§ [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—
§ 10.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Rippon (Hexham)
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- 734 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,any expenses incurred by any government department (except the Postmaster General) in the provision of premises, facilities or services to the Land Commission.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?
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 tothe aggregate amount outstanding by way of principal".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 735 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.
§ Sir D. Glover
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- 736 mittee and the House with the usual contempt which they show towards it on these subjects.
§ Mr. Peter Bessell (Bodmin)
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?
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources (Mr. Arthur Skeffington)
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 737 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.
§ Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
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 738 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.
§ Sir D. Glover
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?
§ Mr. Bessell
The Parliamentary Secretary has not replied to my specific question about valuation officers, and that is important.
§ Mr. Skeffington
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 739 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.
§ Mr. Rippon
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.
§ The Minister of Land and Natural Resources (Mr. Frederick Willey)
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.
§ Mr. Skeffington
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 740 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—
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Skeffington
—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.
§ Mr. Rippon
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.
§ Mr. Bessell
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 741 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.
§ Mr. Skeffington
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.
§ Sir D. Glover
The hon. Gentleman has not answered my question about preplanning of accommodation and recruiting.
§ Sir D. Glover
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.
§ Mr. Skeffington
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.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
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.
§ Sir D. Glover
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 743 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.
§ Mr. Skeffington
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.]
§ Mr. Bessell
It is no use hon. Members opposite whom we have not had the privilege of seeing for the entire evening being
§ 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.
§ Mr. Rippon
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.
§ Question put:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 160, Noes 45.745
|Division No. 9.]||AYES||[10.43 p.m.|
|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|
|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—
§ Resolution to be reported.
§ Report to be received Tomorrow.