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Volume 888: debated on Wednesday 19 March 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when it is his intention to introduce the Bill on Land.

The Community Land Bill was introduced on 12th March.

Does the Secretary of State accept that the supply of land is vital to the continuing supply of houses and of industrial and commercial developments and that the uncertainty following the delay in bringing forward the Bill has had a further unsettling effect? Does he recognise that the previous changes in policy have been extremely unsettling as regards the continuing supply of houses? In view of the reservations and counter-proposals which have been put forward by the professional bodies and others concerned with land, would it not be appropriate to refer this Bill to a Select Committee of the House to see whether we can arrive at a policy which will be generally acceptable instead of one which is subject to further change?

I accept that the supply of land for building and development is vital. I cannot accept that last suggestion about arriving at a non-party agreement, since the land issue has traditionally divided the parties, right and left, in this and in many other countries. As regards his other supplementary question, I do not share the hon. Gentleman's anxiety, because we have taken great trouble in the transitional provisions and in other ways to make certain that the supply of land will not be inhibited or held back by the Bill.

From the opposite point of view, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend agrees that it is vital to take into public ownership quickly and cheaply a large amount of land which is needed for housing, with a short transitional period and with few exemptions? Would not that show the public the great benefit that would ensure and also make it much harder for a Conservative Government, should there be one, subsequently to unscramble the Act?

I think that the transitional provisions that we have made are essential to avoid the risk to which the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) drew attention. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun), however, I should like the transitional period to be as short as possible. How long it lasts must depend not on the Government but on how quickly the local authorities can gear themselves to carry out the task laid down for them in the Bill.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that what he has said is not historically true? The 1947 Act, probably the greatest Act in the last two decades, was passed with the consent of both parties. Can the right hon. Gentleman say how many Acts since then have been passed by one party or the other? Whichever side was right or wrong, this perpetual change from year to year has done more harm than anything else.

The House always respects the hon. Gentleman's non-partisan attitude to our political affairs. However, the guts of the 1947 Act were repealed as soon as the Conservatives came back to power, and the 1967 Land Commission Act was also repealed as soon as the Conservatives came back to power.

Is not one of the principal difficulties faced by local authorities in solving the severe housing crisis the high cost of building land? Until it is brought into public ownership the problem will not be solved.