Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1974 Jul 3 We
Margaret Thatcher

HC PQ [Environment]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: House of Commons PQs
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [876/361-89]
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: 1430-c1515.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 10124
Themes: Monetary policy, Trade, Housing
[column 361]

ENVIRONMENT

Berwick-upon-Tweed

1. Mr. Beith

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will pay an official visit to Berwick-upon-Tweed to evaluate the adequacy of the assistance given by his Department towards development and conservation in the area.

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

No, Sir. I am satisfied that my Department is giving appropriate assistance towards both development and conservation in the Berwick-upon-Tweed area.

Mr. Beith

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, following his decision on the shipyard, people in Berwick are left wondering how a town with over 500 historic buildings can be conserved, where the money can be found and how the housing programme for the development that the Department has approved can be financed? Does he realise that neighbouring Scottish towns have the benefit of the Scottish Special Housing Association for housing schemes and that comparable assistance is needed in Berwick?

Mr. Crosland

The hon. Gentleman will know that while I rejected the proposed development on the north bank of the river I accepted in principle the pro[column 362]posed development on the south bank which, I think, will produce more jobs. In the last few years my Department has spent over £2 million helping Berwick-upon-Tweed in various ways. At the moment the SSHA has no powers to operate outside Scotland, but under the Housing Bill now before the House, which I hope will be completed before the end of July, registered housing associations in England will be able to build in Berwick without any call on the general rate fund.

Sir William Elliott

As regards the general environment of the Berwick-upon-Tweed constituency, which is part of Northumberland, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to note that the ending of the hotel development grant in March last year severely curtailed hotel development in Berwick-upon-Tweed and Northumberland generally to the detriment of the tourist trade, which has become extremely important to the area? Will he consider reinstituting a grant for middle-range hotel development at least on a level commensurate with the previous one?

Mr. Crosland

My Department is not responsible for the hotel development scheme, although I initiated it when I was at the Board of Trade some years ago. However, I will draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade who is responsible for hotel development.

Mr.Douglas Henderson

Perhaps the Secretary of State will advise the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr.Beith) that the answer to his problem is to have Berwick returned to Scotland.

HolidayTraffic(South-WestEngland)

2. Mr. Pardoe

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he is satisfied with arrangements to combat holiday traffic congestion in the South-West and Cornwall this summer.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Neil Carmichael)

Yes, Sir. The holiday route system has an inbuilt flexibility which has responded to changing conditions since its inception in 1969 and I am satisfied that the arrangements made for this summer[column 363]utilise to the full the various options available for the management of holiday traffic.

Mr. Pardoe

Is the Minister aware that the inevitable cuts in public expenditure, both past and present, will mean that road building in the South-West, particularly new bypasses, cannot keep pace with the increase in holiday traffic? What plans has his Department worked out to ensure the easing of road congestion through the better use of the existing rail system?

Mr. Carmichael

This matter was fully dealt with in the debate on the railways a week ago last Monday when every encouragement was given to them through the extra money being put into the rail network to improve services. On routes and bypasses, I think that the hon. Gentleman should await an announcement which is to be made fairly soon.

Mr. Fox

Would the hon. Gentleman care to enlarge on the announcement regarding the consultation paper? May we take it that it will include the reduction of 400 miles and the effect that that will have on the bypasses about which we are talking?

Mr. Carmichael

The hon. Gentleman would be better advised to wait until the paper comes out. It is a somewhat lengthy matter to deal with in a question-and-answer session like this. The paper should be out fairly soon.

Building Societies

3.Mr.Whitehead

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what further communications he has received from the building societies relating to mortgage interest rates; and if he will make a statement.

5.Mr.Dixon

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will make a further statement about building societies.

40. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a further statement on official financial assistance to the building societies, and its effect on mortgage interest rates.

[column 364]

Mr. Crosland

On 14th June the Building Societies Association accepted the offer of the third tranche of £100 million under the Government's short-term loan scheme. As a result of this scheme, there has been no general increase in building society mortgage rates. The Government and the association are keeping in regular consultation on these matters.

Mr. Whitehead

After that welcome statement that the substantial capital inflow into the building societies continues, may I ask my right hon. Friend to confirm that there is no reason for an increase of even ½ per cent. in interest rate? Will he tell us how many societies have not taken up the Government's offer, how many of them have now increased their rates by ½ per cent., causing many complaints among our constituents, and what he proposes to do about the situation?

Mr. Crosland

On my hon. Friend's last point, a number of smaller societies which have not taken part in the scheme have increased their rates by a certain percentage, but these societies are in total responsible only for less than ½ per cent. of total building society lending. On the matter of the proposed ½ per cent. increase to cover the margin problem, I have this very much in mind and so have the building societies. I should, however, make my broad intention clear. We have frozen council and private rents for this year and I am determined that the owner-occupier should not pay a higher mortgage rate this year.

Mr. McCrindle

What progress is being made towards achieving a low-start mortgage scheme for first-time buyers? We welcome the discussions which the Government are now having with the Building Societies Association, but will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the achievement of such a scheme is still within the aim of the Government?

