Column 669Responding to recommendations that particular proposals for further reductions in HAG rates be dropped until the resolution of the problems, the Minister said--in paragraph 50 of the Government's response
"The Government's decision was taken after consideration of a range of factors including the likely effect of lower grant rates on housing association rents, likely changes in procurement and borrowing costs, in income levels ; the implication of likely changes in rent levels for housing benefit expenditure."
Does the Minister for Housing Inner Cities and Construction--unlike his Treasury colleagues--recognise that the incomes of those at the lowest levels are falling, and that, as a consequence, housing benefit must inexorably rise to cover the gap between incomes and rents ? More and more of the disposable income of tenants who do not receive housing benefit will be absorbed by their rent.
On 1 February, on Radio 4, Anthony Mayer said :
"At a rent of £55, a couple with a child has to earn over £12,000 a year . . . to escape the poverty trap."
According to paragraph 53 of the Government's response, however, "The Government took account of findings from the Housing Corporation which indicated that the effects on rents of lower grant rates would be offset by changes in procurement and borrowing costs and in income levels."
When the Minister appeared before the Environment Select Committee on 21 April 1993, he refused to comment on the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) about Housing Corporation advice to the Minister on HAG levels. He said that that was not a matter to be dealt with by the Committee. Since then, Anthony Mayer--who is chief executive of the Housing Corporation--has spoken to the committee members' conference of the National Federation of Housing Associations. He is reported to have said, on Friday 21 January, that the Housing Corporation board recommended retention of 67 per cent. HAG rates for 1994-95. I hope that the Minister will tell us why he rejected the Housing Corporation's advice when all the comments in the Government's response suggest that they were taking the Housing Corporation's findings on board. At a private seminar for lenders, Anthony Mayer went on to reveal that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury had made it clear that the Government would do nothing to housing benefit that would compromise the position of housing associations, adding :
"If the Government did make significant cuts in housing benefit the result would be immediate catastrophe. I would advise you all to resign immediately. The pack of cards would fold very quickly." In other words, there was a real danger that, as well as pricing out tenants, the removal of housing benefits would frighten away private investors and destabilise housing associations.
Already, housing benefit is regarded as an insecure political variable--an unreliable income stream, subject to the cuts imposed by the Secretary of State for Social Security. That is why private investors are now backing off from all but the largest housing associations--those that can pool larger amounts of rent.
It is difficult to discern where the Government's housing policy is headed. The Housing Corporation and housing associations are now caught in the centre of conflicting policies. Paragraph 68 of the Government's response stresses that the real strength of the housing association sector lies in diversity of management,
Column 670particularly when an association can bring specialised management skills to bear, or can offer a localised base for effective and sensitive housing management.
We agree with that entirely ; yet, in practice, Government policy pulls in the opposite direction. The Government are squeezing out special needs provision, and undermining the special needs management allowance with the Treasury cap on revenue support. That has led to a reduction in the supported housing association programme to 2,500 units for 1994-95.
Furthermore, at the recent Housing Corporation conference, the Minister announced the introduction of arrangements to promote competition for capital and revenue needs in regard to supported housing. That will pile more pressure on the special needs sector. Smaller associations, particularly in rural areas, are still locked in the impasse of what charitable organisations can do--not least because, in such areas, those on low incomes cannot take up what the Government are promoting as share ownership schemes.
Support has been withdrawn from self-build and co-ops. The Housing Corporation's capital support for housing co-operation developments has reached an all-time low : it is 1.54 per cent. of the Housing Corporation's approved development programme for 1994-95. The crucial issues of affordability, high rents, benefits, housing association rates and the effect of driving away private finance, as well as the key issue of diversity, have been side-stepped in the Government's response. As a result, housing associations will be forced simply to recreate the worst conditions of the large local authority estates of the past. The fundamental problem is lack of Government direction, the absence of a cohesive housing policy. Britain needs more homes for renting rather than a further Housing Corporation cut of £500 million, as happened in this year's Budget. We do not need more incentives to buy through tenant incentive schemes. We do not need more shared ownership schemes. What we need are policies that will result in the provision of more homes for renting.
