Land Commission Bill
Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.The fact that I moved a similar Motion so recently puts me in the dilemma of appearing either repetitious or deviationist. This is not a difficulty which presents itself to the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), whom we welcome to our discussions. I feel that he is unlikely to repeat the rhetorical fallacies with which the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) entertained us. He faces a real difficulty, and it is this. One again, the Opposition oppose the Bill, but declare that it is right that a reasonable charge should be imposed on development value. But this is only a gesture of modesty on being caught naked and exposed. Why has the Conservative Party been so coy in explaining what it means? What is reasonable? Why, during the General Election, did not the Conservative Party election manifesto have a word to say about all this? Why was it completely silent on land prices? We had the same ambivalence on leasehold. The Opposition Front Bench described our White Paper proposals as "a spiv's charter," but did not dare to divide the House against the Motion welcoming the White Paper. We had the most extraordinary welcoming speech from the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) that I have ever heard. What the electorate realised was that the Conservative Governments had repealed the provisions of the 1947 Act and had done nothing—in fact, had refused to do anything—to replace them. Indeed, as I have said, at the last General Election they still refused to pledge themselves to do anything. In office, Conservative Governments were willing to accept the restraints of planning only if land speculators were able to manipulate the rigged market thereby created, often enjoying outrageous profits. Out of office, they have taken an attitude which I have described as ambivalent. I do not want to provoke hon. Members opposite unduly, but I repeat, as I said on the last occasion, that this seems to be largely the result of the tenacious hold which landed interests have had, and continue to have, on the Conservative Party. Not subject to these pressures—indeed allergic to them—the Government believe that it is wrong that planning decisions, which are public decisions, about land use should so often result in the realising of unearned increments by the owners of the land to which they apply and that desirable development should be frustrated by owners withholding the land in the hope of higher prices. As my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government said in the debate on the Address, developers have now discovered that the simplest way to make a fortune is not to develop the land which they acquire but to sit tight and hold on to it knowing that the price will rise. Conservative Governments, in repealing the provisions of Lord Silkin's Act and doing nothing to replace them, have created a situation in which often enough profits are made more easily by not building a house than by building one.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the financial provisions, is it not a fact that more houses were built during this period than at any other time in our history? Is not that something to which credit should be paid?
I pay credit to the fact that we are building more houses. We have to do so, in view of the increasing and urgent demand for an expansion of the housing programme.
If we have to build more houses, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can explain why we are now building fewer.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman will have an opportunity to debate this, to his discomfort, next Thursday.I know that hon. Members opposite, particularly the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames and the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith), who has a good deal of experience, argue that what is needed is a radical reform of the planning system. I do not deny the force of their arguments. I am equally convinced that we must improve our planning procedures. The Government will do this, and will be presenting their proposals. But this is complementary and not alternative. What we are at present concerned with is the supply of land and the price of land for development. The right hon. and learned Member for Hexham and his hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield), in their recent pamphlet "Target for Homes", recognised the urgent need to make more land available for building because, as they say,
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is undoubtedly right. There are large numbers of outstanding planning permissions that have not been exercised. Fresh applications are constantly being received on the ground that land is urgently needed for development, despite the many sites with unused planning permission, and it is argued by the applicant for the fresh planning permission that these sites are not available to him. The right hon. and learned Gentleman and his hon. Friend simply urge planning authorities to allocate more and more land. Not only do they ignore the fact that this land, too, might just as likely not come into the market, but also that in this way we are in danger of debasing the currency of planning. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hertfordshire, East would, I am sure, if he were present, respect the views of the county planning officer for Hertfordshire. He told the Housing Trust Conference some time ago that he did not believe that planning authorities had under-estimated the need. Clearly, the evidence seems to be very much the other way. He believed, in the case of Hertfordshire, that it was due to a deliberate policy by pressure groups interested in land development. He explained how his committee decided that the release of further land would not be right and decided on public acquisition. What was the result? He said that land had begun to flow on the market. Here, surely, is a good precedent for the Land Commission. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government has set up a working party, on which the building industry is represented, to look into the general questions of land allocated by planning procedures. It has been making inquiries about the availability of land for private enterprise housing in a few pressure areas. These surveys show that considerable areas of land have been allocated, but, of course, these are areas in which there is a great deal of building going on. There should be a much larger margin in reserve. The surveys also show that getting the planning position straight is not everything and that it is no use having land allocated or even covered by planning permission if the land is being withheld from development. Planning control can prevent development from taking place where it would be harmful but we need a less negative and more positive concept. If planning is to be effective it must be able to ensure that the most suitable land is developed first and at the time it is needed. Equally important, development should be co-ordinated with the provision of services so as to ensure that they are used economically. The 1947 Act established the present planning system and was a milestone in the growth of sensible control over our environment, but, in practice, the system has proved more negative than positive, more regulatory than constructive. I am sure that this Bill, too, will be a milestone of equal importance and the means by which control over our environment is firmly turned into a positive control. A powerful commission with adequate powers and resources will bring a dynamism which hitherto has been lacking. The objectives of the Bill, therefore, as we set out in the White Paper, are, first, to ensure that land is available at the right time for implementation of national, regional and local planning, and, secondly, on the proposition that it is morally unjustifiable that the land owner should be able to profit at the expense of the community, to ensure that a substantial part of the development value created by the community returns to the community and that the burden of the cost of land for essential purposes is reduced. We are determined to avoid, as far as possible, the duplication of professional and qualified staff, particularly those who are especially scarce, and if these two objectives are accepted it would be wasteful to create two separate bodies when the work could be more effectively done by one. If recognising the scale of the problem, it is conceded that a national agency is necessary to speed the bringing forward of land needed for the immense task of building and reshaping our towns and cities, and if it is accepted that the present state of land prices is wholly indefensible and that the community should take a substantial part of the development value, then I believe that there is an unanswerable case for the Land Commission—the more so when the functions are interdependent and inseparable. Indeed, if one starts with the proposal to take some share of development value from landowners by any means, there is an irrefutable need for a national body with strong and effective compulsory purchase powers. In fact, the greater the fears expressed of the effect of the levy on the price and supply of land, the greater the need for the Land Commission. Equally, if one is concerned with the problem of betterment, the national body should be able to buy substantial areas of land well in advance before its value has significantly risen at the prospect of development, thus ensuring that an even greater part of betterment accrues to the community. This brings me to the Bill itself, which is slightly longer than the earlier version. We did not get very far with the previous Bill in Standing Committee, but I have had the opportunity of taking account of some of the representations made by professional and other organisations, and, in some respects, I think that I have simplified the procedures under the Bill. The Bill is in four parts. Part I and the First Schedule deal with the constitution and finances of the Commission. It will be a Crown body subject to directions by the Minister of Land and Natural Resources and the Secretary of State for Scotland. These directions will be of a general character, but, in relation to Part II of the Bill, I have now provided that the Commission may also be subject to specific directions. This is a matter that I reconsidered following its being raised in Standing Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp). It is not, of course, intended that Ministers should direct the Commission to acquire a particular plot of land or to dispose of land to a particular individual. It may well be necessary, however, to ensure that the Commission is an effective instrument of Government planning and investment policy, to direct the Commission to give priority to the acquisition of land in certain areas which might not, for example, produce such a good financial return for the Commission as others. Directions of this nature, however, would not come within directions of a general character. If we are to ensure that there is enough land to meet the housing needs of a greatly increasing population over the next few years, we need a powerful instrument with all the necessary capital required to buy land in the areas where it is most needed, well before it is needed—indeed, when it can be obtained relatively cheaply. Such a body, obviously, must act in accordance with the Government's views of priorities of need and of areas where needs have to be met and for that reason I have decided that the Commission may be subject to specific Ministerial direction. Indeed, the Commission itself might welcome such directions."for one reason or another, much of the land (already allocated for development) is not coming on to the market".
What ability will hon. Members have to question Ministers on decisions given under such directions?
The hon. Gentleman will be delighted to know that this provision extends the scope of hon. Members in questioning Ministers. This was something I had to consider in dealing with the scope of the directions and, as I think right and proper, hon. Members will have better opportunities to question Ministers than they would otherwise have had.The Commission's activities on the acquisition, management and disposal of land will be financed by a fund, to which advances of up to £45 million or, if the House approves, up to £75 million may be made out of the Consolidated Fund. The advances to be made out of the Consolidated Fund are to provide working capital for the Commission's operations. The amount required—I am taking this in ceiling figures—will depend on the turnover of the land passing through the Commission's hands. As the Commission gets into its stride, its activities should largely be self supporting and self financing. Part II of the Bill, together with the Second and Third Schedules, contains the Commission's powers of acquisition, management and disposal of land. The Commission will be able to buy, by agreement, any land which, in its opinion, is suitable for development. But before a compulsory purchase order can be made, there must be a planning decision indicating that development of the land is appropriate. I have always made it clear that it is no part of the Government's policy to set up the Land Commission as a body to supersede the local planning authorities. The Bill also confers on the Commission comprehensive powers of compulsory purchase which will enable it to acquire any land on which there has been a planning decision, but, until a date appointed by order approved by both Houses, the compulsory powers of the Commission will be limited to the purposes set out in Clause 6(4). The Bill then defines the Commission's activities. The power to buy land compulsorily to secure its early development is needed to make planning more positive. It is also an essential support to the levy. Although the decisive result of the General Election should help, and although I do not think that even the Opposition can deny that the proposed rate of levy is reasonable, we cannot be certain what effect the levy will have on the market, and I want to make it clear that, if there is any risk that sufficient land to maintain the essential building programme would not otherwise reach the builders, the Commission will not hesitate to use its powers to bring forward the land required. Clearly, if we have decided that land owners or land speculators shall not, in future, wholly appropriate the development value largely created by the community, then we must have powers to ensure that development is not frustrated by landowners withholding their land. As I have explained before, if they are needed, these powers will be mainly needed on behalf of the private builders who build houses for owner occupation. Indeed, they will be needed particularly on behalf of the smaller builders. We have been considering the Commission using its powers to bring land forward where it has been withheld. In this case, action by the Commission arises from the failure to act by others. This is, as it were, the Commission acting in default. The Commission, however, need not wait for this. The other purposes for which the Commission can use compulsory purchase are sufficient to enable it to buy land for large-scale comprehensive development, whether it is urban land requiring development or open land requiring major development such as a new town or town expansion, to act on behalf of local authorities, or perhaps groups of local authorities, and to provide land for concessionary disposals for private housing. The power to buy land for development or redevelopment as a whole and the power to act on behalf of local authorities will enable the Commission to acquire the large area, often crossing local authority boundaries, which will be needed increasingly for major expansion schemes. Obviously, the Commission will act in accord with investment and planning policy. It is for this reason that I have amended Clause 1. It is experience in the new towns and among some of the more enlightened local authorities which has demonstrated the advantages which accrue from selective acquisition in advance of development. It certainly makes the implementation of plans easier. Indeed, very often only by unification of ownership is it possible to secure that development takes place in an orderly and co-ordinated fashion. Again, the regional studies have shown the need for substantial development in a number of places throughout the country. Some of this will be achieved by new towns or by major expansion of existing towns undertaken by new town development corporations working in partnership with local authorities. Although new town development corporations have full powers to buy land within the designated areas of the new towns, it will be on occasion for the Commission to undertake the purchase of that land immediately after designation and before the development corporation has become established with sufficient staff to undertake this work itself. In this way, the Commission will be able to accelerate development in these new towns. The regional plans also envisage the release of substantial areas of land for private development. Once the planning authority has determined which land is to be developed, again the Commission can buy and manage the land so that it is released for development in an orderly fashion, and can also, by rearrangement of the agricultural tenancies, ensure the optimum agricultural use up to the last moment when the land is taken for development. Nor is it only a question of urban development. I can think of plenty of stretches of beautiful countryside where the view is spoilt because such development as exists is pepperpotted and the countryside is littered with thinly-spread development. Once more, planning and ownership are out of joint. In such cases, the assembly of land by the Commission could essentially produce compact development, effectively satisfying the social needs and yet blending better with the countryside. So far, I have spoken primarily about the development of open land, but much more needs to be done in the redevelopment of existing towns. Here again, the Commission has a part to play. Many local authorities have started or are contemplating schemes of comprehensive redevelopment of their central areas. We know the difficulties which have been encountered and we can learn from this experience. Again, this is a direction in which the Commission may be able to help the local authorities in the assembly of land. There is, again, the field of renewal, in which so far very little has been done but which has tremendous possibilities—that is, the rehabilitation of twilight areas. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government has started pilot studies. This is another direction in which the Land Commission, in joint partnership with the local authorities and private enterprise, can play a considerable part. Having outlined the scope of the Commission's compulsory purchase powers, I will touch briefly on one or two of the procedural aspects. Clause 8 and the Second Schedule provide a power which, in exceptional circumstances, could enable the Commission to act quickly if owners withheld their land on such a scale as seriously to threaten private development. It necessarily unavoidably involves some curtailment of the landowner's opportunity to elaborate upon his objection, and the Commission will not be able to use it without a Ministerial order, which will be temporary and which could, if necessary, be confined to certain parts of the country. This is very much a reserve power, which would not be invoked unless the Commission were confronted by a serious situation. I said before that I was anxious to limit these emergency powers as much as possible. I am now providing that they will be available for no more than five years from the appointed day unless the period is extended by Parliament. Following a compulsory purchase order, the Commission will normally use the vesting procedure in Clauses 9 and 10 and the Third Schedule. This gives the Commission a good title to land, so that it can safely dispose of it for development without the delays of the normal conveyancing procedure. The settlement of compensation will proceed independently of the vesting and the Commission will, in most cases, be able to pay out without full investigation of the owner's title. Besides simplifying and accelerating land acquisition, this should result—and this is not unimportant—in a considerable saving of legal staff to the Commission. The Commission's management and disposal functions are dealt with in Clauses 12 to 21. The Bill provides the Commission with all the powers needed to enable it to manage land efficiently while it is in its possession, including power to carry out works and including, subject to Ministerial consent, the provision of houses. In disposing of land, the Commission will have the widest discretion. It will be expected to obtain the best price it can—that is, the best price for the use permitted—unless it is disposing of concessionary crownhold or is otherwise authorised by a direction. Clauses 17 to 21 deal with crownhold. The Commission will be enabled under these Clauses to dispose of land freehold or leasehold, subject to such restrictions enabling it to retain the element of value attaching to prospective development other than that for which it is disposing of the land. To repeat the example which I gave previously, the Commission, for instance, may sell freehold a piece of land for the site of a church at a price reflecting the value of the land for a church. The Commission could sell it subject to a covenant forbidding the development of the land for any more profitable purpose. Such a covenant would be a crownhold covenant. It would not only retain for the community the future development value, but it would also enable the Land Commission in such a case, and in other cases of development, to dispose of the land much more cheaply than at present. The second purpose of crownhold is to help prospective owner-occupiers of houses. Clause 18 therefore enables the Commission to dispose of land for housing at a concessionary price. The difficulty in a provision of this kind is to make sure that it benefits the persons for whom it is intended. This is why we have been obliged to make fairly complicated provisions in the Bill. What we have done is to ensure that the Commission can recover, and recover only, the concession that has been made. Clause 18 provides that concessionary crownhold disposals can be made when the land is to be used for houses for the purchaser or to be provided by the purchaser in accordance with arrangements approved by the Commission. They will normally do so to bodies which can effectively ensure that the benefit of the concession is passed on to the occupants of the house, for example, housing associations, co-operative groups and local authorities which are prepared to build houses for sale. Where this is not possible, the Commission itself will have the power, with the consent of the Minister, to provide houses for disposal direct. I have dealt with Parts I and II of the Bill. I next turn to the levy. Part III of the Bill and six of the 13 Schedules provide for a levy at a uniform rate on the development value realised in all land transactions. The levy will normally fall not on the developer, but on the vendor—that is, the person who realises the profit. When the Land Commission buys, it will deduct the levy from the price it pays. The landowner will thus realise the same net amount from the sale of his land whether he is selling to the Land Commission or to anyone else. The levy is a flexible instrument, and can be varied according to the supply of land and the Commission's ability to ensure sufficient land for development. We have already announced that the levy will be at 40 per cent. initially, and that it will be increased progressively to 50 per cent. in a reasonably short time. I am sure that 40 per cent. is a reasonable rate which will not discourage the bringing forward of land to the market. Although the provisions in the Bill are unavoidably complex, the basic ideas are quite simple. There are three basic principles attaching to the levy; first, it will be charged only on development value and not on any increases in the value of the land for its current use; secondly, development value on which levy has already been paid will not be chargeable again; and, thirdly, the levy will be payable by the person who realises the development value. Development vaue will normally be realised by the person who sells the interest in the land, and the levy will be assessed on the actual price paid. A disposition of land by inheritance or gift will not be charged to levy, but, of course, if it were followed by development there would be a charge on the development. The formulae for calculating the development value in each case differ somewhat but, broadly speaking, it is a question of finding either the amount paid or the market value of the land for development and taking from it a base value so that the difference between the two values establishes the development value. The "base value" can be the greater of two alternatives. The first is the value of the land for its current use, without any prospects of more profitable development, plus 10 per cent. The purpose of adding the 10 per cent. is to make the levy to some extent progressive, and thus to encourage the redevelopment of built-up land where the current use value can be very high. The second alternative is simply the price which the vendor himself previously paid for the land he is selling or developing. By providing these alternative base values, the Bill gives effect to the second of the three principles I have mentioned—that is, that an owner is not charged levy on development which has already been paid for. The rest of Part III is largely concerned with the machinery for notifying acts or events which may give rise to levy and for the assessment of levy with provision for reference of disputes over the assessment to the Lands Tribunal, and also with the procedure for payment of levy. Some detailed changes have been made in these provisions in order to simplify them and to meet some of the criticisms which were made when the Bill was first published.
The Minister has just made such an important statement that I would ask him to tell the House at whose option would be decided which value is taken. Would it be the Government's or the vendor's option to decide the base?
The vendor's option.In the case of the disposal of a freehold, or the grant or assignment of a lease, the transactions which must be notified to the Commission are, in fact, transactions for which documents must be submitted to the Stamp Duty Office and Clause 82 and Schedules 10 and 11 will make it possible for the submission of the particulars to the Stamp Duty Office to suffice as notification to the Land Commission, and so avoid any extra burden. The procedure for assessment has also been simplified, and it is now similar to that used for Income Tax. Certain exemptions—largely foreshadowed by the White Paper—are provided in Clauses 56 to 63. In the case of minerals, special adaptations will have to be made. This was done, for example, under the 1947 Act, and power to make regulations has, therefore, been taken under Clause 71. Meanwhile, we are holding discussions with representatives of the mineral interests. As I have said, when the Commission acquires land, it will deduct the levy from the price it pays. Clause 70 provides for this. Here, of course, there is no question of any payment to the Exchequer. The necessary sanctions are contained in Clauses 75 to 77, and Clause 73 and Schedule 9 deal with attempts to evade the levy by transactions between connected persons or by the operation of close companies. I turn now to the one particular provision which is new—Clause 81. During the previous Second Reading debate, two of my hon. Friends referred to the now notorious Lavender Hill case—the case which apparently finally persuaded the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) that part of the development values created by the community should return to the community. Lavender Garden Properties, having bought a plot of land for £7,500, sold it to the London Borough of Enfield for £240,000. But, not satisfied with this, since the borough council later obtained a better planning permission for blocks of flats from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, the company is now claiming, I believe, a further £150,000 under the provisions of Part IV of the Land Compensation Act, 1961. We do not intend to allow this to continue. It is wrong to allow such financial pressures to distort the planning system and to allow land speculators to extort compensation, not by reason of their own efforts but because of increases in value created entirely by the decision of a public authority and because, since they sold the land, circumstances have changed, enabling the land to be used more profitably. Moreover, I have particularly to consider this, because I believe there is a possibility and a risk that the Land Commission, where it buys land in advance, might be subjected to claims for additional compensation if, as circumstances change, planning permission is granted for more valuable development. This would be wholly contrary to the purpose of the Commission. Those are briefly, in outline, the provisions of the Bill. The Bill deals with a problem which no one can deny must be tackled, and tackled effectively. The problem of betterment has been recognised for a long time, but today it has become imperative and urgent because of the removal in 1959 of the last restraints on the market in land for development. Conservative Governments accepted planning, but, as I have said before, only in a bingo Britain, at the cost of land prices and land famine. We have had a lot of mischievous talk about the effect of the Land Commission on the supply of land for development, but the plain truth is that the land famine was already with us, as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government soon found out. And not only, I would emphasise, in the great pressure areas—Birmingham, Liverpool and Sheffield—but generally. In fact, what our debates in this House and outside have revealed, and what was the significance of the last General Election, is the startling disparity in the approach to the problem between the major political parties. As to land for development, it is not true that speculative freedom results in the greater good. On the contrary, our experience in the last few years has taught us, and it has been experience obtained at great expense to the community, that it is not enough to plan land use sensibly unless we also ensure that the land so planned is available for use when it is required, at prices that are equitable and fair to the community which has created the development value. What the Opposition have done by creating the opportunity for their vast windfall profits is to allow landowners to hold the whole planning system to ransom and to frustrate development. Paradoxically, it is the builder, particularly the small builder, who has suffered most. We intend to break this log-jam which is choking urban development and to provide a fair solution to the problem of betterment by establishing the Land Commission, serving both its social and planning objectives. We shall give new dynamism which will make its contribution both to making planning constructive and to ensuring that we can meet the demands which will be made on us for the next few years.
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:
Although this is my maiden speech in opposition, I am sorry that it cannot be non-controversial, much as I appreciate the gracious way in which the Minister welcomed me to these benches. In spite of that, I have not been able to find, certainly not in this Bill and certainly not in his speech, one single redeeming feature. All that has happened between the last Second Reading and this is that the Minister has very wisely eliminated the extraordinary hotch-potch of muddled thinking and political philosophy with which he introduced the Measure on the last occasion. This time—perhaps wisely—he has tried to make it as dull a Bill as possible. So it may be for many hon. Members, but for the country it is a dangerous one with very far-reaching consequences, social as well as economic. For those of us who want to see positive and practical steps taken to increase the rate of building and to improve and speed up the planning process so that we can carry forward necessary programmes of urban and rural development, this is an extremely depressing day. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is for you."] Hon. Members opposite were very excited about the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947. That might have been excused as a noble effort, but no such excuse can be made for a Bill in this day and age equally complex, equally difficult to understand, and equally devoid of real benefit to the country in many of its provisions. Nothing in this Bill, and nothing the Minister has said today or previously, holds out any prospect at all of better planning or faster or cheaper building. On the contrary, I believe that since it is dictated by political rather than practical considerations it represents a savage setback. This will be seen increasingly in the years ahead. Of course, the main objectives set out in the White Paper were calculated to win general nods of approval from the electorate, and perhaps to a certain extent from us all. No one denies the need to see that land is available at the right time for planning purposes. Nor is there any objection in principle to a fresh attempt to devise a means for securing that a substantial part of the development value created by the community returns to the community, provided that what the Government construe as substantial can also be regarded as reasonable, and that depends on the ultimate levy rather than on the initial rate, and also provided that it is understood that not all development value is created by the community. Much of it is created by the owner and the developer. The community can, as we all know, destroy as well as create development value, in which case it might be argued that it then ought to pay the levy itself. Nor can it be otherwise than popular to proclaim as a general objective that reductions in the cost of land should be secured. What is depressing about this Bill to us on this side of the House, and to many people outside, is that it either pursues those objectives in the wrong way, or is calculated positively to hinder their attainment. After the shattering exposure by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), and other hon. Members in the debate which took place in the last Parliament, of its weaknesses and follies I would have hoped that if the Bill was not abandoned at least it would have been substantially modified. Unfortunately, in spite of the references which the Minister made to simplification, it is still pretty difficult to follow. It started with 88 Clauses and eight Schedules. Now its 135 pages contain 97 Clauses and 13 Schedules. It is perhaps not surprising that this morning we received a little note explaining that there had been six errors in drafting. The only thing which is new to which the right hon. Gentleman drew attention is the new Clause 81. No doubt we shall have an opportunity of discussing the implications of that further. A lot hinges on what the Minister means by "changed circumstances". What certainly is undesirable is for public authorities to acquire land for one purpose and then to use it for another if the circumstances have not actually changed. If we are not careful we shall get very near to the Crichel Down case. Up to now I do not believe many people have bothered to look beyond the Government's electioneering promise to make more land available more cheaply. They could, therefore, have deduced that action is being taken simply because legislation is now being introduced. I do not often agree with Mr. Malcolm Muggeridge, but I thought he made a very shrewd observation during the General Election when he wrote in the Daily Mail to the effect that declarations of policy are now often taken by the public as the event itself. So many people think that the Atlantic Nuclear Force is defending us and that the Commonwealth Peace Mission is still operating in Vietnam. It would be an equal delusion to imagine that anyone who wants purposive, dynamic, gritty action to secure the release of land for essential purposes will find it in this Bill. As the Minister said, and he said it twice, it is dynamism that is needed. Really dynamism is needed not in producing more legislation but in taking some competent administrative action for a change. If the Prime Minister had set up the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources with the necessary planning functions as well as the title and the staff, the right hon. Gentleman might have been able to fulfil his duties and occupy his time more usefully. Even so, I believe he might have justified his existence much more if he had given even a tithe of the money required under this Bill to developing natural resources or perhaps to introducing measures to improve the amenities of our National Parks and countryside. As it is, not even the Prime Minister thinks that this Bill justifies the continued existence of the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry. Sooner or later, he is to disappear into the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, which is not a fate which I should wish on anyone at present. The Minister of Housing and Local Government is equally much more preoccupied with legislation than with using the powers that the Government already possess under existing legislation. If these were used wisely and effectively, we should begin to see real improvement. As things are, we are going backwards, not forwards. It was only a year and a half ago that the country had a booming and expanding building industry with a progressive modernisation of techniques. There was an increasing flow of houses. Now there is a decrease in the flow. It was a Conservative Government who laid the foundations for schemes of urban renewal, not only in housing and slum clearance, but also in the rebirth of town centres, servicing at, they do our commerce and industry. We may welcome the new surveys which the right hon. Gentleman told us this afternoon are being carried out, but it was a Conservative Government who initiated the various regional land studies to ensure that sufficient land would be brought forward to support enlarged house-building and other programmes. It was the South-East Study which first provided constructive proposals for dealing with the population explosion in the South-East. We had also the studies for the North and for Scotland. It was a Conservative Government who took steps to ensure that where major developments were in prospect land could be acquired well in advance so as to be made available to both public and private enterprise. So far from increasing the supply of land, there is increasing scarcity at the moment, which is the result of the Government's failure to secure the release of sufficient land under existing planning procedures. The right hon. Gentleman referred to a pamphlet which I and my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield) produced on these matters. My hon. Friend and I pointed out in that pamphlet that the main reason for what is now called the hoarding of land is that sufficient land is not being brought forward under existing planning procedures. What is urgently needed is administrative action by the Government to speed up the revision of development plans, to speed up public inquiries, and to give more expeditious decisions. The Minister of Housing and Local Government has himself admitted that the average time now between the receipt of an appeal involving an inquiry and the Minister's decision is 44 weeks. A year ago it was 32 weeks. What a dreadful way of trying to get the country moving."this House, deeply concerned to secure an increased supply of land for building, while thinking it right that a reasonable charge should be imposed on increased values resulting from the grant of planning permission, declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which seeks to set up a Land Commission which is wholly irrelevant to the collection of a levy and which will reduce and make more expensive the supply of building land, so retarding the housing of the people and essential building programmes."
Is the right hon. Gentleman telling us that it is his view that powers now exist, either at the local level or at the national level, for achieving all that we want in land policy and that all we need to do is to use the existing powers? Is that the point he is making?
Yes, that is virtually the point I am making. If the existing powers were used wisely and sensibly, the Government would be able to do most of the things they require, at any rate up to the first appointed day. After the second appointed day, new considerations apply. I leave on one side for the moment how Part III and the development levy should be dealt with.
The right hon. Gentleman refers to "the existing powers". If all the powers did exist, why when the Conservatives were in office were they not able to deal with the problem of land? Why did they leave us a problem, which we have been having to tackle, of the land famine?
We were progressively dealing with the problem in a way which resulted in a greater housing and building programme. We were producing houses at prices far below the prices which are having to be paid today. If the Government had carried forward our policies, they would be getting progressive improvement. By carrying forward their own policies, they are getting a progressive deterioration.As to town centre development and the acquisition of land in advance of requirement, it is true that the present powers of local authorities are basically adequate if the necessary Ministerial decisions were forthcoming and if the Government had not stopped giving the necessary loan sanctions. If the taxpayer is to find the necessary £45 million to £75 million so that the Commission can start its operations, I suggest that it would be better if the money were given by the Govern- ment to the existing authorities. After all, it was the Minister of Housing and Local Government who himself said on 28th April—
One might add—more money at a more reasonable rate of interest, such as there was under a Conservative Government. The local authorities who have found their loan sanctions for town centre renewals stopped have good reason to agree with this, and they have said so. They have also made it clear that, rather than the addition of yet another authority with massive compulsory purchase powers, they would much prefer a more relaxed attitude on the part of the Government towards land purchase by agreement in advance of requirement. Instead of this administrative and financial action, we are faced with the Bill. It is our conviction that the Bill will make matters worse. It is aimed primarily at juggling the land which is available already. The Commission is to have no planning powers itself. The Bill will not bring down the price of land. It will, indeed, lead to dearer land, dearer housing, and dearer building all round. The Minister has not presented any evidence as to how it will cheapen either land or building. Sir Philip Dingle, the Town Clerk of Manchester, speaking at the conference which was organised by the Town and Country Planning Association on 13th January of this year, said this:"The only limiting factor is the willingness of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make money available. If we were allowed more money we could achieve records in local authority building year by year."—[OFFICAL REPORT, 28th April, 1966; Vol. 727, c. 983.]