Mr. Crosland

I know of the hon. Gentleman's long-standing interest in low-start mortgages. This is an extremely important matter which is on the agenda of our joint discussions with the building societies. It will form part of a longer-term review that we are conducting into how best to en sure a stable and adequate flow of mortgage finance on the most sensible terms.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

Has my right hon. Friend given further consideration to a[column 365] suggestion made a little while ago, that the banks should make available some of their huge profits for loans at reasonable rates to intending house owners?

Mr. Crosland

The huge profits of the banks are likely to be rather lower this year than last year, for a number of reasons. But we are, as part of our longer- term studies, considering the whole question of how and whether the building societies or mortgage lending as a whole should have access to institutional funds of one kind or another. This is not confined merely to the banks. We are also considering whether pension funds, insurance companies and the rest should make a contribution to the total amount to be made available for mortgage lending.

Mrs. Thatcher

Does one of the right hon. Gentleman's previous supplementary replies mean that the Government are prepared to leave the composite rate which the building societies pay as it is at present, and not increase it as a result of Denis Healeythe Chancellor of the Exchequer's Budget Statement? Has the right hon. Gentleman made any request to the building societies that they should use part of the Government's loan money to finance new house building to avoid a situation which could otherwise occur in which, just as there is an upsurge in demand, there is a falling-off in house building?

Mr. Crosland

The right hon. Lady's first point is the same as that about reducing the operating margin, which the building societies claim was imposed on them by the increase in the composite rate of tax in the Budget. This matter is now under active discussion with the building societies and it will be discussed tomorrow at the next meeting of the joint advisory committee. With regard to the question of how to employ the short-term Government loan, we have not laid down detailed conditions. The whole object of the exercise is that this loan should be employed in a way which is best in terms of restoring desperately-needed confidence in the private house building industry.

Land Development

4. Mr. Ioan Evans

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he intends to introduce legislation to[column 366]bring into public ownership land required for development.

34. Mr. Michael Latham

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he is now in a position to give details of his plans for land nationalisation.

Mr. Crosland

We shall announce our proposals as soon as possible.

Mr. Evans

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he realise that if the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947—which was known as the Silkin Act—had remained on the statute book the huge profits made from land since the time the Tories came to power and put the Town and Country Planning Act 1959 into operation would have been avoided? Does he also realise that it is necessary for legislation to be brought forward urgently to ensure that houses, schools and hospitals are built and industrial sites provided at less cost to the community?

Mr. Crosland

There is no doubt that things would have been very much better today had the Tories not reversed and repealed first the 1947 Act and later the initiative which we took in 1965. With regard to the urgency of this matter, I am well aware of all the considerations to which my hon. Friend alludes and I can promise him that a statement will be made before the end of the year.

Mr. Latham

Does the right hon. Gentleman intend to have the detailed discussion which is essential with the affected industries before or after publication of the Bill containing the proposed legislation?

Mr. Crosland

As the hon. Gentleman knows from his previous employment, we have received memoranda on this subject from the National House Building Council and the House Builder's Federation. I wish to make clear, however, that when we make our proposals we shall not put them in the form of a Green Paper or a consultative document. The policy of the Labour Party when in opposition and of the Government now in power has been made clear, and publication of our proposals will take the form of a positive announcement of Government policy.

Mr. Fernyhough

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that there is massive[column 367]support outside the House for legislation of this nature? Does he also appreciate that many of us would like an emergency Bill to be brought forward so that, if necessary, we could test public opinion at the forthcoming General Election in relation to whether Opposition Members are prepared to continue to support racketeering in land, which they have done since 1951?

Mr. Crosland

An emergency Bill as such might present some difficulties to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, but I can promise my right hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) that public ownership of development land will be a major issue at the next General Election.

Mr. Stephen Ross

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his failure to give an indication of his intention regarding land already carrying planning consent—which particularly involves small builders, to whom the matter is very important—is causing great problems in the building industry? Can we have an advance statement on the right hon. Gentleman's intention in this matter?

Mr. Crosland

I do not want to make an advance statement. I should like as soon as possible to make a much more definitive statement. On the question of uncertainly regarding the land market, I want to bring this to an end as soon as is humanly possible. But I must point out that that uncertainty, such as it is, is not the main inhibiting factor in the housing building programme.

Mr. Rossi

Has any estimate been made of the cost involved in taking development land into public ownership, whether by local authorities or by the central Government? Is it within the right hon. Gentleman's thinking that none of this land should be available for freehold houses in accordance with the Labour Party policy declaration in 1973?

Mr. Crosland

With regard to the freehold question, I can confirm and underline what was said in the Labour Party policy in 1973: that the freehold of an owner-occupier will not be touched in any way by our proposals. I cannot give an estimate regarding the cost of taking development land into public ownership, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman and the House that this will repre[column 368]sent the best investment by the community for many years.

Rent Freeze

6. SirA. Meyer

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is the total cash benefit to tenants resulting from his Department's freeze of rent increases approved by rent officers.

The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr.Reginald Freeson)

This information is not available.