Dr. Lynne Jones : Does not the tenants incentive scheme demonstrate the lack of coherence in the Government's policy ? The resources for that scheme have been increased massively, but there has been no evaluation of the effectiveness of the policy. When I was involved in the scheme, I found that many of the people taking advantage of it would have bought homes and, therefore, moved out of housing association property in any case. This is yet another example of the residualisation of the social rented sector.
Mr. Battle : I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention, which proves that the Government are facing two ways. On one hand, a Secretary of State announces that there is no further need to build homes in Britain--in the homelessness review, the Government have a line about future generations who will not thank us for building more homes--but, on the other, there is more and more pushing in the direction of expanding home ownership at the expense of the rented sector. That is why the Government are in real difficulty. On the question of housing association policy, they are between a rock and a hard place.
Labour believes that there is an absolute and acute shortage of homes to rent. We believe that unemployed
Column 671building workers could be used now to provide homes for renting. Capital receipts could and should be released for investment. We believe that housing associations, although they account for only 3 per cent. of the housing stock in Britain, have a dynamic and vital innovative role to play in the full panoply of housing provision and homes to rent. They ought not to be abandoned or priced out. Housing associations should be locally rooted and locally accountable to tenants and communities. They should be strengthened so that they may reassert their traditional role, including vital specialist provision. They should be allowed to develop and expand rehabilitation and to provide positive support for diversification. There is a positive vision for housing associations, but, referring to the Government's response to the Select Committee's report, I have to say that we are looking not for comment but for action.
The Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction (Sir George Young) : Like other hon. Members, I am grateful for the opportunity of this debate to acknowledge the work of the Select Committee on the Environment. As we discovered during a Supply day debate on housing a few weeks ago, this is a subject on which we do not always manage to achieve unanimity. However, the Committee, under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones), has produced a consensus report, which makes a very valuable contribution to the Housing Corporation's future operations in social housing. I congratulate the Committee on its achievement. Indeed, it has led to a moderate and consensual debate today.
To the extent to which the confusion referred to by the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) has existed, one detected some signs of incipient tension among Opposition Members. On one hand, we had the Dunfermline decree that there should be no new public expenditure commitments ; on the other hand, we heard the expansionist ambitions of several Opposition Back- Bench Members. I see some trouble ahead. One of my constituents said to me at the weekend, "What is the point in supporting the Labour party if it does not intend to spend any more than the Tories ?" The incipient tension to which I have referred is demonstrated by the contrast between what the Opposition would like to do
Sir George Young : Sorry, no. I have been done out of a couple of minutes by the hon. Lady's hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West. The Government's response was published last October. We indicated our acceptance of the majority of the recommendations and our intention to act on them. Many have already been implemented, and others are being taken forward. I shall try to deal with the key points raised by the Committee's Chairman. There will not be enough time to get through all of them, but I shall write to my hon. Friend about those to which I do not manage to refer and shall, perhaps, copy the letter to other members of the Committee.
Column 672The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) rightly invited us to put housing in a slightly broader social context. He referred to a constituent confronted with a rent of, I think, £70 a week for a new housing association property. There is a trade-off between rents and output. If we had not taken our decisions on grant rates, the hon. Gentleman's constituent might not have had any property to move into.
