Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1974 May 8 We
Margaret Thatcher

HC PQ [Environment]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: House of Commons PQs
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [873/371-98]
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: 1430-c1515.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 10086
Themes: Monetary policy, Housing
[column 371]

ENVIRONMENT

Rate Support Grant

1. Mr. Pardoe

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will pay an official visit to Cornwall to investigate the effects of his rate support policies.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Anthony Crosland)

I have no plans to do so at present. I am well aware of the strength of local feelings on this issue, and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Planning and Local Government has met local authority representatives from Cornwall.

Mr. Pardoe

I thank the Secretary of State for that reply and I thank his right hon. Friend for his extremely helpful letter in reply to me today. I realise the difficulty about doing anything to help this year and I welcome the view of the Department and of the right hon. Gentleman that it may be possible to help in 1975–76. Will the Secretary of State turn his attention to the question of rebates? A large part of the rate is made up of sewerage and water rates, which are not eligible for rebate. Help in this financial year would be of enormous assistance to my constituents. Will the Secretary of State help Cornwall in this matter?

Mr. Crosland

The question of rebate is extremely important. With regard to the ordinary rate rebate, 75 per cent. of the hon. Gentleman's constituents are eligible for rate rebate, but this does not apply to water and sewerage rates. I cannot give an undertaking to do something about it this year but the matter will be very much in our minds in our attempts during the next few months or [column 372]so to bring about a more equitable distribution of the rate support grant next year.

Mr. Nott

Will the Secretary of State, explain—because the point did not come out clearly in the recent debate on the rate support order—why Wales is receiving special treatment while other outlying areas are not? My constituents would be interested to know this.

Mr. Crosland

We took the view that much of Wales had been affected far more seriously than other areas by the application of changes in local government and by reorganisation of finance and water and sewerage services. Lest there is a misunderstanding, I should point out that, even with the uniform domestic relief for Wales, some districts in Wales will lose out as a result of our decision.

Mr. Dixon

I do not wish to misquote the right hon. Gentleman but, without being specific about his actual words, has he not given the British public the impression that what he is proposing is to bring in a measure of social justice? On what basis does the right hon. Gentleman assume that people in small towns and in the countryside, such as in Cornwall, are, on the whole, much richer than those in the large urban areas?

Mr. Crosland

I do not assume anything of the sort. I accept at once that average earnings in Cornwall are lower than the national average, but it should be pointed out that the average rate payment in Cornwall is also much lower than the national average. These two factors have to be balanced.

1. Mr. Ashley

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the progress of his study of possible changes in the rate support systems.

Mr. Crosland

My officials have begun discussions with representatives of the local authority associations. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Planning and Local Government and I hope to meet the associations later in the month. We shall also be discussing the issues with a representative sample of local authorities.

Mr. Ashley

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the people of Stoke-on-Trent [column 373]have suffered badly from the recent changes in the rate support grant and would like special consideration from him to alleviate some of the great hardship involved? Is he further aware that the present rating system is full of anomalies and injustices? Can he assure us that there will be a thorough review of the whole system to ensure that those anomalies and injustices are removed?

Mr. Crosland

I am well aware of what has happened to my hon. Friend's constituents and how strongly they feel about it. Indeed, he led a deputation from Stoke-on-Trent to see the Under-Secretary of State. I shall do the best I can over the rate support grant to produce next year a formula which will certainly not be universally popular—no formula can be—but will at least be universally held to be the best that we can produce in this imperfect world.

Mr. Allason

Does the Secretary of State realise the great anger that exists in many parts of the country—certainly in Hertfordshire—at the way in which he has gerrymandered the rate support grant? Is he aware that this is held to be totally unfair and that it is unacceptable to have constantly rising rates, which would have been avoided had he not taken the action he did in March?

Mr. Crosland

I am well aware of the anger that is felt in many parts of the country, including Grimsby, I may say. If I had been out to gerrymander, I would appear to have done it ineffectively so far as my own interests are concerned. I do not think that the hon. Member seriously means his accusation about gerrymandering. On the general point, I must make it clear that if we take the country as a whole we see that I redistributed only about 7½ per cent. of the total rate support grant. The total national increase in rates this year was not the responsibility of this Government; we inherited it from the previous Government.

Mr. Loughlin

I accept what my right hon. Friend has said—I hope that he will repeat it—that the vast bulk of rate increases is directly attributable to the Tory policies that the last Government pursued, but would it be possible to introduce for this year a special Supplementary Estimate on the domestic element in the rate support grant? I assure [column 374]my right hon. Friend that a substantial number of people, not in my constituency but in many others, are finding that the present rates impose an intolerable burden.

Mr. Crosland

Certainly, in my lifetime, I have never known such universal anger and resentment at the level of rates. This is in a sense new social phenomenon. Rates have come to the top of many people's priorities. However, my hon. Friend was born in Grimsby and is therefore a man of acute perception and common sense. As such, he will not expect me to promise anything for this year.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is tremendous anger in Derbyshire and elsewhere about this matter, and that it is purely because of his actions that that anger has been increased to the extent that it has. [Hon. Members: “No.” ] Yes, it has. My hon. Friend's accusation of gerrymandering is right. Will the right hon. Gentleman take immediate action to put this matter right?