Sir A. Meyer

I declare an interest in that I own a house which is let furnished. Does the hon. Gentleman consider it equitable that a fairly massive subsidy to tenants should be borne entirely by landlords who may often be less well off than the tenants they are subsidising? Is he aware that many retired people derive their sole income, apart from the retirement pension, from the letting of their former homes which have become too big for them? Is he aware that the possession of this income may render them ineligible for all forms of means-tested benefit and that as a consequence these people will suffer drastic reduction in living standards due entirely to the rigidity and ideological fixation of his Department?

Mr. Freeson

I am sure that the House appreciates that speech, especially the peroration. If the hon. Gentleman would like to give me details of the kind of cases to which he has referred, I should be glad to look at them. One accepts that hardships and anomalies arise from the introduction of a rent freeze, but these are not confined to the sort of cases which the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. We also accept—indeed I am sure that the whole House accepts—that the kind of measures which we had to take were necessary, and indeed were acceptable to the country as a whole, to counter the inflationary processes in the housing market.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell

Is the Minister aware that there has been uncertainty in the interpretation of the rent freeze circular dealing with private rents, particularly where improvements have been carried out? Is he further aware that some rent officers are granting a rent increase and then advising the tenant to challenge it in the court if he wishes,[column 369]while others are refusing an increase and advising the landlord to challenge the decision? Can he issue some direction or advice to rent officers?

Mr. Freeson

I shall certainly be glad to consider any cases of that kind. A number of instances have been referred to us over the last few months in that respect in which we hope that we have been able to give help and advice. If any hon. Member would like to provide either the Department or me with details of cases, we shall do our best to help to sort out problems like that.

House Loan Facilities

7. Mr. George Cunningham

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will arrange for a study of house loan facilities in other Western countries, with a view to the improvement of the services of building societies in Great Britain.

Mr. Freeson

The Department is already collecting information on the finance of owner-occupation in other countries, in the context of the Government's proposed housing finance review.

Mr. Cunninghan

Is my hon. Friend aware that in this country at the moment one can borrow money from a branch of a building society and lend the same money back to the same branch of the same building society at a higher rate of interest? On this point and many others in this field, will he try to take advantage of the good ideas and perhaps more so of the mistakes made in other countries?

Mr. Freeson

We shall certainly be looking as widely as possible at the experiences, both good experiences and mistakes, of other countries as well as looking at this activity in Britain. Our intention is to undertake as widespread a consideration of future policy as possible on the basis of as extensive an experience as we can before we bring forward our own proposals.

Rates (Derbyshire)

8. Mr. Rost

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will pay an official visit to Derbyshire in order to meet representatives of ratepayers.

Mr. Crosland

I have no plans to do so.

[column 370]

Mr. Rost

What will the Secretary of State do to help the many ratepayers all over the country, and particularly the small traders and shopkeepers in the Sandiacre area of Derbyshire, who are faced with a double rate demand as a direct result of his reduction of the rate support grant? Is not this an example of the unacceptable face of the social contract?

Mr. Crosland

No non-domestic ratepayer was affected in any way by my decision, which concerned solely the domestic element in the rate support grant. On the more general question, we had an extraordinarily interesting debate on the whole subject last Thursday which was, in effect, an inquest on four years of bungling mismanagement and extravagance by the Tory Party. At the end 600 or so hon. Members, whether they voted for the motion or for the amendment, were voting to condemn four years of Tory incompetence.

Mr. Skinner

Is my right hon. Friend aware not only that we had to suffer the bungling ineptitude of nearly four years of a Tory Government but that in Derbyshire one of the main reasons why the rates went up by as much as 40 per cent. is that for the previous six years we had a Tory county council whose Tory chairman, now deposed by a Labour chairman, is inviting ratepayers throughout the country to see him to form ratepayers' associations to attack the high rates that are the result of the Tory Government's proposals and of his own proposals in the county?

Mr. Crosland

I am interested to hear what my hon. Friend says and I underline the fact that all over the country on this issue of responsibility for the rates a degree of political hypocrisy has been shown by the Tories such as I have never seen before.

National House-Building Council

9. Mr. Adley

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will seek a meeting with the NHBC.

Mr. Freeson

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman), met the National House-Building Council on 8th April. I will be suggesting a meeting to it in the near future.

[column 371]

Mr. Adley

Will the Minister take careful note of the NHBC contract, which in many cases appears to be virtually worthless? Is he aware that a small number of shabby builders hide behind this contract? Is he aware that in my constituency a five-year-old house has been derated by the local authority to £1 and declared unfit for human habitation, yet the person who lives in it and who has an NHBC contract is unable to obtain redress because the contract does not cover this issue? Will the hon. Gentleman look at this point to see whether, if young couples take out contracts like this when buying new houses, they can have some protection. Otherwise, the contracts should be done away with.

Mr. Freeson

I am not aware of that particular case, although I know of other problems in the hon. Member's constituency which are now sub judice. As for the inspection system under the NHBC guarantee, I shall be glad to discuss the extent of that system and how effective it may be. There are problems of recruitment of personnel. It is as important to look at quality control and project management techniques within the building industry as it is to look at the inspection system of the NHBC. In the end this will be a much more important field, and I am already devoting some attention to it.

Mr. George Rogers

Does my hon. Friend agree that the question of the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) demonstrates and condemns the weakness of private enterprise?

Mr. Freeson

There are certainly cases which deserve to be condemned. I hope that where this happens it may be possible for local authorities, provided that it does not interfere with their primary rôle of building for rent, to undertake projects of building for sale direct, establishing standards that it will be very useful to establish in such situations.

Mr. Redmond

I should declare an interest since the National House-Building Registration Council paid for a new roof for my garage a few years ago. Is the Minister thoroughly satisfied that the council is not inhibited by the law of[column 372]libel from striking unsatisfactory builders off the register?

Mr. Freeson

I am not aware of any such inhibition, but I will take that point aboard.

Housing (West Midlands)

10. Mrs. Renée Short

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what response he has received from local authorities in the West Midlands to his representations about the need for more houses to be built for rent.

Mr. Freeson

We are getting a good response. The Department's contacts with local authorities in the region show that they, that is the local authority, recognise the need to provide more houses for rent and are stepping up their previous building programmes. A number are also considering buying new unsold houses from developers.

Mrs. Short

Is my hon. Friend aware that the National Economic Development Office has forecast a further decline in the number of completions and suggests that by the end of 1977 we shall have built only 7,000 local authority houses in the whole of the West Midlands? This is a serious situation. Does not my hon. Friend think that advice should perhaps go to the local authorities about the more adventurous use of system building for example? Does not this also underline the need to make progress with the public ownership of building land?

Mr. Freeson

The forecasts are very serious indeed and I cannot underline that fact enough. The immediate position in the West Midlands on information that I have is more hopeful than it has been in the past. I could follow up my answer to the Question by saying that there is in prospect the submission of schemes which would involve, if they are all approved for tender in the coming 12 months, about 10,000 housing starts as compared with 6,500 last year.

I cannot say now that that figure will be achieved, but it is our information that there is a good hope that it will be. If so it will show an increase of 35 per cent. in the West Midlands region. As for building techniques, I am in touch with the National Building Agency to[column 373]see whether cannot look further at system building to assist in this direction.

Mr. Rifkind

Is the Minister aware that the need for rented accommodation is at least as strong in the private sector as in the public sector? Is he aware that the recent Government restrictions have further reduced the amount of rented accommodation available? Can he tell us whether the Government believe in the need for a healthy and buoyant private-rented sector to help the housing problem?

Mr. Freeson

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is not aware of the facts of the position. Generally, over a number of years now, there has been an average decline of about 100,000 lettings a year in the rented sector market. [Hon. Members: “Why?” ] During the last three and a half years it has been at the rate of about 150,000. [Hon. Members: “Why?” ] That was under a Conservative Government. [ Hon. Members: “Why?” ] We shall have an opportunity to discuss this matter in greater detail, I think, during the coming week. We shall then be able to hear from Conservative Members why, under their Government, there was such a massive increase in the loss of rented housing. For the present, the way to hold the rented market is by increasing social ownership to prevent such properties going out of the market into the speculative area.

New Town and Special Area Committees

12. Mr. Milne

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will issue a circular to local authorities advising councils to extend membership of committees covering new towns and special areas to councillors representing the towns and areas in question.

The Minister for Planning and Local Government (Mr. John Silkin)

I am sure this is a point local authorities will have in mind without the need for advice from my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Milne

Is my right hon. Friend aware that that is a rather disappointing reply, because in my constituency we are dealing with a new town that is not[column 374]designated under the New Towns Act? Because of the emergence of the new authorities, it means that democratically-elected representatives in that new town are prevented from taking part in discussions on the town's development.

Mr. Silkin

My hon. Friend will appreciate that it is not a very good idea for the Government always to be giving advice to local authorities, but I think that his is a particular case and I should like to discuss it with him if he is willing.

Caradon

Mr. Tyler

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will pay an official visit to the Caradon district of Cornwall.

Mr. Crosland

I have no plans to do so.

Mr. Tyler

Is the Secretary of State aware that the hardship caused to ratepayers in the district, particularly to low income households, is such that nearly 2,000 rates rebates have already been granted and a further 2,000 are awaiting processing? Does he appreciate that many more would be eligible for help if rate rebates were extended to water charges and re- extended to sewerage charges? Will the right hon. Gentleman consider his attitude to the extension of rate rebates to those two charges, which I appreciate were removed by the previous Government?

Mr. Crosland

The Caradon district was treated exceptionally, both under the variable domestic relief and under my own uniform domestic relief. I entirely concede that. The point of substance about the water and sewerage rebates, however, is that they were effectively removed by the previous Government's Water Act 1973 . I hope that I made it sufficiently clear in last Thursday's debate that although to restore the rebate would require new legislation it was some thing I had very much in mind and was proposing to discuss with the relevant authorities.

Office Rents

Mr. McCrindle

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received from the[column 375]National Association of Pension Funds on the subject of office rents.

Mr. John Silkin

I saw a deputation from the National Association on 20th June, when it asked for a further statement of the Government's future policy on the control of rents.

Mr. McCrindle

I recognise that the Government have recently indicated some of their intentions for the long term, but will the right hon. Gentleman accept that the pensions of thousands of people and the life policy bonuses of millions of policyholders depend to some extent on the free operation of a commercial property market? Will he indicate his early intention to restore that freedom of operation?

Mr. Silkin

I think that in the statement I made to my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, West (Mr. Sedgemore) on Monday I indicated once again that it was not our purpose to renew the powers to control business rents when they expired in March 1976.

Mr. Horam

Did my right hon. Friend see the recent statement by the chairman of the association, in which he pointed out that the pension funds actually prefer periods of low property values, because they enable them to buy income cheaply? Is he aware that pension funds have less than 10 per cent. of their total investments in land and property?

Mr. Silkin

When one considers the question of business rents, one must consider those rents together. One cannot make differentiations between one group of investors and another.

Mrs. Thatcher

I have read all the right hon. Gentleman's earlier answers, and he has put them all negatively. Is this the right positive form: that, assuming responsibility rests with the right hon. Gentleman after 1976, a free market will be restored in business rents?

Mr. Silkin

I do not think one can prophesy what on earth will happen in March 1976, but our present intention must be good enough. It is that when the powers under the right hon. Lady's Government's Counter-Inflation Act 1973 expire, the present Government will not seek to renew them.

[column 376]

Passenger Trains (Punctuality)

15. Mr. Teddy Taylor

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what percentage of passenger trains arrived at their destinations on time or within five minutes of their scheduled arrival times, respectively, in 1973; and what were the comparable percentage figures in 1 972 and 1971.

Mr. Carmichael

I will, with permission, circulate the information in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Taylor

Does the Minister agree that British Rail's record has been improving, despite an improvement in the scheduled time in the inter-city services? Bearing in mind the substantial proposed increases in air fares between Glasgow and London, Aberdeen and Edinburgh and London, does the hon. Gentleman accept that the railways will in future be carrying a much bigger share of this inter-city traffic and that a further improvement in punctuality is therefore to be encouraged?

Mr. Carmichael

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Quite apart from the increase in fares, an increase in traffic on the railways can be expected because of the greatly improved service on the West Coast route between Glasgow and London. There has been a very slight deterioration in time-keeping in the past three years, because of one or two exceptional circumstances which we hope will disappear very quickly.

Mr. Spriggs

Is my hon. Friend aware that the British Railways Board is now operating one of the finest passenger services in the world and that many of us hope for a great extension of those services to all parts of the country, including Scotland?

Mr. Speaker

Miss Boothroyd. Question No. 16.

Mr. Carmichael

I am sorry that I did not rise to reply to my hon. Friend. I thought he was continuing his supplementary question. I am well aware of the improved and excellent service that British Rail provides. It is certainly among the best in the world. I use the service to Scotland quite frequently and I can recommend it to hon. Members.

[column 377]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I share the Minister's surprise at a reasonably short supplementary question.

Atmospheric Pollution (Staffordshire)

16. Miss Boothroyd

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many registered works in Wednesbury, West Bromwich and Tipton have been proceeded against by the Alkali Inspectorate for pollution offences since 1968.

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

Three, Sir.

Miss Boothroyd

I acknowledge that some scheduled processes require the inspectorate's specialised skills, but is my hon. Friend aware of the growing body of informed opinion that believes that registered works should be responsible and accountable to the local authorities, and through them to the general public? Does he agree with me that the inspectorate's policy on industrial secrecy is outdated and that certain standards for the control of pollution should be set, not in line with what the manufacturer can get away with but more in line with what the general public living in industrial areas, who are really the sufferers, can be expected to tolerate?

Mr. Howell

I cannot agree with those propositions. We debated them very fully on Second Reading of the Control of Pollution Bill and in the Committee stage, which has just been completed. The Alkali Inspectorate has during 100 years gathered an enormous amount of technological information, which could not possibly be passed on to every local authority. We are doing our best in the Bill to meet my hon. Friend's important point about trade secrecy and to ensure that there is the fullest possible accountability and that every local authority is entitled to have access to the information. [column 378]

Following are the details:

The following information has been provided by the Railways Board:

Mr. John Ellis

Is it not true that the Alkali Inspectorate will be wound up under the health and safety at work regulations? If not, it should be. How will my hon. Friend co-ordinate environmental considerations with safety at work? I am talking about the Factory Inspectorate. There is an overlap here, and we do not want to go on in the tangled way that has been followed in the past.

Mr. Howell

It is not true that the Alkali Inspectorate is to be wound up. In fact, more progress has been made in technological improvement in dealing with pollution through the “best practicable means” approach of the inspectorate than in any other country in the world. Many of it s functions will now be transferred to another department, but it is certainly not to be wound up.

Sewerage Charges

17. Dr. Hampson

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will now announce the date from which relief from sewerage charges will be granted to the owners of septic tanks.

18. Mr. Michael Marshall

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he expects to announce the date from which relief will be given to those paying sewerage charges who lack main drainage facilities

19. Mr. Hurd

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he can now say from which date he hopes to make effective the new arrangements under which sewerage charges will no longer be levied on householders for whom a main sewerage service is not provided.

[column 379]

22. Mr. Banks

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what progress he has made designed to ensure that 1975 rate demands will differentiate the sewerage rate for those dwellings with and without main sewerage connections.

Mr. Denis Howell

My right hon. Friend has asked the National Water Council for urgent advice on the problem generally. Meanwhile water authorities, in collaboration with the responsible local authorities, are trying to identify the properties affected.