My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery) made a thoughtful speech, which touched on the issue of affordability. He raised a number of questions--for example, deemed interest on savings--for which the Department of Social Security is responsible. He rightly identified the mistakes that we made in the 1960s and the 1970s--some of the developments that were undertaken with the best of intentions but with disastrous results. I welcome the work that my hon. Friend's wife does on the Housing Corporation and as the chairman of a very substantial housing association. The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) referred to a conversation with his authority's director of housing. That officer is somewhat unusual in that his housing stock has been transferred. This is a policy on which the Government are keen, as it not only generates capital receipts, which can be recycled into investment in social housing, but enables the local authority to concentrate on its strategic and enabling role.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the difficulty, in the case of one estate, of promoting shared ownership. If he looks at our plans, he will see that that is not the only home ownership initiative. There is the tenants incentive scheme, which is very popular and has nearly always been oversubscribed, and there are the low-cost home ownership proposals, which do not involve shared ownership and represent a growing part of the Housing Corporation's programme. The objections to which the hon. Gentleman referred do not apply with the same force to these other aspects. The hon. Gentleman talked about the flats over shops scheme--something on which I am keen. The Government have put about £25 million of public money on the table to drive the policy forward.
My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) was right to refer to the financial management of housing associations. Where there are substantial reserves, the Government encourage local housing associations to plough the funds back into fresh development. My hon. Friend was right to suggest that those resources are meant for investment in housing. In the case of a non-charitable housing association, there is normally an associated right to buy. But that does not cover certain properties that are particularly suitable for letting to the elderly. I should like to write to my hon. Friend about this matter.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) raised a number of points. I should like to deal with one of them--the issue of transporting families from one borough to another. I have made it clear on a number of occasions, and I repeat, that one borough should not export its problems to another unless the latter has so agreed. Each borough should develop a strategy to sort out its own problems. If it has greater needs, it will be provided, through the allocation process, with greater resources with which to tackle them. I enjoyed very much the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Hendry). It was cold in High Peak the weekend before last, but the visit was very worth
Column 673while. My hon. Friend rightly focused on the key currency of lettings as opposed to new build. My hon. Friend was right to concentrate on the potential for bringing 850,000 empty properties back into use--not, as was proposed by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West, by purchase, which would involve the expenditure of a very substantial amount of public money, raising the eyebrows of the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown), but by the promotion of management arrangements whereby the public sector would not have to own the properties but would have the benefit of letting them, using housing associations as an intermediary.
Sir George Young : If I am to do justice to the debate and deal with the questions that have been raised, I shall have to plough on. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) said that the local authority housing stock had been diminished through the right to buy. One must put on the other side of the scales the increased nominations to housing associations through new lets and relets. One must look at the total picture. Last week, I had a chat with the ombudsman, Roger Jeffries. I was impressed by the way in which Mr. Jeffries was making progress with complaints and, in particular, by his work on the promotion of mediation as a means of bringing disputes to a satisfactory conclusion. That is a matter in which I am very interested.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) rightly reminded us of the importance of the private rented sector. The latest figures show that the decline has been arrested and that sector now accounts for a growing percentage of tenure, which I welcome. My hon. Friend had some radical new ideas on tenant ownership on which the Government are reflecting.
The hon. Member for Leeds, West made a rather alarmist speech. We have made it clear that we are reducing the housing association grant rate to get more units out of the given amount of public funds and it would be absurd to pursue those policies to the extent that one got no units because there was no funding. At the end of his speech, he worked himself up into a minor frenzy about the absence of housing policy. I suggest that he reads the editorial in the latest edition of Roof magazine, which contains some punchy criticism of any new thinking on housing by the Labour party. The editorial in Roof magazine does not usually spring to my support, so the hon. Gentleman might like to reflect on what thoughtful people who write about housing are saying about the vacuum in Labour party policy. In the remaining time available, I shall deal quickly with some of the issues raised before I mention affordability. The Select Committee on the Environment referred to the constitution of the corporation's board and how appointments are made. Although it recognised that members of a public board could not be representative, it wanted a slightly broader mix of appointments. I am pleased to report that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West said, earlier this month we appointed to the board two new members with precisely the skills for which the Select Committee invited us to look. Derek Waddington has had a long career in local government and is currently director of housing in Birmingham, which is the largest housing authority in the country. We also appointed Roger Council, who is a welfare benefits adviser
Column 674and a tenant of Yorkshire Metropolitan housing association. In 1992, he became the first elected tenant representative on its management committee. I am sure that both will both make a valuable contribution to the work of the Housing Corporation.