Mr. Crosland

No, Sir. I must make it clear once again that the total national increase in the rate burden this year, which has been so bitterly resented by so many of our citizens, is the responsibility of the Tory Government.

Housing Associations

2. Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what has been the financial effect on the voluntary housing movement of the rent freeze.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Gerald Kaufman)

Some housing associations report that they are finding it difficult to meet the financial effects of the rents freeze. Provision is made in the Housing Bill for some adjustment to subsidies payable to housing associations. This will help associations, but we are considering whether further measures may be necessary.

Mr. Finsberg

Does the Under-Secretary accept that the aid promised in the Housing Bill is totally insufficient, and will he, as a matter of urgency, consider specifically the possibility of allowing [column 375]housing associations to pass on extra service charges, such as higher fuel costs, which local authorities are permitted to do?

Mr. Kaufman

I do not agree that the aid which the hon. Gentleman mentioned is totally insufficient; at worst it is comparatively insufficient. I accept that there may be problem. I gave the assurance in the debate on Monday—and I give it again today—that we are seriously watching the situation to see what else should be done. The question of service charges is under review.

Mr. Fell

Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that the rent freeze is a fiddle and that it is doing everything possible to hurt those in council house estates who pay a normal rent and to relieve those who would be able to pay an economic rent, and that, indeed, the whole thing is being paid by other people in the country and not by council house tenants?

Mr. Kaufman

A bigger fiddle was to allow rents to rise while controlling wages. But if the Conservative Party does not like our rent freeze, let it put down a motion on it and vote on it.

Mr. Horam

Is my hon. Friend aware that, in contradistinction to what the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) said, the National Federation of Housing Associations has widely welcomed the Housing Bill and hopes that it will go through the House as fast as possible?

Mr. Kaufman

We have had many consultations with that organisation. My hon. Friend is right to draw the conclusion that he does.

Mr. Rossi

What is the estimated amount of these additional subsidies for housing associations that the Minister has just mentioned? Will this come out of the £100 million or so which is being provided for housing associations under the Housing Bill for the improvement of old houses?

Mr. Kaufman

It is extra, and the sum of £1 million.

Mr. Rossi

Thank you.

Local Authority Staffs (Salaries)

3. Mr. Trotter

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what were the [column 376]approximate numbers of posts in local authorities in England and Wales with salaries in the band between £4,000 and £5,000 and in each higher band of £1,000 (a) prior to reorganisation on 1st April 1974, and (b) subsequent to such reorganisation; and what is the difference in total costs.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Gordon Oakes)

I regret that this information is not available.

Mr. Trotter

Is the Minister aware that there is a general feeling in the country that many local authorities have not shown sufficient restraint in arriving at their senior staffing levels following reorganisation, and that many ratepayers, at a time of unprecedented increase in their rates, feel that this information should be made available? Is it not right that it can readily be made available and must be made available?

Mr. Oakes

I warned the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) during the passage of the previous administration's Local Government Bill that there was widespread disquiet about what was happening as a result of local government reorganisation. I am still very concerned. As soon as a full report from the LACSAB survey has been received, my right hon. Friend will consider what further action is necessary. The survey should be received in about two or three weeks.

Mr. Cant

Speaking as the chairman of a district planning committee and a member of a county planning committee, may I say that a large number of people are worried not only about the salaries of officials but about the growing numbers of people employed? Will the Minister, in a less ambitious project, make a random sample of, say, planning establishments in metropolitan counties and non-metropolitan counties and compare them with the people who were engaged in planning on 1st April 1974? Does he not agree that we may be rapidly reaching a stage when there are more cow-boys than Indians?

Mr. Oakes

My hon. Friend may be talking about establishments. There is, of course, a widespread shortage of actual planners, but in overall numbers, it [column 377]would seem from the preliminary survey that there was an approximate increase of 5 per cent. in the number of staff employed as between the old authorities and the new.

Improvement Grants

5. Mr. Silvester

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will examine the desirability of extending the qualifying date for the higher rate of home improvement grant in respect of those dwellings, the future of which is awaiting his decision on an application for compulsory purchase.

39. Mr. Arthur Davidson

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he has yet made a decision with regard to extending the date beyond which the full improvement grant is payable.

Mr. Kaufman

I would refer the hon. Member and my hon. Friend to the answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. Davidson) on 30th April. I regret that no concession is possible in cases where, for whatever reason, the submission or consideration of applications for preferential rates of grant has been delayed.—[Vol. 872, c. 440–1.]

Mr. Silvester

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in my constituency, on at least two orders, replies have been delayed for nine and 10 months respectively, and that the people who are suffering from the delay are now being asked to bear the additional burden of losing the additional support that they would have received on the improvement grant?

Mr. Kaufman

In welcoming the hon. Member as a fellow representative of Manchester, I would point out that all but two of those months fell in the period of the previous administration, who were also responsible for the limit on the 75 per cent. grant. Unlike this administration, who have made a concession, the previous Government gave no sign whatever of making any concessions.

Mr. Davidson

Is my hon. Friend aware that his reply to me is welcome because it will remove the anxiety of countless householders who have been callously mucked and messed about for month after month by builders? In view of the high cost of building, however, and [column 378]the delays by builders, will he examine the whole system of improvement grants to see whether there is some way by which small householders can really benefit? After all, they were the people whom the system was intended to benefit in the first place.