Dr. Hampson

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that thousands and thousands of ratepayers—acknowledge the difficulty of finding the information that he has mentioned—believe that his Department is back-sliding on a commitment by his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, the Member for Widness (Mr. Oakes)? When he finds the information, what does the Minister intend to do? Does he not think it only fair that those who have paid their sewerage rate this year should have their septic tanks emptied free of charge by the local authority and that the cost should be borne if necessary by the water authority?

Mr. Howell

This problem would not have arisen at all had it not been for the obnoxious Act which the previous administration passed, which took water away from democratic control and created nine nationalised industries which are totally independent of Government control. We have identified the problem. I have already announced that we intend to deal with it in time for next year's water charges. That, I think, is speedy action.

Dr. Hampson

What about this year?

Mr. George Cunningham

If people with septic tanks will not pay part of the sewerage charge, will the Minister assure us that the valuation placed upon their premises will not be abated because they have septic tanks?

Mr. Howell

My hon. Friend mentions an interesting point which illustrates one of the complexities of the matter—namely, that even if householders have septic tanks the deposits from the tanks must be treated by the community and that they cannot, therefore, be totally[column 380]exempted from rating. We are considering these difficult matters and we intend to produce proposals in time for next year's charges.

Mr. Hurd

Does the Minister accept that there is nothing in the Water Act to prevent his making the change which my right hon. and hon. Friends are suggesting? When the hon. Gentleman lays stress on administrative difficulties, let him bear in mind the attitude of the people who attend the rate protest meetings, to which my hon. Friends and I are constantly invited. For the Secretary of State to talk about hypocrisy in this context is absurd. Does the Minister accept that the people at rate protest meetings do not understand the Government's point about administrative difficulties? The hon. Gentleman is dealing with whole villages, which as everybody knows do not have main sewerage facilities. To identify the villages cannot be a major administrative problem.

Mr. Howell

I think that all the protesters now realise that the present Opposition, when they passed the Water Act, did not understand what they were doing, in spite of the fact that we warned them time and again with the support of Liberal Members. The hon. Gentleman is asking me to act on certain information. We do not have authority in law to take those steps, but we intend to deal with the matter as soon as we can.

Mr. Tomlinson

Does my hon. Friend accept that although the electors of Mid-Oxfordshire might have difficulty in understanding the problem, the electors of the Meriden constituency have suffered as extensively as anyone and that they appreciate that the responsibility for sewerage lies exclusively with Conservative Members?

Mr. Howell

Yes indeed. That is why my hon. Friend is here and will be here with an increased majority following the next election.

Mr. Banks

Is the Minister aware that many people are concerned that sewerage rates are levied not by an elected authority but by appointed persons? Will he undertake to look into the matter?

Mr. Howell

Not only do I understand the position but I voted against the Water Act.

[column 381]

Mr. Kimball

Is the Minister aware that his right hon. Friend's argument that these properties cannot be identified does not carry weight? The rating and valuation authorities can identify the properties concerned. What consultations is he having with those authorities to speed up identification?

Mr. Howell

My right hon. Friend and I have met the water authorities. Within two weeks they have corresponded with every local authority. Some authorities say that they can identify these properties but the majority say that they cannot. What we are certain about is that the properties must all be identified in time f or next year's water charges.

Mr. Hordern

The Minister must recognise that the practice of placing a sewerage charge on households without sewers is an absurdity.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

You did it.

Mr. Hordern

The Minister must realise that no amount of talk on administrative difficulty will suffice. It is essential to get the situation right and to do so now.

Mr. Howell

We recognise and agree with that. The unfortunate thing is that the Water Act was rushed through the House. The authority was set up and it had only three months in which to recruit staff to take over the work and get the system going. That undue haste to change the democratic structure of the water industry is the cause of all our difficulties.

Northamptonshire

20. Mr. Fry

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he intends to revise the recommendations of the South-East Study with respect to Northamptonshire.

Mr. John Silkin

No, Sir. The Strategic Plan is kept under continuous review, but I see no reason at present to revise its proposals as they affect Northamptonshire.

Mr. Fry

Does the Minister appreciate that the existing strain on Northamptonshire ratepayers will continue to exist if these plans are pushed through? Does he realise that the expansion of his plans is resented by many of the residents of[column 382]the county? Does he further realise that demands are now being made that there should be a severe cutback in the plans for expansion which are despoiling the county aesthetically and financially?

Mr. Silkin

The hon. Gentleman should understand first that I very much appreciate the position of areas like Northamptonshire with expanding populations. That is one of the factors that must be looked at in the current discussion on the distribution of rate support grant, and we are asking for it to be taken into account. The problem to which the hon. Gentleman has referred is a problem that faces all new towns. Basically, new towns must take population from a large conurbation. From Stevenage to the present day the early history of new towns is that some resentment is created when a new population comes in. However, I am sure that we have the right policy and I am sure that the population of Northampton will understand that as well.

Mr. Arthur Jones

I think that the right hon. Gentleman is having regard to the increased contribution to be made to the country rate by the Northamptonshire Development Corporation. The implication of that is whether a contribution is involved from central Government funds to the Northamptonshire Development Corporation.

