what basis his new local tax will be assessed.
I would refer the hon. Member to my reply to her Question on 14th December.
In that reply, the right hon. Gentleman said that the future structure of the local tax would depend on the future structure of local government. When will he bring forward his proposals for that?
I have nothing more to add. We want a thorough investigation into the tax and local government question. All that I said was that the two hang together. In my view, we are unlikely to get a new tax without a radical reform of local government.
Dame Irene Ward
Will the Minister's Answer apply to the new proposals for the Tyneside area in view of the fact that the whole place is being blown up and that there will be nothing left of anything?
Great as I believe the effects of boundary reorganisation to be, I do not think that a fair description of what will happen is to call it a total explosion if the Tyneside accepts the proposals which I have tentatively put forward.
Dame Irene Ward
I hope that it will not.
There is still some time before what the hon. Lady describes as an explosion will happen. I have made it clear that what we are doing under the existing Boundary Commission must go on.
Does not the Minister's earlier reply mean that, like [column 1846]the Prime Minister, he has not the faintest idea of any alternative tax to rates?
In replying seriously to the right hon. Gentleman, what it means is this. We should face the fact that if we continue, as we must do, to try to make the rates less regressive and remain content with rates as a tax, more and more of the cost will have to be moved to the central Government, and that means a decline in local democracy.
21. Mr. Ridsdale
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether his proposals for a new local tax to replace rating will extend to water rates.
I would refer the hon. Member to my reply to the Question by the hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) on 14th December.
Will the relief for ratepayers with small fixed incomes apply to the increase in water rates particularly caused by the last Budget which will fall very heavily on those least able to bear it?
I will not enter into a semantic debate with the hon. Gentleman, but, in my view, water rates are not technically rates but a charge for a commodity.
22. Mr. Ridsdale
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government on what date he will announce his proposals for a comprehensive review of the rating system; and from what dates these proposals will take effect.
The Rating Bill embodies the first instalment of the Government's proposals. I expect to announce the remainder early next year.
As it seems so easy for the Minister to make a general criticism of the rating system without giving detailed proposals, may I ask him to assure the House that it is his intention to bring these detailed proposals to the House before the next General Election?
We shall bring them before the House. I hope that the Bill will be before the House in the spring. [column 1847]We are now having discussions with the treasurers before finalising our proposals on the reorganisation of the grant system.
Mr. Alfred Morris
Is my right hon. Friend aware that his sentiments against such regressive taxes as rates have been widely welcomed in the country and by people of all persuasions?
Has the Minister given serious consideration to proposals for a system based upon rating and taxation of site values? Further, will he at least consider a survey in an industrial area similar to the one which took place at Whitstable?
We are certainly willing to consider the possibility, although I doubt whether another survey would be valuable. The hon. Member should study the proposals for the Land Commission and, perhaps, the Committee stage of the Bill before he makes up his mind whether site value taxation has been replaced by betterment tax as a desirable method.
Oxford Development Plan
23. Mr. Woodhouse
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government when he will announce his decision on the Oxford development plan.
I am still not in a position to announce a decision, but it should not be much longer.
Is the Minister aware of the impatience and indignation which are universally felt in Oxford at the interminable delay in his decision? Can he give any good reason for the delay? In particular, can he say whether he is having second thoughts about a road across Christchurch Meadow?
I have had no sign of the feelings that the hon. Member describes in Oxford. Oxford quite rightly is frustrated by over 10 years of delay in the decisions about its development plan. This is an extremely difficult decision and I make no apology whatever for delaying it to try to get the best possible solution for Oxford City.
25. Mr. Blenkinsop
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he will use his powers under the National [column 1848]Parks Act to expedite the preparation of maps and statements relating to the footpath survey.
My right hon. Friend is ready to consider using his power of direction if it is in fact likely to secure faster progress. This may not be the case where a large number of rights of way are in dispute.
In welcoming that reply, may I ask my hon. Friend to follow up his inquiries to see whether something cannot be done, particularly in the case of those counties which show no interest in getting on with the job and which are over 10 years behindhand?
My right hon. Friend is aware of the delays and is actively considering the best way of speeding things up.
26. Mr. Blenkinsop
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he will appoint staff that could be seconded to assist county councils in completing their footpath surveys.
This is the county councils' responsibility, and my right hon. Friend thinks the work is best done by their own staffs.
Is not my hon. Friend aware that in some instances counties make the excuse that they do not have staff to carry out this work? In that case, cannot something be done to help them?
I appreciate that. On the other hand, this is essentially work in which local knowledge is important, because it depends upon the assessment of footpaths which are very much a local matter. It is, therefore, difficult to see how help from the centre would speed things up.
Swynnerton Site (Development)
28. Mr. Hugh Fraser
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether, to avoid further delays in the use of the abandoned Royal Ordnance factory site at Swynnerton, he will now permit its limited development for industry and for afforestation, without major prejudice to wider schemes which may or may not develop over the next decade.[column 1849]
I can well understand the impatience of the right hon. Gentleman, but I am still waiting for the views of the West Midlands Regional Economic Planning Council and local authorities concerned. When they are received, it will be possible to decide whether there should be any big new expansion project in North Staffordshire, and, if so, whether the Swynnerton site should play a part in it.
Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that in view of the unlikelihood of anything decisive emerging from these three local authorities—if one includes the City of Stoke-on-Trent—which are at daggers drawn on this issue, it would be better in the national interest to declare that we should go ahead with a modest scheme?
No, I do not think that would be right. I would much rather wait not so much for the local authorities as for the West Midland Regional Council, which can give a much more independent view. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that when that happens, my feeling also is that we much decide about the site, which is looking loathsome and neglected after years of Government delay.
House Building (Statistics)
27. Mr. Costain
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government in which years since 1959 the total number of houses completed was greater than the number of those under construction in the public sector; and whether he will give similar comparative figures for the private sector.
Since 1959, the number of dwellings under construction at the end of the year in Great Britain in the public sector has always exceeded the number completed in the year. In the private sector completions in the year have always exceeded the number under construction at the end of the year. With permission, I will circulate the figures in the Official Report.
Does not this prove that private enterprise houses are built quicker than public enterprise houses? Will not the Minister admit that his policy of restricting private enterprise housing is not helping to solve the housing short [column 1850]age? Will not he adopt a different approach?
The hon. Member is talking a lot of nonsense, because 91 per cent. of all public authority building is built by private enterprise. One has, therefore, to ask why, when working for public authorities, private enterprise does not work as fast as when it works for itself.
Since it is clear that for one reason or another builders are taking longer on local authority contracts than they take on private building, will the hon. Gentleman ask local authorities to include a penalty clause in all their contracts and to enforce it rigidly?
I should not like to commit my right hon. Friend to that one. I was trying to answer the rather stupid point made by the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain).
Sir Harmar Nicholls
Is not the Minister aware that on any building site different decisions have to be taken almost every hour of the day and that to have to refer to somebody else for a decision is bound to take longer than making the decision oneself?
That is not my experience—and I have had quite a lot of experience—of public authority building which private enterprise has built.
Following are the figures: