HC Deb 29 January 1941 vol 368 cc551-3
36. Mr. Beechman

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works and Buildings, whether he is aware that land speculators are buying up sites in bombed areas, with a view to re-selling after the war to local authorities, who will need the land for social development; and whether he proposes taking any steps to check this practice?

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works and Buildings (Mr. Hicks)

My Noble Friend has set up a Committee to make an expert examination of the subject of compensation and betterment, and has asked the Committee to advise, as a matter of urgency, on the particular question to which my hon. Friend refers.

The terms of reference of the Committee are as follow: To make an objective analysis of the subject of the payment of compensation and recovery of betterment in respect of public control of the use of land: To advise, as a matter of urgency, what steps should be taken now or before the end of the war to prevent the work of reconstruction thereafter being prejudiced. In this connection the Committee are asked to consider (a) possible means of stabilising the value of land required for development or re-development, and (b) any extension or modification of powers to enable such land to be acquired by the public on an equitable basis; to examine the merits and de-merits of the methods considered, and to advise what alterations of the existing law would be necessary to enable them to be adopted. The Committee will consist of:—Mr. Justice Uthwatt (Chairman), Mr. F. R. Evershed, Mr. Gerald Eve, Mr. James Barr, Mr. James Wylie.

My Noble Friend trusts that it will be clear from the latter part of these terms of reference that the Government do not intend that reconstruction after the war shall be hampered or prejudiced in any way by speculative transactions and other such individual operations carried out in advance.

Mr. Stokes

Before my hon. Friend and this Committee go too far in the way of paying compensation, will he consider bringing pressure upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer to introduce a tax on site values?

Mr. Edmund Harvey

Will steps be taken before this Committee reports to prevent speculation which may injure future development?

Mr. Loftus

Would my hon. Friend consider making a statement now that any land required by the Government or by a local authority after the war will not be purchased at a price in excess of the pre-war value?

Mr. Mander

Will the Committee have power to recommend retrospective action?

49. Mr. T. Smith

asked the Minister without Portfolio whether, when considering post-war reconstruction, he has in mind the setting up of a national commission whose duties shall include the power to determine the use to which all land, rural and urban, shall be put; and whether, in view of the speculation in land which is now taking place, he will make an early statement on the subject?

The Minister without Portfolio (Mr. Arthur Greenwood)

The Government fully appreciate the importance of the question of the utilisation of land which vitally affects so many reconstruction problems. The matter is at present under the consideration of the Ministers responsible for the Departments concerned and it is not possible to say at present what form any further inquiries which may be necessary will take. As regards the second part of the question, I would refer my hon. Friend to the reply by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works and Buildings to Question No.36.

Mr. Smith

Can my right hon. Friend say whether this Committee which has been announced to-day will report from time to time to the House or to the Government, and will the report be available to hon. Members?

Mr. Greenwood

At this stage I cannot say. The intention of the Government in appointing this Committee is to enable it to formulate a policy to take action early with regard to land speculation. I cannot say, but I imagine the report will be published.

Sir Hugh O'Neill

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the Committee will sit in public; and will it have power to take evidence on oath?

Mr. Greenwood

That, I cannot say. I should not think that it would sit in public, but I do not know. That Question might be addressed to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works and Buildings.