Mr. Silkin

The position is that a development corporation may make a contribution both to the country council and to the district council. We want to preserve as much as we can the position of our new towns. Of course we shall do our best to see that the position is preserved to the best of our ability, but the whole thing must fit into the general economic situation. The hon. Gentleman is as aware of that as I am.

M20 Motorway

Mr. Costain

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he proposes to announce his decision on the alignment of the M20 Motorway following the public inquiry.

Mr. Carmichael

We hope to announce a decision on the two M20 schemes between Maidstone and Folkestone by the end of the year.

[column 383]

Mr. Costain

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that that is a disappointing answer? Does he appreciate that so many routes are being covered by the inquiry by the inspectorate that many houses are unsaleable until he makes up his mind? What is the reason for the delay?

Mr. Carmichael

I know that the hon. Gentleman paid a great deal of attention to the inquiry and that he attended many of the inquiry's sittings. I would have thought that he would have been aware of the problems. There were over 400 objections received, and 24 alternative routes and 1,400 counter-proposals and amendments to those routes. We are doing as much as we can but there is a lengthy inspectorate report and we must be sure that we have the right answer. This is an important route some 28½ miles in length. We must be sure that when we come to a conclusion it will be one that will be most suitable for the local people, for Kent and for the rest of the country.

Development Corporations

(Appointments)

Mr. Dodsworth

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what part political considerations play in making appointments to the boards of development corporations; and whether there has been any change in practice in this regard.

Mr. John Silkin

Political considerations cannot be eliminated but my overriding aim is to appoint an effective team. I do not know the practice of my predecessors.

Mr. Dodsworth

I thank the Minister for his reply. An invitation was issued to a distinguished and, I believe, suitable person to serve on Stevenage Development Corporation. That invitation was withdrawn after 28th February in circumstances of embarrassment to all concerned. Will the Minister investigate the suitability of the alternative nomination?

Mr. Silkin

I do not think that we ought to embarrass the gentleman about whom the hon. Gentleman is talking by mentioning him by name, but I will explain the position. It is now 28 years since the designation of Stevenage, and Labour policy is to give greater and[column 384]greater democracy to the new towns. We wan t more local government participation so that eventually, as was promised originally, the local authorities will be running the new towns. The problem that was put to me—I must tell the hon. Gentleman frankly that this was so—was whether I should appoint a person to the board who was not a member of the district council or whether, instead, in that one available vacancy, I should appoint someone from the district council. I chose someone from the district council, and I think I was right.

Mr. Ronald Atkins

If my right hon. Friend wants to learn something of the practice of his predecessor, will he come to Preston New Town, where we will show him so much that it will make his hair curl even more than it does now?

Mr. Silkin

If that is a genuine invitation and not a rhetorical one, I shall be delighted to accept.

Local Government Finance

Mr. Freud

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he expects to conclude his considerations of local government finance; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Crosland

As I told the House last Thursday, I am setting up an independent committee of inquiry into local government finance. I shall ask the committee to report as soon as possible and at the latest before the end of 1975. Meanwhile I am reviewing, in consultation with the local authority associations, the basis of the distribution of rate support grant for the 1975–76 grant settlement.

Mr. Freud

Will the right hon. Gentleman now consider consulting his right hon. Friend about making teachers' salaries a charge on central rather than local government?

Mr. Crosland

This matter has been much discussed and argued about for 20 years. Obviously one of the basic issues which the committee of inquiry will have to consider is whether a specific chunk of what is currently local expenditure should or should not be charged to the responsibility of the central Government.

Mr. Ridsdale

In view of the seriousness of the problems facing ratepayers,[column 385]cannot the right hon. Gentleman bring forward his review? So serious is the situation of many ratepayers that they will not be able to afford to wait until the inquiry's results are published.

Mr. Crosland

I should like the committee to report as soon as is possible and practicable, but we must face the fact that we have been discussing a major reform of local government finance for the last 20 years and more. The hon. Gentleman himself has made many speeches about it, including the proposal to transfer the cost of education to the central Government. The Conservative Government issued a White Paper in 1971 and a consultation paper in 1973. All those things produced negative results. We do not have a consensus on what should be done, and more important even than speed is to get a result from the committee which I hope will satisfy everyone that we have the best system possible.

Mr. Tomlinson

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that if many of the Opposition Members who now clamour for the reform of local government finance had done something about it three or four years ago, we might now have been discussing the report and be nearer being able to do something instead of still being in the talking stage?

Mr. Crosland

I agree. This clamour once again underlines the hypocrisy of the Opposition.

Mr. Churchill

In view of the clearly-expressed will of Parliament in the vote last week for a measure of interim relief for those ratepayers who are faced with massive increases as a result of the Secretary of State's Rate Support Grant Order, what intention has he to bring a proposal before Parliament for implementing the will of the House before we go into recess?

Mr. Crosland

I have referred already to what was, in effect, the inquest we had last week on four years of Tory inactivity on this matter. I repeat what I said at the end of that bizarre debate: that although I can give no commitment I shall examine every proposal made in the debate as seriously and as closely as I can.