Last week, we appointed Sir Brian Pearse as chairman of the corporation from 1 April. I am grateful for the kind words of all hon. Members about Sir Brian. I take this opportunity to express my thanks to Sir Christopher Benson for his important contribution to the changes that have been carried through in the past four years. It has been a difficult and challenging time for the corporation. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West invited me to give a progress report on regional committees. We were not persuaded that a formal structure of regional committees was necessary, but we agreed that a forum to provide for regional consultation might be helpful. The corporation has taken the idea on board and I am pleased to announce that the first round of consultative meetings with local authorities, housing associations and tenants will commence in each region from next month. The first meeting is to be held on 13 April in the west midlands and, thereafter, meetings will be held every six months.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West also asked about regional office boundaries. There are benefits to be gained from conterminous boundaries between the corporation and my Department. I can therefore announce that the corporation proposes, with our approval, to revise its regional boundaries from 1 April 1995 to bring them into line with those of the Government's integrated regional offices, except in Merseyside where the present boundaries will be retained. The Yorkshire and Humberside and northern regions will continue to maintain a joint office to cover both regions from Leeds, and the east and east midlands regions will operate a joint office in Leicester. In both cases, the corporation will structure operations to produce data to the two regions covered by each office separately. The changes will produce valuable operational benefits. I deal now with grant rates, which were a recurrent theme in many of today's speeches. An important element of the Select Committee's work concerned the issues surrounding the HAG rate paid to support the corporation's capital programme. We have heard a great deal about the impact of falling grant rates on housing association rent levels and on the affordability of those rents. Even more has been said about how high rent levels have forced an increasing number of housing association tenants on to housing benefit and into the poverty trap, to use the words of Labour Members, or into the protective embrace of housing benefit, to use the words of my hon. Friends.
I remind the House that we have not heard about the many additional homes that have been created by the reduction in HAG rates. We have not heard about the many additional families who have been decently housed as a result of the decisions and who would otherwise be homeless or waiting in inadequate accommodation. Each reduction in grant rate means that more private finance is levered into the programme and the available public resources are made to stretch further.
Since 1988, when we decided to introduce the concept of mixed funding, a total of £2.6 billion of private finance has been raised to support housing association development, which is the equivalent of about 55,000 new homes. There is a real choice between, on the one hand, reducing
Column 675grant rates and increasing the supply of housing and, on the other, keeping grant rates high which, will indeed reduce rent levels but at the expense of the number of new homes that we can provide. At a time when development and borrowing costs have fallen fast, I make no apologies for taking the opportunity to use the savings to concentrate the funds available for housing investment on boosting output, especially as our benefit system focuses help on those people who might have difficulty paying their rent. I believe that it is a more effective use of resources
I believe that that is a more effective use of resources than bricks and mortar grants which benefit all tenants, irrespective of income.
I deal now with the question asked by the hon. Member for Leeds, West. The Environment Select Committee specifically recommended that I should not cut grant rates for next year unless procurement costs fell further. All the signs are that procurement costs in 1994-95 will continue to fall. The Housing Corporation and the National Federation of Housing Associations accepted that, and it was clear from the corporation's model that I could set an average HAG rate of about 64 per cent. without affecting the affordability of the rents charged.
In the event, having considered the likely impact on actual rents and on the ability of associations to pool rents across their stock and to make further efficiency savings, I felt justified in reducing the average HAG rate to 62 per cent. In fact, the continuing fall since then in gilt yields has meant that financing costs are likely to be even lower than we anticipated, which will further reduce the rents that associations need to charge.
I also considered carefully the likely impact of lower grant rates on the availability of private finance. From our discussions with private lenders, and from the work done for the Housing Corporation by European Capital, I was confident that private finance would be available to support the development programme at an average grant rate of 62 per cent. In view of the number of bids for housing association grants received by the corporation--£4 for every £1 accepted--it seems that housing associations share my confidence and are coping well with the lower grant rates. The reduction of the average grant rate to 62 per cent. next year should result in an additional 2,600 new homes.