Mr. Kaufman

I accept what my hon. Friend says, especially about the way in which people have been mucked about by builders. At the same time, I draw his attention to the fact that we are trying to do something—not totally satisfactory by any means—in the Housing Bill which is before the House at present. But these are matters to which we shall no doubt have to return.

Motorways (Service Stations)

6. Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what criteria he uses in the selection of sites for motorway service stations.

The Minister for Transport (Mr. Frederick Mulley)

Sites are sought for development initially with the motorway development at roughly 25-mile intervals and are normally 30–35 acres in extent. Sites are also earmarked where appropriate roughly half way between these for possible later development if and when traffic builds up to demand additional facilities. The selection is made in consultation with the local planning authority concerned and account is taken of traffic, engineering, environmental and agricultural considerations.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

I am grateful for those details. However, may I put it to the Minister that it is time that his Department thought of something less elaborate in the service station/restaurant complex every time a filling station is required on a motorway? May I commend to him the European example of using petrol only substations at intervals of less than 50 miles?

Mr. Mulley

We are prepared to consider any suggestions in this context, but successive Governments have accepted that is is desired by the travelling public to have available refreshment facilities as well as petrol, breakdown and other facilities. The survey commissioned by the previous Government and recently published rather suggested that there was a [column 379]public demand for the complexes that we now have.

Dr. Edmund Marshall

In the choice of motorway service station sites, as, for example, that proposed at Hatfield, in my constituency, is any importance attached to local public opinion?

Mr. Mulley

I am not sure to what extent specific attempts to meet local public opinion are made, but certainly the local authorities and the detailed arrangements have to have planning permission from the local planning authority in the normal way.

Mr. Freud

In view of the appalling state of motorway service stations, will the Minister consider investigating the operations of Jacques Borel, on the French autoroutes, which serve qualitative and very inexpensive food? At the same time, will the Minister reconsider licensing the motorway catering establishments? Will he also consider the desirability of unlicensed motorway restaurants, in view of the fact that one can now drive on roads other than motorways at the same speed as one does on motorways?

Mr. Mulley

On the question of licensing, new legislation would be required. My assessment of public opinion is that the public would not take kindly to licensing specifically motorway restaurants. The hon. Member suggested, perhaps, that I should make a personal tour of the French autoroutes. If he could arrange for my Chief Whip to give me permission to be away, I could see many advantages in that course. But we are constantly surveying the facilities that are available and, as I have said, the survey of public opinion on this matter does not suggest that the motorway service stations are in the appalling condition that the hon. Member suggests.

Development Land

7. Mr. Arthur Jones

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is meant by the phrase “bringing land required for development into public possession” , used in the Gracious Speech when referring to the acquisition of land required for development.

Mr. Crosland

I have nothing to add to the reply given on 3rd April to the [column 380]hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel).—[Vol. 871, c. 353.]

Mr. Jones

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether compensation for land acquired will be on the basis of existing use and at the level of market value? If there is——

Mr. William Hamilton

Declare your interest.

Mr. Jones

—a question of land being taken into public possession and that is to be done on the basis of taking it over on an unknown date for an unknown amount, that would amount to expropriation.

Mr. Crosland

The hon. Member is well versed in these matters.

Mr. Skinner

He is well breeched as well.

Mr. Crosland

The Labour Party when in opposition was committed to the principle of current or existing use value, and so are the Labour Government when in office. On the other point that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, he will have to wait in patience for a little longer before we can announce details.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Does my right hon. Friend accept that his assurance that such land will be paid for at present use value, for example, a waste land, farmland or disused dockland—or slag heaps—will be enormously welcomed throughout our movement, because otherwise it would be paid for at the exorbitant price that it obtains once planning permission is given? Sometimes that price is 100 times greater. As my right hon. Friend has just indicated, this is an essential part of the Labour Party's plans.

Mr. Crosland

My hon. Friend will know that I was heavily implicated, as he was, in the preparation of those plans, and that I am also very committed personally on these matters by an article, which undoubtedly he will have read, in Socialist Commentary only two months ago.

Mrs. Thatcher

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that lack of detail on his proposals is causing great anxiety? [Interruption.] Uncertainly is bad for any market. Will he say whether he intends to introduce a White Paper before [column 381]any legislative proposals, and, if so, when?

Mr. Crosland

Regarding uncertainty, all of us who are interested in housing are concerned with what is happening in the land market. But there is no indication that a shortage of land with planning permission is at present a major inhibiting factor on the house building programme, so we are not dealing with a matter of desperate urgency. I should prefer not to commit myself on a date for a White Paper, or for legislation, but long before the end of the year some detailed proposals will be put to the House.

Rent Freeze (Landlords' Costs)

8. Sir J. Eden

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what he estimates to have been the effect of the Counter-Inflation (Private Sector Residential Rents) Order on small private landlords following the increased costs that have occurred since the order was made.

16. Mr. Tebbit

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will take action to allow private landlords to recover the increased costs which they will incur during the rent freeze in respect of providing hot water.

33. Mr. Costain

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will take steps to allow private landlords to recover the increased costs which they will incur during the rent freeze in respect of providing central heating.

