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Government Departments (Land)

Volume 656: debated on Thursday 29 March 1962

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asked the Prime Minister whether he is satisfied that the present organisation for inter-departmental consultation in the matter of land owned or occupied by Departments of the Crown is effective; whether he is aware that there have been cases where no proper survey of alternative sites has taken place because of the absence of inter-departmental investigation; and if he will make a statement.

The answer to the first part of the Question is "Yes, Sir". As to the second part, I am aware of the two cases in which the hon. Gentleman has been interested. The examination of alternative sites is a matter for the parties to an inquiry and not for the Minister who has to adjudicate it.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in a letter which the then Prime Minister, then Sir Anthony Eden, sent to me some years ago, he appeared to indicate that there was consultation between Departments, but that it was restricted to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food? Should it not be for the former Ministry actively to try to make some Departments, such as the Service Departments, disgorge land which, with the development of new weapons, it is obviously unnecessary for those Departments to retain? Should not evidence of such surveys and activity by that Ministry be available at local inquiries?

I will consider that. Perhaps I may explain what the present procedure is. There is an advance from the period which the hon. Member mentioned. There is an interdepartmental procedure co-ordinated by the Ministry of Works to enable land-owning Government Departments to notify one another of land becoming surplus to their requirements in the foreseeable future. The first stage, therefore, is to find out whether some other Government Department wants the land, or can use it instead of getting other land. Then, if it is surplus, there is a Ministerial committee which supervises the re-use, transfer or disposal of agricultural land. It is important that we should recognise that the Minister of Housing has a quasi-judicial duty in planning with which we should not interfere, although we should certainly strengthen any procedure which would make for the better use of land.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that while that evidence of improved co-operation between Departments is desirable, there are certain Departments, such as the War Office, which are obviously reluctant to disgorge land?

I do not think that I can take the detail any further, but if the right hon. Gentleman would like to consult me or any of my colleagues, I would be happy to do what I can to take the matter further with him.