To put the debate on rents in a broader perspective, the average rent for all housing association tenants on 31 March last year, which is the last full year for which figures
Column 676are available, was just £34 a week. Even excluding those who are still paying fair rents, the figure was only £38 a week. For new tenancies the average is £43 a week. It is important to keep that perspective.
We have heard a great deal about the poverty trap. As the House will know, benefit system policy is a matter for the Secretary of State for Social Security. The system is designed to ensure that maximum benefit is targeted on those who need it most and the rules ensure that people are better off as their gross incomes increase. Only a very small proportion of those receiving income-related benefits face marginal deduction rates at the highest level, some of which we have heard about this evening.
I assure the House that my Department and the Department of Social Security meet regularly in a working group that was set up to provide a forum to discuss, among other things, the relationship between policies on HAG rates and housing benefit. I and my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary, who has been mentioned once or twice today, attended a seminar of private sector lenders last September when he said :
"Housing benefit rules may well change from time to time. But we have an enduring commitment to making sure that people can afford the rented housing they need."
Although the benefits review is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security, I can tell the House that no conclusions have yet been reached, and hon. Members would be better advised to wait for a statement from my right hon. Friend than rely on press speculation.
I mentioned the ombudsman a moment ago. So far, he has received 234 complaints, of which 85 per cent. have been accepted and are already being pursued. We shall keep the matter under review. The challenges facing the Housing Corporation demonstrate that it clearly has a sizeable task ahead. My view is that housing associations, their members and their officers have responded positively to the changes introduced in 1988. I am sure that they will face the next challenges with enthusiasm.
Social housing is a constantly changing environment in which innovation and co-operation must be the key words. Housing associations have a good record and I am sure that they will continue to develop and to work with local authorities and private landlords to make the best use of all the rented housing stock, not simply to meet housing needs, but to create thriving communities. As I have already said, we have given full consideration to the Select Committee's recommendations
The debate was concluded and the Question necessary to dispose of the proceedings was deferred, pursuant to para (4) of Standing Order No. 52 (Consideration of estimates).
Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Earlier today, I raised a point of order about the remarkable power that the private Bill, promoted by the London Docklands development corporation, would give to the Secretary of State for the Environment to dispose of the corporation to anybody he liked at any time and at any price. That seem to me to be a rather remarkable power to be included in a private Bill because it relates to as much as £1.2 billion of public assets.
In response to my point of order, Madam Speaker quoted a precedent from a private Bill which is now the British Waterways Act 1983. Our queries earlier today related to two points : first, the giving of the power to dispose of the whole or part of the LDDC and secondly, the fact that the Bill as drafted, and as apparently accepted by the authorities of both Houses, does not require any order or decision made by the Secretary of State to come before the House.
I have now checked the British Waterways Act 1983. It contains a schedule, covering virtually two pages, which lays down the detailed and difficult procedure, with many hurdles, that the Secretary of State would have to follow in disposing of any of the property of the British Waterways Board. It seems to me that the precedent that was quoted does not fully meet our objections. In the Bill as presently drafted, there is no requirement to bring any such proposition to the House, whereas under the British Waterways Act, which was quoted as a precedent, there is a requirement to bring such propositions before the House under a special parliamentary procedure.
I should, therefore, be grateful for your ruling again, Madam Deputy Speaker, whether it is appropriate for this public measure to be smuggled through as part of a private Bill.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes) : Madam Speaker has already given considerable thought to the matter. She gave her ruling earlier today and I have no intention of altering or querying that in any way. However, I point out to the hon. Gentleman that it is perfectly possible during this debate, if he so wishes, to deploy the arguments that he has put as a point of order as arguments during debate. I further point out to him that if the Bill receives a Second Reading and goes to the Committee on Unopposed Bills, that Committee will be able to consider whether there should be any amendments or any other alterations.