Mr. Kaufman

I am currently examining the effects of the Counter-Inflation (Private Sector Residential Rents) Order.

Sir J. Eden

Will the hon. Gentleman ask his right hon. Friend to look with great urgency at what is actually happening, particularly at the amount of genuine hardship that is being experienced by those who are in business in a small way, often designed to supplement their income in retirement? Will he end this arbitrary rent freeze as quickly as possible? In particular, in the short term, will he at least enable landlords to charge increases where, for example, heating costs have risen quite disproportionately?

Mr. Kaufman

We are determined to end the rent freeze as soon as possible— [column 382]as soon as we are ready to bring in our repeal of the Housing Finance Act, to which we are committed. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we are well aware of the problem of service charges. I can give him no assurance beyond that.

Mr. Stallard

Is my hon. Friend aware that rent registrations and negotiations for rents to go from control into registration are still going on in the private sector? Does he agree that this means that at the end of the three-year period a landlord will be able to charge the increased rent which is negotiated now? In other words, the rent freeze will have gone for those tenants and they will have only two and a half years of regulation instead of three years.

Mr. Kaufman

It is a pernicious system, which was contrived by the Conservative Party when it hatched the deplorable Act which we are now considering repealing, and the repeal of which we shall very speedily bring before the House. We greatly regret the anomalies to which my hon. Friend has referred. In so far as we can put matters right, we shall.

Mr. Tebbit

Will the hon. Gentleman repeat his pledge, so that we may get it quite clear? He said that the rent freeze would be ended on the introduction of his Government's Bill to repeal the Housing Finance Act, and not on its passage. Second, for how long does the hon. Gentleman expect the private landlord to pay out of his own pocket the extra costs of, for example, hot water and other services which the landlord may not at present recover from his tenants—especially as the Chancellor has put up the cost of electricity by 30 per cent?

Mr. Kaufman

Many of my constituents who are the tenants of private landlords have no hot water supply. Therefore, that problem does not arise in their case. With regard to the first question, the hon. Gentleman misheard what I said. I said that we are anxious to bring the freeze to an end when we can replace it by more permanent legislation. The freeze is at present scheduled to end on 31st December. We shall just have to see how we get on.

Mr. Costain

Is the Minister aware that his answer is a typical Socialist [column 383]answer? [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.” ] I am delighted with the cheers from Labour Members, but they should wait. Is the Minister aware also that more than 10 years ago I said in the House that as long as the Socialist party adopted such an attitude there would be no private flats or houses for rent? [Hon. Members: “Declare your personal interest.” ] I shall. Is the Minister aware also that I have no interest as such, except as a tenant?

Has the Minister's attention been drawn to the letter which has been sent by the Dolphin Square Trust saying that it is impossible to maintain that building in its present state? Is he further aware that that building has more Members of this House as tenants than has any other building in England? Will the hon. Gentleman satisfy himself that Members will not be subsidised by the ratepayers of Westminster?

Mr. Kaufman

I should be very grateful if the hon. Gentleman would come to my constituency party meeting on Sunday and confirm that I give typical Socialist answers in the House. At the same time, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the question of the Dolphin Square Trust is a particularly difficult one, but the last thing I shall do is stand up in the House and say, “Members of Parliament before other citizens” .

Sir J. Eden

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the totally unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I will seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.

Ports

9. Mr. Berry

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans the Government have in relation to nationalising the ports.

Mr. Mulley

It is the Government's intention to bring all commercial ports and cargo handling activities into public ownership and control, and I propose to consult those concerned about the form and scope of the necessary legislation.

Mr. Berry

Will the Minister give us an example of the way in which our ports would have benefited during the past four years had the 1970 Bill become an Act?

[column 384]

Mr. Mulley

The 1970 Bill would now have had to be reconsidered, because it was confined to only a few ports. If the hon. Gentleman had followed industrial relations in the early years of the last Government he would have had knowledge of the arguments I deployed at great length in the Committee stage of the measure—at which he was also present—where I gave chapter and verse.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the most efficient port in the country—Southampton—is already nationalised? Would it not be a very good idea if we quickly nationalised all the other ports to bring them up to the standards of Southampton?

Mr. Mulley

My hon. Friend will not expect me to give such unqualified praise to one of our many ports, because that might get me into trouble. There is no doubt that the record of the nationalised ports is good. In a group strategic planning can be done, embracing the whole country, so that we consider what the ports industry needs strategically in a way that, unhappily, the National Ports Council cannot, because it has no executive powers.

Mr. Peyton

Will the right hon. Gentleman address his mind to what possible useful purpose could be achieved by this ridiculous measure? There is adequate control over the ports as things are at present. Will he bear in mind the fact that nationalisation of almost anything constitutes a standing temptation to Ministers—I am not including the right hon. Gentleman—who would not be able to run a whelk stall, constantly to interfere and do a great deal of damage?

Mr. Mulley

I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman was making something like a public confession—because, despite his well-known and publicised views, he was in charge of some of our nationalised industries. I have no access to his papers, but, reading between a few lines, I would say that he was not loth to interfere, and did interfere.