[column 386]

Ozone Levels

Mr. Douglas-Mann

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he has considered the report published in Nature, at page 641, of the changes in ozone levels in the atmosphere since 1965 and its implications in relation to climatic changes and exposure to solar radiation; and whether he will consider investigations into the contribution made to this problem by atmospheric pollution.

Mr. Denis Howell

Yes, Sir. The Meteorological Office is actively pursuing a research programme on the effects of pollutants on stratospheric ozone levels and climate, the preliminary results of which are reassuring.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

Is my hon. Friend aware that if the decline of ozone levels continued at the present rate human life on this planet would become totally impossible? Is the further aware that since I tabled this Question further reports have appeared in Nature, which is a journal notoriously scornful of ecological alarm, suggesting that the fragility of the ozone layer is a matter of serious concern and expressing anxiety about the slow build-up of ozone destructive agents in the atmosphere? Will my hon. Friend indicate the level of Government investigation into this subject, which is one of potentially absolutely disastrous concern not only to the British people but to the entire human race?

Mr. Howell

If those considerations were entirely accurate I would be concerned, but I have myself studied the report in Nature which presents the data on falling ozone levels from a single point in the Southern Hemisphere. I am advised that further observations by scientists of the Meteorological Office and elsewhere indicate that total ozone levels in the Northern Hemisphere are generally rising. There is little doubt that these fluctuations are caused by natural causes.

Mr. Grylls

Will the hon. Gentleman undertake to investigate the possible greater use of solar water heating equipment which can now be got for about 600 dollars in America? Will he consult the building trade with a view to[column 387]securing greater use of solar water heating to conserve ordinary fuels?

Mr. Howell

Research into that matter is already going on, and I am happy to consider any further suggestions put by any hon. Member.

M69 and Associated Roads

Mr. Nigel Lawson

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he intends to authorise a start to be made on the construction of the M69 (Leicester-Coventry motorway) and the M69/A47 link road; if he will ensure that the public are consulted on the various alternative routes for the link road before a final choice is made and that other measures needed to deal with traffic problems on the A46 will not be held up pending construction of the M69; and whether he will make a statement.

Mr. Carmichael

Subject to the continuing availability of funds, it is hoped that work will start on the M69 in the first half of 1975. The normal arrangements for consulting the public during the early stages of planning will apply to the link road. Traffic management and other measures to deal with traffic problems o n that part of the A46 which will be relieved by the M69 will not be delayed.

Mr. Lawson

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's statement. I am sorry that he did not let me know by letter a little earlier, since he promised me that if he had information he would——

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is very interesting but it is not a Question.

Mr. Lawson

I apologise, Mr. Speaker. Can the Under-Secretary of State also give an assurance that measures that are needed because of dangers to pedestrians on the A46, such as the footbridge required at Narborough, will not be held up pending construction of the M69?

Mr. Carmichael

The hon. Gentleman may not be aware of the elaborate procedures now used to establish the attitude of the public, whose views on all these matters are taken fully into consideration when the plans are displayed. I am sure that the question which the hon. Gentleman has raised with me now, and which I understand he has also raised in[column 388]writing with the Department, will be looked at when we come to designate ultimately the route of the M69.

Domestic Rate Relief

31. Mr. Michael Spicer

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if, as part of his review of local government finance, he will consider restoring the domestic rate relief in non-metropolitan areas to the level proposed by the last Government.

42. Mr. Allason

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what would be the cost of restoring the cuts that he made to certain areas in the domestic element of the rate support grant for 1974–75.

Mr. Crosland

I made no cut in the total domestic rate relief proposed by the last administration. I did, however, redistribute some part of it in favour of the inner cities and against other areas. If I were simply to reverse the redistribution the cost would of course be zero since gains and losses would cancel out. If I were to make good the losses to the rural areas while maintaining the gains to the inner cities, the additional cost would be some £70 million. I do not believe that it would be right or just to proceed in this way. But I am considering the many points on the rates situation raised in the debate last Thursday.

Mr. Spicer

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that whatever the rights and wrongs of the case—and it has been coming through during Question Time today that he feels differently from us—in such constituencies as mine there is now a real danger of a mass refusal to pay the second rate? What does he intend to do about it?

Mr. Crosland

I am distressed to hear the hon. Member say that there is a mass disposition to refuse to pay the rates without adding that he has urged ratepayers not to take that action.

Mr. Tomlinson

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the proposition of the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Mr. Spicer) is grossly discriminatory against metropolitan boroughs, some of which have also suffered?

Mr. Crosland

I agree with my hon. Friend that most of the troubles of the[column 389]hon. Member are matters for complaint to his right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker).

Mr. Allason

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that he cannot blame the last Government because he has taken £70 million from the country districts and given it to the metropolitan districts? Will he now, as a good parliamentarian, accept the will of Parliament and restore that £70 million forthwith to the rural areas in time for the second rate demand in the autumn?

Mr. Crosland

The House knows that I have never made the slightest effort to disclaim responsibility for the change I made in the distribution of the domestic element. What I have consistently said is that the total national increase in rates was not my responsibility but was the responsibility of my predecessors. As for the £70 million, if I had that sum I cannot believe that that would be the best way to distribute it. I repeat, without any commitment, that I have pledged myself to examine all the practical suggestions made in last Thursday's debate.