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey) : Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I may be able to assist the House before I move that the Bill be read a Second time. The clause to which the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) has referred in this point of order and the one at the end of the statement this afternoon relates to the later transfer of functions from the LDDC. It is a perfectly proper matter of concern. The hon. Gentleman may know--if he does not, this may be the way through you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to
Column 678ensure that the matter is on the record-- that his point has been understood by the promoter, the LDDC. I should like to repeat publicly an assurance, given privately in writing to the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) by the corporation, that it is entirely happy to amend the Bill to ensure that in relation to this power, there will be an opportunity for the House to consider and to vote on an order without which there could not be that transfer of power. I hope that that meets the concern about the processes. The matter can, of course, be pursued further in the debate on Second Reading.
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) for pointing out this matter. The importance of the clause had not gone entirely without notice for some months. However, I give notice further to the point of order that when the Bill goes, as it probably will and perhaps should, to the Committee on Unopposed Bills, there will be discussions relating to the amendment that the promoter is willing to accept and to other matters. I refer especially to the issue that has been raised and has come into focus only in the past week--the relationship between public and private legislation.
We come to this debate against the background of the passage of almost 14 years since the legislation was presented to and approved by the House which entitled the Government to set up the first development corporations. The flagship of those development corporations was envisaged then as--I say this at the risk of being accused of being either metropolitan or regionalist--and could still be said to be, the London Docklands development corporation. It was set up, by order, under the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 for the purpose of the regeneration of docklands. I and other hon. Members have been involved since that period in the debates about that process.
The fact that, unusually, the Bill is being sponsored by an Opposition Member does not change my view or that of other Opposition Members who represent docklands' constituencies that elected or imposed quangos are not the best way in which to proceed. We could all dig up hundreds of columns of comment on the history of development corporations that make that point over and over again. At this stage, however, I do not want to dwell on what has been or on what might have been. Indeed, I regard it as my job tonight specifically to deal with what will be.
The Bill comes before us tonight because the LDDC has realised that it has inherited the responsibility for regenerating an area of docklands, but that it does not have the consequential logical powers to manage that estate in certain areas. The point of order relates to the same powers, but specifically to what happens in the post-LDDC era.
We are talking about the legacy of the Port of London Authority and the legacy of the regulations that went with managing the port, such as the byelaws and the other powers that were given to that authority, which was a
Column 679non-elected authority in its day. The reality of docklands now, as anyone who lives or travels there knows and as my colleagues who represent docklands know, is that it is not a working port any more. The Port of London has moved downstream to Tilbury and the docklands is a very different community. It is a community in which there is some marine activity--all Opposition Members would, I think, say that there is too little. There is a new airport and new businesses have come in to replace the businesses on the wharves and along the docks.
There is much new residential accommodation and there are significant new regions of public provision. One of the consequences of the closing of the docks at the Port of London end of the Thames near to Tower bridge and along the shores of our boroughs in Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Newham is that much of the space that was previously private has become public open space. Many of the views that people had in the past were of wharves, cranes and commercial dock activity. That has changed. The wharves have become offices or flats and walkways through the wharves and down to the edge of the Thames have become public amenities in a way that they never were before. That makes it an entirely different area to manage. It is for that reason that the docklands corporation, for the first time, seeks to introduce a Bill that will give it power to manage.
As the explanatory memorandum says the Bill contains, among other things,
"powers to enable the London Docklands Development Corporation . . . to manage and regulate certain lands and waters within or in the vicinity of its area".
I want to elaborate on the main purposes of the Bill and deal with other linked matters.
If the Bill passes through this House--it has already passed through the other place--the corporation will take powers that relate almost entirely to land and water within the boundaries of the LDDC. Pausing there, we are still at that stage where the LDDC has not rolled back any of its frontiers. That is a matter which I shall allude to in a minute. But dedesignation, as it is called--a power that has been changed from a power originally to roll back the dockland corporation in one move to a power to roll it back in part--has not yet begun, although it is very much under discussion. We are discussing docklands as it has become. It is a great expanse comprising 400 acres of enclosed water, about 25 miles of dock edge, all owned by the LDDC. That is a lot of water and dock edge, owned by one authority. That is why, to be honest, the big player here is the LDDC.