Land Clearance

10. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many acres of pit bings and other coal mining areas of derelict land have been cleared in each of the last six years [column 385]in England by local authorities and by private companies and how much public money has been involved; and if he will ascertain and provide comparable figures for Wales and Scotland, respectively.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Mr. Denis Howell)

I regret that records are not kept in this degree of detail, but I will, with permission, circulate in the Official Report the nearest available information relating to each of the three countries.

These figures are derived from the surveys of derelict land carried out by local planning authorities; they include spoil heaps resulting from all forms of mineral working. No separate figures of public expenditure on clearing spoil heaps are available.

Scotland

The figures given below relate to local authoirty reclamation schemes involving bings and other dereliction due to mining operations of all types which were approved by the Scottish Development Department. The cost figures exclude the cost of land acquisition.

Wales

The figures given below relate to local authority reclamation schemes involving coal mining activities; the calendar years relate to the date of authorisation not to when the work was completed. The cost figures include the cost of land acquisition.

M1 (Service Franchise)

11. Mr. Michael Morris

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether there is to be any review of the M1 motorway service franchise arrangements.

Mr. Mulley

The terms of service area leases are kept constantly under review in the light of developing needs of the public and representations from the operators.

Mr. Morris

In the light of developing needs, will the Minister undertake to listen to the representations of those who use the M1 regularly, and heed the view of those who use it that they find that the service facilities on it are far below those that are experienced by those of us who travel on the Continent? Will he for once understand that in terms of oil and petroleum the multi-national companies have a service facility to offer to the public?

Mr. Mulley

I am not sure what the hon. Gentleman meant by the last point. A number of oil companies are responsible for the services on some of our motorways. We are prepared to pursue complaints. I repeat that a public survey—if the hon. Gentleman has not seen it I will send him a copy—commissioned by the last Government from an independent marketing organisation showed that a remarkable percentage of the public was satisfied with the arrangement.

Rate Rebates

12. Mr. Durant

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if, when he is reviewing the finance of local government for 1975–76, he will consider altering the rate rebate scheme to take special account of the problems of single people.

Mr. Oakes

The rate rebate scheme already adjusts the rebate in relation to households of different composition, including those of single persons, but I am always ready to consider suggestions for its improvement. Perhaps the hon. Member will write to me about the particular problems he has in mind.

Mr. Durant

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the great difficulties of the single-parent family? Is not this an example of the injustice of the rating system? [column 387]When are we going to have some rating reform?

Mr. Oakes

In answer to the first part of the question, special help is given to single-parent families by crediting them with the same needs allowances as two-parent families.

Council Houses (Sale)

13 Mr. Emery

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment in what circumstances he proposes to allow local authorities to sell council houses.

Mr. Crosland

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given by my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction on 3rd April to the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) and to paragraph 35 of Circular 70/74, issued to local authorities on 19th April, a copy of which is in the Library.—[Vol. 871, c. 353.]

Mr. Emery

First, does the right hon. Gentleman realise that paragraph 35 is massively discouraging to council tenants who wish to purchase a house in urban and metropolitan areas? Secondly, will he make it absolutely clear to authorities that the circular merely shows the views of the Minister and has no power of law, and that they can proceed to sell council property as the law allows irrespective of the circular?

Mr. Crosland

I agree that the circular is massively discouraging to councils that want to deplete the stock of rented housing in areas where there is still an acute shortage of rented housing. On the hon. Gentleman's second point, I certainly have no desire to legislate, because I dislike the idea of constant Government interference with local government freedom, which is one of the major reasons why we shall repeal the Housing Finance Act. The circular gives guidance to local authorities as to what the views of the Government are. It does not wholly rule out the selling of council houses if there is no shortage of rented accommodation. The best thing is for us to see how we go. We shall watch progress very closely.

Mr. Loyden

Is my right hon. Friend aware that cities like Liverpool, with major housing problems, are concerned that the recent circular issued by the Minister seems to indicate that completed houses that are bought may well be sold? [column 388]My impression, gained from the Minister's statement, was that these houses were intended to meet the problem of the shortage of houses for rent. Will my right hon. Friend make councils aware that this is the reason for the purchase of completed or near-completed houses?

Mr. Crosland

The object of the provision in the circular to which my hon. Friend refers, and the object of providing a substantial sum of money for that purpose, is primarily to increase the stock of rented accomodation—I stress “rented” . If we have not made this sufficiently clear we shall certainly do so.

Mr. Allason

Has the right hon. Gentleman made up his mind about the sale of council houses in the new towns? Does he appreciate that those houses will be sold to people who are already sitting tenants and that therefore no diminution in the stock of houses will result?

Mr. Crosland

Paragraph 35 of the circular, to which I have specifically referred, does not alter the new towns' position.

Channel Tunnel

14. Mr. Moate

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what proposals for implementing his policy of orientating the Channel Tunnel project towards through rail services are under consideration.

Mr. Mulley

I have nothing at present to add to what I said in introducing the Channel Tunnel Bill on 30th April.—[Vol. 872, c. 962.]

Mr. Moate

Does the Minister's reassessment of the Channel Tunnel project allow for the study of a rail-only strategy? If not, will he give the House the reasons for rejecting such a study when last autumn he voted in favour of it?