There could hardly be a more direct condemnation of the Bill from the local authority point of view than that. Part II deals with the acquisition, management and disposal of land. The conferment of these compulsory purchase powers which are exercisable prior to the second appointed day are certainly unnecessary. The charge made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) in the debate on 31st January that they are almost wholly repetitive of powers already possessed by local authorities has not and cannot be refuted; nor was the Minister of Housing and Local Government, in asking me a question this afternoon, able to suggest that it has been refuted. At the very most, all that is required is minor modifications to the existing powers of existing authorities. Like my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East, I do not accept the argument that the Commission's powers of compulsory purchase are necessary in order that there should be no holding back of land for development. It is the Minister's argument that they are necessary in support of the levy. If the levy were reasonable and were to remain reasonable, it would certainly not be true. They certainly do not justify the setting up of this costly new piece of machinery. In this connection, I would hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, who I imagine will be winding up the debate, will give us much more information than we have had hitherto about the administrative costs of the Commission. Is the figure still £4 million for the cost of administering the Commission, plus the £3 million for the Valuation Office of the Inland Revenue? Is 2,000 still the estimate of the number of staff to be employed? Above all, will the hon. Gentleman break down the estimate of staff so as to show how many valuers and other professional and technical staff will be required? How is it proposed to recruit the staff? What bodies will they be trawled away from? Everybody in the House knows that there is a desperate shortage of skills in the fields of valuation and planning. The shortage is so drastic that the Minister of Housing and Local Government is having to recruit on to his Inspectorate people without any qualifications, either as architects or as surveyors or as planners. Everybody knows as a matter of common knowledge the serious shortage of valuers in the Inland Revenue. If manpower is to be found to start the Land Commission, would it not be better to make it available to the local authorities and other public bodies which already have the main responsibility for development of land? This is a problem which I had to face when I established the National Building Agency, which, be it noted, has pretty well all the powers which are required to give central help in these matters over the whole range of building, both public and private, and not just for housing. It has power, for example, to give a full planning and design service, and the only reason why I said that this would have to be exceptional was that everyone knew that, if it were to have a very large staff to deal with these matters centrally, it would be taking staff away from the local authorities which had their own responsibilities to fulfil. If both Ministers would read the White Paper setting up the National Building Agency, which was approved without dissent by both sides of the House, and, even more, the articles of association, they would understand what can be achieved by administrative action if there is the necessary will and if the necessary finance is made available. If the National Building Agency had even a tithe of the public money which is it proposed to give to the Land Commission, it could make very great progress in these directions. There is no reason why it should not have power to buy land by agreement. If the Ministers set about buying land by agreement in advance of requirements—if they really accept that there ought not to be a two-price system in land and they are prepared to pay market price—they would not find any difficulty. The Minister of Housing and Local Government and the Minister of Land and Natural Resources could consult their colleague the Minister of Public Building and Works about it. I imagine that they are having many consultations at present as they carve up the empire. They would find that the Ministry of Public Building and Works can buy a great deal of land at home and abroad without the excessive compulsory purchase powers contained in this Bill. It is what will happen after the second appointed day which gives us the gravest concern. I wonder whether the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us when the second appointed day is to be. He might even tell us when the first appointed day is to be. This is very relevant, in view of the Government's intention that land transactions taking place after the production of the White Paper on 22nd September will be liable to the proposed levy unless the development is started before the first appointed day. It is the provisions dealing with the acquisition of land after the second appointed day which are so far-reaching and drastic and ought to be carefully examined by the House before the Bill is given a Second Reading. The Commission will have compulsory powers enabling it to acquire, as I understand, any land which is suitable for material development, and this applies to industry just as much as to any other land. In our submission, these provisions are pure doctrinaire Socialism, simply a back-door way, if they are ever applied, to the nationalisation of the land. No less objectionable, in our view, as a threat to individual rights are the provisions of Clauses 8 and 9 and the Second Schedule which give a power of streamlined compulsory purchase. This has already been severely criticised both inside and outside the House, and it is not good enough for the Minister to say that these are reserve powers. They are powers unparallelled except in wartime or in the immediate post-war era, and they ought to be resisted. Before coming forward with exceptional powers of this kind, the Minister ought to have told us more about the emergency cases in which such procedures are to be used. It may well be welcome that they are not to be permanent and will be exercised for only five years, but what are the exceptional cases which will arise in the next five years but will not arise thereafter? What is one to think of the Government's apparent concern for individual rights, which is still leading them, I understand, eventually to appoint an ombudsman, when they introduce a Bill providing for compulsory powers which give the owner no effective power to oppose? I cannot find that any answer has been given inside or outside the House to the direct question put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames to the Minister in the debate on 31st January. Did the right hon. Gentleman consult the Council on Tri- bunals before putting these powers in the Bill? It is a simple straightforward question, and I want the Minister to answer it. I suppose that he does not answer it because he knows that the answer is that he did not consult the Council on Tribunals. In our submission, the denial of individual rights which is inherent in the whole of this streamlined procedure is a complete contradiction of all that was implicit in the Franks Committee's Report which was accepted by both parties at the time. We can draw our own conclusions from the Minister's silence. Another objectionable feature of Part II is the provisions in Clauses 17 to 21 for the establishment of the new form of land tenure, crownhold, to which the Minister briefly referred. This also has been the subject of fierce criticism both inside and outside the House, and the criticism has never been answered. It is impossible to reconcile this new form of tenure with the proposed Bill for leasehold enfranchisement. But what we ought to pay particular attention to is what happens when the Land Commission makes what the Minister calls its concessionary crownhold dispositions under Clause 17. Normally, as he says, the Land Commission, as one would expect and as other public bodies have to do, must, according to Clause 16, sell the land at the best price it can obtain. But, apart from such cases as the sale of land to a church to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, the main exception to this, and the one which is really important, is that it can dispose of land below the market value under Clause 18 to local authorities or other bodies to build houses for sale or, alternatively, it can build them itself for sale with the Minister's approval. The purchasers will then be able to acquire these houses at concessionary rates."There is nothing in the Land Commission Bill which will benefit local authorities. They stand to lose their staffs, to have to pay more for their land, to find it quite impossible to increase their targets for new housing and consequently for slums demolished."
I wish I could answer. I wish the Minister would answer. What he said is that we must make sure that it benefits the persons intended. Who are the persons intended? How are they to be selected? What qualifications will they have to have? Above all, what happens when the new owner-occupiers come to sell their houses? To ensure that such an owner-occupier does not cash in on his benefit—which the Minister says must be avoided at all costs—there will have to be a chain of controls over a very long period which will, in effect, create a two-price system in houses. Yet the Minister, quite rightly, says that two-price systems are to be avoided. At the end of the day, it will be the freehold owner who can sell his house at the market price. By that time, the now luckless crownholder may have to sell his house back at well below its market value and well below what is necessary to enable him to buy a freehold house elsewhere. The Minister has given no adequate explanation of how this new power is to be worked without detriment to a great many people.Summarising the effect of Part II, in our submission, the powers which it gives to the Land Commission either are unnecessary as they duplicate existing powers or are contrary to the national interest and injurious to the community in both the economic and the social sense and, what is no less important, in the realm of personal freedom and individual rights. If there is justification for the establishment of the Land Commission for the purposes of Part II, there is certainly no justification for the purposes of Part III and the betterment levy. The levy is essentially a form of taxation, and the Government have completely failed to justify the creation of the Land Commission for the purpose of assessing and collecting what is, in effect, a capital gains tax on development values. I do not need on this occasion to rehearse the powerful arguments advanced by my right hon and hon. Friends on the Second Reading debate in January that this part of the Bill ought to be in a Finance Act. What concerns me first at the moment is that to begin to understand the incidence and the assessment of the levy, whoever collects it and whatever its theoretical merits, requires a comprehensive examination of 53 Clauses and more than 40 pages of Schedules. This is what we shall find. That is why I say that this is as bad a Bill as certain provisions of the 1947 Act. To explain the Bill will require a dozen text books, all of at least 500 pages, to say nothing of hundreds of papers that will be delivered to every sort of learned society, and several score of cases before the Lands Tribunal, a number of which will eventually land up in the House of Lords. My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South wrote an erudite article in the Estates Gazette on 26th February. He pointed out that it appeared from the original Bill that there were 15 separate operations which were required in Case A in order to assess the levy payable on an assignment of sale of a tenancy even if the tenancy was only for a year and a day. Even when all these Clauses and Schedules have been studied and applied, and that calls for considerable ingenuity, there will still be a great many important matters which will be left to be dealt with by regulation. That is a thoroughly bad practice in a taxing Statute, and one that can only make matters worse for the unfortunate valuers, whether public or private, who will have to find their way through this new welter of chaotic verbiage. Is it really to be one of the achievements of the Government in modernising Britain that we are to have taxation through regulation? Quite apart from the uncertainties which are created by leaving tax matters to regulation, there are two other major objections that we have to the provisions of Part III. First, in Clauses 27 and 28 the rate of levy is left to Ministerial Order. The fact that affirmative Order procedure has to be followed does not make this a right or proper way of levying tax. According to the White Paper, and according to the Minister's statement today, it is the Government's intention to prescribe by Order an initial rate of 40 per cent., which is described as a modest rate leaving ample incentive to owners to offer their land for redevelopment. If that is so, it strengthens the case for keeping entirely separate compulsory powers and assessment of levy. But it is also the Government's intention to increase the rate progressively to 45 per cent. and then to 50 per cent. at reasonably short intervals. Perhaps the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary will say how short those intervals are to be. But apparently this is not to be the limit. The White Paper says that the question of increasing the rate still further will be examined as acquisitions by the Commission increase. There ought to be a limit which should be clearly stated in the Bill, and it ought to be no higher in any circumstances than 50 per cent. It is also objectionable that, after setting out this whole series of what are called "chargeable acts and events" in Cases A to E, there is also Case F which concerns further acts or events which may occur to the Minister in the future. It would be almost impossible to get further away from the general principle—although it has been quite seriously undetermined already—that a tax should be certain in its incidence, cheap to collect and simple. Before any tax is levied, there ought to be a clear estimate of what will be the yield. The Financial Memorandum still says no more than that:
That is a manifestly fictitious figure. After the experience of the Minister of Aviation today, I will not talk about fraud, but that is a manifestly fictitious figure. Also, much of the amount collected would have come in any event by way of short or long-term Capital Gains or Corporation Tax. The Minister has persistently refused—he has maintained the same attitude today—to give any information about the net yield. Yet it is the net yield which is clearly the relevant figure. I would quote Sir Philip Dingle at the Town and Country Planning Association Conference. The Minister can say whether he is wrong. Sir Philip said:"The gross yield of the levy is estimated at £80 million in a full year, on the basis of a 4 per cent. levy."
Indeed, since, as the Minister said, the purpose is to levy a tax on the realisation of development values, I should have thought that he would have given more consideration than he has done to the arguments put to him in the last Parliament. It would be much simpler and better to have this in a finance Act, perhaps to build on the provisions of the Finance Act, 1962, by taxing profits on land and property transactions as they are realised. In short, before this House can decide—and it must decide itself—we are entitled to have a good deal more information about the Bill, its yield and its operation than the Minister has so far been willing, or perhaps able, to give us. In a sense, I can understand his difficulty. The method of assessment adds to the general uncertainty. Under Clause 37 every single land transaction will have to be notified to the Commission, which will have to scrutinise it to see, first how much, if any, levy is payable, and, secondly, what the position is in regard to Capital Gains Tax. It may be that years will pass before it is known whether any levy is payable, and how much. It is not surprising that the Commission is given six years in which to do this. That will no doubt ensure full employment for the staff which it is able to recruit. But there is not much else in the Bill which is of any conceivable benefit to the people. The best that the Minister could say about it was that:"The product of the betterment levy is estimated at £80 million a year but sooner or later the Government could get three quarters of this, i.e. £60 million, by means of the Capital Gains Tax and, indeed, sooner or later a lot more from death duties. The Land Commission is to cost £7 million a year. We must all ask ourselves 'Is it worth it viewed from a national standpoint?' Personally I doubt whether the £80 million will be achieved because all loan sanctions for town centre renewal have been stopped since the end of July. We in local government—bearing in mind that we are going to lose our quinquennial valuations of rating and are exchanging a higher level of land prices for some financial assistance which is going to be given 'in one way or another' some day, may have extra reasons for asking 'Is it worth it?'."
Even that memorable statement is open to question. Of course, it will eventually be understood in outline by a limited number of people who have to make the supreme effort. There are many of us who will have to make that supreme effort to understand it. Other people will normally do it only for a suitable fee, and probably a high fee, which is one of the things that will be added on to the cost of land for housing and so on. In due course the experts will be able to reel off a string of new jargon about crownhold, disposition, chargeable acts and events, projects of material development, and so on, and they will wait for the Lands Tribunal and the courts to show that they have got it wrong. It defies common sense that they should have to do this. At the end of the day when we have made sense, or some sort of sense, of the 135 pages of verbiage of which the Bill is composed, not a single thing will have been added to human happiness or human progress. In truth, this is a dreadful Bill. In a field where there ought to be widespread agreement on objectives and on the measures to secure them, the Government have created an endless prospect of dissension, bitterness and strife, and, what may be worst of all—because Governments can survive the first three—an endless prospect of confusion. I believe that only a Minister who was born in a pigeonhole could be proud of fathering this Measure, and only the little gnomes of Transport House who now scurry around the corridors of Whitehall could have swaddled it in so much red tape. Therefore, I hope that the House will refuse tonight to give a Second Reading to a Measure which is so doctrinaire in its conception, so vicious in its provisions and so futile in its presentation, a Measure which will not provide an extra acre of land, a penny of savings or a single new building."with care and attention it is intelligible."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st January, 1966; Vol. 723, c. 712.]
Before the right hon. Gentleman resumes his seat, perhaps he could clarify one point. I have listened with great care and attention and have sympathy with much of his argument. But is he saying, in effect, that the only thing needed to stop land racketeering is a small betterment charge or an alteration in the Capital Gains Tax?
I think that it is two things. First, there should be speeding up of the whole planning process and proper administrative and financial action within the framework of existing legislation. Secondly, the question of the levy could better be dealt with in the way we suggest—perhaps by a straightforward addition to the Finance Act, 1962.
It is, I believe, customary for new Members in their maiden speeches to refer to their predecessors and their constituencies and I hope that I may, therefore, have the indulgence of the House if I do not follow the right hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon). My predecessor, Sir Hamilton Kerr, represented my constituency for some 16 years. He was not defeated at the polls, since he decided not to seek re-election. It was the party opposite that was defeated.As a constituent of his during, I think, the whole of the time that he represented Cambridge in this House, I always found him extremely considerate and attentive to representations made to him, including representations which I myself made to him either in my personal capacity or as representing the local authority. We were particularly grateful for his efforts to impress upon two successive Ministers of Housing and Local Government the need to end the anomaly whereby the Oxford and Cambridge colleges were treated as charitable institutions like Dr. Barnardo's and consequently paid only half the rates due on their rateable value, even though this meant that many of these colleges spent more on entertaining than they did in contributing to the cost of local services. We were grateful when my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government decided, shortly before the election, to end this anomaly, particularly since it enabled my local authority to cut the rate for this year by 1d. Most right hon. and hon. Members will no doubt be familiar with my constituency, or at any rate with part of it the colleges and the University of Cambridge—and may, indeed, have spent some three or four of the most impressionable years of their lives there. Whether, reading this morning's newspapers, it is likely that the association between Members of this House—particularly those whose children have been sent to public schools—with the two ancient universities, will be quite as close in future is, I suppose, an open question. I think that perhaps hon. Members may not be so familiar with the remainder of my constituency and with some of its rather peculiar problems on which this Bill will have considerable bearing. One of the problems of my constituency is that, for nearly 20 years, there has been a ban on further local industry and a ceiling on the population of the City of Cambridge. This policy has been pursued in the supposed interests of the university, although I do not myself believe that it is in the interests of the university and I doubt whether many senior members of the university now think that it is. It has had the effect of excluding science-based firms which would be particularly well sited in a university city, and it has had the effect, so it is believed locally—and there is some evidence of it—of depressing local wages. We should like to see this policy changed. We are grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government for insisting that the policy of limiting the population and of excluding new firms that is to say, those likely to employ more than five people, which, in effect, means all firms—should be re-examined. We hope that this will mean that there will be a change in policy, the ban lifted and that at any rate some further light industrial firms will be introduced into the constituency. If we are successful in obtaining such a change of policy, it will, of course, involve some expansion in the city and additional land will be required for development. Without the Bill, it will be very difficult indeed for the local authority in my constituency to acquire the land except at exorbitant cost. I appreciate, of course, that the problem of rising land prices is a national problem which affects nearly all constituencies in the country. In my own constituency, the cost of building land has risen very greatly since the dismantling of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, particularly during the years from 1958 to 1964, when the local cost of building land rose from between £500 and £1,000 an acre to between £5,000 and £20,000 an acre and over. I therefore greatly welcome, and I believe that my constituents will welcome, the proposal to set up a Land Commission with power to acquire building land at less than its present inflated price and to make it available for housing and other purposes. I also welcome the betterment levy on the development value of land resulting from planning permission to develop and also from public expenditure, such as expenditure on street lighting, schools and new roads. The betterment levy will not, of course, itself reduce the price of land but neither, I believe, should it increase the price, since land is already being sold at the most that the developer or, in the last resort, the purchaser, is prepared to pay. To argue otherwise—and it is argued otherwise—is to say that landowners at the present time are forgoing increased payments which they could secure if they tried, and I do not believe that this is the case. But I regret, nevertheless, that the rate of betterment levy and, consequently, the price at which the Commission will buy building land, means that, even at the higher rate of 50 per cent. levy, land will still be sold for many times its current use value, with a great deal of the capital appreciation created by the community through the giving of planning consent and by public development remaining in the hands of those who have done nothing to create it. The White Paper on the Land Commission gives as an example agricultural land worth £300 an acre whose value is increased to £3000 an acre by the grant of planning permission for housing development. A 50 per cent. betterment levy, the higher rate mentioned in the Bill, on the difference of £2,700 would mean that the Commission would still have to pay £1,650 an acre for land with a current-use value of only £300, and that is five times as much. Even after payment of levy at the higher 50 per cent rate, the owner would still be left with a capital gain of £1,350 for every acre for which he had presumably paid only £300, and I see no moral or social justification for that. In conclusion, I wish to refer to a matter which is understandably not dealt with in the Bill, although it is connected, a matter which has caused considerable dissatisfaction at least in parts of my constituency. If, as I believe, there is a good case for not allowing owners of land to make an untaxed capital gain as a result of the value of their property being enhanced by planning decisions and development, there is an equally good case for not expecting owners, particularly owners of houses, to bear a capital loss as a result of their property being depreciated by planning decisions or development. This is the other side of the coin from that with which the Bill deals. What happens in some cases is either that the owner's compensation is inadequate, or no compensation at all is payable. Where a house or the site of a house is required for some public development, say, the construction of a new road, the owner of the house is paid the market value together with some sum for disturbance; but the compensation which he requires and the compensation to which he is entitled is the replacement cost of the house, namely, the cost of buying another similar house, neither better nor worse, and this may not be the same as the market value. Where the replacement cost is higher than the market value, the owner is expected to bear a capital loss. If the moral and social grounds underlying the Bill are good, there is an equally good argument for not allowing an owner in such a case to bear a capital loss. In other cases, however, the value of a house may be lowered by a planning decision, or some development such as the construction of a new road, without any part of the property having to be acquired. In these cases, no compensation is generally payable—it is in some circumstances—and the owner, therefore, stands to bear a capital loss, due to the depreciation of his property, without any recompense from those who stand to gain from his loss, which is an insupportable position. That, too, is the other side of the coin with which the Bill deals. I appreciate that this is a difficult problem with considerable ramifications and that any amendment of the law, which, I understand, is the Land Clauses Act, might result in local authorities being faced with heavy claims for compensation from owners whose property is devalued by some planning decision or by some public development. However, I hope that my right hon. Friend will give the matter some consideration, because if, as I believe, the social grounds for the Bill are well founded, there is equally a good case for reconsidering the present position whereby some owners of property are expected to bear a capital loss.
I, too, wish to take advantage of this first opportunity to address the House, for which I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to pay a tribute to my predecessor, Lady Gammans. In doing so, and I know that it would be her wish, I should like also to mention her husband, the late Sir David Gammans, also a former Member for Hornsey and a former Assistant Postmaster-General. No doubt there are many yardsticks in the House by which the value and worth of a Member are judged, but to my mind the most conclusive are the warmth and affection with which a Member's name is known in his own constituency. Together, Sir David and Lady Gammans brought help and comfort to countless constituents. It will be no surprise to hon. Members to hear that today it is impossible to go about the streets of Hornsey without meeting people one after the other who say how much they owe to the Gammanses. In 25 years the names of Gammans and Hornsey have become virtually synonymous.During those 25 years, Hornsey has experienced many and profound changes. It has suffered processes which are relevant to any discussion of land shortage, or the cost of land. Hon. Members are no doubt aware that Hornsey is an inner suburb of Greater London, a dormitory area which saw its most rapid development just before the turn of the century. Before that development took place, there was to be found on what is now the western boundary of the constituency the village of Highgate with many buildings dating back to Cromwellian times and commanding the northern route out of London. Some two miles to the east of that village was to be found another rural hamlet, Hornsey. Between the two villages rolled the fertile and wooded slopes of the Middlesex hills. As our railway system began to develop and to spread outwards from the centre of London, bringing Highgate and Hornsey to within minutes of the centre, row after row of Victorian and Edwardian houses followed one another over those hills and slopes. By 1884, the first steam cable tramway in Europe was groaning its way to the top of Highgate Hill and the merchants and bankers and men of business who bought those houses, most of them on leasehold tenure—and on that hangs another debate, I feel sure—were the earliest commuters, although theirs was a very pleasant and agreeable commute. Travel is another frustration and grievance of my constituents. The most pressing problem of all which we have in Hornsey is that of housing, of land shortage and of land cost. It arises directly from what I have been trying to describe—the age, the size and the character of the houses which form my constituency and their nearness to the centre of London. Hornsey is more than vulnerable to the great pressure on land space which is being exerted on London from outside during the post-war years. The increase in multi-occupation, with all the attendant social evils, is more marked in my constituency than virtually anywhere else in the Greater London area, as Milner Holland has demonstrated. One in five of the households in Greater London shared dwellings in 1961. In that year the figure for Hornsey was one in two. In the Greater London area, in the same year 8 per cent. of the dwellings were sub-divided. In Hornsey the figure was one in three. Between 1951 and 1961 there was a 20 per cent. increase in the number of dwellings split into three or more units. This process is continuing and accelerating. With the maintenance of high mortgage and interest rates, with the phenomenal rise in the rate burden—over 60 per cent. in two years—more and more owner-occupiers have been compelled to let off rooms in order to keep themselves out of debt. So multi-occupation increases. As this demand and these densities increase, so does the cost of land, and upwards of £40,000 an acre for residential land is not an extraordinary figure to pay. These are the problems facing my constituents, and which I have in mind when I turn to this Bill. I am disappointed in what I read. There are two main purposes in the Bill, as I understand it. One is to reduce the cost of land and the other is to make more land available for redevelopment—both plausible purposes. How is this to be done? We are to have, first of all, a levy. Secondly, we are to set up an entirely new Government Department to acquire and redevelop land. So far as the levy is concerned, I am afraid that I fail to see how any oncost will reduce the price. Taxation is one thing. By all means have a tax on profit. We have a precedent for a tax on capital gains as well as on income. But a levy on value of land is something entirely different and something that can only be passed on to the consumer. Again, with the Land Commis- sion I believe that the proper agencies for the redevelopment of land are the local authorities. If their powers are not sufficient, then Parliament can extend them. If their finances are not sufficient, Parliament can supply their needs. The Minister mentioned a little earlier that pilot schemes were to be set up, operating between the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and local authorities, to study the problem of redevelopment of twilight areas. Some years ago the Borough of Hornsey carried out a survey of its entire area, and brought forward imaginative schemes for a comprehensive redevelopment of these twilight areas. It adopted industrialised building methods—one of the first authorities in the Middlesex area to do so—in order to accelerate the rate of this redevelopment. But its plans were hampered and frustrated through the crowning problem, that of decanting families from its redevelopment areas when the remainder of its area was already highly developed and densely populated. The problem was not one of acquisition and management of the land, but of population pressure. It is the same problem which is at the basis of our high land costs. The Government should be looking for a solution to this problem. It will not help to set up an entirely new agency to acquire land in competition with the local authorities, at a cost of £7 million to the taxpayer. The measures which the Government can take are indicated in the South East Survey. We want more new towns, more expanded towns, encouragement in the resiting of industry and commerce, the creation of attractive regional centres to remove the magnetism from London and focus it elsewhere, so that this pressure is relieved. This is the direction in which the Government should be devoting their attention. While their intentions appear to be most laudable, I feel that they have entirely missed the point. They are producing an impracticable solution, a measure unrelated to the causes of the programme, certainly so far as they affect my constituency. I regard it as a great pity that Parliamentary time should be occupied by Measures such as this.
I hope that the House will grant to me the indulgence that it normally grants to Members speaking for the first time. I count it a privilege to be here, and particularly to follow the previous Member for Rushcliffe, Sir Martin Redmayne, who served that constituency for 16 years. I am sure that as a Government Chief Whip and an important Front Bench spokesman, he commanded considerable respect. I know that that is only part of the respect due to him, and rightly so, by people in my constituency. Sir Martin served the people of Rushcliffe very well indeed.While I cannot claim to share his political views, I hope that during the time that I am in Parliament I can continue the very good service which he gave to everyone in my constituency. Rushcliffe is not an unusual constituency except perhaps in so far as the Boundary Commissioners, in their wisdom, divided it in half by the River Trent, and made it impossible for any kind of political organisation to function effectively. It is not unusual in the sense that it consists of a large and growing urban district, surrounded on the north by a part of the Nottingham coalfield and on the south by a large rural area. In a sense it represents in microcosm the British electorate as a whole. For the purpose of this debate it shares with the rest of the country another basic and very important problem—a desperate poverty in the resources available for use in the public sector. It matters little in which direction we look. Consider the environment in which we live, or, as perhaps some people would say, have to suffer. We live in a beautiful island, but long years of the immediate pursuit of immediate financial gain have left us with an environment which is often at worst downright sordid and at best quite often shabby. Faced with the kinds of problems that that environment leaves, too often our local authorities are unable to cope. It is true that one can look round and see fine examples of planned environment, with new towns and new neighbourhood units in old towns. We have one or two such proud places to show in Rushcliffe, but the point is that far too many of them are exceptions, and they are remarkable because they are exceptions. They are written up in the learned architectural and town and county planning journals, and they make the headlines in the national newspapers because they are exceptions. The environment in which most of us live is a very poor one. We are very short of resources when we come to look at the range of social and community services which are available in most localities, when we look at the poverty in our health and welfare services and at the shortage of facilities for whole ranges of people, whether we talk about welfare services for the old, for the young or for the mentally handicapped. The House will forgive me when I say that I tended to smile wryly when right hon. and hon. Gentlemen were debating at length the virtues of various types of military aircraft costing millions of pounds, because I was considering how difficult it is to get someone who is mentally handicapped into a training centre, and how difficult it is to raise the odd thousand pounds which would be necessary to build a new youth club or create a new playing field. We can see that poverty worst of all when we consider some of the basic community services which are needed. We see private commercial and housing development going ahead apace, while the basic community services lag far behind. There are those cynics in the village in which I live who suggest that there is some sort of unholy working arrangement between the manager of the local water board and the officials responsible for sanitation. The manager of the water board ensures that there is only a trickle of water coming out of one's bathroom taps in order to maintain the situation in the already grossly overloaded sewerage system. I do not suggest that that is the fault of those responsible for the administration of local government. The responsibility clearly lies with us, because we have accepted a system of local government finance which belongs in the age of the Poor Law. We have devoted too little investment in the public sector in terms of social capital. There is a point of view which is much too prevalent and which believes that public spending is in itself wholly bad and private spending is wholly virtuous. But, most of all, the situation arises because, as my right hon. Friend says, most planning has to be negative, since local authorities lack both the resources and the command of the basic factor in those resources, land. I welcome the Bill because I believe that it is morally right that those who reap capital gains from the decisions and from the social investment undertaken by local authorities should contribute very much more to the social capital that is available and needed to do the kinds of things a about which I have been talking. I believe that it is also important that we have the kind of planning machinery which enables us to plan our whole environment. I do not share the fears expressed by hon. Gentlemen opposite. My fear is that the rate of levy proposed may be much too small and that the powers given to the Land Commission will be much too weak. I am speaking quite seriously when I beg to doubt whether we can tackle the problems of urban renewal, plan a sensible environment and come to terms with reports like the Buchanan Report in the context of private ownership of urban land. The Bill has been called a bad one. I regard it as one of the most radical Bills ever presented in the House. If I may express a personal view, I am sorry that there are not many more of my hon. Friends here to see this radical Bill go through its Second Reading. Some of the kinder newspapers have suggested that this is going to be a great reforming Parliament. I hope and believe that they are right and that we are now in the first stage of an era of great reform. I hope that it will be followed by a radical look at the finance and organisation of English local government. At the same time, in the lifetime of this Parliament, I hope that we shall see the growth of sensible and democratic systems of regional government. If I can see those things come in the lifetime of this Parliament, I shall feel privileged to have been a member of it.
It falls to me for the first time in my experience as a Member of the House to have the privilege of congratulating three successive and highly successful maiden speakers.If I may venture into the controversial, not being debarred in that way, I will say how delighted I was that all three of them gave clear illustration that they did not wholly accept what I think is the somewhat outworn convention that a maiden speech should be wholly impartial and uncontroversial. I thought that all three speeches gained from the fact that the three hon. Members, apart from the very proper courtesy that they showed to the House, addressed themselves, from their own point of view and without fearing to enter into controversy, to the issues that arise in the Bill. The success which all three speeches had owes a great deal to that. The House appreciated the tributes paid by all three hon. Members to their predecessors. It so happens that all three of them are old friends of mine, but I think that all hon. Members felt that those tributes were very properly paid, particularly that of the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Robert Davies) to the powerful efforts which Sir Hamilton Kerr made in the matter of the rating problem of the colleges. I would only say to the hon. Member for Cambridge, with his determined advocacy of the expansion of his lovely city, that I hope that he will remember the warning of my own university of Oxford where other policies were pursued and where it has now become only too true to describe it as the Latin Quarter of Cowley. The hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) referred rightly to both his predecessors. I think that the House has very warm memories of Lady Gammans and of the courageous way in which she stepped into the breach after the sudden death of her husband, and of Sir David Gammans, whom those of us who were in the 1945 Parliament will remember as one of the most formidable opponents of the Government of the day. The tribute of the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Gardner) to Sir Martin Redmayne—a deeply admired Chief Whip, which is a very difficult thing to be—was very much appreciated, as was his own most effective contribution dealing with the problems of his constituency. Now may I turn to the Minister? The right hon. Gentleman referred to a speech which I made when we were considering the Bill a few months ago as being full of rhetorical fallacies. No one would accuse the right hon. Gentleman of having indulged in rhetoric this afternoon. His speech might have been a little more entertaining had he done so. The House realises that the right hon. Gentleman was speaking under very real difficulties, because, first, it is extremely difficult to move for the second time the Second Reading of what is substantially the same Bill after an interval of only three months, and, secondly, as we heard from the Prime Minister this afternoon, the right hon. Gentleman is in a very curious position. According to the Prime Minister, the right hon. Gentleman is in the process of being merged—or is it perhaps submerged?—in the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. Indeed, the Prime Minister told us that some of his staff have already moved. At times it seemed as though that included the member of the staff who writes the right hon. Gentleman's speeches, because there were a number of obvious gaps in his speech, no doubt explicable for this reason. There the right hon. Gentleman stood, his Department dissolving around him, the Casabianca of Whitehall, desperately trying to convince the House, without, of course, the aid of rhetorical fallacies, of the value of the Bill. In those circumstances, it was understandable that, instead of trying to make a case for the Bill, the right hon. Gentleman, both at the beginning and end of his speech, devoted himself to what he thought was the more agreeable task of denouncing the housing policies of successive Conservative Governments, and denouncing what he called "Bingo Britain"—a phrase which I suggest is not particularly fresh or novel. It is significant, particularly perhaps to those who talk about bingo Britain, that it is the manufacturers of bingo equipment who are to receive a subsidy under the Government's Selective Employment Tax, while such a sober occupation as the building of houses is to be subjected to taxation. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will reflect for a moment before he uses that particular metaphor again. After all, whatever he may say about the periods of Conservative Government, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) said, in that period we built more houses than had ever been built in this country, and, judging from the record of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Housing and Local Government, will be built until we get another Conservative Government. The Bill, no doubt for the reasons which I have mentioned, is singularly ill-drafted. We had the first set of Amendments circulated to us this morning, and there will no doubt be a series of them during the next few weeks and months. Being desirous, as always, to help the right hon. Gentleman, I set about redrafting the Long Title, and perhaps I might help the right hon. Gentleman by suggesting that instead of the rather neutral, somewhat confused language we see in the Long Title, it should read:
We now know that the main purpose of this Measure is the nationalisation of land. In the last Parliament, when the Government had a majority of three or four, and the right hon. Gentleman was necessarily very sensitive about the attitude of hon. Gentlemen sitting on the second bench below the Gangway, this was denied. In his Second Reading speech the right hon. Gentleman said:"A Bill to provide for the nationalisation of land, to increase the cost of housing, to diminish the rights of the citizen, to impose complicated taxation, to set up a large and expensive bureaucracy, and for purposes connected thereto."
That is all very well, but the Prime Minister has let the cat out of the bag. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman recalls the Prime Minister's speech at Chiswick during the General Election, when he said:"I am told that I am introducing a subtle form of creeping nationalisation. Again, this is nonsense."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st January, 1966; Vol. 723, c. 697.]
"Taking into public ownership" is the precise synonym for "nationalization", and, whatever the right hon. Gentleman may have said when he was sensitive about hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, there we had the Prime Minister telling a public meeting—devoting a large part of that speech, which I understand contained most agreeable references to myself, to the statement —that land was to be nationalised. The right hon. Gentleman would do better to admit that this is a Bill whose major purpose is the nationalisation of a large part of the land of this country. This is, of course, the explanation of what, after the demonstration of the confusion of this Measure which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham gave so well earlier this afternoon, is an otherwise inexplicable Measure. This is a nationalisation Bill."So far as the land question is concerned, we said we would take the urban building land on which planning permission has been granted into public ownership. That is what the Land Commission will do …".
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the sensitiveness of the previous Administration to my colleagues on this bench. Would he not agree that we opposed the Second Reading of the Bill at least as vigorously as his own party did?