Technically today, the statutory controls reside with the PLA, but that has become irrelevant to the functioning of the activities in the region in question. As of tonight, the LDDC has no more powers to govern what goes on in docklands than those of a private landowner. It has regulated the region ; it has been the planning development authority ; it has sought to police what it has planned. Local authorities such as mine have sometimes resented those powers. The reality, however, has been without any statutory backing. It has employed former harbour masters, 20 water wardens and a degree of bluster, good will and hope to try to get its own way.
Another reality is that with every year that passes not only do more people live and work in docklands than was the case when the LDDC first came into being in 1981 but
Column 680lots more people visit it on weekdays, as on a Sunday, to walk along from London bridge, for example, down to Hay's galleria, and along that and other riverside walks. They come to canoe, to sail and to take part in riverside sports or to visit places such as the docklands arena or even to appreciate the architecture, which in parts is as attractive by night as by day.
There are all sorts of new activities that act as a recreational magnet, bringing people from east London and beyond. These include a rowing club in the Royal Albert dock, and water sports centres in Millwall, the Greenland dock and the Royal Victoria docks. There is a water sports club in Shadwell basin. The London sea scouts have their headquarters in the East India docks. There are marinas, one on my side of the river in South dock and Greenland dock and one to be set up on each side of the river in the Albert basin. There are restaurants burgeoning all over the place. There are now even several floating restaurants. I have only visited one and when I went there for a public meeting it nearly sank, so it was not a good precedent for me. There will be, as there are now, historic vessels to visit and other docklands traditions will be retained by the restoration of buildings to their former glory. In addition, historic vessels will be restored to suitable sites.
There is some commercial traffic of course. Barges still take construction materials and excavated spoil in a good year to Canary wharf--in a less good year to other, lesser ventures. Some of the spoil will be from the Jubilee line extension, although some of that will go by road. We have tried to establish a decent riverbus service as part of London's integrated transport system. It has to be said, sadly, that two of those initiatives for such a service have sunk, but there are still people who want to put a third one afloat. I am sure that other hon. Members representing constituencies in the region will wish them well. We in the Liberal Democrats believe that a riverbus will really happen only when it is agreed as part of an integrated London transport structure that has a built-in and accepted subsidy that does not rely primarily on the private developer, who might be the beneficiary.
There are Sunday markets and there is even a plan for a floating market. Additional activities will attract other people.
What will the Bill do ? If it is passed, it will give the corporation, instead of the PLA, general power to regulate and manage the areas designated in the Bill, subject to certain duties, some of which were inserted in the other place following negotiations with the London boroughs. These include, most importantly, a duty to secure a diversity of uses for the region and maintain public access to the waterside. One of the questions that the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) asks most often in this place--certainly I have often asked it, too--is why, when the original legislation was passed, it was not made clear for whose benefit the docklands were to be regenerated.
It was a wonderful Bill for setting out objectives, but it did not have any specified clientele. It was a general regeneration. Many of us that thought it would be helpful--and would have agreed that it was necessary to stress this from the beginning--that it should be regenerated in particular for the benefit of the communities living and working there.
Column 681answer. The hon. Gentleman well knows that during the long Committee stage of the original Bill, I moved amendment after amendment to achieve the purposes that he has mentioned, particularly to add national advantage, local importance and local advantage. The Government declined to act and the amendments were lost.
Mr. Hughes : When the hon. Gentleman was doing that, I was a mere candidate for the Greater London council. Although that was not an election I won, we did much better than we had before. One of the things that I was told, almost immediately after having taken my seat on St. David's day in 1983, was that the first piece of legislation that I should seek to understand was that which set up the urban development corporation in 1980. I was therefore given the full works and they remain on my shelf to this day.