Mr. Mulley

I have explained to the House on a number of occasions that we had to take up the Channel Tunnel problem, the timetable, and the treaty which had been conducted and concluded by the previous Government after the autumn debate to which the hon. Gentleman referred. What we are committed to do and shall do is to see how we can maximise the rail involvement in the tunnel.

[column 389]

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many hon. Members on the Government side of the House feel that most of the studies that have been carried out on the project are more oriented towards making money than augmenting rail services to the Continent? Is he also aware that many of us feel that a thorough-going independent review of some of the figures that have been produced ought to be carried out? When does he think that he will be in a position to make a statement about the kind of independent review that can be carried out?

Mr. Mulley

I said in the debate that my right hon. Friend was concerned with setting up the best possible form of independent review. We do not want duplication of the two studies that are going on. We want to ensure that the House and the public get an independent assessment of the figures, and that we shall do. This review will cover not merely the road-rail aspects but the financial aspects of the whole project.

Mr. Patrick Mayhew

Before giving his support to a high-speed rail link to the Channel Tunnel, will the Minister first order and publish research into the noise and vibration levels to be expected, because British Rail is at present unable to give this information to my constituents living in the villages likely to be affected?

Mr. Mulley

I should like to oblige the hon. and learned Gentleman. However, I must stress that we, as a Government and a House, have to agree to build the Channel Tunnel. No decision to proceed with the tunnel has been taken. It is wholly conditional, both as regards the Government and the House, on the subsequent study. Obviously, the noise factor and other considerations will be before the House when the Railways Bill and the link come along, and we shall be going into the matter then.

Gipsies (Government Land)

15 Mr. Allason

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will cease to permit caravan dwellers to squat on enclosed Government land without permission.

Mr. Kaufman

No, Sir. It has been the policy of successive Governments that [column 390]gipsies, wherever they may be, should not be moved on needlessly when there is no official site for them. It merely transfers the problem elsewhere.

Mr. Allason

Does the hon. Gentleman recognise the difference between camping on road sites, however desirable or undesirable that may be, and camping on enclosed sites? If the private owner of an enclosed site permitted caravan camping he would be breaking the law, and that law should be enforced against him. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman is setting up his Department against, and placing it above, the law. Surely he does not wish to do that.

Mr. Kaufman

The hon. Gentleman must indict his right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) before indicting me or my right hon. Friend. We are merely continuing the policy which we believed was right then and believe is right now. I am sure that the problems of gipsies and their camping difficulties are balanced by the problems of people who are often inconvenienced by the detritus of those who engage in these activities. They must be balanced. However, it is no solution to shift the problem from one area where it inconveniences one lot of people to another area where it will inconvenience other people.

Mr. Newens

Will my hon. Friend seek powers to press local authorities which have not yet provided proper sites for gipsies to do so, as local authorities which have acted in this way are often forced to bear more than their fair burden in providing facilities for people who are British citizens and are entitled to those facilities?

Mr. Kaufman

I agree that it is most unfair that local authorities which have carried out their duties under the Caravan Sites Act should often be sabotaged by neighbouring authorities which have not carried out those duties. I strongly urge all local authorities to carry out their duties.

Mr. Graham Page

The hon. Gentleman referred to me. Does he realise that I was carrying out what had been the previous Government's policy for some time? Will he ask his right hon. Friend to review that policy now to see whether it is benefiting the true gipsy or, rather, [column 391]the tinkers who have caused great disturbance and nuisance in the areas concerned?

Mr. Kaufman

The right hon. Gentleman emphasises the essential continuity of British politics. He asks for a review. I point out that he had three and three-quarter years in which to carry out such a review. We shall obviously consider the problem. I hope that in the long years of opposition ahead of the right hon. Gentleman he will also consider it.

Building Land

17. Mr. Michael Latham

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what discussions he has held with organisations representing the house building industry regarding his proposals to nationalise building land; and whether he will make a statement.

Mr. Crosland

Special discussions would be premature at this stage, but the National House-Building Council and the House-Builders' Federation have referred to land policy during recent meetings with DOE Ministers on matters of common interest. I shall of course be happy to consider any views they may wish to put to me.

Mr. Latham

I declare an interest in the industry. Will the right hon. Gentleman make sure that he has such detailed discussions, because, leaving aside the politics of the matter, it is essential for the housing programme that we get the practicalities of the scheme right?

Mr. Crosland

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman declared his interest in the industry, as, before 1970, in a back room capacity, he was one of the architects of the disastrous Tory Housing Finance Act. I am conscious of the point that he put to me in the latter part of his question and will certainly bear it in mind.

Rented Houses

18. Mr. Joseph Dean

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will have regard to the observations made by the local authority associations to his predecessor, when formulating policy on rented houses, both in the public and private sectors.

Mr. Crosland

I am always ready and indeed anxious to consider any observa[column 392]tions made to me by local authority associations.

Mr. Dean

In view of the representations that were made to my right hon. Friend's predecessor, when can the local authorities again expect to be accorded the right to set their own rent levels within their own financial control? When does my right hon. Friend propose to dispose of the rent scrutiny boards, which, because of the change of Government, appear to have no future whatsoever?

Mr. Crosland

I hope that this summer we shall introduce a measure both to abolish the rent scrutiny boards and to restore to local authorities their basic freedom, within the ambit of a counter inflationary policy, to fix their own rents.