I am delighted to pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for that. It was the more courageous, because the sensitiveness of the right hon. Gentleman was due to the fact that at that time the noble Lord, Lord Wade, wrote a letter to The Times, from which it appeared that Lord Wade was under the illusion that this was not a nationalisation Bill, but the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), unlike his noble Friend, was not taken in by that. I am very glad to be able to clear that up and pay a proper tribute to the hon. Gentleman.This is the third time that this Bill has appeared in the Queen's speech, and the second time that it has had a Second Reading, or will have if the House gives it one tonight. As the right hon. Gentleman admitted, it is basically the same Bill, except that, like everything that this Government touch it has been subjected to the processes of inflation. Three months have produced nine more Clauses, and five more Schedules—quite a rapid rate of growth since January—but the arguments put forward, the pretexts put forward, are still the same, and I should like to deal with those. First, it is a means of raising the levy as a form of tax. We on this side of the House say quite firmly that the Inland Revenue is perfectly competent to do that. At no stage in our discussions has the right hon. Gentleman disputed the competence of the Inland Revenue to perform this task. He knows that not even the Commission can perform it without using the machinery of the Inland Revenue, particularly in respect of valuation. Secondly, we are told—the Prime Minister said this outside the House—it is to help planning, that it is necessary for the proper planning of our land. The right hon. Gentleman knows that the proposed Commission has no planning powers of any sort or kind, that these remain, and rightly remain, with local authorities and the Minister of Housing. Then we are told that it is to enable land to be compulsorily purchased when it is needed. Is it really disputed that local authorities, the central Government, the new town corporations, the whole variety of official organisations in this country, possess an adequate collection of compulsory purchase powers? If it is suggested that these powers are inadequate, surely, instead of setting up a new body to exercise rights of compulsory purchase, the simplest thing would be to make whatever necessary adjustments are required in the law of compulsory purchase? The existing organisations understand these things. Sometimes they make mistakes, but they are going concerns which understand the working of compulsory purchase, and the need for compulsory purchase—which no one disputes in proper cases—can surely be properly met by the experienced bodies which already possess these powers? The advantage of many of these bodies is that, unlike the Land Commission, they are answerable to somebody. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite are answerable to the House, elected local authorities are responsible and answerable to their electors. When one is taking great powers of compulsory purchase—and let no one underrate the seriousness of taking any man's land from him compulsorily—surely there are advantages in having those powers exercised by responsible, elected bodies which can be called to account at once, rather than fix a body like this, which, as someone once said, having neither a bottom to be kicked nor a soul to be saved, is subject to neither of the normal sanctions of decent conduct. The right hon. Gentleman still seems to cherish the illusion that the imposition of a tax will not increase the price of land; indeed, he goes further. He suggests that it will decrease it. This is an important argument, but I understand that it is liable to such interruption that if, at the moment, I am indulging in oratorical water-treading, I hope that I shall not incur the displeasure of the Chair—because this is the nub of the hon. Member's argument—
Message to attend the Lords Commissioners:
The House went:—and, having returned;
Mr. SPEAKER reported the Royal Assent to:
Guyana Independence Act, 1966.
Land Commission Bill
Question again proposed, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question.
As I was saying, when the interruption came from another place, the right hon. Gentleman relied again this afternoon, as he did on the last occasion, on the argument in favour of his proposition that the effect of the Measure would be to lower rather than to increase land prices, that, in any event, the sellers of land obtained the highest price which they could get. Therefore, he argued, the imposition of a substantial tax on top of that would not further increase the price. If that argument were valid, it would go far beyond land. If it were valid, increases in Purchase Tax would not increase the price of clothing, jewellery or motor cars.Yet it is our experience in this House—indeed we have devoted considerable debates to this precise issue—that increases in indirect taxation on something sold increase the price either to the precise amount of the tax increase or, very often, by more. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is not present. The reason for the fallacy in his argument is that what helps to determine the price of anything, whether it be land or a pair of galoshes, is what other people are charging, the consideration of whether, by raising one's price any higher, one loses one's market and does not get a sale. If, right across the field, by imposing a tax on every comparable article, one increases the cost to the seller, one gets a general rise right across the field in the price which is demanded. That, after all, is the experience of any of us—there are many—who have any experience of taxation, that it is absolutely axiomatic that the increases in indirect taxation on an article inflate the price of the article to the purchaser. There is no miracle at the right hon. Gentleman's disposal to prevent this from happening to land. That is why I said on the last occasion and will say today that, whatever else the proposal does, it will increase the price of land. So, of course, will the introduction of another middle man, the Land Commission, between the vendor of land and the developer. There are, inevitably, costs involved in that which will be passed on to the purchaser. Therefore, it is a real imposition on the credibility of our people to suggest that any relief from rising land prices will be obtained by putting a tax on land and channelling its sale through the Land Commission. The right hon. Gentleman will not face the fact that the high prices of land which have worried all of us are the direct consequence of the operation of the law of supply and demand, of the operation of a powerful demand on a limited supply and that the answer must be to increase the supply. The Parliamentary Secretary may ask, "How do you increase the supply of land?" The answer is that it is not simply land which is required but land with planning permission. Therefore, it is to the planning system that the right hon. Gentleman should look in order to increase the supply of land for building and development. It is only by expediting planning procedures that the right hon. Gentleman could increase the supply as against the demand and therefore cope with the problem of prices. In that context, it was depressing to note that, the other day in the debate on the Address, the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Housing and Local Government said, rather lightheartedly and airily, that he would not mind a Select Committee of hon. Members looking at the planning and appeals system. Surely, if the right hon. Gentleman and the Government were doing their job, that is what they would be doing. They would be dealing with what they admit to be increasing delays in the planning system, land sterilised in the interstices of the planning system, land which, if it were available for development, could increase the supply of developable land, and so bring down the price. I will not enter into the argument between my right hon. Friend and the right hon. Gentleman opposite about whether existing legal powers are sufficient for that or not. I think that some amendment of planning law itself is required, but such an amendment would be infinitely simpler, quicker and more expeditious than the creation of this great Land Commission. The Minister must be impressed—he would be very insensitive if he were not—by the condemnation of the Bill which has come almost uniformly from expert, impartial and authoritative quarters. Reference has already been made to the conference called by the Town and Country Planning Association. My right hon, Friend quoted the powerful speech of Sir Philip Dingle, the town clerk of Manchester, at that gathering. I will quote the observation of Mr. Barnard, the city treasurer of Norwich:
There was also the condemnation of the chartered bodies, all the more effective for its moderate expression. There is the Valuers' Institution, which sent a document to hon. Members in the last couple of days, which ends with the words:"The number of actual bodies with compulsory powers runs into 1,500–1,600 and the types of bodies to 14. Is it really necessary to add yet another Leviathan to this list?"
Those are strong words to be spoken by a non-political, impartial and expert body. This is the kind of comment which, in the last six months, has been directed at this Measure by those most qualified by training, knowledge and practical experience to comment upon it. I do not want to detain the House, but I should like to put quickly one or two specific examples of positive damage which would be done by the wide scope of the levy. There is the effect on home ownership. The right hon. Gentleman, when I made this point on the last occasion, did not seem to understand it. He said that an owner-occupier selling his house is not selling anything with a development value. This is simply not true. The small house and garden on the periphery of a big town, when re-development takes place, of course has development value. That small house and garden is almost typically the result of someone saving, the building up of a home as a result of a long series of mortgage payments. The Chancellor of the Exchequer exempts owner-occupied homes from his Capital Gains Tax because he recognises that these are socially desirable things which should be encouraged. But the right hon. Gentleman makes no exception whatever of these. He also ignores the fact that the desire to create a valuable capital asset for their children is one of the most proper and powerful incentives which will cause a young couple to indulge in the heavy sacrifice and obligations—particularly so now—of taking a mortgage and seeking to build a house. There is also the fact that, despite all that was said on the last occasion, the charge will fall on the extractive industries of sand and gravel, industries which create the raw materials of housing, and thereby it will inevitably increase further the cost of housing. The levy will also fall on industrialists who expand their factories, perhaps even in response to a grant from one of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues for the purpose of modernising and expanding a factory, above all in development areas, because it is there that, thanks to the working of the I.D.C. system, the expansion of factory premises is taking place. What sense is there in imposing this charge as a kind of Purchase Tax on the modernisation of industry? There is also the fact that a complicated machine has to be set up. One has to give notice six weeks ahead before one takes even the most preliminary step to clear the site, and one has to wait six weeks after giving notice before one can start work on any building. One has to give notice and subject oneself to a charge if one grants a wayleave over one's land to the Postmaster-General to erect a telephone cable. These are the kind of extremes to which the doctrinaire enthusiasm of the right hon. Gentleman carries this Measure. I come, as my right hon. Friend did, to what is perhaps the most unjust and oppressive provision in the Bill—in Clause 8 and the Second Schedule. Despite one Amendment, it is still the fact that, if the Minister wishes, a compulsory purchase order can be put on someone's premises and he will have no right to argue his case. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was wonderfully ingenuous when he described the provision as somewhat curtailing the landowner's right to elaborate his arguments. The landowner will have no chance to make an argument at all. I believe that this disingenuous Whitehall phraseology was intended to conceal the brutal reality of a proposal under which someone's house and garden could be taken from him without the opportunity for him to argue the case, and, in view of the provision to which I referred on the last occasion about notice, possibly even without the person knowing that it was happening. We still have the absurd provision under which one complies with the necessity of giving notice by handing the notice to a passer-by or pinning it in wind and rain on a tree or fence and deeming that to be proper notice to the owner, who may not be there at the time. This evil is not diminished by the one Amendment to which I referred, saying that the system will last only five years unless the Minister takes an affirmative Resolution to carry it on beyond that. If this is wrong, as I think it to be, and contrary to natural justice, it is just as wrong if it is to be for five years with the possibility of extension as if it is to be so indefinitely. I should be glad if the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary would answer the question by my right hon. Friend as to whether the Council on Tribunals was consulted about this. The Council was set up for the express purpose of watching these things. Assurances were given at the time that measures bearing on the procedures of tribunals and so on would be put to it at the formative stage. The right hon. Gentleman has not told us whether the Council was consulted, and he has not, therefore, told us what the answer would be, though most of us could guess it, if the Council had been consulted. Nor has he told us what is the necessity to do this, to take a step justified perhaps by a major war but utterly unjustified in time of peace. What is all this great Commission in aid of? We are told that it will be 2,000 strong. It will mean an increased body of people engaged in services at a time when the Government are going to extreme measures in other directions in order to try to diminish the number of people engaged in services. What is it all in aid of? The bait held out to our people is that this will cheapen the cost of housing. No one who has seen this Government's handling of the matter in recent months would believe that. No one who has seen the fact that house prices rose last year by 10 per cent., a record figure, no one who has seen the fact that the Government are forcing the building societies into positions in which mortgages are bound to rise to the highest level ever, no one who has seen the Government propose to impose a Selective Employment Tax without any mitigation on the building and construction industry, could believe that his Government would raise a finger to lower housing costs. It is much clearer now than it was on the last occasion, as my right hon. Friend so well said, that it is political motivation and not cheap housing which is the real purpose of the Bill. If this were something that did not matter, something which was just of theoretical importance, my hon. Friends and I could wait placidly for a year or two until this monstrous folly became only too plain for all to see. But, unhappily, it bears on something that really matters to all of us on both sides of the House—the housing of our people. I believe that, for the reasons which I and my right hon. and hon. Friends have tried to give, if the Bill should become law—that is, perhaps, a very open question—many people will have to pay more for a house than they would otherwise have needed to do, and carry, perhaps for the rest of their lives, by way of mortgage heavier burdens than they would have needed to do, and others will not get the houses that they want and need and ought to have. That is why my right hon. Friends and I will fight the Bill."The conclusion must be that the ultimate aim is extensive land nationalisation. This is to be achieved at the cost of confusion and much injustice."
I am afraid that I must subject the House to another maiden speech. This is the first time that I have had the honour and privilege of addressing the House but I have at least been here long enough to observe at first hand the manner in which new Members in my plight are received by the House. I mention this in the hopeful expectancy that this amiable custom will continue for the next quarter of an hour.I am, of course, very honoured to be here at all, but I am particularly glad to have arrived here as the representative of Cheadle in Cheshire. I realise that my appearance here has resulted in the fact that my predecessor, Mr. William Shepherd, is now not here, but this, of course, is in the very nature of things and cannot be avoided. It is true that I did not always agree with what Mr. Shepherd did when he was here. Nevertheless, he was here for a very long time doing it—for twenty-one years. I am very sorry that I have had to be the means of severing his connection with the House, which he valued so much and found so rewarding. Cheadle is the largest Parliamentary division in the north of England in terms of population, and there is plenty of population in the north of England. It is an area which in many ways reflects the country as a whole. We have a mixed population, with moorland country, hill villages and industrial areas with engineering, heavy and light, and with suburbs, city overspill and rich residential areas. Indeed, Cheadle is a microcosm of Britain as a whole. I mention this in order to show that this is a constituency which could hardly be regarded by hon. Members as falling into part of what is called "the Celtic fringe"—whatever that may be. I understand that "the Celtic fringe" is a term inevitably applied to any area in this country in which the Liberal Party happens to be doing well. All of us from time to time allow ourselves a certain amount of latitude in our definitions. In the North-West, where I come from, we use the term "London" to denote Corn- wall, Devon and all points south of the Wash. Therefore, we must equally be prepared to allow an equal amount of latitude to other people. I feel very proud to have joined in this House a large number of right hon. and hon. Members for all parties who represent northern constituencies in which they have been born, bred and nurtured, and who have made so outstanding a contribution from time to time to the affairs of this House. I believe that the northern voice is perhaps a rather special voice. At least, it is a rather different voice. I would not say that it was necessarily a better voice. I would not say it—but what I might think is another matter. Nevertheless, I am very proud to be able to add my humble individual voice to the collective voice of the North drawn from all parties. Of course, I should like to talk about the North indefinitely, and I am aware that a certain latitude is allowed to new Members in straying from the point—a degree of latitude shared only, so far as I know, by Her Majesty's coroners. But perhaps on this occasion I might be forgiven if, in view of the importance of the subject, I try to stick to the point. The history of the attempts of this House to deal with land values, land speculation and land taxation is not a happy one, although it is a very long one, as right hon. and hon. Members will realise, perhaps, when I read them this quotation from a fellow Mancunian, or at least a Mancunian by birth, who was well known in the House:
He went on to say:"Land which is essential to the free and healthy development of towns is being kept out of the market in order to enhance its value …"
Those may not sound very unusual words now, but they were the words of Mr. Lloyd George on 29th April, 1909. It would seem, perhaps, from that, when we look back over the last 57 years, we have had to run very fast in order to stay exactly where we were. Hon. Members may recall what happened to the Measures which were introduced at that time and how they were shuttled backwards and forwards, to and fro, betwixt this House and another place, until finally a world war and later what some hon. Members opposite may regard as an equal catastrophe—a Conservative-dominated Government in 1922—put them finally in the discard. It is true that these proposals for taxing land values were taken up again in Philip Snowden's Finance Act, but their doom was pronounced very rapidly by the Conservative leader, Mr. Baldwin, who said:"The growth in the value … of urban sites, is due to no expenditure of capital or thought on the part of the ground owner but entirely owing to the energy and enterprise of the community".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th April, 1909; c. 532 and 536.]
And so it proved and thus ingloriously perished the only land value taxation legislation Britain has ever known. We come next to much later years and the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947. This was an Act which no doubt brought considerable benefit. But equally it brought considerable confusion in certain other directions. However, it was not a Measure to tax land values. So we arrive, via a route which I hope you, Mr. Speaker, will not consider to have been too circuitous, at the present day and the Bill now before us. My right hon. and hon. Friends on this bench are entirely at one with the Government in what we believe to be their aims in this matter. First, we believe that it is essential that Measures should be introduced to make land readily available in the public interest. Secondly, we believe that it is also essential that active steps should be taken to stop speculation in land values. Thirdly, we want to see Measures introduced to assist the community to share in the fruits of the appreciation of land values which have been brought about by planning decisions or by other actions of the local authorities. We therefore go along with the Government entirely on that: our aims are the same. But I am bound to say that we feel that these proposals will not achieve these very desirable aims. We believe, first, that a once-and-for-all tax is not an incentive to bring land on to the market. Indeed, we think that it will have the reverse effect. There are people who still hold the belief, a belief that hon. Members opposite may consider unreasonable and perhaps even perverse, that sometimes there will be a change in seats in this place, and these people wait and hope. Indeed, this is the sort of hope which springs eternal in the landlord's breast. One may go on to say, and indeed the Minister has said, that a levy which increases will hurry up people to bring land forward. This is true if the land is to be brought forward. But if it is not to be brought forward, then it is not an incentive at all. I come to the other Measure—compulsory purchase. Has the Minister forgotten the experience with compulsory purchase in the years following 1947? I know that, as George Bernard Shaw said, the one thing which we learn from experience is that we never learn anything from experience, but we could at least try on this occasion. With the shortage of professional resources, already referred to by right hon. Members, in terms of valuers and the other professional people needed, there will inevitably be a very acute bottleneck, and no amount of administrative manœuvring within this shortage will release it. In other words, it will not achieve the aim. The points which I am making were made, no doubt more eloquently, more fully and from much more information, by my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell) when this matter was last debated in the House. But the points which he made were never really answered. Indeed, the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington), in winding up the debate, regretted that these points could not be answered. He said:"I can say one thing about it, that if we get back to power, that tax will never see daylight."
But this is another night and perhaps we shall have answers to those points. I am beginning to wonder what they might be, particularly when I notice that the hon. Gentleman's name appears prominently on the letter heading as sponsor of an organisation called the Rating Reform Campaign of the Land Value Taxation League. The objects of this campaign are:"I wanted to answer these points. No one is sadder than I am that some of the very brilliant replies I have on points about compulsory purchase, and indeed the Liberal case, cannot be given tonight …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st January, 1966; Vol. 723, c. 816–7.]
The hon. Gentleman is borne up in those beliefs by other names in the form of the hon. Lady the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Joyce Butler), the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) and the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu). I realise that they share these views, and that they believe with us that a continuing tax on land values would be a method of bringing forward land and of enabling local authorities which have done so much to cause the appreciation in these land values to share in them. I am gratified to know that there are hon. and right hon. Members opposite who hold these views. I hope that they will make a start on doing something to implement them. It may be said tonight that there will be changes. In fact, we have already heard of the possibility of certain changes in this direction and certain changes in other directions. But is it not best to try to get these matters right at the beginning? I have felt from time to time that progressive aims are often prejudiced by doing things badly at the start. We have had many examples of this. Hon. and right hon. Members will remember a Finance Bill of not long ago which had to have 100 Amendments, not counting drafting Amendments, in 22 sittings. The Prime Minister, speaking of the Selective Employment Tax, is reported in The Guardian of today as saying that at present it had "crude and clumsy implications" but that"to secure legislation so that local rates are taken off all buildings and improvements and levied solely on the site value of land".
It has been much impressed on me since I became a Member that time is in as short supply in the House as land is in short supply outside. It would also seem from the debate which we had not long ago that the amount of additional time to be obtained by plundering private Members' time is not inexhaustible. Therefore, there are clearly reasons for getting the matter right at the start. There are suggestions in the Bill itself that it will have to be changed. Clause 8 says that the Minister may have to do so if during the five years following the first appointed day it appears that some simplified procedure might have to be adopted. All I hope is that the Minister will at least try to get these things right the first time. It seems to me that the guiding principle that seems to underlie so much of the Government's activities—act now and amend later—is pragmatism run riot. I assure the Government that if they came forward with proposals that would satisfy the aims we share we would without doubt give them every possible support at our command. I apologise if I have gone on too long. I apologise also if I have, as a maiden speaker, ventured into the unpermitted territory of controversy, but I felt that I would be serving the best interests of the House, not by indulging in amiable pleasantries but by endeavouring, though humbly, to make a constructive contribution on an extremely important issue. I am aware that the manner in which I have been received does not necessarily indicate acquiescence in my point of view, but merely underlines that unfailing courtesy which is shown by the House to new Members in general, and which has been shown to me in particular tonight. For that I am deeply grateful."these would be refined in time".
I want, first, to congratulate the hon. Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley) on overcoming the ordeal of his maiden speech. I had an idea of the type of speaker he was, because a few days ago I saw him in a television programme urging the masses to case their votes for the Liberal candidates in the municipal elections. I do not know whether that speech will prove to have been as persuasive as has his speech just now—we shall not know that until tomorrow. I knew that the hon. Member was a capable and fluent speaker, and he has no doubt impressed the House, as he has impressed me, with his maiden speech. We all look forward to further contributions from him from time to time.The hon. Gentleman mentioned Mr. Lloyd George's attitude in 1909 to taxing land values, but one could have resurrected speeches by Gladstone, because it was an essential plank of the Liberal Party's programmes that God gave the land to the people and that the benefit of the land should be returned to the people. That is why I find it inexplicable that, on the last occasion at any rate, the Liberal Members voted against that Bill—
But nowhere in Gladstone will one find the quotation "God gave the land to the Land Commission".
I will not accuse the hon. Member of blasphemy but will merely point out that the land does not belong to the Land Commission. The Commission is a vehicle being used to transfer land from one owner to another. It is quite wrong to make that sort of comparison. The Liberals, it seems, having inherited this great tradition of the fight against landlordism, have now reached the stage when they say that they are not prepared to accept this present imaginative Measure.It is easy to criticise certain aspects of the Bill. I myself criticise the amount of the levy, for instance. I think that it should be very much greater—
The point is that the Liberal Party's objection is based on the fact that this Measure could be a back road to nationalisation. The Land Commission is unnecessary to obtain the effect sought, and runs contrary to the proposals we have always made.
I cannot accept that this is nationalisation in the sense that the community is taking all land into national ownership. I am an old-type Socialist who believes in land nationalisation, and I would doubly welcome this Bill if it attempted to do that. Unfortunately it does not. It attempts to deal with the immediate problem of controlling a situation in which we are short of land for houses and other building development, in which there is a racket in the sale of land, and in which thousands and thousands of £s have been made by land speculators hoarding land. It is an attempt to deal with that immediate problem.I can understand the Conservative attitude to this matter, because notoriously in the past the Tories have been known and have been castigated for it by the Liberal Party—as the friends of the landlords. Even though they now recognise that the scandal has reached such proportions that something must be done about it, I have not heard tonight—although I have listened very intently to the debate—any alternative proposals put forward from that side of the Chamber. I am reminded of something that I read in "Crossbow", the magazine of the Tory Bow Group, in March, 1965, which stated:
That statement seems to me to be as true now as it was then. Though no effective alternative idea has been offered by the Conservatives for dealing with this problem, I would not say that there have not been feelers put out by them—forms of words suggesting something should be done. In November, 1963, the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), then the Conservative Minister of Housing and Local Government, told the House:"Bereft of their ministerial briefs, many of the Opposition have shown themselves to be largely barren of new ideas and fresh inspiration and for that reason unsure in debate and ineffective on the platform."
I remember that when we last debated this matter the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) also said that the Conservatives believed that some form of betterment charge should be made on the difference between the price of land before and after planning permission was obtained. But no mention of that was made in the Conservative 1964 election manifesto, with its 112 different points on the need for more houses, and so on. The question of land was never mentioned. The betterment tax, which was talked about during the last debate, was never raised by the Tories as a serious policy issue. It might have got lost in the 132 proposals in their other manifesto, but I cannot find it. The Tories, after writing about "How to house the nation", went on to tell us "How to beat the crime wave". There are many ways of making money, and one does not have necessarily to be a criminal. One can be a land speculator—some of them make the train robbers look like juvenile delinquents. Conservative spokesmen have said on a number of occasions that some form of betterment tax should be put on the increased value in land, but nothing more was heard of the bold plans of the Conservative Minister of Housing. I am certain that tremendous pressure was put on him by certain sections of his party so that they could continue to play the free land market. This indecision continued in the 1964 election. The Conservative leader said that he was considering further methods to tax land transactions but the tax must be one that would not affect the price or supply of land. Something should be done about it, but nothing was to be done about it. Now hon. Members opposite talk about a moderate levy. It seems that the Land Commission can operate in two ways. First, it must acquire land by agreement or by compulsory purchase order. Those are simple objectives of the Bill. Secondly, it will collect a betterment levy on sales of development land. We know of the scandals which have been associated with land speculation. We all know of cases of agricultural land bought for £300 an acre which was hoarded over the years until planning permission was given and a town expanded so that a community grew around the land. Then the land fetched as much as £10,000 or £12,000 an acre. In the last debate there was reference to the scandal of the Lavender Hill properties where land originally obtained for £7,500 was sold for £240,000. As my right hon. Friend said, these property speculators, "The Lavender Hill Mob", are now trying to get another £150,000 from Enfield Council because it is planned to put more houses on the land than there were originally to be. The right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) mentioned individual freedom and said that this Bill is a blow to individual freedom. Whose individual freedom was he talking about? Was it the individual freedom of a board of directors of a property company to exploit the community? What about the freedom of citizens of Enfield and the thousands of people who will have to pay exorbitant prices for houses built on that land for which the council had to pay almost £250,000? Have not ordinary citizens a right to individual freedom, freedom to fight against being exploited by land sharks? These are some of the reasons why the Bill is being introduced to curb the activities of speculators who have been holding the country to ransom for many years. Ever since 1951, when the Conservatives first got back to power, we have seen tremendous pressures inside their party to do something to show that "Conservative freedom works" for land speculators. They began to wreck the first real attempts of the Labour Government of 1945–51 to bring some order out of chaos in land ownership. In 1959 there was no restraint at all on the sale of land. If Conservative freedom ever worked, it worked for the land speculator on the so-called free market. I will give another example from a former Conservative Member of this House who has a conscience about the sort of thing which has been going on. Sir Frank Markham said that he got a 173-acre farm for £36,000. Now he has got half the price paid back by selling only three acres of the 173 for housing development. He is quoted as saying that it was a bonanza worth over million. He said that he would draw public attention to this racket. Apparently he did it so effectively that he lost his seat in the last election."It is in relation to the bringing of new land into development that the question of betterment becomes really important, for it will entail public expenditure on services and roads to bring it into development, and this expenditure will create an immediate increase in value. It does seem right that that increase should be collected by the public."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th November, 1963; Vol. 684, c. 655.]
The hon. Member is quite wrong about that. Sir Frank Markham was not a candidate at the last General Election.
I referred to the fact that he made his statement when he was the Conservative Member for Buckingham. He may not have stood as a candidate again. Maybe his conscience decided that he should not do so, I do not know.We get a clear indication of the colossal profits made out of land speculation. If hon. Members opposite want to do something about this, we shall be interested to hear their proposals. We have had too much criticism of the negative sort and of what should not be done by the Government. We should like to see the Conservative Party bringing forward a plan to deal with this national scandal and the social problem of what to do with land. We have to look into the future. It has been estimated that by the end of the century—only 34 years ahead—there will be a tremendous increase in population. There will be 72 million people living in Britain. With that increase of population coming, we shall have to build—I quote figures from the architect-planner, Mr. Hugh Wilson—the equivalent of a new town of 70,000 every seven weeks for the next 40 years, or of a new Bristol every 12 months. That is an indication of the size of the problem of growth and the availability of land which there must be if targets are to be met and of the tremendous fight there will be for land. The value of land is created by the community. If by a sudden mischance the whole population of London should:
"fold their tents, like the Arabs,
the land in the centre of London would not be worth more than £1 an acre. Because 9 million people live on the periphery of London that creates the value of the land. As a consequence, the community creates the real value. The community is entitled to get back the value which it has created. When we discuss this matter in Committee we shall have opportunities of stating in some detail, Clause by Clause, various objections and ways of improving the Bill. Nevertheless, the Bill represents a tremendous stride forward. My right hon. Friend, in bringing the Bill before us, has provided a logical and immediate solution to these grave social problems. I shall be interested to hear during the rest of the debate any alternative proposals—we have had embryo proposals from the Liberals—from the Conservatives. There is no denying that we are facing pressing problems. What are the alternatives to be proposed by hon. Members opposite? How would they raise the betterment tax? What proposals have they to put in place of those made by my right hon. Friends? I hope that, as on the last occasion, the House will give a Second Reading to this Bill, and by a substantial majority.And as silently steal away"
I quite agree with the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Ted Fletcher) that many people have made a lot of money out of land. The solution is, of course, to tax them on their profits either by means of a Capital Gains Tax or a levy and I am not particularly concerned which. As a result of a free or relatively free market in land, over the last 16 years or so more houses have been built than at any time in our history, more than ever were expected by the Labour Party in 1950 or 1951 and more than are being built today.My objection to this Bill is not on the levy side or the taxation side, because I think it perfectly right and always have done that profits in land speculation should be subject to tax, but in the course of this procedure an unnecessary and to my mind damaging wedge has been put into the process of house-building in the form of the Land Commission and more particularly in the shape of crownhold concessionary tenure. This is a new form of land tenure and one which harks back to the Middle Ages. It goes completely contrary to the development of the law over the last 200 years and harks back to feudal terms by which it was difficult or undesirable to dispose of a holding if one wished to move to a different part of the country. It is a move back from freedom of contract to a position of status, which is the sign of a very uncivilised and uneconomic society. There are only too many examples of this in the country today, one of them being council house tenants who have a privileged position and therefore have a very definite motive for not moving, though their jobs may require them to do so. This is another example, I fear, where people will be given a concessionary freehold or crownhold tenure which will mean that they will be reluctant—and who shall blame them?—to move, even though the country's economic situation requires them to do so. For example, we are today told that we are losing orders on the Clyde because there are not enough steel workers there to fulfil the orders that we might otherwise get. At the same time, there are numbers of workers in other parts of the country who would move there but for the fact that they have privileged housing positions. They cannot be blamed for failing to subscribe to the doctrine of mobility of labour, to which we all pay lip-service, because they have subsidies of one sort or another for their housing which they would lose if they moved. It is as simple as that. Here again, we are driving another nail into that particular coffin in Clauses 18–20 under the concessionary crownhold dispositions. This is the worst part of the Bill; but it is the chief point of the Land Commission. I see no other point to the Commission. It will not reduce the price of houses. It will not reduce the price of land, which, I agree with the hon. Member for Darlington, is much too high. It will increase it. Because it is recognised that it will increase it, it is devised that a great part of the property which the Commission seeks to develop and build upon will be disposed of by means of the new—or, rather, old, ancient and reactionary—form of tenure called concessionary crownhold disposition. It is reactionary, because it means that the person who holds it, whatever his future circumstances, however much he may be tempted to move to another part of the country where his skills may be in greater demand than they are in the place where he has his house, will be unable to do so, because he will be losing thereby a privilege granted to him by some irresponsible authority—I use the word "irresponsible" in the technical sense of the word—on principles that we are not told about, at lower than the market value, and which anyone would be a fool to surrender but will cling on to for ever. Indeed, so firm are the restrictions upon this form of tenure that even the normal methods of property distribution are to be excluded. Clause 19(6) provides that
which contains a very valuable and modern provision for modifying restrictive covenants affecting land—"Section 84 of the Law of Property Act 1925"
this form of tenure. If I may bore the House for a moment by explaining this, it means that restrictions which are no longer in conformity with modern conditions—restrictions upon the user or the tenure of land—may be lifted by the court, if the court thinks they are out of date. This form of tenure which is to be clamped upon the holder for ever is not to enjoy the benefit of Section 84 of the Law of Property Act 1925. The holder of this tenure is not to be allowed to go to the court and say that the concessionary crownhold disposition which he was originally granted is no longer in conformity with the circumstances of the day. Therefore, he will not even be allowed to get rid of this incubus. In the same way, Clause 19(7) is equally indicative. It says:"shall not have effect in relation to"
The rule against perpetuities is a very oppressive, ancient rule which means that the dead hand cannot be put upon the tenure of land for more than a life in being and 21 years thereafter. It has taken several centuries, chiefly of fighting by the Liberal Party, to get rid of this dead hand of the law. Now it is to be brought back upon this particularly feudal kind of crownhold concessionary tenure, that is to say, the rule against perpetuities which prevents anybody keeping the dead had against disposition for more than a life in being and 21 years thereafter shall not apply to this sort of tenure. This is completely indicative of the sort of straitjacket into which dispositions by the Commission are likely to fall. It is completely contrary to the spirit of our law. It is completely contrary to 400 years of development. It is completely contrary to the principles of the Settled Land Act of the 1880s and of the property legislation from 1922 to 1925, the purpose of which is now forgotten but which has given us great economic prosperity. The purpose was to make land freely disposable, which is to say that there shall not be the shackles of the past upon the land, that those who hold the land shall be able to sell or assign it freely, and that any trusts or anything like that shall be behind the curtain: the purchaser shall not be concerned about this, but shall get a good title, and, therefore, there is a free market in land. This is now to be reversed. This is the whole function of the Commission, because nobody has yet discovered any other function. Local authorities have full powers of compulsory purchase at present. They have not complained that they have not enough powers. The whole function of the Commission must be in concessionary crownhold tenure and nothing else; that is, compulsorily to take land from the owner and to let it out again, either by freehold or leasehold—or crown-hold, whatever that may mean. I say in passing that I very much resent the introduction of the Crown into this connotation. The function of the Commission is to let land out in some form of tenure which is similar to the medieval villein who was adscriptus glebae—not allowed to leave the soil. That is the whole point of this, because otherwise they would not be allowed to do it. The Commission will thus let land at less than the market value on these concessionary terms to people whose identity and purpose are by no means defined in the Bill. Nobody knows why the Commission should do this or to whom. If it were said that it was to be for the benefit of the disabled or for some charitable object, one might understand the policy, although one might not altogether agree. However, we are not told by anybody why people should have this concessionary tenure at less than the market price. If they get it, they will never let it go, because they would be mad in economic terms to do so. It is a most reactionary step. It is completely contrary to 300 years of land history. I think that it will get us into the sort of paralysis which all our forefathers fought so hard against the feudal system to avoid. I am much obliged to the House for listening to these few impassioned words."The rule against perpetuities … shall not apply."
I address myself first to a point made by both the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) and the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), that a speeding up and streamlining of planning procedures might be an acceptable substitute for the proposals set out in the Bill. The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames then rushed on into a tirade attacking the levy, but I do not think that he could have been serious in that because the text of the Opposition's reasoned Amendment expresses approval of the levy. It seems an odd way to support an Amendment to attack what it says. Therefore, I do not take that seriously, though I do take as seriously intended the suggestion that a streamlining of planning procedures might offer a solution to the difficulty.This suggestion seems very fair and attractive at first hearing, but it calls for careful consideration. There are snags lying hidden within it. First, it assumes that a speedy planning permission is a good thing. I speak as a member of a local council and a member of its planning committee. I assure the House that it is more important to get a planning permission right than it is to get it quickly. The right hon. and learned Member for Hexham remarked that some applications take 44 weeks to be dealt with. This may sound a long time, but we need to have our scale of values correct. Once a planning permission has been given, that is it, and the building which goes up on the site will be there for 44 years or much longer. When a planning application comes in—I do not suppose that I am telling hon. Members anything they do not know already—it has to be considered by several departments of the local authority apart from the planning department. It has to be referred to the highways department to consider sight lines and access and exit to and from the highways. No doubt, the question of drainage will have to be considered, and perhaps refuse disposal as well. The application has to be considered to see whether it complies with byelaws. In many cases, it is necessary to have discussions with the applicant, because the original proposal is not quite in line with what the local authority would like to see. Rather than give a blunt refusal, the authority will have discussions, which can stretch out over some time, in an effort to shape the application into something more acceptable. All this is very reasonable and proper. Again, if a proposed development would be quite extensive, it is usual for the education department to be informed so that it can consider possible implications of the new development on the provision of schools in the area. At the last meeting of our planning committee, there was a letter from the police saying that they would like to be consulted when big planning applications came in. Two months ago, I was present at a meeting of the residents' association in my constituency at which a representative from British Railways said that British Railways also would like to be consulted when planning applications came forward because of the implications for the transport system. All this is very reasonable, and it seems to me entirely proper that deliberate and careful consideration should be given to planning applications before a decision is made. As I say, once a decision is made, that is it; it is done with, except for the possibility of reversal on payment of very substantial compensation. Therefore, although the idea of speeding up our procedures on planning applications and appeals may have a very fair sound, there would, in fact, be considerable dangers attending it. I am sure that the ratepayers would far rather have an application meticulously considered at length so that the final decision may be just and fair rather than have a decision rushed through. I cannot agree, therefore, that that suggestion is an acceptable alternative to the proposals set out in the Bill. Some hon. Members opposite have suggested that this is a Measure for the nationalisation of land. Of course it is not, though it is true that it does involve some measure of public ownership. We need no: necessarily be ashamed of that or shrink from it in any way. My thinking on this subject is coloured—if I may bore the House with my own experience—by my own position. I am the owner of the house in which I live, and my mother is the owner of the house in which she lives. When she dies—I hope that that will not be for very many years—her house will become mine and I shall then have two houses. But I did not build my mother's house. I did not buy it. I did not contribute to its purchase. I do not live in it, and neither do I intend to live in it. I have contributed hardly anything at all to its maintenance. Yet, in the event I have mentioned, that house will be mine and it will be possible for me to sell it at a considerable profit. It seems to me that a society in which this sort of thing can happen is not really a society organised as justly and as fairly as it might be. On those grounds, I warmly welcome the Bill.
At the outset, I should declare an interest in the Bill, although it is probably an oblique one. I am chairman of a company which builds houses, a company which is sometimes called a speculative builder. We have heard a great deal from the benches opposite about land speculators, and the idea seems to be that the making of money out of land is something rather bad. The hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Macdonald) has given us an example to show that he is such a true Socialist that he does not believe that he should inherit anything. If he has a conscience about it, I suggest that he waits until he has to settle the death duties, when he will realise that the nation takes its true part of his inheritance.We have been challenged to state what our proposals would be to overcome the land shortage. Land is one of the builder's vital raw materials. We are just as interested in raw materials as is any other manufacturer. In spite of what the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have the House believe, we believe that building is as much manufacturing as is the making of motor cars. It is somewhat ironical that, when people extract iron ore from the ground to make steel to make motor cars, that is not speculation, but when someone builds a house, a happy home, that is speculation. What worries hon. Members opposite is the fact that someone is making a profit. Basically, all their arguments come to this: "We must have a system which eliminates profits". That is their basic thinking. But how are these large profits made out of individual pieces of land? No one denies that it happens. Hon. Members opposite are always slightly touchy in saying that this is a Bill not to nationalise land but to take land into public ownership. I would much prefer that they came clean about it. They went into the election saying that they wanted to extend nationalisation. Why are they so coy about it when talking in this Chamber? Are they already thinking about the next election, beginning to see the split in their ranks which we can see from this side, and realising that there will be an early election? Why not come clean? In fact, the total votes of the entire electorate showed clearly that the nation is against nationalisation, and this is the real reason why they hide their ideas by calling this proposal something other than nationalisation. We are asked what our proposals would be. A high price is caused by shortage, whether it be of land, pepper, copper or anything else. That is what puts the price up. Basically, the shortage of land in this country has been occasioned by our planning procedures. This is why my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) discussed the question in such detail in his speech. I have always contended that the right way to overcome high cost is to produce more of the product. More land could easily have been produced by releasing land more over a long period. Companies building houses have to have a stock of raw materials exactly as a manufacturer must have his raw materials. Companies have to hold it in stock. They know that it will take three or four years to get it into the development stage. Hon. Members opposite often regard that as the hoarding of land. They talk about farmers hoarding land. But they do not talk about manufacturers hoarding raw materials which are in their stockpile prior to production. It is just that hon. Members opposite do not understand the problem. Basically, what is wrong with our planning—it has been made worse under the Conservatives because the Conservatives have got on with building houses, and consequently have dried up the supply of land more quickly—is that everybody wants a house for himself, and having got one, he takes a good deal of care that no one else will build another house to spoil his view. I remember a cartoon in a recent issue of Punch. A young married couple were coming out of a hall-built house, and the caption said "This is going well. We shall soon move in. Let us form a residents' association so that nobody else can have a house." That goes on much too often. What has happened under the Bill? For the second time of asking, the Government have reverted to the old attitude "If you cannot cure a thing, control it". Some of my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite spent some time this morning in a Standing Committee considering the Building Control Bill. That is another example of the Socialist attitude "Let us control it. As long as we can control it, we can stop it". That is precisely what will happen under the Bill before us now. I have compared the Bill with its predecessor which fell as a result of the General Election. It is interesting to note the alterations made in some of the Clauses. I have also compared this Bill with the Building Control Bill. That Bill has just started in Standing Committee, and the alterations which the Government have made to it are not very extensive. The Government seem to have a phobia that every Government Department must be a tax collector. The Minister of Labour has become a tax collector under the Budget. This Bill makes the Land Commission a tax collector. Are we to have every Government Department with its own taxation? Why cannot it be left to the people who normally take the money out of our pockets—the Inland Revenue? Why could not a simple Amendment be introduced to the 1964 Finance Act to enable the Inland Revenue to collect this levy? My party would not object to that. However, we do object to the fact that this levy can be altered at the will of a Minister. The idea seems to be "If things do not go quickly enough, we will increase the levy." This is another example of the attitude of Socialism—"If things go wrong, we will bring in more controls." But it is really only bringing about galloping inflation. No one can quote a single example of where something which has been taxed has come down in price. The taxation proposed under this Bill will not reduce prices. We had a big rise in the cost of housing last year. We have had another 3 per cent. put on the cost of building as a result of the Chancellor's latest taxation gimmick. When this Bill becomes law, it will further increase taxation. I now want to look at the Bill in some detail. Clause 27 is one of the most interesting Clauses. I call it "the whip with six thongs". If one is not caught with one whip, the Bill makes absolutely certain that one is caught with the next. This produces an absolute lawyers' paradise. Case A is described as:
Case B is described as:"Where the land is disposed of by way of any such disposition as is mentioned in section 29(1) of this Act which is made on or after the first appointed day."
So we go on. Each one is a different whip in case somebody gets away with something. That may be all right, but each of these items produces more confusion and doubts for those who want to get on with the job. A Bill of this sort must be a very dull document, but I congratulate the Parliamentary draftsman on introducing a little humour into it. Clause 61 contains a beautiful bit of ironical humour. It says that a person with land in hand on 21st September, 1965, can build a house for an adult member of his family and be exempt from the levy. It is slightly different from the hon. Member's inheritance problem. When it comes to an owner, there is one choice that he can make. He can choose between his mother-in-law and the illegitimate daughter of his wife. This is a broad-minded approach. But who is to make this vital decision? Will the Government feel that there ought to be a Royal Commission to decide whether the mother-in-law or the illegitimate daughter of the wife should build the house? The draftsman who produced this must have a splendid sense of humour. In Clause 62 we come to the dilemma about the first appointed day. This date was one of the unsolved mysteries of the last Parliament, and it will be one of the unsolved mysteries of this Parliament until the actual day is announced. The quicker the Minister can give some indication of the date the better will business be able to carry on. Clause 67 divides the projects uncompleted on the first appointed day into pre-first appointed day and post-first appointed day categories in respect of which there may be exemptions. Is the Minister going to interpret the Clause vertically or horizontally? That has a great bearing on it. There is no definition of a project. Perhaps I may explain what I have in mind. During the slump in the building industry my company decided to build Dolphin Square. Because of its size, we had to build the project in two halves. There was not the ability to find sufficient finance to do the whole job in one, and there was also the imponder- able about whether it would let quickly enough. So we built it in two halves. If that sort of project had started off before the first appointed day and the second half did not start until after the second appointed day, can the Minister say how he would arrive at the levy in that case? The whole Bill is unnecessary. As hon. Members keep letting the cat out of the bag, and as the Prime Minister let the cat out of the bag, the basis of the Bill is that it is a subtle opportunity of getting hold of and nationalising land. By nationalising land, the Government will control one of the main assets of the nation. Then they are able to take over any builder or organisation they please. The right hon. Gentleman said that the scheme would produce land for the small builders. If that is the intention, I hope he is right, because it is the small and middle-sized builders, not the large firms, which produce the greatest amount of housing, and it is these builders, employing between 100 and 500 people, who have the greatest difficulty in getting the cash flow in order to purchase land. The right hon. Gentleman says that the Bill will help them. How will he allocate the land among them? Will he pick out of the 20,000 or 30,000 firms involved those whose plans and elevations he likes or those which have some connection with local government? Thank goodness, in this country we are very free from that sort of thing, but when more and more controls are imposed the easier it becomes for nepotism in allocation. Or will the right hon. Gentleman allocate the land to the highest bidder? If he does that, there will be a further increase in the cost of housing and no one will benefit. Does the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Bidwell) wish to interrupt?"Where the land is disposed of by way of any such disposition as is mentioned in section 30(1) of this Act which is made on or after the first appointed day."
This machine is to be set up to "collar" land at a very low price, which appeals to hon. Members opposite. Then the machine will reallocate it. If it does so at the market price, then it will achieve nothing. Why set up such a machine and why impose controls that can lead to nepotism? It is too much to hope that the Bill will not be given a Second Reading. With the majority the Government now have, we on this side cannot win Divisions. But we are winning arguments and during the Committee stage we hope to win arguments that will put at least a certain amount of sense into the Bill.
This is my maiden speech. The hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) thought, when I was straightening my back in preparation for my speech, that I wanted to interrupt him. There were several times in his speech when I wanted to interrupt but I thought that it was best to wait my turn.With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I wonder whether he and other hon. Members opposite are really living in Great Britain, 1966, at all. He spoke about the housing provision that he has been dealing with and another hon. Member—I am sorry that I cannot refer to many hon. Members yet by constituency—did not want any serious disturbance of existing measures because the rate of housing was, he thought, going along quite well. I shall read his speech with considerable interest in HANSARD, because I represent a constituency where there is a grave shortage of accommodation. I am beset the whole time by people with serious complaints about their bad housing circumstances. Despite the upturn in the provision of homes since the return of the Government in 1964, we have still not achieved the pre-war record of housing. We hope to reach it and to surpass it. These are the facts of life so many years after the war. With all respect to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I had hoped that Mr. Speaker himself would be in the Chair when I spoke, because I wanted to thank him directly for the ready hand of friendship that he extended to me on my first appearance in the House. I value that and I hope that you will convey my thanks to him. I stepped aside, as it were, from my notes, which were in the time-honoured tradition of delivering a maiden speech, because I felt incensed by the complacency that hon. Members opposite are showing in what is a somewhat gloomy atmosphere in the Chamber. It is difficult for a new boy like myself to stand here, having had some experience of speaking but nevertheless feeling the occasion, to shut my eyes for a moment and to think seriously about my constituency and its problems and of the kind of people from whom I come. Possibly because of a certain publication, my background and experience will now be fairly common knowledge. In any case, perhaps as a result of this attempt tonight, curiosities will be aroused and hon. Members will fly to a rather creditable publication which has just come off the stocks and which not only gives our pedigrees, so to speak, but also our pictures as well. However, I am sure that hon. Members are not too interested in my background and will be more interested perhaps in my bright foreground in this House. I understand that maiden speeches should follow a certain pattern, albeit when one starts that pattern it seems to me the signal for hon. Members to leave the Chamber. I follow a distinguished predecessor in Mr. George Pargiter, a long-time active member of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, who served in this House for 21 years. He achieved the distinction of being awarded the C.B.E. and became a Deputy-Lieutenant of the County of Middlesex. For many years he was leader of the Labour Group on Middlesex County Council and became Chairman of the Council a few years before it went out of existence when assimilated in the Greater London Council, which we on this side of the House did not want to see come to pass. Mr. Pargiter has been most kind and helpful to me and I hope to draw on his experience in my introduction to some of the procedures of the House. My constituency is known as Southall, although I prefer to have it as Southall and Hanwell. It afforded some special interest during the General Election itself. It is fairly common knowledge that it has a larger concentration of Indian peoples than any other constituency in the land, although some must come very close. As a result we have our special problems of assimilation. It is true that we have a special problem, as many of my constituents continuously point out to me, with the coming of the Indian peoples—and I prefer to call them so rather than "immigrants" because the term "immigrant" really only means people going from one place to another. We have in Southall the special problem of accommodating and living with Indian peoples, many very delightful, whose problems and background, culture and religion I am beginning to understand very well. As a result of the new warmth which is being accorded by the older inhabitants of my locality to the Indian peoples in our midst, new friendships are developing. That is not to say that we are unmindful of the fact that their coming has aggravated the accommodation problem in the constituency. But I draw great warmth from the fact that the atmosphere at the last General Election was very different from that of 18 months before. It was a remarkable change from which we on this side of the House, and to a lesser extent hon. Members opposite, can draw considerable heart as Socialists and internationalists. Having subscribed to the idea that there should be some limit on speeches under some new form of Standing Orders, I am conscious that I should not take too long in this my initial attempt. The subject under discussion, land and its usage, is basic and the problem of land speculation and development cannot be divorced from the problem of housing, which is the most urgent of our time. We cannot tackle it with the old system of land speculation and dearness. The Bill does not go as far as some of us would like and I must confess that I do not like that part which suggests the possible resale of some land which has come into public ownership. I find it rather strange that the Liberals have not united to back us on the Bill, because although it may not proclaim the historic cry of the Liberal Party—"God gave the land to the people"—to the extent that their forebears would have desired, at least it moves towards that, and it should be welcomed because of that. My background has not been academic, as hon. Members will have realised, and I would not say that I am particularly scholarly. However, I am experienced in the Labour movement as a whole and especially in trade unionism, and I was formerly a trade union education officer. But to conclude, I recall not the words of a pioneer Socialist, but those of a figure respected and revered not only in this House, but in the other place, namely, Lord Samuel. The occasion was when he spoke in Westminster Hall in 1956 when the memorial bust of Keir Hardie, the first leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party, was presented to Mr. Speaker Morrison. Lord Samuel made what I thought was the best of the speeches. Alas, only one of the voices on the recording which I took at the time survives, that of Lord Brockway, who was the Chairman of the Keir Hardie Memorial Committee. The words of Lord Samuel which I commend to all hon. Members are from Shakespeare—it took me a long time to find out where they came from. They are:
"Take physic, pomp;
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel".
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Bidwell) on the occasion of his maiden speech. I congratulate him, as I am sure would all who heard him, on an excellent maiden speech. Others who are not in the Chamber and who read the speech in HANSARD tomorrow will also feel that they can look forward to hearing his future contributions. He displayed a warmth and an understanding of the problems of his constituents and of the very mixed population of Southall and has given all of us a much clearer picture of conditions there. There seems to be a tendency for maiden speeches to become more controversial, but perhaps that is a welcome sign. I was delighted that the hon. Gentleman's was impartial in his controversy and attacked both sides in his criticism of the Bill.Few people have yet realised the extent of the power which the Bill will give to the Government. Nor have they yet realised the massive, expensive and uneconomic nature of the Government machine which the Bill will set up. We are seeing the creation of a gigantic white elephant, which in racing parlance is born out of party dogma, weaned on Socialist theories and which will place yet another burden on future house owners. It is supposed to ensure the availability of land for development, but by planning procedures and compulsory purchase procedures local authorities already have that ability. The Bill was not necessary to make that a practical proposition. It is further supposed to ensure that the community shares in the increased value of land due to its suitability for development. I am one of those who entirely agree that, when planning consent is given and there is no work on the part of the owner of a field or farm the value of which by a planning decision has suddenly rocketed, the community which has made the decision should have a share in the increase in value. But it was not necessary to bring in the Bill and to create this gigantic new machinery in order to do that, for it could have been done much more simply through the existing tax system, possibly by some special rate of speculative gains tax or something of the sort. Nevertheless, the tax authorities could have been the means by which social justice was achieved without all the vast new Department which is to be set up. I want to consider the effects of the Bill and to pose a question of fundamental importance. What determines the price of land, for the price of land is the key to the hopes and happiness of many young people? I represent Basingstoke, a constituency which has a massive number of young people coming into it. The price of land, reflected in due course in the prices of the houses they occupy, has a major effect on personal hopes and plans. But the price of land is determined by the law of supply and demand, as with any other commodity, and if less land is offered for development and the demand remains the same, prices go up. There is no method of hedging round this which can alter the basic operation of the market. I want to ask the Minister whether he considers that people will be as ready to sell land after his Bill has become law—whether they will be ready to bring forward land for buiding purposes, for development. There is a 40 per cent. levy to be paid, which is hardly an encouragement to people. There is the loss of an asset which they are probably holding as a hedge against further inflation. I would draw the Minister's attention to the very grave effects which the Capital Gains Tax is going to have on the hopes of the Minister for the operation of this Bill. Supposing a piece of land is worth £100,000. With inflation, certainly under this Government, it will go up at something like 5 per cent. or more per annum. Therefore, over a year it will go up at £5,000 and over ten years it will have gone up by £50,000. The decline in the value of money, plus the fact that there will be no more land on the market, will mean that, although there has been nothing of a speculative nature about this, when the land comes up to be sold it will attract Capital Gains Tax at the rate of 30 per cent. This is as a result of inflation accelerated a little by the policies of this Government There will also be, in addition to the Capital Gains Tax, anything that the Minister is cooking out in the way of his levy. This amounts to 30 per cent. of £50,000—some £15,000. What man is willingly going to enter into a contract which is going to result in him losing £50,000 of his capital and the income he has derived from it in the past? When that happens he will immediately say to himself, "I want to have nothing to do with it. I would rather keep my capital intact. I would rather be worth £15,000 more and draw the income from it. I do not want to give my substance to the Government." As time goes by and the inflationary effects become bigger and bigger, along with Capital Gains Tax liabilities, there is going to be a greater restraining effect upon people offering their land for development. This will mean that progressively fewer sellers will come forward and the price of land will be increased more and more as the shortage accentuates the imbalance between supply and demand. This is going to have a second effect. If people will not sell their land voluntarily, then the Commission will have to acquire it compulsorily. This will mean immense work for the valuation officers, who are already overworked. It is going to mean great procedural delays with the operation of compulsory orders. Then there is the problem as to what price should be fixed when, as will frequently occur, the Land Commission and the vendor disagree over the price to be paid for the lend. I hope we all want to see that the price paid is fair to the citizen whose land is being compulsorily acquired.
I am glad to see the Minister nodding his agreement. The question is at what price. At the market price? How does one establish a market price when there is a monopoly power? Is it on the assumption that there is a willing seller, which it is under existing compulsory purchase valuations? But there is no willing seller. The man does not want to sell and, therefore, one begins with a premise which is false. There is disagreement, and there frequently will be disagreement, as to the value to be put on the land and the district valuer's valuation will often be disputed.Then the matter has to go to the Lands Tribunal. I believe that I am correct in giving the procedural sequence. It is somewhat involved to follow it through the many Clauses of the Bill. The Lands Tribunal is perfectly fair in its valuation, but there are many people who do not dare to use the appeals procedure before the Lands Tribunal because of the risks involved. There is the risk, in the event of losing the case, of having to pay the costs, which may be very high. To the smaller, less wealthy citizen this is a real problem. Secondly, the district valuer, in acquiring separate plots of land around a particular area in order, as the Minister has said in introducing the Bill, to get a larger collection of property together for development, is going to pick first upon the properties where there will be little resistance on the part of a seller to a sale. He is going to pick first upon properties where sales can be concluded simply and easily. As a result the district valuer will build up a picture of the weaker sellers from whom he has been able to squeeze a good price, and use this in front of the Lands Tribunal for fixing a correspondingly low price for the man who sticks out. As a result considerable unfairness will be caused to many citizens. There is another point I would like to raise, and it is one which gives me, as Member for Basingstoke, where this sort of thing happens, very serious concern. As I understand the Bill, and perhaps the Minister will clarify it later, while argument is going on about the price the Land Commission can take possession.
I see the Minister nodding. The Commission can do this with- out waiting for the compensation to be fixed. It is agreed that the sale should take place at a price which shall be fixed later by appeal to the Lands Tribunal. Therefore, no compensation is paid to the man who loses his land. All that he gets is subsequent back-dated interest on the sum of money eventually awarded. What is he suposed to live on in the meantime? To take a practical example, a man owns a caravan site near a town, which is going to be taken over by compulsory purchase for development for housing purposes. He does not agree that the price offered is fair and so he goes to the Lands Tribunal. The council come in and can take over the land under this Bill. It can say to the man, "Take your caravans away, we are going to develop this". He has nowhere to put his caravans. What does he get for income? He has to sell his caravans, his means of livelihood, and he is told that he will eventually get interest. He has probably borrowed from the bank on the value of the land, and if he gets an initial payment from the district valuer it will be taken by the bank to be offset against the overdraft, as the collateral has been sold.There will be many examples of unfairness affecting ordinary people when they make an appeal in front of the Lands Tribunal. I beg the Minister to understand this, because I have heard of some sorry cases. There will be an understandable reluctance on the part of a citizen to take his case to the Lands Tribunal. There is the risk of the costs if he fails, and the way in which the whole procedure is rigged against the man who sticks out. There is the way in which he will suffer during the time that his land is taken away from him and he has not had the payment. There are many serious aspects of this, and I hope that the Minister will give them further consideration. There is the cost which is not a light one. I understand that there will be some £7 million for administration of the white elephant which the Minister is setting up. There is £45 million initial payment rising to £75 million. I have no doubt that he will be back for more as inflation begins to add its voice to this equation. There is the borrowing, at about 6 per cent., I suppose. Then there is the cost of the transactions, at perhaps 4 per cent. Some 10 per cent. will be added to the cost of the land by reason of the administration. Last year, the price of land for housing went up by an all-time record of 10 per cent. Built in here, I can see the way in which even greater increases will occur before very long. Then may I put to the right hon. Gentleman a practical problem about factories which are invited by the Government to modernise themselves by building on new extensions, and so on? Will the piece of land which is to be changed from, say, a playing field into factory development have to pay the levy? If it has, that will be an additional cost which will have to be borne by industrial firms seeking to modernise and expand their businesses to help our exports. Having drawn attention to all those disadvantages, I come back to the point that I made at the beginning. For what purpose do the Government seek to bring in this white elephant? I believe that the real reason pinpoints a fundamental division in political thinking between those opposite who seek to concentrate power, wealth, land and property into the hands of the State, and those on this side who, by contrast, believe in spreading those things as widely as possible throughout the community. We take pride in the fact that there are 8 million freeholders in the country—not leaseholders or crownholders, but men who can say that they own every brick of the houses in which they live. Under the Tory Government, the incidence of owner-occupation went up from 28 per cent. of the population to 46 per cent. Were we in office today, it would be nudging 50 per cent. That is a fundamentally different approach, and it is at the heart of much of the controversy between right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite and ourselves. It is illustrated more than ever by the Bill. One of the earlier contributors to the debate brought forth the old battle cry,
Yes, but not to the Land Commission."God gave the land to the people."
I would have been more impressed by the contri- butions from the benches opposite had there been any consistency in them. I share the views of the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) when he says that there is far too much delay in dealing with planning applications and appeals, and that the delay holds up development. But it is equally true to say that more development, especially by local authorities, is held up because of the slowness in getting through compulsory purchase orders. We have now arrived at a situation where local authorities and members of the public selling their properties to local authorities are all complaining that there is delay in getting through the compulsory purchase orders.If one is going to be consistent about wanting to speed up planning appeals, one has also to be consistent in insisting on speeding up the processes of making land available to build more houses. The same is true about the attitude of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite to land speculation and complaints about concessionary freeholds. I doubt if anyone in my constituency would complain if instead of getting land at £2,000 a plot he got it at £1,000. No one would complain that he had been treated like a feudal villein. The bulk of the criticism ought to be against people making large profits from speculators, rather than against people being able to get cheap houses. The same inconsistency occurs when we talk of releasing land for development. There is not enough land zoned for housing, and that leads to a shortage in some places. But what right hon. and hon. Members opposite are thinking of is releasing farm land for profitable development, whereas I would like to see office land such as that on the other side of the river rezoned for residential development. The trouble is that the money is not available to do it, and the land would cost several million pounds per acre. However, the rezoning has to come at both ends of the scale, with more agricultural land rezoned for residential purposes, but also, in places like London, office and industrial land rezoned for the same purposes. I accept that the Bill has to be machinery, and it provides rather more machinery than philosophy. I agree that the machinery of purchase has to be made available, but I should have liked to see more philosophy in it. It amounts rather more to a fiscal Measure than one which for all time places the development value of land into the hands of the community. When the developable incident takes place, a tax will be charged on it which will pass to the Exchequer. What I should like to know, and what we do not know at the moment, is what is to happen to it then. I am rather disappointed that there is not some permanent levy charged on the development value of the land when a developable situation takes place, so that for the rest of time the development value will belong to the community. I see the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell) nodding his head, but that is something which was advocated three or four years ago in a pamphlet issued by Transport House. I hope that that principle might be adhered to. There might be administrative difficulties in assessing rentals and reassessing them every 21 years, but it is a pity that the development value of land is not to be put into the hands of the community for all time.
The hon. Gentleman is advocating the precise policy of the Liberal Party and the cause of our objection to the Bill. I am most grateful to him.
May I strike a note of accord? The Land Commission may dispose of crownhold and retain to itself the prospective development value. The Land Commission buys net of levy and makes no payment to the Exchequer.
I understand that where the Land Commission operates, but there are other situations where the Land Commission will not step in but, nevertheless, the levy will be charged. I understand that there are administrative difficulties, such as the shortage of staff, which make that impossible for the time being, but I hope that it will come in the future.
Is not the argument that my hon. Friend is putting forward an argument for the much more extensive use of the Land Commission, particularly the crownhold provisions of it, which have the effect which he suggests is desirable and which the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell) also appears to regard as desirable, although he opposes that Section of the Bill?
Yes, I accept that, and I think that the probable way out of the administrative difficulty is that the extension of the operation of the Land Commission increases as time goes on.
I am not suggesting that the Land Commission is the right means of doing it but, to answer the point that the hon. Gentleman himself raised, the collection could be done by the local authorities, as happens at present with rates.
That is a very fine suggestion, but I hope that the hon. Member for Bodmin, while realising that there might be some difference of opinion, will agree that we are moving in the right direction and, when it comes to the vote at the end of the day, will give us the support which he really considers should be ours.I should like to see in a statement by my right hon. Friend some idea of how the money which is being collected by way of levy is going to be used for other planning functions. For instance, I should like to see how it is proposed to use the money which is to be raised by a levy on agricultural land being developed outside London. I should like to see it used in one way or another to rezone sites in London such as those on the South Bank of the Thames from office user back to residential user. That would help to solve the shortage of land for housing in central urban areas. It would be much better if the local authorities were able to obtain the levy for themselves when they acquired land. I know that under the Bill, where a local authority develops the land, it is not going to pay the levy. There may be a local authority which has some housing land, gets planning permission for it at a future date and puts up houses. Obviously, it would be wrong to charge the local authority the levy in those circumstances. If another local authority enters the field at a later date and acquires the land for development, I cannot see any reason why it should not be able to keep the 40 per cent. levy, instead of the situation arising where the vendor of the land has to pay the levy to the Land Commission, it then goes to the Exchequer, and may eventually find its way back to the local authority by way of a housing subsidy or high land cost subsidy. I would much rather have a direct incentive to local authorities to acquire land for development, for urban renewal, and for central redevelopment schemes. We should give them a direct incentive to do this by allowing them to keep the levy, without the whole thing passing through the machinery of the Land Commission.
I should like to look at the situation as it will affect would-be home buyers under the proposals set out in the Bill. To us on this side of the House the spread of home ownership is of tremendous social importance, and we want to discover whether the aspirations of would-be home owners will be encouraged or damaged under the terms of the Bill. I cannot see any real benefit ensuing to would-be home owners under the proposals as specified in the Bill.What we have to do is to look at the method of disposal as specified, and also at the nature and quality of the ownership which will flow to each individual owner under the system of crownhold land, and here I must declare an interest. I am a practising solicitor who acts for a number of companies which carry out private development, and I am a director of one of those companies. There are two kinds of disposal under the crownhold system as described in the Bill. The first is a simple crown-hold disposal whereby all future development value is reserved to the Commission. As I understand it, under Clause 17 the sale of this kind of crownhold will be effected on a fee simple basis, at market prices, subject to a crown covenant which restricts the user of that site to, say, a church, or whatever may have been agreed between the Land Commission and the prospective buyer. There will be a sale of the fee simple, subject to a covenant on the part of the purchaser, that he will use the land only for that specified purpose, and he will pay the full market price for the land. The second form of disposal is where there is a concessionary crownhold which is for housing purposes, and where the disposal is below market price. In this case it is proposed that the value of the concession—the extent to which the property is below the market price—will be reserved to the Commission. As I understand it, the Commission will have the first right to buy back the site, with a house on it, and to buy it back at a price which will be reduced in value correspondingly to the value of the concession on the initial sale. Both forms of disposal pose severe valuation problems. I hope the Ministry is fully aware of this, because a large number of valuers will have to be recruited to cope with the practical problems arising from this kind of transaction. But what caused me more concern this afternoon was when the Minister listed the organisations to whom concessionary crownholds will be made available. He mentioned, first, housing associations, and here I agree with him because I think that the housing associations represent the kind of movement that should benefit from this sort of transaction. He then listed local authorities having an intention to build properties for sale, but, having seen a local authority operating in this respect in a rather unsatisfactory fashion, I am very doubtful about this proposal. As I understood it, the Minister then went on to say that other disposals of this crownhold concessionary land would be disposals by the Land Commission, and I felt that the right hon. Gentleman was hedging and not saying openly whether private developers would take part in the operation and be concerned in development which involved crownhold concessionary estates.
Perhaps it may save time if I intervene now to say that if no other organisation is available, and there is a group of individuals, or a private developer, who would like to build houses for letting and to operate them on a crownhold basis, there will be nothing to preclude the Commission from coming to a special arrangement with them. It will depend on whether the developer, or the group of individuals, for whom no other arrangements can easily be made, desires that form of holding. This will be for the Commission to do, and it will let in private developers if they so desire.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his explanation. From the emphasis that he put on his reply, I take it that the prime purpose will not be to make this land available to private developers because this is a matter of policy on which the Minister will have to make up his mind, and very quickly. The Bill is not at all clear in this respect. If one looks at Clause 18 in particular, one sees that the Minister's intentions with regard to the Land Commission's operations in this respect are not at all clear.If private developers are not brought in with regard to concessionary crownhold estates, a tremendous obligation will be put upon the Land Commission as developers. It will have considerable responsibilities throughout the country, because it will have to operate over this wide field to find sites, to prepare plans and layouts, and to make decisions—very important and sometimes difficult decisions—as to the suitability, siting, and ultimately the saleability of any development. Those are big business decisions, and in the light of the Parliamentary Secretary's reply, the Land Commission will have to deal with a large number of practical development problems. The Minister will, therefore, have to build up a large development organisation to cope with these requirements. He will require a vast organisation, including experts, if he is to deal with these problems in any way which can benefit the housing situation. If this organisation is not built up very rapidly the Minister will undermine the plans of the Minister of Housing and Local Government for private housing—so far as we understand them from the way in which they have been announced in the House, and as they are planned for the future—because his requirements for development cannot possibly be met unless the Land Commission, with its ambitious proposals for land holding, also embarks aggressively on a programme of housing development as a contribution towards the figures specified by the Minister of Housing and Local Government as forming part of his programme. The housing figures are already falling, and in two years' time, unless decisive and rapid steps are taken to set up the organisation which I have described, there could be disastrous consequences to the housing problem which will cause severe disappointment to people who are struggling now to save their deposits to qualify for home ownership, particularly the large number of young married couples throughout the country who have these desires and aspirations. Yet if, as the Minister has now told us, the Commission is to develop and sell houses, he must go further in explaining its policy. How are the purchasers to be chosen for the favoured bargains of concessionary priced housing? How are any local authorities carrying out development for the sale of houses to select those who are to be in this privileged position? This will be a continuing problem of selection. Under the concessionary agreement on the sale by the original occupier the property goes back to the Commission, and it again has to decide who will be chosen to have the favoured occupancy of the house at a below-market price. What principles will be applied? It is tremendously important that the system should be fair, because its consequences throughout the country will be extremely important and will be painfully felt by those who do not benefit. We want to see what calculations and philosophy lie behind the choice. When Birmingham Corporation, a few years ago, developed a small number of houses on a similar basis and sold them at a low price they chose occupants from hundreds of applicants by way of a lottery. Perhaps the Minister has that in mind. If not, he should tell us in detail how he proposes to deal with this problem. I now turn to the question of the quality of ownership which is available under crownhold. Remembering the restriction that exists and will exist throughout the period of the life of the house, and remembering that the so-called owner has to sell it back to the Commission at a price which takes account of the concession, in my view it will be regarded as a poor and pale version of true home ownership. It will put a man at a strong disadvantage if he has to move about the country, going from concessionary housing to free market housing. It also means that the demand for free market housing will be extremely strong. In my opinion the price of that free market housing will rise even more drastically in the years ahead than has been the case in the last year, when we have had a record rise in house prices in any event.
In his entertaining maiden speech from the Liberal benches the hon. Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley) said that for many years we seemed to have been running as hard as we could in order to stay in the same place. It would be truer to say that we had been running around in a circle in order to arrive back at the place from which we started—and the place from which we started was the situation which existed before the 1947 Act. We would not have had to run around in that circle if it had not been for the doctrinaire beliefs in a free market displayed by Conservative Members, which resulted in the destruction of the system created by the Act.Today it would appear from the contributions of Members opposite that they do not now hold their former belief in that doctrinaire system. Whether the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South West (Mr. Powell) still believes in that doctrine—as he did in the past—we may never know, because he is apparently not now allowed to tell us. But the result of their belief in that doctrine has brought us to the position in which everybody agrees that something must be done about the present planning system, because of the two great problems which have been thrown up. First, there is the problem of inequity which is produced by a system in which the community takes no part of the benefit which it itself has created, and secondly, there is the problem of the distortion of planning which results from the free market system. It is at least some comfort to know that the Opposition have moved from where they once started in connection with the problem of inequity. It is a comfort to know that today, whatever they may have thought about it only a few months ago, they recognise that it is right that the community should take back some of the profit created by its own actions. But what amazed me as I listened to the debate—just as it amazed me as I listened to the comparable debate on the Second Reading of this Bill in the last Parliament—was that, having paid lip-service to that principle, again and again hon. Members opposite attacked the way in which the Bill sought to give effect to it. When the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) spoke this afternoon from the back benches he repeated almost word for word the criticisms that he made of the development levy when he spoke from the Front Bench in the comparable debate in the last Parliament and attacked the levy as a tax on industry, at the same time saying that he supported the principle that the community should have a reasonable share in the fruits of its own efforts. I found it impossible to believe that he was not harking back to a day not very long ago when the policy of the Opposition was quite different from that which they have set down on the Order Paper today. The criticisms of the Bill which we have heard from hon. Members opposite—and we have not heard any positive views from them as to the way in which these two problems can be solved, other than the way in which the Bill proposes to solve them—stand on two legs, which, as often happens, tend to contradict each other. In the first place, they say that the Bill does not go anything like far enough, because it does not solve the problems of planning procedure, and in the second place they say that it goes much too far because it sets up a body which is quite unnecessary for the solution of the problem. So far as that first leg is concerned, I agree entirely with the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames in disagreeing with his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon). I believe that it is necessary for us to improve our planning procedures. We shall require legislation to do this. The arguments which my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Macdonald) put forward in support of present planning procedures are formidable arguments, but at the same time one must be aware of the fact that development is held up for long periods, that this greatly increases the risk of the developer and makes him less inclined to develop as a result. I hope that we shall at some stage in the not-too-distant future be able to debate this. It is a separate matter from the Bill, but none the less a most important one—
I do not quite follow where the disagreement is among myself, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) and the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Macdonald). I thought we were all agreed on the importance of improving planning procedures. That might itself involve some legislation, but the powers of the present Bill do not require further legislation.
I do not think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was present for that part of his right hon. Friend's speech when he made this point. If he had been, he would have heard his right hon. Friend say that he did not entirely agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Perhaps he could look up the reference in HANSARD tomorrow morning—
Now we agree with each other.
I hope that we do, in the light of what the right hon. Gentleman has said.Everything cannot be done in one Bill. This Bill is not intended for that purpose and I hope that another Bill will do something a great deal better in that direction. That, of course, is not the only matter which needs to be cured. The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames criticised the Bill, among other reasons, for the fact that it adds another authority to 1,500 or 1,600 authorities which at present enjoy compulsory powers. But that is not a criticism of the Bill. It may be a criticism—I think it is—of our present penny-farthing local government structure. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing is setting up the Royal Commission to look into our local government structure. I believe that it is vital, if we are to have an efficient local government system—in nothing more than our planning system—that we should go in for financial size and power of local authorities so that they have the power and ability to have properly-trained staff who are able to do the job. I do not see that in the 1,500 or 1,600 authorities which exist today. I hope that the outcome of that Royal Commission will be a drastic revolution in our local government structure. But these are not matters with which the Bill is concerned. It is concerned with the betterment levy and the system of the Land Commission which is contained in the other part of the Bill. On the betterment levy, one need not spend a great deal of time other than comment on the way in which hon. Members opposite still seem to wish to be getting the best of both worlds by attacking something with one breath and supporting it with the next. However, I accept that it is necessary to justify the structure which the Bill intends to set up, which no doubt will cost money—we have been told perhaps £4 million a year—and one has to justify that by positive results, which one anticipates will come from those provisions. I believe that the justification exists. As shortly as I can, I want to give the House a number of reasons why I hold that view. One of the things repeated again and again by hon. Members opposite is that one can go a long way towards solving the problem of the price of land if one allows people to buy land as far in advance of development as possible, that is to say, if one released far more land on to the open market, as the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) said—allowed the private developer to hoard land—so that he could use it when the time came for the development to take place. But that, of course, is precisely what the Land Commission is intended to do. This is one of its primary functions—to buy land far in advance of development. For the very reason that hon. Members gave why land would be likely to be cheaper if a private developer were able to buy land far in advance of development, the land will be available cheaper to the ultimate user, the public as a whole, because it will be bought cheaper by the Land Commission. Secondly, the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham, in opening the debate for the Opposition, said that planning is not all one way; he said that some land owners get the benefit of planning proposals which enhance the value of their land but other land owners suffer as a result of planning restrictions. I agree with him, and I also agree with him that that creates inequities. But it will not be solved by the levy system which hon. Members opposite apparently support. That will do nothing to solve the problem. I believe that it will be solved by the Land Commission system, under which land will be bought at its existing use price irrespective of the levy—and that will apply irrespective of the purpose to which the land is ultimately put. It will not matter a scrap what planning restrictions have been put on the land in respect of its future use. The owner of the land will be able to sell it at the same value as that at which he could have sold it had it been in the market for existing use. In my view, that will be a substantial constribution towards solving this inequity. Thirdly, some hon. Members opposite strenuously argue that the levy system is preferable. Apparently, they support the levy system although we have heard them argue again and again that it would put up the price of land. Why they should support a system which in their view is likely to put up the price of land, I do not understand. The more they argue that case, the more, in fact, they argue the case for the Land Commission, one of the purposes of which is to see that land is purchased at a fair price. If, contrary to the view which we hold on these benches, the price of land goes up as a result of the levy; if people hoard their land and do not sell it, possibly in the hope that there will be a change of Government and some reduction of the levy or even an abolition of the levy, then in such circumstances, if they do not place their land on the market, the Land Commission will be able to step in and purchase the land at a fair price. Fourthly, the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham and other hon. Members opposite have spoken about the supposed effects of the Bill on the private developer. I believe that the Bill is a very great support for the private developer. The person at whom it hits is the land owner who is able, fortuitously, by the efforts of others, and in particular by the efforts of the community at large, to make wholly uncovenanted profits out of the land which he happens to own. The Bill does not hit at the builder who earns his living by development. On the contrary, he will be assisted by the Bill, because the Land Commission will make the land available to him at a fair price for the use to which he intends to put it. I believe that he will be assisted even more by the fact that the Land Commission procedure will bring an end to the form of blackmail which one sees again and again today, under which a private owner of a vital piece of land in the middle of a large scheme of development holds on to the land until he can blackmail the developer into paying him a wholly exorbitant price for it. That system will disappear as a result of the Land Commission proposals. Fifthly, I support wholeheartedly the concessionary crownhold position which has been attacked by two or three hon. Members opposite. I support it on the very ground on which some of them have attacked it. I agree entirely that in the world in which we shall live in the future one of the most important factors will be mobility of labour. That means the ability of people to move from one home to another easily, quickly and cheaply. Of course, there will be many people whose employment is so stable that they will wish to own their own home. We on this side of the House are very much in favour of the principle of home ownership for those who desire it, as we have shown in the past and intend to show in the future. But a growing number of people will be likely to move around a great deal and will not want to own their own homes but will want to rent a house at a fair and reasonable price. I see the concessionary crownhold provisions of the Bill giving impetus to, for example, the housing association movement and local authorities to rent homes, which will make it very much easier for people to move from one part of the country to another. Finally, and most important of all in my view, the Bill is vital for removing the distortion which exists in the planning system. When I speak about "distortion" I have in mind the sort of thing about which my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. John Fraser) spoke. He pointed to the other side of the river and said that instead of offices he would like to see housing development in certain parts of the area. I entirely agree with him. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite laugh, but it is not only I who agree with my hon. Friend. A predecessor from the benches opposite of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government also agrees with him, because at one time he proposed to zone part of that area for housing and was persuaded to alter the zoning simply and solely because of the distortion of our system created by the free market as a result of which he was assured that no local authority or private developer could possibly afford to buy land at office or commercial value and then develop it for housing purposes. The Land Commission system will enable fiat to be done on a countryside scale because, as I understand the Bill, the land will be acquired by the Commission at its existing use value—that is to say, office or commercial value—and will be sold to the developer, whether private enterprise, local authority or housing association, at housing land prices if houses are to be put on it. The Land Commission will take the loss, perhaps, in London and make the gain, perhaps, in the North, Scotland or Wales to which the development decentralised from London is likely to go. This can be done only on a national scale, no longer on a local scale. For that reason, some such Measure as this would have been necessary even if the 1947 Act had not been destroyed by hon. Members opposite. In concluding my last speech on this matter I said, and I conclude this speech by repeating with even greater emphasis, that I believe that we are creating with this Measure something which will be a permanent part of the fabric of our planning system.
This Bill sets up a vast bureaucracy and, therefore, it is incumbent on the Government to justify it up to the hilt. The hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) brushed aside the Land Commission's administrative cost of £4 million a year as quite unimportant—
The hon. Gentleman must be fair. On the contrary, I said that costs of that kind must be justified, and I sought to justify them. I did not brush them aside at all.
Perhaps the hon and learned Gentleman will hear me out. It is not only a question of the cost in money but the cost in valuable experts. This huge bureaucracy is to be set up at the expense of many other aspects of our national life. One of them, of course, is that the rating revaluation has had to be put aside.The Land Commission's purpose is to acquire land. If the land is disposed of voluntarily, acquisition is not necessary, but behind this purpose is compulsory purchase, and the compulsory purchase powers given by this Bill need looking into very closely. The Commission is also to act as a freeholder for a whole lot of crownhold land. Again, we shall have to judge whether all this expenditure and the accumulation of experts is necessary in that respect. Thirdly, the Commission is to act as a collector of the levy, which is a separate cost of £3 million over and above the £4 million we have already discussed. I believe that everyone has so far treated compulsory purchase very lightly. The idea is that the owner of land is some villain, some speculator who has acquired it, but he will not always be a speculator of whom it may be said that the land should be taken from him in the interests of the people. We are dealing with the ordinary people of the country. People with small parcels of land will also be affected by this provision, and it is necessary to ensure that they have the right to resist compulsory purchase orders. The Minister spoke of the provision of land being frustrated by owners withholding their land. Who are these landowners who withhold their land? In the main, the speculators are those who particularly want to see their land developed. Those who withhold their land are people who have acquired it perhaps to protect their own amenities. They may want a large garden round the house, or there may be a field across the way which they have acquired because they want an open view and do not want the field to be built on. They are not criminals when they act like that. That is the way to protect one's own amenities. Town and country planning does not exist to protect private amenities, but public amenities. Anyone wanting to protect a private amenity does so by acquiring land. People must have the right to resist compulsory purchase. We need to judge compulsory purchase in relation to most reasonable people as well as to the complete speculator. For reasons of equity, it is necessary that the defendant in a compulsory order case, if I may so call him, should know the purpose to which the land is to be put. If he can prove that the needs of the community for his land are less than his own needs, the compulsory put-chase order is not confirmed. Let us judge, therefore, whether the compulsory purchase is necessary and whether the defendant gets a fair chance. By Clause 6(4), the Commission can, after the first appointed day, acquire either undeveloped land or land in a designated new town area, and can do so for four purposes. The first purpose is to secure early development. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dulwich spoke of getting land in advance of requirements, but I think that he must have been referring to the time after the second appointed day. The purpose after the first appointed day is to secure early development. That refers to a piece of land on which early development is necessary, so the Commission would not be acquiring it well ahead of requirement. This we do not complain of, because it is liable to happen any day in any village—there is a need to acquire land for more council housing, and if the development is needed quickly that is the normal process. The second purpose is to secure the development as a whole. Thirdly, the Land Commission can acquire land as an agent for a body which already has power to acquire the land. This seems slightly unnecessary. This should be well justified by the Minister. The Association of Municipal Corporations considers this provision entirely unncessary and its views must carry some weight in this House. The fourth reason is in order to acquire land for crownhold. We have to read that last statement about acquiring for the purposes of crownhold as meaning that the Land Commission can take any land it wishes and say that it wants it for crownhold. Under Clause 16(5) land acquired for one purpose can then be used for another. Claiming that it wants land for crownhold and then using it for another purpose may be perfectly legal, but it is desperately unfair. Here is a case where the individual owner has not a chance if he is told that the Commission needs the land for crownhold and then it turns out that it is to be used for an entirely different purpose. After the second appointed day things become much wider. Then the Land Commission can take by compulsory purchase all land intended for building—the provision is as wide as that—where there is planning permission. Anyone can apply for planning permission—not only the owner of the land, but anyone. If a person has an enemy who has a nice tennis court and resents his ownership of that court, he can get planning permission to put a bungalow on the site even though it has nothing to do with the person making the application. The Land Commission can then compulsorily purchase the land without the owner being able to complain. No one can protect his own amenities in the way I described earlier. The second area in which after the second appointed date the Land Commission can act is the area of a new town. Any land in the area of a new town can be acquired. Anyone who owns land, if a compulsory purchase order is put on it, will find that it is not worth owning because no one has to show that there is a need to take that land. The bare fact that it is within the designated area of the new town means that the land can be taken by compulsory purchase. All the rights of the individual are removed once the second appointed day has taken place. I sincerely hope that the second appointed day will never take place but that it will be found totally unnecessary. Clause 8 operates after the second appointed day. Then a more speedy compulsory purchase order procedure can be followed and an inquiry and objection can be dispensed with if the Minister considers that expedient. Again, the rights of the individual are completely taken away. This is land being commandeered for an unknown purpose by an undemocratic body. This is what the House is asked to accept. We should realise what is being put before the House. The second purpose of the Commission is to operate crownhold. This is completely out of keeping with people's wishes. The Minister should know this, because he has just produced a White Paper on leasehold enfranchisement. He knows the keen desire people have to own not only their own houses but the land on which the houses stand, so that every brick belongs to them, so that they can do what they like, so that they do not always have to refer to the ground landlord if they want to make alterations, and so that at the end of the lease there is no requirement that they must hand the house back in proper condition to the landlord. Although the Minister knows all this, he is now introducing a new form of leasehold which has all the evils of the leasehold system. This is completely inconsistent. The right hon. Gentleman should try to be a little consistent and justify himself in some way before he disappears without trace in the Ministry of Housing. The alleged purposes of the Bill are, first, to secure that land shall be available; secondly, to take part of the betterment; and, thirdly, to reduce the cost of land. Whether land will be available must be a matter of opinion. If the Commission is to operate in the buccaneering way that I have indicated it is empowered to operate, it may be to the great hardship of many owners of small parcels of land that more land does become available. However, this is not likely, because small parcels of land will not solve the problem. Five hundred thousand houses a year, 50,000 acres a year needed for houses—that is not made up of small plots. It is clear that the Minister will not get that amount of land. I have not time to deal with the subject of betterment. I must have a word in private with the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich, who spoke about the merits of charging betterment on factory land. I wish I could have said much more on that subject. In any case, it is certainly not necessary to establish a Land Commission to operate betterment. This subject is absolutely nothing to do with a Land Commission. It could have been done equally well by the Inland Revenue. Finally, we have heard a great deal of argument designed to prove that this will reduce the cost of land. I believe that it will not, except in one or two minor cases. It will not reduce the cost of land to the private individual. This Bill is nothing more nor less than a Measure to bring about the State ownership of land, as some hon. Members have been honest to admit. The subterfuge of calling this body a Land Commission and alleging that it will be of great help to all householders has been shown to be absolute poppycock. This is a bad Bill, and I am looking forward to voting against it tonight.
Anyone listening to the discussions tonight might be led to believe that we were discussing the bureaucratic administration of the Bill and that no underlying moral principles lay behind it. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) is not present at the moment. He indicated that, in his view, the basic difference between the Conservatives and the Socialists was that his side wanted to turn an honest penny or two and that we were trying to stop them. I wanted to take up one or two points, but in view of the small amount of time at my disposal my speech will be an echo of the four-minute mile, because I know that the Minister is waiting to speak.The highest and fastest rise in house building costs which occurred in the last 20 years did not occur last year, and I speak from 14 years' research experience in the industry. It took place in the period immediately after the 1957 Rent Act introduced by the present Opposition, which raised land prices so high that final house prices also rose. This was when the highest rise in total building costs took place in this country during the last 20 years. The other point I make follows the line taken by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin). Many small builders, in discussions with us in the trade union movement, have said that they believe that they are losing in the financial battle to try to obtain land. They think that the large builders and the combines will crush them out. Their attitude to the Bill is quite different from that of the big builders who are inclined to pontificate about their concern for the small builder. If this Measure is not passed, the advantage will be to the large builder, not to the small builder at all. I have been interested to hear in the emotional words coming from the benches opposite concern expressed for the small man. We did not hear this expression of concern during the debates on the 1957 Rent Act. What a change of heart. It occurs to me that it is a peculiar physical fact that Conservatives have to be bodily transported from these benches to the Opposition benches before their hearts begin to function. One of the reasons why action must be taken now on the whole subject of land and, particularly, speculative prices is that the rate of profit obtained from land was accelerated by the 1957 Act introduced by right hon. and hon. Members opposite. The hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe concluded that, although he and his right hon. and hon. Friends were in the minority in the House, they usually won the argument. In fact, of course, the argument on this matter was settled on 31st March last. We won the argument then, as we shall win it again tonight.
We have had the pleasure today of hearing several maiden speeches, and I know that the House has been delighted and interested to hear the new hon. Members. The hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Robert Davies) marshalled his logical argument for the development of his constituency in most interesting fashion, as he did his argument for the encouragement which would be given to it by the provisions of the Bill. I cannot say that I agreed, but I had great pleasure in listening to him. I did agree with the hon. Gentleman's plea along the lines that, if there is to be a betterment levy, we ought to be thinking about "worsenment" compensation. If there is a good case for a betterment levy, there must be a good case for compensation to those whose property is injured for the benefit of the community.My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) gave great pleasure by his speech, and I was particularly pleased to hear it because he is my Member of Parliament. I was not only proud to hear his description of where I live, but I was proud to be represented by such a Member. I am sure that he will always command the attention of the House when he speaks, if I may say so, even more controversially than he did today. I certainly share his disappointment with the Bill, and for much the same reasons, which I shall come to in a moment. Briefly, my hon. Friend put them expressively when he said that on-cost would not reduce prices and that the proper agencies to deal with this matter were the local authorities. The hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Gardner) made the House turn its mind to the relief of poverty, not so much poverty of the individual but poverty in public amenities. His plea for a substantial levy in order therewith better to carry out public works and services evidently came from deep thought on the subject and, therefore, stimulated the thought of hon. and right hon. Members. The hon. Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley), in his entertaining and—I think this may be the right expression—uninhibited speech, made us forget at times that it was a maiden speech and wish to interrupt him. Nevertheless, he expressed the Liberal policy on land values very clearly and firmly, showing its foundation on historical fact. I hope that he will get his replies to Liberal policy from the Parliamentary Secretary tonight. At any rate, we enjoyed his amiable pleasantries and his underlying seriousness. Finally, the speech by the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Bidwell) was of great interest to me because I recently appeared professionally in the Boundary Commission inquiry involving Southall. So I know the hon. Gentleman's very serious problem of the Indian community there. He showed the House his great understanding of that problem and his sympathy with those people. In accordance with the traditions of the House, I must declare an interest as a director of a building society and of a property trust company. I want now to refer to the objectives which the right hon. Gentleman has frequently stated are the objectives of the Bill. They appear in the White Paper on the Land Commission, but perhaps I may quote the right hon. Gentleman's own word from the debate on 31st January, when he said:
after all, it was much the same Bill then as it is now—"The objectives of the Bill"—
I should have thought that this was "third"—"are, first, to secure that land is available at the right time for the implementation of national, regional and local plans; second, to secure that a substantial part of the development value created by the community returns to the community and"—
We on this side of the House agree with those objectives, but we wholly disagree with the implements provided by the Bill to carry them out—the Land Commission and the betterment levy. We believe that these implements will not only fail to achieve those objectives but will eventually—I might even say soon, if they are put into operation—bring chaos and disaster to building development, whether industrial, commercial or residential, whether factories, offices or houses. At the moment the Government's building policy is in ruins. If the Bill becomes law, it will successfully demolish those ruins entirely. The right hon. Gentleman brings the Bill to the House at a time when for every five houses which were being completed when the Labour Government first took office, only four are now being completed. That is Labour progress. The Bill will not cure that defect in the Labour Government's policy. It may not sound a very great social problem when one expresses it as five houses then for four houses now, it may not sound a very great social problem expressed as a drop of 20 per cent. in the rate of house building, but when it is expressed as the difference between 107,000 houses in the first quarter that the Labour Government were in power and 85,500 houses in the last quarter for which we have figures, it means that now 21,000 fewer families per quarter are getting homes than when the Labour Government took office. In face of that backward march away from all the election promises which the Labour Party gave, is it any wonder that we look with some suspicion on the further proposals which come forward in this Bill? The proposals are designed, as I have said, to attain the objectives which I have quoted by the implements of a Land Commission and a betterment levy. The right hon. Gentleman having chosen those implements, I do not believe that he can escape on a Bill of this sort. I do not think that, having chosen the implement of a Land Commission, the right hon. Gentleman could escape from giving it the autocratic powers that it is given in the Bill. I do not think that, having chosen the implement of a betterment levy, he could have escaped from the elaborate classifications and valuations of the levy's chargeable transactions, as they are called in the Bill. These powers and complicated classifications are inherent in the Commission and the levy as they have been thought up by the right hon. Gentleman. They are wholly irrelevant to the present situation and the problem of the 21,000 people a quarter who are being deprived of homes by the Government. It is, I admit, necessary to have a Bill of this magnitude if the Commission and the levy are to be imposed on the public. It is a very strong argument against the Bill that the powers of the Commission must necessarily be so oppressive of the individual that it is entirely alien to our ideas of the liberty of the subject and therefore ought to be rejected on that score alone. It is a very strong argument against the Bill that the betterment levy must necessarily be so complicated that it transgresses, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) said, all the rules of taxation and ought to be rejected on that score. I will, if I have time, come back to the objectionable superstructures, if I may call them that, of these legislative monstrosities, but for the moment I want to attack the two implements root and branch as basically and fundamentally wrong for recouping the Government's deficiencies in building, and particularly in building homes for the people. Any idea that the prospect of the Land Commission will increase the number of houses this year or next year or even in the foreseeable future has to be abandoned. Now, I understand, the target is not to be 400,000 houses for 1966. In fact, it is not to be 50 per cent. of that figure for the local authorities—they have been cut down to 185,000 for the year—and very much less, I suppose, will be achieved in the private sector, as is clearly forecast by the Building Societies Association and by the National Federation of Building Trades Employers. Both the Commission and the levy as proposed by the Bill cannot achieve any increase in the rate of building or in cheapening the cost of building. The Bill is put forward, according to the right hon. Gentleman, firstly as necessary to secure that land is available at the right time for the implementation of national, regional and local plans. Let us take each one separately. How can the right hon. Gentleman continue to say that the Land Commission and the betterment levy are necessary to secure implementation of local plans? Where have the local authorities failed? In what respect are the local authorities' powers insufficient to carry out local plans? The Town and Country Planning Act, 1962, and the Housing Acts from 1957 onwards have given to the democratic local authorities substantially as extensive powers as are to be given to the nominated Land Commission. I know that the right hon. Gentleman could not resist tying a few frills to these powers to ensure that the unfortunate John Citizen does not escape from the tentacles of this bureaucratic octopus. In general, if any local plans are not being implemented, it is not through lack of powers of the local authorities. It may be through the lack of some local authorities in not using these powers, but they have only themselves to blame for that. Generally speaking, it is that the Minister and the Treasury have failed to provide the sanction for borrowing the money to implement these powers. If any special circumstances exist in any locality in which the local authority feels that it needs extra powers, Parliament is not reluctant to give those powers by Private Bill. We have 30 or 40 Private Bills from local authorities every year asking for such extra powers and Parliament is not reluctant to grant them. The argument that the Commission is necessary for this purpose is so weak as to be an insult to the House. The Bill is an unnecessary and dangerous duplication of these powers against the individual. There has been no con- vincing argument that land has been withheld from local authorities. The right hon. Gentleman said again today in vague terms that land had been withheld. If that were true, it could have been put right by tidying up the powers of local authorities. However, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames said, it is not a shortage of land which is the trouble in development or in price, but the shortage of land with planning permission, and I shall return to that in a moment. The second reason which is given is that regional plans are frustrated and that the Commission is necessary to secure that land is available at the right time for the implementation of regional plans. What regional plans? The House should be told what the right hon. Gentleman has in mind. Parliament should not be asked to give a blank cheque to what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) called this irresponsible body, the Land Commission. Parliament is always ready to grant powers for specific projects, but not to give a blank cheque to a nominated body of this sort. Regional development schemes which come to mind are such as the development of the Highlands—and we passed an Act about that only recently—and the development of the Lea Valley, about which a Bill is now going through the House. Are any regional plans being frustrated by lack of the Land Commission? It is said finally that the Commission is necessary to secure that land is available at the right time for the implementation of national plans. What national plans are being frustrated by the absence of a Land Commission? The right hon. Gentleman has made a great point of this not only in the House, but in interviews which he has given and speeches which he has made outside the House, when he has said that if we are having a national levy, we must have a national Land Commission and that local authorities cannot, or do not want to, carry out national plans. We have not needed a Land Commission to build the motorways, to undertake harbour developments, to have hydro-electricity, gas storage, new towns, or national parks. We have not even needed a Land Commission to take over Alexandra Palace, about which an Order is now going through the House and heaven forbid that we need a Land Commission to take over Aintree! This vague phrase about national plans has not been at all justified by the Minister. The Commission is wholly purposeless for the objectives which the right hon. Gentleman has set forth, except—and this may be important—to take out of the control of Parliament consideration of national plans and regional plans and exceptional local plans and perhaps, secondly, eventually to carry out the nationalisation of the land, or, as the Prime Minister chose to express it, to take urban development land into public ownership. There can be little doubt that the powers given to the Land Commission under this Bill are the forerunners of full nationalisation. The powers can easily be used for the purpose of nationalising the land. As on the first objective the Land Commission and betterment levy are quite purposeless so it is on the second objective. The case for the betterment levy is that it will secure that a substantial part of the development value created by the community returns to the community. This case is wholly unproven. As set out in the Bill, the betterment levy involves extremely difficult and highly artificial valuations of market value, base value, and the most damaging periods of delay and uncertainty which will frustrate development. The last thing that it will produce is an increase in building development. The impossibility of a betterment levy could not be shown up better than by the Clause which has already been quoted introducing that extraordinary phenomenon, Case F. The Minister apparently got through five letters of the alphabet, successfully defining what he meant at each stage, but when he got to the sixth he just chucked up the sponge and said, "I will think of something later. If anything comes to mind when the Bill has gone through both Houses of Parliament, we will stick it in by means of a regulation." Even after four and a half months since the first Bill was published he has not been able to think of a proper definition for Case F. That is an inherent difficulty in the betterment levy. It cannot be defined. An- other is the complication of assessment. Take Case C, which is the case where the levy is to be charged on a project of material development. A person, in order to carry out such a project, has to wade through Clause 32 to find what an assessable interest is, Clauses 64 to 72 to ascertain what the project is, give six months' notice before he can even cut the ground to start development, wait six months for a reply and produce documents and so on to the Land Commission. Then the Land Commission need not make the assessment for six years. If this unfortunate developer puts one foot wrong he is liable to a fine of £500 plus the levy, or three times the levy. If the Land Commission serves a counter-notice it apparently makes him a criminal at once. It is an extraordinary Clause which throws some light on the whole of the betterment levy and the system which is worked out. Subsection (3) of Clause 39 says that where the Land Commission serves a counter-notice that shall have effect as if the proposed developer had not served a notice at all. This means that if the Land Commission serves a counter-notice the developer is a criminal right away. He has not served the notice and has committed a crime. This has not been thought out and I do not think that it can be thought out. It is an impossible system to apply. How will this add one single building, whether industrial, office or house, to the country? I ask this at a time when house building has slowed down by 21,000 homes a quarter. The final objective put before us by the right hon. Gentleman is that the burden of the cost of land for essential purposes is reduced. I do not think that he can, after two Second Reading debates, maintain that the Bill will reduce the cost of the land if one taxes the land on which it is built. How can it reduce the cost of a commodity when one is going to collect £80 million a year in tax on that commodity? Who is going to bear that £80 million a year? It is too naive to say that it is going to be the vendor in every case. The Bill does not recognise that, because the man who has to give notice and set the ball rolling for the collection of this levy, and I am taking Case A now, is not the vendor but the purchaser. The man who goes to prison for two years if he fails to give that notice is not the vendor who is supposed to be paying the levy, but the purchaser. The right hon. Gentleman cannot keep up the pretence any longer that all the money will be paid by the vendor and not put on the land at all. There was an open letter written to the right hon. Gentleman in the Sunday Telegraph of 3rd January, 1966, to which he replied the following week. I observe that the writer, Mr. Kenneth J. Robinson, challenged the Minister on a number of points, one of which was this:"that the burden of the cost of land for essential purposes is reduced."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st January, 1966; Vol. 723, c. 697.]
I should have thought that that challenge was strong enough for the Minister to answer. He replied to the letter in five columns of the Sunday Telegraph the following week, but he omitted to answer that challenge, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us tonight whether the £80 million in tax is £80 million, or is the Land Commission really going to make a loss? What is the net result of the £80 million a year which is to be collected? Does it really include £60 million Capital Gains Tax and £20 million Corporation Tax? If it does, we are paying £7 million in expenses to keep the Land Commission going for no purpose. Having said that I agree with the objectives, I have admitted that there are defects to be remedied. Therefore, it is incumbent upon me to put forward constructive alternatives to the proposals in the Bill, and I will spell those out for the hon. Gentleman. First, I would reform the planning procedure at the inquiry stages. I would get away from the toothpaste tube system of planning where, from time to time, little bits of land are squeezed out, and I would ensure that enough land came forward to kill scarcity value. Secondly, I would hive off the great majority of planning appeals to an in- dependent tribunal. If cases in courts took 11 months from the time of setting them down for hearing to the time they came on for trial, there would be revolution in the country. But that is what happens in the Ministry. It now takes, on average, 44 weeks, which is again a backward march, since it was 32 weeks last year. Thirdly, I would use some procedure similar to the new town procedure, with centrally financed development corporations, in cases where local authorities found difficulty in using their powers effectively within their own towns. I have no doubt that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite will read what I am saying in HANSARD tomorrow, but it would be a little more helpful if they would listen to what I have to say. Fourthly, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) suggested, I would use the National Building Agency to assist local authorities in processing their development plans rapidly. There is an agency set up for this purpose, able to assist local authorities in their plans. Finally, as to the levy itself, I would develop the Capital Gains Tax so that it takes into account a tax on the increment in value caused by the granting of planning permission, and that tax to be assessed at the time of the grant of planning permission so that the developer knows what he has to pay, and made payable on the realisation of that increment in value. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Hilton) said that in our speeches we on this side of the House had perhaps disregarded some underlying moral principle behind the problems dealt with in the Bill. I do not think that we have. There is an underlying moral principle. The Bill creates oppression on the individual, to no good purpose. It will not reduce the price of land. It will not reduce the price of houses. It will increase the cost of houses and of all other building. It will not increase the rate of building, a fact of which the Government should be thoroughly ashamed, and I hope that the House will reject the Bill."You are also doubling up on the work of the Inland Revenue and giving the impression that you will be bringing in an additional £80 million a year to the Exchequer. In effect, the £80 million will include £60 million now obtained by the Capital Gains Tax. Much of the remaining £20 million is now found by means of Corporation Tax. So you will be passing to the Exchequer an annual sum of money it is already receiving."
I must first, and I do it with great pleasure, add my congratulations to the whole host of excellent maiden speeches which we have had the pleasure of hearing this evening. I should like, first, to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Ro pert Davies). He and I have had many associations through our local government work over the years. He raised two very interesting technical points about his constituency, and, with his permission, I will write to him about these in order to save time now and because they are somewhat technical and may not be of great general interest.We had an admirable speech from the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi). It is only fair to say that I did what I could to prevent him coming here, and we were very nearly successful, but, nevertheless, as he is here, I welcome him very much and hope that we shall hear him on other occasions. We had a moving speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Gardner), and also from my hon. Friend the Member for Southall (Mr. Bidwell), a next-door constituent of mine, a friend whom I have known for many years and admired his public work, and I am sure that the constituency will be as well represented in the future as it has been in the past. Last, but by no means least, we had an eloquent speech from the hon. Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley), with a rather endearing reference to myself, which guarantees that I must reply as fully as time allows to the points he made. I very much enjoyed the axioms and the truth as enunciated by David Lloyd George, and I noticed that he turned deliberately to the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), and the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) when he made those observations. I think that he must have been as disappointed as I was in their general reaction to the political philosophy summed up in what he said. It may be tedious for the House to have two Second Reading debates, but it has at least one advantage in that one is able to review all the arguments and to weigh carefully all the evidence from both sides of the House. I have had the opportunity of doing this during two days of these debates, as well as during five sittings of the Committee. My conclusion is that perhaps my own speech was almost un- duly moderate on the 31st January, and that while we have had many interesting and detailed technical points—some of which I shall try to reply to this evening, and the rest by correspondence—there have been no new arguments of substance against the Government's proposals since we debated this matter on 31st January. We welcome to the debate the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hexham, whose absence from our deliberations in all these matters we have missed personally if not politically. I hope he will not mind if I say, without wishing to cause any friction between himself and other right hon. Gentlemen, that I thought he deployed his arguments rather more attractively and relevantly than did the right hon. Gentleman who spoke from the Front Bench on the last occasion. Before I become too engrossed in the more fundamental matters on which we must touch in a Second Reading debate, I should like to give one or two answers, if I can, to some of the shorter points which have been raised. First, the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham asked whether we could say anything about the first appointed day. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Land and Natural Resources had originally hoped that it would be towards the end of the year. This is still our objective, although it may be a few weeks late. He also asked about the second appointed day. For obvious reasons, he will realise that I cannot say anything about that at this stage. It depends upon other developments. He also asked whether the Council on Tribunals had been consulted. The answer is "Yes". The Council considered the Government's proposals and its officials sought other information on various points, including one that has troubled many hon. Members, namely, the speedy compulsory purchase procedure outlined in Clause 8. The Council was given full information and every co-operation many months ago.
Can he say what reply the Council has given?
To the best of my knowledge it sought information and that was given to it in October last year. I do not think that we have heard anything further. I hope that is as satisfying to the right hon. Gentleman as it is to us.He then asked about concessionary crownhold, as did many other hon. Members. We have spelt out this concept on a number of occasions but I should like to make three or four quick points on it. First, in the normal way considerable discretion will be given to the Land Commission in making these arrangements. Normally—and certainly in the initial stages—discussions on this form of concession will be operated through bodies like housing societies, housing associations and co-operatives, and such local authorities as desire to engage in this kind of quasi-owner-occupation. But as I said in an intervention, this would not rule out other arrangements with individuals if they wished to engage In this type of operation, or groups of individuals who wanted to form some kind of body in order to get the advantage of the concession. It is important that the concession should not be exploited when it has been given. It will be a very valuable one, and that is why, normally speaking, the Commission will work through bodies of this kind rather than directly. The right hon. Member made some reference to the fact that when the holder of a concessionary crownhold came to dispose he would be at a disadvantage because he would have to sell at less than market price. The right hon. Gentleman has not quite followed the proposition. That is not the case. The disposer would be able to sell at full market price, less the value of his concession. This is common practice. [Laughter.] Certainly. That is the whole point. It is in order that the concession shall not be exploited. This is sensible. It is done by housing associations and co-operative bodies, and it has operated very successfully with, as far as I know, no difficulties. The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) drew attention to the fact that, as he saw it, our crownhold concessionary scheme was a complete contradiction to leasehold enfranchisement. I do not want to go into the argument at great length on this occasion, but he is misleading himself. In the case of a concessionary crownhold the house always belongs to the person who has bought it. He never loses it at the end. He never loses the value of improvements he has put into it. It is quite different from the private leasehold system. I hope that this elementary point will now be appreciated. The hon. Member also pointed out that every transaction would have to be notified to the Commission. It has to be notified under the existing procedure. There is no change at all, and it involves no extra work. The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames asked about the effect on the extractive industries. I am glad to tell him that discussions are going on with those concerned. These industries have been treated on a different basis ever since the 1947 legislation. My right hon. Friend will have very wide powers under Clause 71 to make Regulations. I will say no more at the moment, except that I believe that a happy solution will be reached as a result of the negotiations now going on—
If the hon. Gentleman is leaving the question of the concessionary crownholds, could he give some indication as to what qualifications there will be for this concession? The only qualification which he has mentioned so far is the fact that one is a member of a group. Why should that be a qualification for getting a considerable financial advantage, and what other qualifications will there be?
I am afraid the whole history of society is that great benefits arise when people co-operate. Certainly, in the early stage, to get the schemes going, one would want to co-operate with groups of people able to police the concession, able to look after and advise their members, though the Commission has wide powers of discretion so that it can make other arrangements later on. In the early stages, it should be available to these people who want to take advantage—no one is forced to do so—of what is a substantial concession—
I will give way once more, but I got into some trouble last time. I want to be the servant of the House and give such information as I can, but I do not want to be reproached later on for not having answered all the points.
The hon. Gentleman said something about what I said about the extractive industries. Is the object of the discussions to which he referred to find a means of exempting them from the levy in the same way as Clause 58 of the Bill exempts the National Coal Board?
The object of the discussions is to give them the special treatment to which the extractive industries have always been entitled, and which would enable them to carry on their operations in such a way that they would not be at risk, as they might at present. The difficulty is that if one gives the right hon. Gentleman some answer, he always wants more. I would ask him not to press me further on the present occasion.I will, in fairness, answer one further question. He drew a horrifying picture of the possibility of the levy operating badly on factory extensions. What he said was wholly illusory, although I do not suggest that this was due to malice on his part. First of all, small extensions—that is to say, up to roughly 10 per cent. of the area of the factory space—are not material development within the Bill and therefore would not attract the levy. Proposals are being circulated about the definition of material development which would attract the levy to all the interested bodies, including the Confederation of British Industry and it is proposed—though I want to be careful of the way in which I say this—that those extensions which will be material development will be assessed for levy at the time that they are constructed, but collection of the levy will be postponed until either the extension is used as a separate factory or the extended factory as a whole is sold. So the levy may never be levied so long as the extension remains part of the factory and is not sold. I hope that this puts at rest the right hon. Gentleman's fears. The hon. Member for Cheadle asked me about the Liberal Party's view on the taxation of site values. I was delighted to hear him say that the general objectives of these proposals—which are, first of all, to see that land is available which does not normally come forward through the market mechanism, which is the great difficulty of the existing system, and which hon. Gentlemen opposite apparently do not yet understand, and at the same time to collect part of the betterment for the community—are principles and objectives on which the Liberal Party are entirely in accord with the Government. He went on to ask why the Government did not then use the long-held tradition of the taxation of site values. There are three brief reasons which I will give him at this stage. First of all, when the original theory of site value was put forward—he mentioned 50 years ago—there was no town and country planning, and it was at least arguable that if a tax were put on land which was not developed, this would be an inducement to bring the land forward for development. But today the criterion whether land is brought forward or not cannot be solely that of the tax, because we have an elaborate system of town and country planning. This is one reason why the levy by itself is not enough. The decision whether land is brought forward might not be accelerated if we imposed a tax alone. The second objection is one of unfairness. We believe that the scheme would perhaps create even more anomalies than the existing rating system. If one puts a tax upon the potential development of land a number of things happen. First, the individual has to pay the tax before he has received any benefit from the development. This is the whole point of putting the tax upon it. It may be that in the development plan of a city there are development programmes outlined 10, 15 or 20 years before development takes place. We think that it would be extraordinarily unfair to ask an individual to pay the tax ten years before he received any benefit from the development. I could give two other examples of unfairness, although the objective is a good objective. Suppose there were a moderately sized shop in the high street where an individual service has been given—the kind of shopkeeper who might perhaps be induced to vote Liberal. He does not want to sell out to the supermarket and he retains the family business. But the development value of the site might be ten or 15 times its present value if it were reconstructed. We should be placing a very heavy tax indeed upon that site, to be paid now by someone who will get no benefit from it. We think that that would be unfair. I am sorry that I did not have an opportunity of deploying this argument earlier, especially as I do not think that the Liberal Party have thought their proposal through under modern conditions. There might well be a farm in respect of which a third party gets planning permission. We all know that this happens. From that moment, under the old scheme at any rate, on the principle of the taxation of site value the farmer would be faced with the levy. We say that the Liberal Party scheme would be unfair, would be uncertain and would not bring land forward, because this is not the only criterion on which land is brought forward. Finally there is a very difficult point about valuation. I looked very carefully at the survey at Whitstable. This was a bold and splendid attempt, but I am certain that if we put a tax on site value, as has been very conscientiously done by an individual valuer, and there were appeals to the Lands Tribunal, those valuations would not be sufficiently accurate to decide the case. For all those reasons we believe that the Government proposal is much fairer, because it is levied on the person who has received the value of the land being developed when he sold it—not on the future. Our scheme would impose the levy on what he gets now and when he gets it whereas the Liberal scheme would relate to the future. We therefore say that their scheme is impracticable and unfair.
The description which the hon. Member has given of our proposals is completely distorted and inaccurate. Has he carefully read the Whitstable Report? What he said cannot possibly flow from a proper reading of that document.
I thought that I had gone into some detail on this matter and that I was giving a constructive alternative. I believe that I am right, and if anything I have said is wrong or inaccurate, no doubt the hon. Member will correct me. That is the position as I understand it and as my advisers understand it, and we ask the House to express the view that the Liberal proposal is unfair and uncertain and unlikely to bring land forward, for the reasons which I have given.The new Clause 81, which corrects a grave injustice of the 1959 Act, now the consolidated 1961 Act, has broadly been welcomed. At least no hon. Member opposite has dared to suggest that this remedy is wrong.
I should correct the hon. Gentleman at once. It was not mentioned because we had so much else to mention and criticise in the Bill. It will come up in Committee.
We have at least got on record the fact that the kind of scandal—because it was a public scandal—which went on concerning the Lavender Hill allotments is supported by the Opposition Front Bench.
The hon. Gentleman must give way.
I do not really think—
The hon. Gentleman is not entitled to twist my words in that way. It may well be that the Clause needs amending to protect the small owners who will get badly caught if that Section of the 1961 Act is repealed. We want to look at this matter carefully.
I thought that there had been universal agreement in the debate up to this point. I am sorry that this is not the case. I regret that it has taken us from 1959 until now to get on the Statute Book a reform which is long overdue to deal with a scandal. I am delighted to think that the Amendment which my hon. Friend moved in Standing Committee on 15th February, 1959, has at long last been shown to be right.We start the major discussion realising that there is a cleavage here. If anyone has any doubt about the difference in attitude between the parties, certainly land problems bring it out. For decades, not just since 1959, right hon. and hon. Members opposite—and it appears from the major speeches which we have heard today, although not from all, that it is still true—have advanced a kind of doctrine of despair about land problems. They said, "They are so difficult that you cannot do anything about them". So allegedly progressive a Conservative as the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), when he was Minister of Housing and Local Government, said on the basic problem of land supply:
that is the solution put forward this afternoon by the parties opposite—"… even if more land than is needed for the next few years could be released"—
That is the short answer to what we have heard today, and that is what is happening. I gave a great many examples of this on 31st January. Then the right hon. Gentleman made two other astonishing conclusions, although perfectly logical if once we accept the general theory. He said:"it is unlikely that prices … would come down substantially. Developers and middlemen would tend to put the land released into stock."
Anyone who has seen what has happened in the Home Counties knows how false that has turned out to be. Finally, the right hon. Gentleman went on to say:"There are some good effects to be gained from high prices … because greater prices and greater competition for large sites may force some developers back into the towns and cities".
Nevertheless, we made some progress. We continued to put the case of the growing scandal of land prices and the way in which they were twisting development in the community. By the time that we come to 4th May, 1964, the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East who was Minister of Housing, said—and this largely concedes the case which we are putting before the House today:"High prices persuade us to make full use of the land we have".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th July. 1960; Vol. 627, c. 159.]
So the new agency was to acquire land, to make the plans, to provide the services, to dispose of the land and to take part of the betterment for the public. It makes the Land Commission appear rather puny. Compared with the two speeches to which I have referred, this was almost as celebrated a transformation as the one which happened on the road to Damascus. There was to be the one qualification that the agency was to be for planned expansion schemes, but that really meant all major developments, because all the big developments must, if we are to get the number of houses, be planned developments of that kind. The right hon. Gentleman had another moment of clairvoyance, because he said that quite clearly the new agency would have to deal with the problem, because one cannot leave all this entirely to the 1,500 local authorities. The local authorities have a job to do. They have powers, but no responsibility beyond their own boundaries. If schemes go over their own boundaries they may be prohibited by law from carrying them out—"We need an agency which will acquire the land, make the plan, provide the services and then dispose of the land according to the plan, either by selling or letting it to private or public enterprise. It is a by-product of this necessity that produces betterment; that is, the increase in the value of the land as it is brought into development will be either a total or partial compensation to the public …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th May, 1964; Vol. 694, c. 949.]
I have looked into this very carefully—they will very often be precluded. Furthermore, the cost of acquisition and development by the smaller authorities means such a rate burden that it is often beyond them, and they cannot do it.The right hon. Gentleman had certainly come to this conclusion by 4th May, 1963. This is where the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham came in, because on 18th November previously, when his right hon. Friend had first spelt out this idea of new machinery, it was the right hon. and learned Gentleman who said, "We do not need any new machinery". He said that then, and he says it again today. That is the astonishing thing. Here is the modernised Conservative Party, the streamlined party, going back now to a completely free market in land—as, indeed, the Amendment points out. I would remind the House that when we are taking on this Bill the decision we shall take very shortly, we will be deciding on one of the fundamental issues which confronts our society. Land speculation and the exploitation of land monopoly by a few gives rise, as we have all seen, and as so many of my hon. Friends have said, to some of the greatest evils in our society. The uncovenanted gain of the few landowners is the most unearned of all unearned increments. The party opposite has been entirely timid in its plans to deal with that problem. The Land Commission provides two solutions. First, it returns to the community a part, a very moderate part, of the land value that the community has created. Secondly, it is a national instrument that we have hitherto lacked to see that land is available for the schemes we shall want to include in our long-range building programme. As Mr. Neil Wates said the other day
That is one reason why it is no use merely allocating land. We know that that is not enough. We have seen the Oxford case, and we know what the President of the Building Societies Association has said. We can allocate the land, but as long as there is this increase in price resulting from the 1959 Act—which is as irrelevant to getting land as the Rent Act was to dealing with rents—there is a great inducement for land"There is not so much a technical problem of getting the houses; it is a town planning problem of getting the land."
Division No. 8.]
|Albu, Austen||Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)||Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas|
|Anderson, Donald||Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e)||Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough)|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Eadie, Alex||Howie, W.|
|Ashley, Jack||Edelman, Maurice||Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.)|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.)||Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N)|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Ellis, John||Hughes, Roy (Newport)|
|Barnes, Michael||Ennals, David||Hunter, Adam|
|Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Ensor, David||Hynd, John|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.)||Janner, Sir Barnett|
|Bishop, E. S.||Faulds, Andrew||Jeger, Mrs. Lena (H'b'n & St. P'cras S.)|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)|
|Booth, Albert||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur||Foley, Maurice||Judd, Frank|
|Bowden, Rt. Hn. Herbert||Ford, Ben||Kelley, Richard|
|Boyden, James||Forrester, John||Kenyon, Clifford|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Fowler, Gerry||Kerr, Russell (Feltham)|
|Bradley, Tom||Fraser, J. D. (Norwood)||Lawson, George|
|Bray, Dr. Jeremy||Fraser, Rt. Hn. Tom (Hamilton)||Ledger, Ron|
|Brooks, Edwin||Freeson, Reginald||Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton)|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Gardner, A. J.||Lee, John (Reading)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)||Garrett, W. E.||Lestor, Miss Joan|
|Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury)||Garrow, Alex||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)|
|Buchan, Norman||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C.||Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Gourlay, Harry||Lipton, Marcus|
|Cant, R. B.||Gray, Dr. Hugh||Loughlin, Charles|
|Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara||Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Luard, Evan|
|Chapman, Donald||Gregory, Arnold||Lyon, Alexander W. (York)|
|Coe, Denis||Grey, Charles||Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Griffiths, Will (Exchange)||McBride, Neil|
|Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard||Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||MacColl, James|
|Darling, George||Hamilton, William (Fife, W.)||MacDermot, Niall|
|Davidson, A. (Accrington)||Hamling, William||Macdonald, A. H.|
|Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford)||Hannan, William||McKay, Mrs. Margaret|
|Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen)|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Hart, Mrs. Judith||Mackie, John|
|Davies, Robert (Cambridge)||Haseldine, Norman||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)|
|de Freitas, Sir Geoffrey||Hazell, Bert||MacPherson, Malcolm|
|Delargy, Hugh||Henig, Stanley||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)|
|Dell, Edmund||Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)|
|Dewar, D. C.||Hilton, W. S.||Mapp, Charles|
|Dickens, James||Hooley, Frank||Marquand, David|
|Donnelly, Desmond||Horner, John||Mayhew, Christopher|
owners always to hang on to the land to the last moment.
Before I ask the House to give this Bill a Second Reading, and decisively to reject the Opposition Amendment, I would commend to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite the words of St. Gregory the Great. He said:
"This is the way in which we must preach to the people who keep what they have got and help not others. We must give them clearly to understand that the land has been given by God to be the common property of all men, and that its fruits ought to be used for the benefit of all and that therefore it is ridiculous for them to think that they are not robbing others, and plundering, where they are simply retaining what they have got."
I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading and reject the Amendment.
Question put, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question:—
The House divided: Ayes 210, Noes 147.
|Mellish, Robert||Pavitt, Laurence||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Mikardo, Ian||Pentland, Norman||Small, William|
|Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test)||Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Molloy, William||Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)||Symonds, J. B.|
|Moonman, Eric||Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E.||Taverne, Dick|
|Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)||Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)||Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)|
|Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Price, Thomas (Westhoughton)||Tinn, James|
|Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Price, William (Rugby)||Tomney, Frank|
|Morris, John (Aberavon)||Pursey, Cmdr. Harry||Urwin, T. W.|
|Moyle, Roland||Redhead, Edward||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)|
|Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick||Richard, Ivor||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Murray, Albert||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)||Wallace, George|
|Neal, Harold||Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.)||Watkins, David (Consett)|
|Newens, Stan||Robertson, John (Paisley)||Weitzman, David|
|Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip (Derby, S.)||Robinson, Rt. Hn. Kenneth (St. P'c'as)||Wellbeloved, James|
|Norwood, Christopher||Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.)||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Ogden, Eric||Roebuck, Roy||Whitaker, Ben|
|O'Malley, Brian||Rogers, George||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Oram, Albert E.||Rose, Paul||Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Orbach, Maurice||Ross, Rt. Hn. William||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)|
|Orme, Stanley||Rowland, Christopher (Meriden)||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Oswald, Thomas||Rowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.)||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)||Ryan, John||Willis, George (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Owen, Will (Morpeth)||Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)||Winnick, David|
|Padley, Walter||Shore, Peter (Stepney)||Woof, Robert|
|Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles||Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)|
|Parker, John (Dagenham)||Silkin, John (Deptford)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)||Silkin, S. C. (Dulwich)||Mr. Whitlock and Mr. Harper.|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Grieve, Percy||Onslow, Cranley|
|Balniel, Lord||Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.||Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian|
|Batsford, Brian||Gurden, Harold||Page, Graham (Crosby)|
|Bell, Ronald||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Pardoe, J. W.|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos & Fhm)||Hamilton, Marquess of (Fermanagh)||Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)|
|Berry, Hn. Anthony||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Peel, John|
|Bessell, Peter||Harrison, Brian (Maldon)||Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch|
|Biffen, John||Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere||Prior, J. M. L.|
|Blaker, Peter||Hawkins, Paul||Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James|
|Body, R.||Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Bossom, Sir Clive||Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward||Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. J.||Heseltine, Michael||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas|
|Braine, Bernard||Higgins, Terence L.||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Brewis, John||Hiley, Joseph||Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey|
|Brinton, Sir Tatton||Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt. Col. Sir Walter||Holland, Philip||Roots, William|
|Bruce-Gardyne, J.||Hooson, Emlyn||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Bryan, Paul||Hornby, Richard||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Bullus, Sir Eric||Hunt, John||Scott, Nicholas|
|Carlisle, Mark||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Sharples, Richard|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Iremonger, T. L.||Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)|
|Clegg, Walter||Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Cooke, Robert||Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Steel, David (Roxburgh)|
|Cooper-Key, Sir Neill||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Corfield, F. V.||Kaberry, Sir Donald||Tapsell, Peter|
|Costain, A. P.||King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)||Kirk, Peter||Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)|
|Crawley, Aidan||Knight, Mrs. Jill||Temple, John M.|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Sir Oliver||Langford-Holt, Sir John||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret|
|Crouch, David||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Thorpe, Jeremy|
|Cunningham, Sir Knox||Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)||Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.|
|Currie, G. B. H.||Loveys, W. H.||Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John|
|Dance, James||Lubbock, Eric||Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)|
|Dean, Paul (Somerset, N.)||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Walker, Peter (Worcester)|
|Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford)||Maclean, Sir Fitzroy||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek|
|Dodds-Parker, Douglas||McMaster, Stanley||Wall, Patrick|
|Doughty, Charles||Maddan, Martin||Walters, Denis|
|Drayson, G. B.||Marten, Neil||Ward, Dame Irene|
|du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward||Maude, Angus||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Eden, Sir John||Mawby, Ray||Webster, David|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Whitelaw, William|
|Eyre, Reginald||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Farr, John||Milts, Stratton (Belfast, N.)||Winstanley, Dr. M. P.|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Worsley, W. M.|
|Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone)||More, Jasper||Younger, Hn. George|
|Gibson-Watt, David||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)|
|Glover, Sir Douglas||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Grant, Anthony||Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Mr. Pym and Mr. R. W. Elliott.|
|Grant-Ferris, R.||Nott, John|
Bill read a Second time.
Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).
Business Of The House
|That the Proceedings of the Committee of Ways and Means and on the Motion relating to Procedure may be entered upon and proceeded with at this day's Sitting at any hour, though opposed.—[Mr. Whitlock.]|
Land Commission Money
[ Queen's Recommendation signified]
Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 88 ( Money Committees).
[Sir ERIC FLETCHER in the Chair]
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to provide for the establishment of a Land Commission, to make provision as to the finances of the Commission and to confer on the Commission powers to acquire, manage and dispose of land, to impose a betterment levy in respect of land, and for other purposes, it is expedient to authorise—
(1) the issue out of the Consolidated Fund or raising by borrowing of such sums as may be required to be so issued or raised in consequence of any provision of the said Act of the present Session whereby, subject to a limit of £75 million on the aggregate amount outstanding by way of principal in respect of the advances, the Treasury may make advances out of the Consolidated Fund to the Land Commission for the purposes of the Land Acquisition and Management Fund established under that Act; (2) the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of— (a) any expenses incurred by the Land Commission in consequence of any provision of the said Act; and (b) any expenses incurred by any government department (except the Postmaster General) in the provision of premises, facilities or services for the Land Commission.—[Mr. Skeffington.]
This is one of the occasions upon which it is not appropriate for the Money Resolution simply to go through on the nod. There are a number of questions which ought to be answered. Indeed, they were raised when the Bill was last given a Second Reading, they were raised then on the Money Resolution, they were raised again this afternoon repeatedly, and Ministers refuse to supply the information which we on this side of the House think ought to be made available to hon. Members before Resolutions of this kind are approved.It was a matter of complaint in the last Parliament that the then Money Resolu- tion gave no indication in paragraphs (2) and (3) of the nature and cost of the administrative arrangements to be made and the expenses contemplated. We were then told that it was just in common form. However that may be, we now have a different form of Money Resolution, presumably also in common form, in which paragraph (2,b) says,
That only breaks down the sort of administrative cost which the Land Commission will incur. It gives no information at all of the build-up of those costs. We should like to know whether the Government still stand by their old claim that it will cost £4 million for the Land Commission plus £3 million for the valuation office of the Inland Revenue. We would like to know whether those figures still hold good. How many staff are they expected to cover? How can the figures for staff be broken down to show the number of expert valuers and other professional staff who will have to be employed? What are the contemplated costs of the premises, facilities and services referred to in the Money Resolution? What will the staff salaries be, and has any regard been paid to annual increases in salaries? 10.15 p.m. On this occasion, we should like to know what the effect of the Selective Employment Tax will be. We are told in the White Paper that this is a self-balancing item, but, presumably, the Commission will have to pay in advance and, therefore, in effect, give an interest-free loan to the Government for a period. The actual limit on advances is clear enough, £75 million, but it would be appropriate for the Committee to be given further information as to the rate of advance which is likely. It has been referred to as between £45 million and £75 million. The reference is only to"any expenses incurred by any government department (except the Postmaster General) in the provision of premises, facilities or services to the Land Commission."
We should like to know what rate of interest the Land Commission will have to pay for this money. Earlier today, my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Mitchell) pointed out that the Commission might have to pay 6 per cent., perhaps more. Will the Financial Secretary or another Minister tell us what is in mind? As my hon. Friend and others suggested, it is 6 per cent. for interest plus 4 per cent. for administration, which is a serious addition to the cost of land. We have asked for this information repeatedly, both in the last Parliament and today. It is intolerable that the Government cannot give more specific information about the cost of this new public body."the aggregate amount outstanding by way of principal".
The House of Commons, in this Committee, has a perfect right, when money is involved, to ask how much is involved and why. According to the Government, the drafting of the Money Resolution is perfectly normal. The great train robbery was perfectly normal, but it was a rather bigger than normal robbery. The trouble we are facing increasingly with the present Government is over-government. In the past 18 months, the number of civil servants has risen by 10,000, and all indications are that, as a result of the Government's Measures, the Civil Service will probably have grown by an even greater number in the next 12 months.The House of Commons has a right to know. Hon. Members interrupted when I rose to speak, but the whole Committee has a duty to find these things out. Hon. Members opposite have a duty to their constituents to know what is involved in a Money Resolution on a Bill of this kind and what it will cost the Exchequer and, therefore, the taxpayer. How many people are to be employed? What will their remuneration be? What will be the on cost to the Exchequer? What strain will it put on our resources, and what strain will it put on the very limited pool of people with specialised knowledge in this field who will have to be recruited by the Ministry? All this is legitimate inquiry on the Money Resolution. If the Government will not come clean and tell us what their views or estimates are, they are treating the Com- mittee and the House with the usual contempt which they show towards it on these subjects.
I do not expect detailed answers, certainly not at this time, to the many questions raised by the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), but I wish to raise one simple but important point. How many civil servants will be employed by the Land Commission? Further, the House is entitled to know what additional cost will be involved in obtaining the services of valuers at a time when they are in short supply and the Inland Revenue itself has great difficulty in filling posts. Do the Government intend to pay more than would normally be offered for the services of these professional people?