I was aware of that debate, because that was the debate that the community was having in Southwark, the docklands, Tower Hamlets and Newham when the legislation was passed. That was a well-fought debate. The hon. Gentleman was pre-eminent in fighting that corner--I wish, like him, that he had won.
How will the Bill work ? The main controls of the Bill will be by means of byelaws and they can be made for the purposes set out in schedule 3.
If Royal Assent is given, some parts of Bill will immediately come into effect, as is frequently the way with legislation. They include important provisions, for example, the control of obstructions on the waterside, the control of pollution, and the movement of vessels. Therefore, there will be a control of activity on water and a control of activity adjacent to the water to which the public have access. It will be an offence to break those rules, just as it is an offence to break other principal and secondary legislation and byelaws, and, therefore, there is provision for an enforcement mechanism.
The Bill requires that before making byelaws, the docklands corporation is to consult the local authority--the borough council for the area in question--and to consult the Port of London Authority, the City of London corporation, which is the port health authority and the market authority for Billingsgate market, and the London fire and civil defence authority.
The way in which byelaws operate is adopted from traditional, statutory local government experience--the process contained in the Local Government Act 1972, which local authorities use for their own byelaws. One may object to the Secretary of State about the byelaws. He or she may hold a public inquiry and must confirm them. There is nothing unusual about the system and no additional, separate procedures are being sought. If the House agrees, as it has in the past, that that is the right way in which local authorities should proceed, the corporation asks that it is allowed to use the same procedure.
There are a few odds and ends to which I shall now allude. There are a number of miscellaneous clauses in the Bill. One provides for the extinguishing of certain navigation rights ; another provides for the termination of the residual jurisdiction of the PLA, which would effectively say that it is no longer interested in or appropriate for the regulation of such activity ; and another varies the boundaries of designated areas. It also deals with another matter, for which I know that the hon. Member for
Column 682Newham, South and the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) have argued--I was with them when they did so. They argued that there is and should be an annual report of the activities of the docklands corporation produced, sent to the Secretary of State, and made publicly available. I know that that is done already, but not in a compulsory and regulated manner. Opposition Members have had occasion to complain about the report, or to complain that it has come to our attention only after it has been the subject of a press conference or launch, which is entirely inappropriate.
The controversial matter to which the points of order alluded is the transfer of functions when the London Docklands development corporation ceases to exist. When I was asked to do this job, one of the questions that I asked my briefing team was what would happen when the LDDC went. It is all very well providing for its functions to be transferred, but to whom ? It is obvious to me as a Member of Parliament and a democrat that it should go to some authority that is accountable. None of us wants a proposal for the handover to another authority which is not accountable.
I shall outline what the Bill provides, make a comment that refers to the point of order and express a view. The Bill provides that there can be a transfer by an order of the Secretary of State about which he or she will have had to consult the borough council for the area concerned. I am reading expressly what I have been given : "The Bill does not stipulate to whom the functions will be transferred, although it is the LDDC's favoured policy that functions should transfer to the same body as the land and management responsibilities will be transferred to."
I was asked, as it were, to say that that is a fairly Delphic statement and that it does not expressly say to which body the functions will be transferred. I am instructed that the reason that it does not expressly say that is that no decision has expressly been made.
Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney) : The hon. Gentleman is on to an extremely interesting point to which, perhaps, we shall not get an answer in the debate. There is a difficult question to answer. If there is to be a successor body, which would then find that the land of the docklands area was no longer in its jurisdiction, and that it was in control only of the management of the docks and the water system, is it conceivable that that would be a sufficient task for a single body ? If not, surely the logic points to the return of not merely the land in docklands to the boroughs of which they are part, but to the management of the water and of the docks in whatever local authority boundary they fall. Although it may appear to be a kind of a duplication of task, I am sure that it is one which the local authorities would be anxious to do and be capable of fulfilling.