Mr. Tom King

When will the right hon. Gentleman be in a position to inform local authorities of the financial compensation they will get from the effects of the rent freeze? It is a sobering thought, as he will know from my constituents and those in many counties affected, that even the present staggering rate increases make no allowance for the extra costs which will come from the rent freeze.

Mr. Crosland

As a result of Government subsidies, 80 per cent. of the cost of the rent freeze will automatically be borne by the Exchequer. I have already told the local authority associations that I wish to discuss with them how the remaining 20 per cent. should be borne.

Mobile Homes (Legislation)

19. Mrs. Sally Oppenheim

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will introduce comprehensive legislation for the protection of mobile home residents.

30. Mr. Pattie

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will introduce proposals to give caravan dwellers the same protection as that enjoyed by householders and tenants.

Mr. Kaufman

It would not be practicable to introduce comprehensive legislation quickly, but I hope that the talks now going on between representatives of caravan dwellers and of site operators will produce an agreement within the next few months, and that this will provide a basis for the Government to consider action.

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Mrs. Oppenheim

Will the hon. Gentleman and the Government stop hiding behind the fact that there may be a voluntary agreement on the matter which will not be enforceable and will not provide many unfortunate people with recourse against deplorable practices? Will he also not hide behind the fact that legislation is difficult, because just such legislation has been introduced in a widespread manner in the United States?

Mr. Kaufman

The hon. Lady, who is an officer of one of the associations in question, should know that the talks are proceeding extremely quickly and, indeed, that an agreement may be produced this month. We shall study that agreement with care to see whether it can in some way provide the basis for legislation. I assure her that my right hon. and hon. Friends, as well as she herself, take this problem very much to heart and are anxious to help. However, it would be silly to proceed before seeing the terms of the agreement.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

Does my hon. Friend accept that severe hardship arises from this problem and that the matters raised by the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Oppenheim), with her knowledge of the issues that have arisen in her constituency, can be related not only to caravans but to holiday homes? Is my hon. Friend aware that there is a strong case for the extension of genuine and comprehensive security of tenure for caravan and holiday home dwellers? Does he accept that this is a matter of importance that should be dealt with as a matter of urgency?

Mr. Kaufman

I accept that the problem is as serious and severe as my hon. Friend indicates. There are great problems of legal definition, of which he, as a lawyer, will be aware. That is one of the matters that is holding up legislation. However, when we have seen the agreement we shall decide what we can do to deal with the problem. As I say, I agree with my hon. Friend that the matter is one of great concern.

Mr. Pattie

Is the Minister aware that many site operators are not members of the national association and that only through legislation can a stop be put to many abuses, such as hidden key money and blackmail?

[column 394]

Mr. Kaufman

We are only too well aware that this is not a comprehensively covered sector. That is why we do not regard the conclusion of an agreement as a solution to the problem. The conclusion of an agreement should enable us to see whether we can act in a more widespread way across the whole sector.

Mr. Whitehead

Is my hon. Friend aware that his answer is not satisfactory and that a cursory glance at the literature so far circulated by the bodies concerned suggests that their draft agreements are profoundly unsatisfactory, especially that relating to the resale of caravans and mobile homes? Why is it that we can introduce properly comprehensive legislation for furnished tenants but not for a person who owns his own caravan but not the site on which it stands?

Mr. Kaufman

I am well aware that my answer is not satisfactory. My hon. Friend has posed one of the problems, namely, that the people who live in mobile homes are not tenants. If they were tenants they would be covered by the security of tenure provisions. They are owner-occupiers who pay ground rent to landlords. That involves a number of different kinds of definition and bases. That is why the problem is so difficult to solve. The fact that it is difficult to solve does not mean that we shall not try to find a way of solving it to my hon. Friend's satisfaction.

Mr. Money

When it comes to the question of an agreement, will the Minister bear in mind that irrespective of whether these people are owner-occupiers or tenants in any sense, it is a question of the security of their homes? The individual hardship that insecurity is causing to many people is having a most deleterious effect on many marriages and futures.

Mr. Kaufman

I agree with what the hon. Gentleman says, but the matter is not as simple as that. These people are owner-occupiers living on land that is rented. What is more, they live in property that can be regarded, on the one hand, as a dwelling that appreciates in value and, on the other, as a vehicle that depreciates in value. The hon. Gentleman is a distinguished lawyer and [column 395]he should be well aware of the problems. I hope that he will help us to try to solve them.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

Is my hon. Friend aware that despite everything he says, mobile home dwellers do not have much security, are subject to harassment, and cannot sell their vans very often on the open market? Further, does he appreciate that they are subject to extortionate charges by site owners? Is he aware that many hon. Members, because they did not get much succour and comfort from the previous administration, are looking to him and his Department to introduce once and for all comprehensive legislation that will help these residents?

Mr. Kaufman

I accept everything that my hon. Friend says. If we do not move to his satisfaction I hope that he, together with Conservative Members, will continue to trouble us and harass us until we get the problem sorted out.

Building Societies (Talks)

21. Mr. Norman Lamont

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will make a statement on his talks with the building societies.