I do not quite understand the claim that we are not willing to give information. We had a long discussion—I do not complain of that—after the Second Reading on 31st January, when a number of points were raised. I answered them as fully as I could. There was certainly no attempt to prevent any information reaching the Committee. Indeed we are only too glad to be able to put it on record. The right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) was not here, but he may have read what was said. We went into some detail, as far as one can at this stage when considering a new institution, and I am glad to do so again.The estimated administrative costs are given in the Financial Memorandum. I repeat what I have said before—that we expect these to be not in excess of £4 million for the Land Commission and £3 million for the Valuation Office. The Valuation Office will be carrying out the work of the levy and the arrangements have been worked out with the Treasury in relation to the general administrative costs and with the Valuation Office of the Inland Revenue. The £3 million for the Valuation Office is apportioned between the levy work and the dealings in land, which will include work in connection with the levy itself. In view of the estimated receipts for the Commission in a full year—£80 million—the rate of collection will not be very expensive. I was asked some points in relation to the staff. The Land Commission will be decentralised throughout a number of regions, with the headquarters in Newcastle. I have previously given some indication about the earmarking of funds for them. These offices will be in Bristol, Croydon, Ipswich, Leeds, Lichfield, Nottingham, Reading and Salford in England, Cardiff in Wales and Cumbernauld in Scotland. A good deal of the levy collection work will be mechanised. The Scottish Office computer will be used to carry out certain work. I would have replied earlier to various points about staffing raised by the right hon. Gentleman but I was rather generous in giving way and did not have time to do so. The selection of staff has begun. There have been many applications for the higher grade posts and it should be possible to fill them all with officers who are willing to serve and move to offices, either in Newcastle or elsewhere. There have been a number of applications for the lower grade posts. Valuation officers are another matter. When the Commission is fully in operation, the headquarters staff will number about 200 and as the work develops in the regions each regional office, beginning with about 50 staff, may grow to about 150. That gives some idea of the scale of operation. The work has been subjected to methods and scheme techniques, so that there will be the utmost economy in the use of manpower. I think that what I have said covers the points raised, but if there are more I will be glad to supplement my reply.
I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would enlarge upon one point. He said that the figures he gave for the cost of the Commission were not serious in comparison with the yield of the levy of £80 million, but he is aware that that figure has never been given as more than a gross yield, and, of course, the significance of the figure turns much more on what is the net yield.If the Parliamentary Secretary is arguing that the expenditure covered by the Resolution is reasonable in the light of the yield of the levy, he owes it to the Committee to tell us what the expected net yield is, because it is only against that that one can make a fair judgment as to whether the cost of collection is right. Earlier, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) gave some extremely interesting figures which suggested that the net yield would be very small. If he is right, the Parliamentary Secretary's argument for this administrative expenditure is enormously weakened. As the Parliamentary Secretary is using this argument, he must in his own mind have some idea of what the figure is and surely the Committee is entitled to be told. On the last occasion, we extracted—the Parliamentary Secretary will forgive the phrase, but it was only at the third time of asking, as they say in the marriage service—from him the statement that the total staff of the Commission was intended to be about 2,000. I should like to know whether on further reflection that figure still stands and whether he is firm enough in it to be prepared to say that at a later stage of the Bill he would be ready to include any limitation to that figure.
During the debate in January, the Minister indicated that there had been some preplanning of accommodation and recruiting of staff. Can the Parliamentary Secretary say how far that has proceeded?
The Parliamentary Secretary has not replied to my specific question about valuation officers, and that is important.
Perhaps I did not quite understand the question of the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell). The valuation part of the work has been discussed and worked out with the Valuation Office. Of course, its officers are hard pressed, but, as hon. Gentlemen know, not for the first time since the First World War the quinquennial valuation is not taking place, partly because there is an inquiry into the whole system in any event. Although the valuation officers will be hard pressed, they are confident that they can undertake the work.I gathered that the hon. Gentleman was suggesting that we might have to offer some additional inducement, but that is not my information. I do not think that there need be any dispute between us. Even if we accepted the Opposition's argument that all this could be done not by the Land Commission but by the Inland Revenue, there would still be the same valuation officers doing the valuation work, so that this item is common to both the Opposition scheme and our scheme. As for the upper limit of staff; I thought that I had said again that the top figure as far as we can see would certainly not exceed 2,000 and that, with computer methods, it might be less. Certainly we shall take every step to economise in manpower. I am happy to say that, so far as I understand the figures which the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham gave in the Sunday Telegraph, they do not appear to make sense. I will look at them again.
I think that the hon. Gentleman is a little confused about this. I gave figures which had been given by Sir Philip Dingle, the Town Clerk of Manchester, which suggested that there would be a gross yield from the levy of £80 million from which should be deducted £60 million as the likely yield of short and long-term Capital Gains Tax and, perhaps in the longer term, death duties, although we like to think of those as being a little remote. My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) referred to the figures given in the Daily Telegraph which suggested that from the £80 million gross yield should be deducted £60 million as short and long-term Capital Gains Tax plus £20 million for Corporation Tax, leaving nothing. Replying to that letter in the Daily Telegraph, the Minister made no reference to that matter.
I have dealt with this matter in the House and outside. In the Daily Telegraph articles I was asked specific questions to which I replied. There is no substance at all in the case made by Sir Philip Dingle.
Then what is the net yield?
I was about to say that the best advice which I can give to the Committee at this stage—and these figures are based, as they must be, on factors which cannot be precise, which is why I am hesitant about accepting any of the figures which have been bandied about tonight—is that I certainly do not know what was the basis of Sir Philip Dingle's calculation, and, as my right hon. Friend said, the Sunday Telegraph figures seemed to be nonsense. I think I can safely say, in honesty, that the advice that I have been given after very carefully considering the question is that the yield from the levy—
—the net yield will be substantially in excess of tax which otherwise would accrue through Capital Gains or any other impost. It makes the levy a very worth-while operation from the point of view of the Revenue—a substantial one. I cannot at this stage give precise figures. It would be very unwise. Although I know pretty exactly what the figures would be, until one is a little further on one cannot be certain. I think the very worst service that I could do to the House would be to give a figure which was wrong. But I emphasise again—I am being quite frank with the House—that the amount is substantially in excess of what would be raised if other methods were used.
With respect, while I appreciate that the Parliamentary Secretary always does his best to give us the information that we require, it really is not good enough, on what is in effect a Resolution imposing taxation of a very high level, to say that the difference between gross and net yield is something that would be substantial. If the advisers have got to the stage of forming the view that it is substantial, they must have a figure in mind. I submit that we ought to be told what that figure is. If it is premature to give that figure, then it is premature to bring this matter before the House at all.
This really is not good enough. I must support the remarks of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon). The Committee is being asked to approve £7 million and we are not given the slightest indication of what the net yield is going to be as a result of this Measure. There is not even a hint of what this sum may be. It is not reasonable to come before the Committee without at least some preparatory work having been done and without being able to give at least some indication what is likely to be the result of this Measure.The figures which have been quoted and which were given in the Daily Telegraph by Sir Philip Dingle may or may not be correct. We do not know. But it is true to say that these figures would represent an amount of money which could be obtained by the normal means of taxation under the provisions of the Finance Act, 1965. That being the case, we have to have a very strong argument presented to the Committee to persuade us that this amount of taxpayers' money should be allocated in order to add to the amount which would normally be obtained under the terms of existing taxation law. The Parliamentary Secretary must be able to give the Committee a more satisfactory answer if we are to be persuaded to pass this Money Resolution tonight.
I do not know whether I can persuade the Committee any further, but I really must resist this temptation to reveal a figure which might at this stage not be specifically accurate. I have gone a very long way, and I should have thought that when I can say that the figure is substantially in excess of tax which would otherwise accrue, at this stage—and this is a very early stage; the Bill has not gone to the Committee yet—it might be taken as giving an honest view to the Committee. I am quite certain that I would rather not be press-ganged into giving a precise figure at this stage.
The hon. Gentleman has not answered my question about preplanning of accommodation and recruiting.
My hon. Friend has answered it.
I asked the Parliamentary Secretary a Question—
The Parliamentary Secretary has answered the question.
No, he has not answered it. I want to know how much pre-planning had gone into obtaining accommodation and the recruiting of staff to implement this Bill.
I thought that I had given this information. I said on 31st January that arrangements were going ahead with the earmarking of accommodation. This has now been either completed or is being completed. At the moment one office is outstanding. As far as the higher grade posts are concerned, these are well in hand. We have had a great many applications for the lower grades and the matter is being advertised and canvassed now. We are quite satisfied over the higher grade staff.
The Parliamentary Secretary should give the answer that has been requested. After all, we have been asked to approve a very large sum of money. The Parliamentary Secretary gives as a reason for not giving the sum that it would be wrong for him to give a figure that might be wrong. If the Front Bench acted on that principle no figures would ever be given, because normally Government figures are always wrong, whichever party is in power. This is no reason for not giving this sum.The Government are asking for a Money Resolution authorising expenditure of £7 million. Apparently they have had some estimate of the net yield to them of this enormous operation, yet they refuse to give the House the information. It simply is not good enough to do this with the taxpayers' money.
The Parliamentary Secretary has repeated and confirmed what was said in January, which discloses a very serious situation, which the House of Commons Committee should take up in a big way. We have debated the Second Reading of this Bill and are now dealing with the Money Resolution. The Parliamentary Secretary has said quite categorically that they have taken advertisements, engaged senior staff, and engaged some of the medium grade staff on the premise that the House of Commons will automatically pass this Bill. This is treating the House with complete contempt.What right has the Minister to engage one member of the staff, one room, until the House has passed a Resolution giving him the financial ability to do so? It may be that this is something which has happened in the past. I am against the Executive, whichever side of the House it is on. The House of Commons has a duty. The Minister is saying that he is implementing this Bill before hon. Members who have been returned to this House to protect the public and to see that taxation is raised only on a legitimate basis have given their permission. I quite honestly think that the right hon. Gentleman and the Parliamentary Secretary ought to have a Motion of censure put down against them for exceeding their powers. Will the right hon. Gentleman now come to the Box and tell the House on what authority he has booked one room, engaged one member of staff to implement this Bill, which is only at the point of Second Reading? It has not even gone through Committee stage yet. There has been no Third Reading, there has been no approval by the House, and yet they are brazen enough to come to the Box and say that they are already implementing the financial provisions which they will need to work this Bill when it becomes law. I maintain that the Government are treating the House with a contempt that has become so obvious during the last 16 months.
The last point is very simple and if the hon. Gentleman had put it to me in a different way, I could have relieved his mind at an earlier stage. All that we have done so far in the earmarking of accommodation and the advertising of posts—for which there have been many applications and not all of which are filled—has been covered in the Estimates which were not opposed by the hon. Gentleman. [Interruption.]
It is no use hon. Members opposite whom we have not had the privilege of seeing for the entire evening being
Division No. 9.]
|Albu, Austen||Bray, Dr. Jeremy||de Freitas, Sir Geoffrey|
|Anderson, Donald||Brooks, Edwin||Dell, Edmund|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)||Dewar, Donald|
|Ashley, Jack||Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury)||Dickens, James|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Buchan, Norman||Donnelly, Desmond|
|Barnes, Michael||Cant, R. B.||Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)|
|Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Chapman, Donald||Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Coe, Denis||Eadie, Alex|
|Bishop, E. S.||Crawshaw, Richard||Ellis, John|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Crossman, Rt. Hn, Richard||Ennals, David|
|Booth, Albert||Davidson, Arthur (Accrington)||Ensor, David|
|Bowden, Rt. Hn. Herbert||Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford)||Faulds, Andrew|
|Boyden, James||Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Davies, Harold (Leek)||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)|
|Bradley, Tom||Davies, Robert (Cambridge)||Forrester, John|
impatient now because we want to take seriously a matter which is a serious House of Commons affair.
We have had an honest answer from the Parliamentary Secretary. The fact that it is honest does not forgive the fact that it is also ignorant. It does not mean that the hon. Gentleman has himself necessarily failed in his duty, but it is clear that, in a Measure of this sort, the Committee has the right to know what kind of figure is going to result in terms of a net profit. The whole purpose of the Bill which we have been discussing is to provide a betterment levy which, in turn, will provide money for the local authorities to purchase land for house building. Surely we must have some information, however sketchy it may be. I recognise all the arguments which have been put forward about it being impossible to give detailed answers to the questions which have been posed, and that it is impossible to arrive at a positive and final figure. But surely the hon. Gentleman's Department has done some work in providing the kind of information which is essential before the Committee should be asked to pass the Resolution.
The Parliamentary Secretary must give way to the wishes of the Committee. It is not merely, as the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell) has said, that the Department has done some work on it. The Parliamentary Secretary said in terms that it would be wrong at this stage to reveal the figure. That means that he has a figure. In those circumstances, we ought to know it.
The Committee divided: Ayes 160, Noes 45.
|Fowler, Gerry||Lestor, Miss Joan||Price, Thomas (Westhoughton)|
|Fraser, John (Norwood)||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Freeson, Reginald||Loughlin, Charles||Redhead, Edward|
|Gardner, A. J.||Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)||Richard, Ivor|
|Garrett, W. E.||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.)|
|Garrow, Alex||McBride, Neil||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C.||MacColl, James||Robinson, Rt. Hn. Kenneth (St. P'c'as)|
|Gourlay, Harry||Macdonald, A. H.||Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.)|
|Gray, Dr. Hugh||Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen)||Roebuck, Roy|
|Gregory, Arnold||Mackie, John||Rose, Paul|
|Grey, Charles||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)||Ross, Rt. Hn. William|
|Griffiths, Will (Exchange)||MacPherson, Malcolm||Ryan, John|
|Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)|
|Hamling, William||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)|
|Hannan, William||Mapp, Charles||Silkin, John (Deptford)|
|Harper, Joseph||Marquand, David||Silkin, S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Mellish, Robert||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Hart, Mrs. Judith||Mikardo, Ian||Small, William|
|Haseldine, Norman||Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test)||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Henig, Stanley||Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)||Symonds, J. B.|
|Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Tomney, Frank|
|Hilton, W. S.||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Urwin, T. W.|
|Hooley, Frank||Moyle, Roland||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)|
|Horner, John||Murray, Albert||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough)||Newens, Stan||Wallace, George|
|Howie, W.||Norwood, Christopher||Watkins, David (Consett)|
|Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.)||Ogden, Eric||Weitzman, David|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||O'Malley, Brian||Wellbeloved, James|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Oram, Albert E.||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Hunter, Adam||Orbach, Maurice||Whitaker, Ben|
|Orme, Stanley||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Hynd, John||Oswald, Thomas||Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Janner, Sir Barnett||Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)|
|Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Padley, Walter||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)||Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)||Winnick, David|
|Judd, Frank||Pavitt, Laurence||Woof, Robert|
|Kenyon, Clifford||Pentland, Norman|
|Kerr, Russell (Feltham)||Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton)||Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)||Mr. Whitlock and Mr. Lawson|
|Lee, John (Reading)||Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel||Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey|
|Bessell, Peter||Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)|
|Biffen, John||Heseltine, Michael||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. J.||Holland, Philip||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Bruce-Gardyne, J.||Hooson, Emlyn||Scott, Nicholas|
|Carlisle, Mark||Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Sharples, Richard|
|Corfield, F. V.||Kirk, Peter||Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)|
|Crouch, David||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Thorpe, Jeremy|
|Dean, Paul (Somerset, N.)||Lubbock, Eric||Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)|
|Eyre, Reginald||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Walker, Peter (Worcester)|
|Farr, John||Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Whitelaw, William|
|Fortescue, Tim||Onslow, Cranley||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Glover, Sir Douglas||Page, Graham (Crosby)||Winstanley, Dr. M. P.|
|Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.||Pardoe, J.|
|Gurden, Harold||Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Hawkins, Paul||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas||Mr. More and Mr. Grant.|
That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to provide for the establishment of a Land Commission, to make provision as to the finances of the Commission and to confer on the Commission powers to acquire, manage and dispose of land, to impose a betterment levy in respect of land, and for other purposes, it is expedient to authorize—
(1) the issue out of the Consolidated Fund or raising by borrowing of such sums as may be required to be so issued or raised in consequence of any provision of the said Act of the present Session whereby, subject to a limit of £75 million on the aggregate amount outstanding by way of principal in respect of the advances, the Treasury may make advances out of the Consolidated Fund to the Land Commission for the purposes of the Land Acquisition and Management Fund established under that Act; (2) the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of— (a) any expenses incurred by the Land Commission in consequence of any provision of the said Act; and (b) any expenses incurred by any government department (except the Postmaster General) in the provision of premises, facilities or services for the Land Commission.
Resolution to be reported.
Report to be received Tomorrow.
Ways And Means
Considered in Committee.
[Sir ERIC FLETCHER in the Chair]
Motion made, and Question proposed,
1. That a levy, to be called betterment levy, shall be imposed in respect of land; and that it is expedient—
(a) to make provision as to the rate at which betterment levy is to be charged and as to the value or other amount on which it is to be charged, and (b) in other respects to make provision for the assessment and payment of betterment levy, including provision for the payment of interest on the principal amount of the levy.—[Mr. Willey.]
This is a Resolution on which the question of yield really arises. It arose incidentally on the Money Resolution because the Parliamentary Secretary related his argument as to the administrative costs to the yield and suggested that it was not a high proportion. The Resolution asks us to make provision for a new tax about which all we know is that it has an £80 million gross yield. I will not rehearse all the arguments put before you a short while ago, Sir Eric; I will only say that this is not one of the issues in which the big battalions, in the long run, can dictate the terms.We certainly had no idea that a situation would arise in which the Government would say that they had in their hands an estimate of the net yield expected from the betterment levy but would not give the figure to the House. The Parliamentary Secretary has said that the time is not opportune. I hope that at least on this occasion we shall be told when he thinks that it will be opportune. It is all very well to say that the Bill has only just had its Second Reading. We all know that it had a Second Reading in the last Parliament. Since then, about 4½ months have elapsed, so there has been plenty of time for these estimates to be made. We know that the Govern-have gone a long way with regard to staff. A further point in this Resolution is that it is said
That is exactly what we are not doing. We are not making provision as to the rate at which betterment levy is to be charged, because this Committee has no idea what the rate will be. The Bill itself provides that the rate shall be made by Ministerial Order—not a satisfactory way in which to impose a high tax upon the subject, I would have thought. But even accepting that it is to be done by Order, at least the Committee is entitled to some information about the Government's intentions in the matter. All we know from the White Paper is that it is apparently the Government's intention to prescribe by Order an initial rate of 40 per cent. We are also told that it is the Government's intention to increase the proposed rate progressively to 45 per cent. and then to 50 per cent. at what the White Paper describes as "reasonably short intervals". We have already asked in the debate this afternoon what the intervals are expected to be. Apparently that is not to be the limit, because the White Paper says that the question of increasing the rate will be further examined as acquisitions by the Commission increase. In our submission, before the Resolution is passed, we should know the Government's intentions of what the rate is to be at which the betterment levy is to be charged, not only initially but as to the future. We also think it quite wrong that we should be asked to make provision of this kind for taxation of the subject with no limit at all. We should have some assurance from the Government that it is intended to put a limit on the amount of levy that can be charged."… that it is expedient … to make provision as to the rate at which betterment levy is to be charged and as to the value or other amount on which it is to be charged. …"
I will deal briefly with those three points. I am not in a position to help the right hon. and learned Gentleman with regard to the net yield. We give a figure of £80 million because that is a calculation we can make on an estimate of the development value. We cannot make an estimate of the net yield, because that means making calculations of hypothetical circumstances, which would involve a great deal of trouble. We have tried, but we are not able to produce a figure. But I can assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that there is no question of our being in a position to give him figures of the net yield—
The right hon. and learned Gentleman can have his opportunity to speak again.On the subject of the rate, I have nothing to add to what I said in the White Paper. We propose an initial rate of 40 per cent., progressively rising to 50 per cent. over reasonable, short intervals—[HON. MEMBERS: "What intervals?"] Well, reasonable is reasonable. The question of limits is for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to pursue, if he so wishes, in the Standing Committee.
I thought that the Minister was present when the Parliamentary Secretary replied on the Money Resolution. How can he now say that there is no figure, and that it is all hypothetical, when the Parliamentary Secretary has said on behalf of the Government that there is a figure in existence—an estimate that has been made—which he says it would be inopportune to reveal because it might not prove to be correct?
The Parliamentary Secretary might make some informed guess, but it would be no more than that. It is a matter upon which, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, we depend on advice. We have the best advice we can obtain, and we are advised that such a figure is not obtainable, and that it would only be obtainable—but not very illuminating—at considerable expenditure of staff time.
We are left in an extraordinary position by the Minister's answer. We are now on a Ways and Means Resolution which, subject to your greater knowledge and experience, Sir Eric, is the necessary basis for legislation imposing taxation. We are on what is analogous to a Budget Resolution. The Committee will know that all Chancellors of the Exchequer are punctilious on Budget Resolutions in giving the Committee of Ways and Means their best estimate of the in- tended net yield of the taxation which their proposals embody.It appears now that the Land Commission is coming into the field of taxation that the Government feel unable or unwilling to follow the normal procedure in matters of taxation, but the historic Committee of Ways and Means has to decide whether the right hon. Gentleman should be allowed to go ahead with a further proposal for the taxation of the people. This goes back for centuries; that this committee is not prepared to grant the right hon. Gentleman such authority unless he is prepared to give to this Committee his own best calculation of what that burden is to be, and what that burden is to be is of course the net yield. When he spoke a few moments ago, the right hon. Gentleman did not say that it was impossible to give his best calculation. He said that it would cause a lot of trouble and expense to calculate it. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) has pointed out, the Parliamentary Secretary used words on the previous Resolution, which I took down. He said that it was "a temptation to reveal"—I ask the Committee to note the word "reveal"—"the figure". It was Oscar Wilde who said:
In this respect I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to model himself on Oscar Wilde and to yield to temptation. Ministers think they know what the net yield will be. In discussion of the previous Resolution, the Parliamentary Secretary said that the yield would be reasonable in the light of administrative costs of collecting it. He also said, and I took it down, "it would be substantially in excess of the yield" in its absence, from other forms of taxation. He could not have spoken at the Box without he and those advising him having some idea of what the figure is. The only people not to be told are this Committee on whom falls the responsibility of deciding whether the taxation proposal should go forward. This is not the way to treat this Committee. It indicates one of two things. Either the whole of the proposals in this Measure are in such a state of chaos and confusion that he and right hon. Members opposite dare not give a figure because they have every reason to believe that it would be wrong and they would have to explain afterwards why they gave it. Alternatively, and this may be right in view of what has been said outside, the net yield will be so pathetic that opinion generally would condemn this Measure if all the expensive apparatus were to be created for the purpose of obtaining so trivial a yield. Either the confusion in the Department is such that they have no idea, or it is so small—there is no third possibility—as to be highly discreditable to the Government and the Minister. It is the historic duty of this Committee to probe this matter a great deal further."I can resist anything except temptation"
There is a great deal in which the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) has just said, and I, too, appeal to the Minister to think about this again. He put his own interpretation on the words of the Parliamentary Secretary, saying that he, the Parliamentary Secretary, could make an informed guess about what the size of the net yield would be. But what he asks us on this side of the Committee to do is to make an ill-informed guess, because the figures available in his Department, on the Parliamentary Secretary's own admission in the debate on the last Resolution, would enable him to say that the net yield from this tax is substantial.The word "substantial" can have many interpretations. Speaking of his income, a man might say that £10,000 was a very substantial sum. Speaking of taxation, I would say that "substantial" means something in excess of £25 million. We know what the gross figure is. I ask the Minister to come clean with the Committee and tell us what figures there are in his Department, to which the Parliamentary Secretary has already referred, which would enable him to give the net figure. It would not be reasonable to pin the Minister down to any exact figure. I ask only that he gives a bracket within which he expects the net yield to lie. I think that the Committee would then be perfectly satisfied. But it will not be satisfied to be kept completely in the dark, knowing perfectly well, from what the Minister himself and his Parliamentary Secretary have said, that these figures are available in the Department.
The Committee of Ways and Means is being treated with the enormous contempt by Ministers. The Parliamentary Secretary has already said that, in the Department, there is some view about the net yield of the levy, but he does not think that it would be diplomatic—I suppose that that is the right word—to disclose it to this Committee. The only possible conclusion is that the figure is so derisory that he realises that his hon. Friends would wonder why they were being kept here at 11 o'clock at night to bring in a Measure which would produce nothing.The Minister says that the gross yield will be £80 million. I should have thought that the gross yield figure would be the one most difficult to arrive at. I agree with the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) that there must be some elasticity in this, but, when the Minister says that the view is that the gross yield will be £80 million, it must be remembered that he knows what other taxes exist, that the Capital Gains and the Corporation Taxes exist. It would be easy to tell the Committee quite categorically that, if the gross yield is £80 million, their estimate of the net yield is £x million. I believe that, as the Parliamentary Secretary almost admitted, this information is available in the Department, and the reason for its non-disclosure to the Committee is that it shows pretty well that the whole of this tax is cancelled by our already operative taxation structure. In other words, the Capital Gains Tax and the Corporation Tax on the same piece of land would probably bring in just about the same amount of money as is being brought in under the Bill. And that would make hon. Members look a proper lot of "Charlies" when they went back to their constituencies and tried to explain it. Having told the people at the election of the enormous yield which was coming under the Bill, they would then have to explain that it would be no more than a fiddling little two or three millions. Hon. Members opposite would be in great political difficulty in explaining this to their constituents, and that is why the Minister will not say. This is not the only complaint that I have about this matter. What does "reasonable" mean? The right hon. Gentleman intervened to say that it would be "reasonable". They bring in a Bill in which the initial levy is 40 per cent., to be raised to 45 per cent. and then to 50 per cent. Is "reasonable" six months, 12 months, two years, five years, or 10 years? The right hon. Gentleman has a duty to say, "We may change our minds but at present our view is that in three years' time it will go up to 45 per cent. and in another two years up to 50 per cent.". Or he could say, "In another five years it will be 45 per cent. and in 10 years 50 per cent.". The right hon. Gentleman must be working out the organisation of his Department and he must have some view on this. When he says "reasonable", does he mean the next meeting of the Cabinet or when he is absorbed into the Ministry of Housing and Local Government? "Reasonable" is "reasonable to anybody".
Except the hon. Member.
I hope that the Minister does not mean me, because I am not reasonable at this moment. The way in which he is treating the Committee is disgraceful. He is bringing forward a Ways and Means Resolution, which is the equivalent of a Budget Resolution, and is treating the House with complete and utter contempt. [Laughter.] It is all very well for hon. Members opposite to laugh. What would the Committee say if the Chancellor presented a Budget Resolution in the woolly way in which the right hon. Gentleman has presented this Resolution?I suppose that this is why the Prime Minister has decided, in the interests of safety and the future of the nation to put someone over the right hon. Gentleman at the earliest opportunity. He is obviously not safe to be allowed out alone. He is to be put under the control of the Minister of Housing and Local Government because the Prime Minister realises that this kind of operation in Committee is not good enough. Will the Minister tell us what he regards as "reasonable"? He must have made some calculations about the yields of the tax—and it is a tax. The Committee has a right to know his estimate of the net yield as an additional burden on the community, over and about the Capital Gains and Corporation Taxes, which is the purpose of the levy. The committee is being treated with contempt, because it is easy for the right hon. Gentleman to give us this information. The Committee has a right to demand that he does so before the Resolution is allowed to pass.
The hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) does himself less than justice when he says that he is unreasonable. I think that he and all hon. Members on this side of the Committee are being reasonable when they seek a piece of information which they genuinely require before the Resolution is passed.The Minister told us that the Parliamentary Secretary might be able to give an informed guess, and the Parliamentary Secretary said that it was a temptation to reveal a figure. This is simply not good enough, because on the basis of the evidence before the Committee it is clear that some homework has been done by the Parliamentary Secretary, the Minister or their advisers, and they have at least some indication of the possible net yield. We realise that it would be both foolish and wrong for the Minister this evening to give an exact figure, but we are entitled to know what this substantial profit might be. As my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) has said, many interpretations can be put on the word "substantial" It may be 10 per cent. of the cost; it may be 50 per cent., but we should at least have some indication. Unless we know beyond all reasonable doubt that the Measure will provide for the purpose which the Government have stated it will be used—namely, the provision of money for local authorities to clear land to build houses—then there is no purpose behind the Bill, and these Money Resolutions are not only a waste of time, they are perpetrating a deception on the House. 11.15 p.m. This is something which the Committee should take seriously. I realise that there has been some levity during the discussion, but if the Committee is to be asked to pass the Resolution without any of the information which is normally placed before a Committee of the House of Commons on a matter which is really a budgetary matter, this is a departure which the Committee and the House will seriously regret. It is something quite contrary to the whole purpose behind Parliament. Therefore, I make a plea that the Minister should give us his informed guess or such information as he has before him. If he does this, there is no question of the Committee holding him to it in future or throwing it in his face if the figure is not reached—we know that he will be working on the minimum possible amount of information—but we are entitled to some sort of figure. If the Minister does not do that, some of us on this side of the Committee will conclude that he is "windy". On the other hand, if he cannot do that, we shall conclude that he is "wet".
The right hon. Gentleman has sat there and kept quiet in the face of the reasonable requests from this side to give the figure. I acquit him of holding back the figure because it might be politically damaging to bring it out but this is the conclusion to which a number of my hon. Friends have come. I hope that it is not true that he is frightened to give this figure because it may be so politically damaging to him. If he needs to think about this again—I am sure that it will do him no credit to refuse to give the figure—he can ask the Committee for a form of adjournment, he can move to report Progress and ask leave to sit again, so that he can bring the Resolution back. We on this side would grant him that if the Motion were accepted by the Chair.But he sits there silently with his lips sealed and flatly refuses to tell the Committee something which the Committee is entitled to know. We are not just niggling at him: this is a serious matter. We are told that £80 million is to be collected from the public, and we have not a clue what that means in real cash. We are not told what the net yield is. If there is some constitutional, political or expedient reason why he cannot give it tonight, then let us adjourn and return to the Resolution at a later date when he can tell us the figure. But it would be disgraceful for the Committee to let the Resolution go through like this without the information on which it should be based. It is dis- graceful of the right hon. Gentleman to sit there and not tell us the figure, and I am sure that he will be deeply sorry about it when he thinks about it again.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will accede to the reasonable request of my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) that he might withdraw this Resolution and bring it forward again. He still has not answered the point I raised about the rates at which the betterment levy is to be charged, for this Resolution refers specifically to making provision for the rate at which the levy is to be charged. He has refused to go beyond the statement in the White Paper and we have no idea, therefore, what ultimate gross or net yield he hopes to receive.I had hoped that we would have serious figures of what the yield would be at the various rates referred to in the White Paper. The whole of our proceedings since 10 o'clock have reinforced the point we have made—that it really is quite unacceptable for provisions for taxation on the subject to be made in a Bill promoted by a Departmental Minister who—as my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), with his great experience as a Treasury Minister, said—is not perhaps familiar with the normal budgetary procedures. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman might have welcomed the opportunity to take this Resolution back and think about it again. It may be that there is a figure which he could and should reveal but about which he might like to take further advice. But what is more frightening still is that, as the Parliamentary Secretary said, it would be a temptation to reveal a figure and so lead the Committee to believe that there is one when in fact there may not be one at all. It may be nothing more than inspired guesswork. To tax the subject on the basis of inspired guess work is intolerable. If I can coin a phrase, it would be treating this Committee with contempt. In these circumstances, I hope that you, Sir Eric, would accept a Motion to withdraw this Resolution, but such a Motion would come much more gracefully from the Minister.
I am afraid that I could not accept a Motion of that kind at this stage.
One is left with the conclusion, if we are to accept the assurances of the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary, that the Government intend to set up this enormously cumbersome organisation, making tremendous demands on the very
Division No. 10.]
|Anderson, Donald||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C.||Ogden, Eric|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Gray, Dr. Hugh||O'Malley, Brian|
|Ashley, Jack||Gregory, Arnold||Orbach, Maurice|
|Barnes, Michael||Grey, Charles||Orme, Stanley|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Griffiths, Will (Exchange)||Oswald, Thomas|
|Bishop, E. S.||Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Hamling, William||Pavitt, Laurence|
|Booth, Albert||Harper, Joseph||Pentland, Norman|
|Bowden, Rt. Hn. Herbert||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)|
|Boyden, James||Hart, Mrs. Judith||Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Henig, Stanley||Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)|
|Bradley, Tom||Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Bray, Dr. Jeremy||Hilton, W. S.||Redhead, Edward|
|Brooks, Edwin||Hooley, Frank||Richard, Ivor|
|Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)||Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough)||Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.)|
|Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury)||Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.)||Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.)|
|Cant, R. B.||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Roebuck, Roy|
|Coe, Denis||Hunter, Adam||Rose, Paul|
|Davidson, A. (Accrington)||Janner, Sir Barnett||Ryan, John|
|Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford)||Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)||Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)|
|Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Judd, Frank||Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Kerr, Russell (Feltham)||Silkin, John (Deptford)|
|Davies, Robert (Cambridge)||Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton)||Silkin, S. C. (Dulwich)|
|de Freitas, Sir Geoffrey||Lee, John (Reading)||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Dewar, D. C.||Lestor, Miss Joan||Urwin, T. W.|
|Dickens, James||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)||Loughlin, Charles||Wallace, George|
|Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e)||Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)||Watkins, David (Consett)|
|Eadie, Alex||McBride, Neil||Weitzman, David|
|Ellis, John||MacColl, James||Wellbeloved, James|
|Ennals, David||Macdonald, A. H.||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Ensor, David||MacPherson, Malcolm||Whitaker, Ben|
|Faulds, Andrew||Marquand, David||Whitlock, William|
|Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Mikardo, Ian||Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test)||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)|
|Forrester, John||Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)||Winnick, David|
|Fowler, Gerry||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Woof, Robert|
|Fraser, J. D. (Norwood)||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)|
|Freeson, Reginald||Moyle, Roland||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Gardner, A. J.||Murray, Albert||Mr. George Lawson and|
|Garrett, W. E.||Norwood, Christopher||Mr. W. Howie.|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Holland, Philip||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Bessell, Peter||Hooson, H. E.||Scott, Nicholas|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. J.||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Sharples, Richard|
|Bruce-Gardyne, J.||Kirk, Peter||Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)|
|Carlisle, Mark||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Thorpe, Jeremy|
|Corfield, F. V.||Lubbock, Eric||Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)|
|Crouch, David||Mawby, Ray||Whitelaw, William|
|Dean, Paul (Somerset, N.)||Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Winstanley, Dr. M. P.|
|Fortescue, Tim||Onslow, Cranley|
|Glover, Sir Douglas||Page, R. Graham (Crosby)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.||Pardoe, J. W.||Mr. Jasper More and|
|Gurden, Harold||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas||Mr. Anthony Grant.|
|Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel||Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey|
1. That a levy, to be called betterment levy, shall be in-posed in respect of land; and that it is expedient—
staffs and skills that are in the scarcest possible supply, in order to produce a certain result and that, at the end of the day, they do not know whether anyone will be better off or not. That is the conclusion to which we are forced by the Government's deplorable exhibition.
The Committee divided: Ayes 119, Noes 34.
2. That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to provide for the establishment of a Land Commission, to make provision as to the finances of the Commission and to confer on the Commission powers to acquire, manage, and dispose of land, to impose a betterment levy in respect of land, and for other purposes, it is expedient to authorise the payment into the Exchequer of sums required to be so paid by virtue of that Act.—[Mr. Willey.]
Resolutions to be reported.
Report to be received Tomorrow;
Committee to sit again Tomorrow.
Procedure (Select Committee)
Select Committee appointed to consider the Procedure in the Public Business of the House; and to report what alterations, if any are desirable for the more efficient despatch of such Business:
To consist of Eighteen Members:
Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop, Mr. Channon, Mr. Donald Chapman, Mr. Denis Coe, Mr. Roy Hattersley, Mr. Eric S. Heffer, Dr. David Kerr, Mr. Selwyn Lloyd, Mr. John P. Mackintosh, Mr. Edward Milne, Sir Hugh Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir William Robson Brown, Sir George Sinclair, Mr. David Steel, Mr. Turton, Dame Irene Ward, Mr. W. T. Williams, and Mr. Woodburn.
Power to send for persons, papers, and records:
Power to report from time to time.—[ Mr. John Silkin.]
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they do report first on—
(a) the times of sittings of the House; (b) methods of voting.—[Mr. John Silkin.]
I want to protest against what I can only describe as the castration of the Committee of Procedure. I want also to say to my hon. Friends that since the hour is late, I do not propose to press my protest to a Division and if they want to go home they are at liberty to do so. It is also incumbent upon me to declare a certain negative interest. I have been, and it is quite possible that I am being, and will be, accused of being annoyed because I have been left off the Committee on which I served in the preceding year. It is perfectly true that I am annoyed but it is equally true that on this occasion I have let go by the portion of the Question which was read out, appointing the members. When this was put down on the Order Paper last Friday I did not try to amend it in the sense that I could have done to insert my own name. I can only say, and I hope that hon. Members will believe me, that my interest in this case is not purely personal.The point here is that this Committee is being appointed with Instructions, first to consider times of sittings, and secondly to consider methods of voting. It cannot consider anything else unless these two things have been considered. Many hon. Members of this House believe that those two things should be considered. But whether they should be considered first, above all things, before any other question, is something that the House ought to think about. On the question of the timing of sittings, I hope that my hon. and right hon. Friends when they come to reply to this will assure us that they will consult all Members of the House, because this is something highly personal. All of us would have some preference about times of sittings. Some of us would rather have the House sitting earlier and some of us might even like it to sit later. This is something about which I hope we are going to be consulted. One thing that the Committee is not going to be able to do is abolish the reason why the House sits very late. The principal causes of this House sitting very late are Committee stages of Bills. In past Sessions the Committee of Procedure has considered financial procedure and Supply. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer went so far as to say, in his Budget speech, that the Committee had not gone far enough in considering this matter. It is recommended that all this, if I may so call it, mumbo-jumbo that we have just been through in the last few minutes, when the House went into Committee, then out of Committee and back into the House, back into Committee and then back into the House again, should be abolished. The Chancellor said that the Committee of Procedure did not go far enough and the reason why it did not do so was because it did not consider the process of legislation, which is the most important thing with which this House has to deal. After all, this House is a legislature and the things which normally keep us late on most evenings are Committee stages of Bills, and in particular the Committee stage of the Finance Bill, as every hon. Member who sat through the last Finance Bill will know very well. This Committee on Procedure will be totally unable to deal with this until it has considered the question of times of sitting in the abstract, in other words we can start earlier, in the morning, but there is nothing to stop us ending as late in the evening as we may already do. There is nothing to stop us dealing with different stages of Finance Bills or anything else on the Floor of the House until the Committee on Procedure considers legislative procedure which, under this Instruction, it will not be able to do. The second thing which the Committee is asked to consider is methods of voting. It is a fact that in other legislatures, both on the Continent and in the United States, voting procedures take longer than in this House. We are annoyed because we go through a sort of cattle-pen called a Lobby and we take 10 minutes to decide an issue. In fact, we take three minutes, because seven of the 10 minutes is the time allowed before whoever is in the Chair says, "Lock the doors". Those seven minutes have an essential purpose, as anyone who has been in certain parts of the premises which one does not usually discuss on the Floor of the House knows full well. It requires seven minutes to get out and get into the Lobbies, especially on an occasion as in the last Parliament when the Government might depend upon one's vote. My hon. Friends correct me. I understand that the period of time before the doors are locked is six minutes. In any event, only four of the 10 minutes are spent in the actual voting. No electronic procedure in the world can save a great deal of time if that is the amount of time taken by our present procedure. In other legislatures, one vote can take as much as half an hour. Yet this issue of four minutes is regarded as more important then any other issue of procedure which the House can discuss. I submit that there are other issues which could be discussed. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, as head of an executive in the country, in the first major speech in the present Parliament has at long last conceded the case for what we commonly call specialist committees or, as he put it, committees concerning themselves with administration in the sphere of Government Departments. He conceded the case, and he said that their mode of formation, their procedure and their powers should be discussed between the usual channels, by which I presume he meant the Chief Whips and the leaders on each side. If there are to be specialist committees of the House, is it not possible that the House itself ought to have had some share in those discussions? For many years, Members of all parties have been saying that the House ought to have specialist committees to consider the functions of the executive. Now it has at long last been conceded by an executive, but the House itself is not to discuss it. There is not even an assurance in the speech that they will be Committees of the House. One trusts that they will be, but there is no assurance in the speech. Yet I would suggest that it is conceivable that the Committee of Procedure ought to be considering not four minutes of voting, but how those committees should be set up and what their procedure should be. I submit that they ought not to be Select Committees in the sense in which the House now understands, because, for example, they would have no power to decide themselves whether they should meet in public or in private. Hon. Members may not realise that a Select Committee of the House cannot decide that by a majority. A Select Committee can meet in public, but it must meet in private if one single Member objects. That is hardly democratic. They used to meet in public until 1939. Since then, because of the war and for other reasons, they have continued to meet in private. But a specialist committee should be able to meet in public or in private and be able to hear evidence in public or in private, as it feels the need. If it were a Select Committee, it could not do so. Surely points such as this are worth considering. Let me take another point, which is that of the appointment of Committees. A month or two ago Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon caused the subject of Vietnam—which is of major interest to a country which has its troops at war there, irrespective of the view that one takes of it—to be debated throughout the United States, by the simple process of saying that he wanted it discussed. It was discussed because he was a member of the Foreign Relations Committee of the United States Senate. In this country he could not have done so because the Members of such a Committee would have been appointed by the Chief Opposition Whip and by my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip. They would have chosen the "safe" Members on each side of the House. When Committees are appointed in this way, can one honestly feel that before the war a Churchill would have sat on an India Committee, that some of the right hon. Gentlemen opposite whose views on Rhodesia differ from those of their leaders would necessarily sit on a Commonwealth Committee and that some of my hon. Friends—as indeed one of my hon. Friends pointed out in a debate on Procedure in the last Session—whose views on Vietnam differ from those of their leaders would necessarily sit on a Foreign Relations or Defence Committee? If, as the Prime Minister said, we are to have specialist committees, we as a House should elect them, not by a simple majority as has been the historic tradition, but on a basis of proportional representation, so that every group of opinion, from those in favour of Ian Smith in Rhodesia, to those of my hon. Friends who believe that our policy in Vietnam is wrong, is represented in proportion to its size. My hon. Friends are, of course, entitled to disagree with me on these things if they wish. All I am saying is that these things should be considered. They deserve consideration, not merely through the usual channels, but by the House itself. If, at long last, we are to have specialist committees, the House itself should consider the issues. This Committee on Procedure is limited to considering two things first. It is to consider the times of sitting—before it has considered the question of committees, before it has considered whether, if the House sits earlier, this will interfere with the meetings of committees or anything else—and, secondly, it is to produce a method of voting which will save perhaps four minutes. There are other issues which ought to be discussed. I apologise to my hon. Friends and to hon. Gentlemen opposite for keeping them here at this late hour, but I think that what I have said deserved saying. This House has many issues of procedure to consider, and it ought to be allowed to consider them.
I do not propose to get involved in a detailed argument with the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) on the various issues which he has raised.I think we all have to remember that the hon. Gentleman, through no fault of his own, has not yet been in Opposition, and only came into the House in the last Parliament. Anyone who is in Opposition soon becomes aware of the immense value of procedure if the Opposition wish to delay a Government who are introducing pernicious legislation, and therefore I would hesitate before throwing overboard all the machinery which we have tried to build up over the centuries and have in its present form today. I have risen to take part in this discussion only because the Leader of the House is in his place. He will recall that at the beginning of the last Parliament I raised with him an issue which was followed by a Motion on the Order Paper. There is a similar Motion on the Order Paper in this Parliament, and it calls for the setting up of a Select Committee on Science and Technology. This Motion was put down at the decision of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee which, as hon. Members know, is an all-party Committee, bringing in people from outside the House, as well as from both Houses of Parliament. We have been told by those who have worked on that Committee that there is a crying need for more time to be made available than has hitherto proved possible, owing to the Parliamentary time available in the Chamber, for the study of reports from the Privy Council, the Atomic Energy Authority, the National Research and Development Corporation, and similar bodies whose work is vital to our economy. All too seldom does Parliament consider their reports. On the Order Paper today there appears Motion No. 39, signed by the hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer), Chairman of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee; my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price); the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock): the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price);, myself; the hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. Carol Johnson) and about six other hon. Members. We feel very strongly that this matter requires urgent attention. I point out to the Leader of the House that what disturbs me about the Motion is that the only thing about which there is any urgency for the Committee to consider is the question of the times of sitting and the method of voting. I would like to have seen this matter given an early priority for consideration by the Committee, and I hope that the Leader of the House will be prepared to give us some hope that at a reasonable date the Committee will consider this very important point.
I thank the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) for raising this matter, even at this late hour. Although I do not agree with a great deal of what he said, it is important that back benchers should assert their rights in the House of Commons, and I go a long way with him in his criticism of the terms of reference of the Select Committee on Procedure.From time to time we all get a little browned-off over the question of going through the Division Lobbies, but going through the Lobbies, especially when one's party forms the Government, has quite a salutary effect on Ministers, because it is the only time of the week when back benchers are able to buttonhole a Minister and ask him what he is doing about something or other. That is a privilege that I am deprived of in Opposition, because shadow Ministers have not quite the same influence. But this is one of the important reasons for physically going through the Lobbies, rather than voting in some other way. It means that Members of Parliament have an opportunity of being together and discussing matters, and are able to buttonhole Ministers much more easily than under any other system. I agree with the hon. Member, also, that the points that the Committee on Procedure is being asked to consider are by no means what I would put on my list of priorities of what needs to be considered in connection with the reform of the procedure of the House of Commons, but I do not agree with him on the question of "mumbo-jumbo", because I have timed this procedure on more than one occasion, and although it appears to waste a certain amount of time I very much doubt whether the total time taken in moving the Mace from the Table and putting it down amounts to two minutes a day. It may look longer, but I do not think that cutting it out would save such an amount of time as would enable us to have many more powerful debates than we have been able to have in the past. The House is seized of the fact that it is not just because we have had a Socialist Government for 18 months—I blame my own party just as much for it—that with the more complicated system of modern society the legislative assembly is rapidly losing control of the Executive. That is why there is a demand in the House for specialist committees to consider the various problems. As back benchers are all too well aware, it is very infrequently that we get the opportunity of nailing a Minister on any subject, and we feel that with this system of Select Committees we would have a better opportunity. I do not think that we can carry this matter very much further tonight, having made our protest to the established authorities in the House—the Leader of the House, and so on. It is unfortunate that the Committee has been given these terms of reference, because I agree with the hon. Member for Nottingham, West that there are subjects of far greater importance, particularly on the question of Select Committees and how we get some grip on the Executive. I do not go all the way with the hon. Member—he would not expect me to—but I do think it unfortunate that these two minor matters are given priority over other matters for the Committee to consider.
The House is now discussing the Question
The reason for adding this Instruction, which is different from the Motion on Procedure which appeared on the Order Paper earlier in the week, is that, on reflection and on re-reading the contributions made from both sides in the debate on the Gracious Speech—the speeches from the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Party, from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, from my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) and others, it was obvious that they thought that in our consideration priority should be given to sittings of the House. That is wide enough to permit us to cover morning sittings, later sittings, if it is so wished, or a complete change in the sittings of the House. An additional reason for the priority is that the Select Committee on Procedure, immediately before the election, when it had finished its deliberations at that point was considering sittings of the House after considering Supply procedure. The second priority—methods of voting—was put in because here, again, it was brought out during the debate on the Queen's Speech. It does not in any way prevent consideration of any other matter than Procedure, but we should first like reports on these two items. The Prime Minister, in exchanges across the Floor today with the Leader of the Opposition, promised that within the next week or 10 days discussions would take place through the usual channels on our proposals for specialist committees. It will not be necessary for this to go to the Procedure Committee because there is already a great deal of information in the House as a result of earlier discussions. Having discussed it through the usual channels—and, I hope, having reached agreement—it will then be for the House to approve the form of the specialist committees. The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) referred to a Select Committee on Science and Technology. This, too, was being discussed immediately before the election through the usual channels. One view was that it could be tacked on to the Committee on the Nationalised Industries. That proposal was rejected by the hon. Gentleman himself and other hon. Members. We have not yet continued those discussions in this Parliament, but we shall do so, and I think that in a reasonable time we shall see the Committee set up. There is no bar on the Select Committee considering anything at all, but we feel that we would like reports on these two items first."That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they do report first on—
(a) the times of sittings of the House; (b) methods of voting …"
Question put and agreed to.
That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they do report first on—
(a) the times of sittings of the House; (b) methods of voting;
Five to be the Quorum.—[ Mr. John Silkin.]
Committee of Privileges to consist of Fifteen Members:
The Attorney-General. Mr. Nigel Birch, Mr. Herbert W. Bowden, Mr. Boyd-Carpenter, Mr. Ness Edwards, Mr. James Griffiths, Mr. Grimond, Mr. Edward Heath, Mr. John Hynd, Mr. Selwyn Lloyd, Mr. Sandys, Mr. Shinwell, Mr. G. R. Strauss, Mr. Turton, and Mr. Woodburn.
Power to send for persons, papers and records:
Six to be the Quorum.—[ Mr. John Silkin.]
Dr. Shirley Summerskill discharged from the Estimates Committee; Mr. Albert Murray added.—[ Mr. John Silkin.]
State Opening Of Parliament (Television)
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Lawson.]
Most hon. Members will be extremely pleased if, as a result of the Select Committee's discussions which we have just been debating, we are enabled to come to an end of our proceedings somewhat earlier than we have this evening. I must say how extremely grateful we are to the Leader of the House for being present at this late hour. I shall have to say some things this evening which may appear to be critical of the right hon. Gentleman, but I know that he has as great a respect for the procedures and traditions of this House as any other hon. or right hon. Member I can think of. I am sure that he will feel as unhappy as I do that it has been necessary for me to seek to raise this matter on the Adjournment.I am among those who are in favour of broadcasting and televising the proceedings of the House of Commons. I think it is a reflection on our conduct of affairs that whereas, in many other advanced Western nations such as the United States and Sweden, the proceedings of the legislature are already televised, the people of this country are denied the insight into the workings of democracy that I think television would provide. It is, therefore, with very great regret that I feel it necessary to raise the arrangements made for televising and photographing the State opening of Parliament because I believe that those arrangements could not have been better calculated to destroy the case for broadcasting Parliament. I say that for three reasons. First, many of us are extremely unhappy about the persistence of ancient, meaningless and time-wasting rituals under a Government who are supposed to be dedicated to the modernisation of Britain. We deplore the presentation of this aspect of the House of Commons to the world at large. Secondly, the presence of a great number of lights, cameras and technicians was an intolerable intrusion of this Chamber. Although I am well aware that none of this would have been necessary if the B.B.C. only had been allowed, indirectly it will have hardened the resistance of those who oppose television. In this connection, I quote the Daily Telegraph of 22nd April, 1966:
Thirdly—I share this with my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell)—I object to a commercial film company being given the monopoly rights to film the State opening without the payment of one penny to the taxpayer who has footed the bill. Sir Philip Warter, Chairman of the Associated British Picture Corporation, has written to The Times to say that the film is part of the company's normal weekly release and that no extra charge was made for the inclusion of the film of the State opening. That may be so, but I am certain that his company would not expect to be given exclusive film rights of other major events such as the Cooper-Clay boxing match, or the Cup Final, without payment, so why should he expect to get into the House of Commons for nothing? With these factors in mind, there are some very serious questions I want to put to the Leader of the House. This afternoon I have re-read the Report from the Select Committee on the Palace of Westminster, which reported in July last year, and the debate on that Report of 2nd November, 1965. I find that there was no provision in the Report for the exercise of the Services Committee's functions by some other person or body during a Dissolution, neither was the problem raised during the debate. It would be reasonable to assume that no departure from practice could have taken place without the authorisation of the Services Committee before the Dissolution and if any doubt should arise as to the interpretation of the Services Committee's Resolutions the Leader of the House is the person who should be made responsible for coming to a final decision. The right hon. Gentleman is Chairman of the Committee. He is responsible to the House for answering Questions about its decisions, and he is still a Minister during the Dissolution, even though he may not be a Member of Parliament, as he emphasised in answering Questions the other day. My first question is to ask the Leader of the House whether he will take full responsibility for the arrangements which were made and not "pass the buck" to the House authorities, as he did when answering Questions on 27th April. If, on the other hand, the right hon. Gentleman, in reply tonight, still insists that the House authorities are solely responsible for these matters during a Dissolution, and he can make out a case to the satisfaction of the House, the Services Committee should then be asked whether it considers this to be an acceptable situation in accordance with the wishes of the House when power was taken away from the Lord Great Chamberlain and transferred to that Committee. We thought that the Lord Great Chamberlain had no residual power over any part of the Palace of Westminster, but it appears from what has happened that, while all the rest of us are away fighting the General Election, the Lord Great Chamberlain pops up and assumes at least a part of his former rôle. Immediately before the General Election, the hon. Member for Kettering (Sir G. de Freitas) asked the Leader of the House to make a statement about the televising and broadcasting of the State opening, and the right hon. Gentleman replied:"Those who dislike the idea of Commons T.V. feel they have won ground. It is generally agreed that normal parliamentary work would have been impossible in yesterday's conditions."
The hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) has alleged that it was the Lord Great Chamberlain who issued the tickets which allowed the photographers to come into the Press Gallery of the House. I should like an answer on that point, which the hon. Gentleman did not get when he raised it with the Leader of the House the other day. The second major question I put to the Leader of the House, therefore, is whether the Lord Great Chamberlain's writ still runs during a Dissolution, either partly or in whole, and to that question I want a simple "Yes" or "No". I return now to the Resolution of the Services Committee, the interpretation of which is in question. I shall have to read it in full to the House:"The arrangements are being concerted with the Lord Great Chamberlain."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1966; Vol. 725, c. 639.]
Does the Leader of the House seriously maintain that that Resolution could be so stretched as to include a film company and Press photographers as well as the B.B.C., and that he should have allowed the persons concerned to occupy not only a large proportion of the Gallery, but also the whole of the Ministerial box, with all their paraphernalia and the Klieg lights which subjected hon. Members to so much discomfort during the State opening? We know that the application from the film company came alter the dissolution of Parliament and that this application was granted. To whom could this application have been addressed, and by which Minister was the authorisation approved? We know that, in order to bring any piece of equipment into the Chamber, it is normal to obtain authorisation from the Minister of Public Building and Works. After permission had been given to the film company and the photographers in principle, was it then necessary for the persons concerned to obtain the passes of authorisation for the equipment which they brought into the House from the Minister of Public Building and Works, and did he sign the authorisations allowing them to do so? The arrangements which were made on the occasion of the State opening were a monstrous breach of the privileges of this House. We not only want the fullest possible explanation of how these things were allowed to happen and answers to the questions which I have put to the right hon. Gentleman tonight, but we demand the most categorical assurance from the Leader of the House that he will take steps to see that the express wishes of the House can never again be so outrageously flouted as they were on this occasion."That in the event of the State opening of the new Parliament on 21st April being televised, permission should be given to the B.B.C., if they so wish, to install an additional camera in the Gallery of the House of Commons."
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) for allowing me a moment or two in which to join with him in this protest about the filming of the State opening of Parliament in the House of Commons. I have great sympathy with the Leader of the House in this matter, for I appreciate that, like the rest of us, at the time when the decision was made the right hon. Gentleman was fighting a General Election campaign. Nevertheless, he is fortunately, or, as he may think, otherwise tonight, in the position in which he alone can answer the questions which have been put to him by my hon. Friend with complete fairness.The issue which concerns me most of all is the fact that one single commercial film company, namely, Associated Pathé, should have had the right to film these proceedings and that no opportunity should have been given to any other commercial undertaking to tender for this right, or to have the same privilege and thereby to make at least the same profit. It has been said already—and my hon. Friend has quoted the letter in The Times—that the chairman of the company concerned believes that there is no additional profit accruing to the company, because the film concerned was distributed along with the company's ordinary weekly release. Frankly, I cannot accept that assurance. There is no doubt whatever that this historic film will not only be shown throughout the whole world, but to very much wider audiences than would normally be the case in the release of a weekly news film. More than that, it will remain in the library of the company concerned which will have the exclusive rights to it and be able to hire it to other companies and to television undertakings in the United States and throughout the world at what must be a continuing and very considerable profit. In these circumstances, it is right that we should have an explanation of why this one company should have been given this unique and very valuable opportunity and, more important, why it was not asked to pay a fee, together with a continuing royalty, which would have accrued to the Exchequer and thereby helped in some small way to relieve the general burden of taxation. It may be that the amount involved in the sense of relieving taxation would be minute, but, nevertheless, little fish are sweet and it would have shown a responsible attitude to the nation's finances if this commercial undertaking had been held responsible to make some contribution to them as the result of the fees it obtained from the making of the film. We are making a distinction between televising the proceedings of the House of Commons and the taking of a newsreel film. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington, I believe that there is a very strong case for televising part of the proceedings of the House, not merely the proceedings in this Chamber, but the whole work of the House of Commons. But that is a quite separate issue from that of whether a commercial film company, without any of its competitors having a similar opportunity, should be allowed in this Chamber and allowed to make a film which will have a continuing and immeasurably valuable profit to the benefits of the company's shareholders instead of to the benefit of the taxpayer and the community at large.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) for raising this matter on the Adjournment tonight, because I hope that it will enable us to clear up one or two points which have been outstanding since the House was televised and photographed on the State opening of Parliament. I do not for a moment resent the questions which he has put to me and I will endeavour to answer all of them, as far as that is possible. It will be seen when I have finished that there are still one or two points outstanding which have yet to be settled and dealt with before we can get this in perfect order.The House, which is interested in this subject, should be reminded of the decision taken last year, when Her Majesty the Queen gave the House the opportunity of controlling its own part of the Palace of Westminster. This was announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 23rd March last year. When she did that, it was decided by Her Majesty that this side of the Palace, the House of Commons side, should be controlled by Mr. Speaker and the House of Lords side by the Lord Great Chamberlain. That is why, in our Report to the House at the end of July, we said:
He is responsible to the Offices Committee of the House of Lords for the House of Lords side. I have been asked about what happens during the dissolution of Parliament and who is responsible for the House of Commons side. The answer is—no one. We left there a hiatus when we took control from the Lord Great Chamberlain, and the whole House must take responsibility for this. It is not I, as Leader of the House, because there is no Leader of the House on the dissolution of Parliament; nor are there Members. It is equally true to say that none of us who were either candidates or potential candidates had any rights within the building whatever. That applies to me equally with everyone else. Probably the only Minister who has any right within the building during dissolution is the Minister of Public Building and Works, and he is only concerned with the fabric. The obvious thing which should have been done, and was not done, was to make sure that, during the period of dissolution, the control of the Palace of Westminster on the House of Commons side should be vested in Mr. Speaker, as, in fact, it is when the House is sitting. But Mr. Speaker's function in the House of Commons is controlled during a period of dissolution by two Acts of Parliament—the House of Commons Speaker's Act, 1832, and the House of Commons Offices Act, 1846. Neither of these Acts contains any provision that gives Mr. Speaker control of the Palace during the period of dissolution. This is something which at some point we have to put right and it is the reason why this difficulty arose. The House of Commons Services Committee, which was set up by the House to advise Mr. Speaker on the control of the Palace—not itself to control the Palace—had before it the decision of the Government and Opposition in consultation to agree to the televising of the State opening. The first approval for this is, of course, Her Majesty's, because this is her Palace, and the Government and Opposition, as on former occasions, agreed that the whole ceremony—both sides—should be televised at the State opening. The Services Committee considered what should be done on this occasion, bearing in mind the fact that previously the television cameras had come to the door but had never come in; they recommended to Mr. Speaker—and this is their responsibility—that B.B.C. cameras and, if room was available, I.T.A. cameras, should come in here to televise the ceremony of Black Rod coming into the Chamber and right hon. and hon. Members following him into the House of Lords. It was no more than that. This was reported to the House in a written reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Sir G. de Freitas) on the day the House rose. The decision was taken two days before Dissolution. It would have been quite impossible to report it to the House in the normal way by printed report and to debate it. It was a new departure. It was felt that it was the right thing to do, seeing that already the television cameras were up to the door, and an experiment worth having. At that point, the responsibility of the Services Committee ended because it ceased to exist on Dissolution. On 15th March, a committee of officials met in the offices of the Serjeant at Arms to consider the technical arrangements for bringing television cameras—presumably B.B.C. and I.T.A. if they so wished—into the Chamber for televising. At that stage, I understand that the Committee considered whether or not a Pattie film camera, which, again was outside and filming the other part of the ceremony, and cameras to take still shots for use in the Central Office of Information, should be permitted to come into the Chamber. As I told the House, based on the decision of Mr. Speaker, on a recommendation to him from the Services Committee that television cameras should come in, he thought that it was a fair implication within that decision that the same filming should take place within the House as in other parts of the Palace. That is what happened, and that is why film cameras were in the House and still shots were taken in addition to the use of television cameras. But this was 15th March. There was no one to whom this could be reported. I certainly had no responsibility. I remained a Minister, but without any responsibility for the House of Commons, certainly not as Leader of the House. Nor had Mr. Speaker any responsibility in that. This decision was taken because it was felt that it was implied in a decision to bring in television cameras. Maybe it was wrong, but that happened—"… in consultation with the Lord Great Chamberlain …"
We are trying to put the matter right in future. Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that he, as Chairman of the Services Committee, is the only person who could properly interpret decisions to which they have come before Dissolution?
That is not the position. Of course upon Dissolution, whoever is Leader of the House must depart from the scene in that capacity. What we must do here is make Mr. Speaker responsible for the period during Dissolution, because he is carrying out his functions under these two Acts of Parliament. This can be done by a simple Resolution of the House.I was asked one or two other questions about tickets issued by the Lord Great Chamberlain and about his responsibility. He has no responsibility on the House of Commons side of the Palace of Westminster. When the question of tickets was raised in the House, I immediately had inquiries made, and I am told that this is what happened. To give authority to a technician to come into the Chamber the night before the State opening to work on the cameras, a pass, an authority, was given to him, an old one upon which the name of the Lord Great Chamberlain appeared. This is the explanation given to me. It was not a pass issued by the Lord Great Chamberlain to enable a technician to work in the Chamber. The experience we had on that occasion was valuable. I should like to make it clear—although my own views are fairly well known: I am not as enthusiastic about televising this Chamber as some hon. Gentlemen—to the hon. Gentleman and the House that if the Select Committee on televising the House reports in favour, and the House agrees, it will be my duty as Leader of the House to present this to the House. I hope that I shall do it impartially and objectively and abide by its decision. I hope that the matter will be decided on a free vote of the House. When that time comes, the Select Committee on Broadcasting will have an opportunity of considering other aspects of the problem. It will have been noted that, in setting up the Committee, I added to its terms of reference:
I thought that one must do this, since, as soon as we let in television cameras for an edited version or complete coverage, we are likely to receive similar applications. It is better that we should have the advice of a Committee of this kind before such action is taken. The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell) raised the question of a fee. I am told that no fee has ever been paid, but this, also, is something which the Committee might consider to see whether it is reasonable. I am not sure that the House should accept a fee, no matter how small or how large, for a State occasion of this sort, but let the Committee consider it. What I am certain about is that in their deliberations they will have to take into consideration every possible aspect of this problem. Although we had the unfortunate experience of greatly increased lighting on that occasion, it may not have been a bad experience to have, in some senses. In fairness, I should say that although we had lights which were about three times the normal intensity required by television, I am told that with remote control cameras the lighting would not be very much higher than it is normally in the Chamber. The Committee will have the whole of this sort of thing in front of it when considering the televising of Parliament. I therefore hope that this debate has shown clearly how we had the film cameras in, and the still shots. But I am sure that the most important thing which will arise is the decision which the House must take—and I hope reasonably soon—to make sure that when none of us is here as a Member of Parliament, and the House is dissolved, Mr. Speaker shall have the responsibility, which I am sure he will be pleased to take, if on any future occasion of a State opening we decide to televise again."… to consider the effect of filming in the chamber and taking still shots."
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at twenty-six minutes past Twelve o'clock.