22. Mr. Townsend

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will now make a statement on his discussions with the Building Societies Association regarding mortgage finance.

24. Mr. Skinner

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on his recent meeting with the building societies.

45. Mr. Whitehead

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what communications he has received from the Building Societies Association since Easter.

Mr. Crosland

After discussions with myself and my colleagues, the Building Societies Association decided on 19th April not to recommend a mortgage rate increase, but to accept the offer of up to £100 million in loans from the Bank of England on the terms described to the House in my statement on 10th April. Subsequently the Government informed the association that, subject to parliamentary approval, the remaining loans of up to £400 million will if needed, be avail[column 396]able from public funds on similar terms. The council of the association is considering this offer at 4.30 p.m. today. A Supplementary Estimate for this purpose is about to be presented.

Mr. Lamont

By what principle of justice is it suggested that the interest rate for depositors in building societies should be pegged as part of the arrangements? Why should the small saver, who is the typical depositor in a building society, be compelled to subsidise owner-occupiers in this way?

Mr. Crosland

I do not think that it would be right to consider the present investment for building society depositors as unreasonable, given the exceptionally good security and the unusually favourable withdrawal facilities. That is not only my view but it is currently, in the post-Budget situation, the public's view. I am happy to say that the contrast between March and April, in terms of net inflow and outflow, is remarkably favourable.

Mr. Skinner

Now that my right hon. Friend has been accused by some of carrying out Socialist policies, when he next hears the round of whining noises from the well-heeled building society chiefs will he put another £100 million in his pocket and walk straight past them and deposit the money with the local authorities for them to use?

Mr. Crosland

I have already made it clear to the local authorities that there is no ceiling on the amount of mortgage lending that they can carry out.

Mr. Townsend

What action does the right hon. Gentleman propose to take to prevent house prices in my constituency and elsewhere rising as a result of the loan?

Mr. Crosland

I imagine that the hon. Gentleman is reflecting the rage of his constituents that was caused by the virtual doubling of house prices that took place under the previous Conservative Government. We have gone through a period of excessive mortgage lending. That drove up the price of houses, and we then entered a period when there was virtually no mortgage lending, which bust the house building programme. There must be some sensible, intelligent middle way between those two courses, and it is that which we are seeking to achieve.

[column 397]

Mr. Whitehead

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the recent encouraging inflow of funds, which is itself the best rebuttal of the suggestion of the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Lamont), first suggests that there will not now be an increase in the interest rates offered by the building societies and, secondly, that there will also probably not be a full take-up of the money that he offered them?

Mr. Crosland

Both suggestions are likely to prove to be the case.

Mr. McCrindle

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the statement of one of his predecessors in the previous Labour Government who is now Chairman of the Leek and Westbourn Building Society, to the effect that that society will have nothing to do with the Government's loan, on the basis that it will undermine the independence of the society? Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether that is part of the purpose of introducing last month's loan?

Mr. Crosland

No. I made it clear that the purpose of introducing the loan was to increase the flow of funds for house purchase, which had fallen to a disastrously low level, without at the same time allowing the mortgage rate to rise to 13 per cent. That was the purpose, which should be backed by all hon. Members.

Mr. Spriggs

Is my right hon. Friend aware that as a matter of principle I, as a small saver in a building society, would welcome the reduction of interest rates because of the hardship that is being caused to people who are trying to buy their own homes, especially young married couples and those who have young families?

Mr. Crosland

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I should have thought that everyone who was interested in encouraging house purchase would long to see a reduction of interest rates. That will no doubt take some time to achieve. What we have achieved so far is the prevention of an otherwise certain increase of the existing rate to 12 per cent. and probably 13 per cent.

Mrs. Thatcher

Why does the right hon. Gentleman describe the rate of interest that building societies can offer as not unreasonable when he knows full [column 398]well that both the Government and local government have to pay more to persuade people to lend money to them?

Mr. Crosland

I describe it as not unreasonable because of the unusually favourable withdrawal terms and also the unusually strong security that is offered. If we survey relative interest rates, the rates offered by building societies are not unreasonable. The proof of that is that the net inflow into the building societies went up by a dramatic amount in April.

Local Authorities (Overstaffing)

23. Mr. Graham Page

asked the Secretary if State for Environment if he will report on the results of the inquiry by the then Minister of Local Government into allegations of overstaffing by the new local authorities.

Mr. Oakes

I understand that the information has now been received by the Local Authorities Conditions of Service Advisory Board, which is conducting this inquiry. As indicated in a reply to an earlier Question, I have asked the advisory board for a full report, and I understand that this will be ready in two or three weeks.

Mr. Page

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that this report was promised about two months ago, and that even another three weeks will cause considerable anxiety? Does he not realise that the public is very worried about the establishment of local authority staffs at present? Will he do something quickly about it? The undertaking was that this report would be put before the Pay Board. Is it now before the board?

Mr. Oakes

As I think the right hon. Gentleman is aware, the board is carrying out spot checks. The right hon. Gentleman talks about widespread public anxiety, but I remind him that on 23rd January he himself said:

“… reorganisation will lead to the establishment of more large authorities and … there will be more posts carrying greater responsibilities and, therefore, higher salaries.” —[Official Report, 23rd January 1974; Vol. 867, c. 1699]