HC Deb 28 April 1969 vol 782 cc1029-87

7.15 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I beg to move, That this House regrets that hardship has been caused to many people who have paid or have become liable to pay the betterment levy because of the failure of Her Majesty's Government to take the appropriate action. In speaking to this Motion I do not propose to refer to any pending legislation or to any future use of the legislative powers of Parliament, except those delegated powers which Parliament has given to the Minister, which I shall seek to show he has lamentably failed to exercise.

Hardship caused by demands for betterment levy has become proverbial. In years to come, it will be legendary—a political legend of how best a Government can become hated, feared, scorned and ridiculed. This cannot be passed off just as the public's hatred for paying a tax; emotions on this matter go very much deeper.

This betterment levy—an invention of the Labour Government—has caused, and has been plainly seen to cause, injustice and suffering. To what end? For all the hardship that it has caused it has not made land one penny cheaper or one square inch more abundant in supply. On the contrary, prospective sellers, having seen how harshly actual sellers have been treated by the betterment levy demands, have either put up the price as an insurance against further hardship being imposed on them or have withdrawn from the market altogether.

Despite this the Government have taken only the most minimal and inadequate action to relieve hardship caused by the levy. Having got themselves into this ghastly mess and muddle, what appropriate action could the Government have taken to drag themselves out of the mess, other than presenting another Land Commission Bill—and heaven forbid that any Government should do that? After the Act had been in operation for 12 months and again after it had been in operation for 15 months the Government announced two minor extra-statutory concessions—to deal with two out of about a dozen categories of hardship which had then already become obvious.

Those concessions related to purchases between September, 1965, and April, 1967, and the need for them arose from the efforts of the Government to govern by White Paper. It is a conceited form of government to assume that the public read statements of the Government's intentions and act upon them, and this almost invariably causes injustice.

We warned the Government against this time and time again in the course of the proceedings on the Land Commission Bill.

In fact, we were much more specific in our warnings in connection with those concessions which have now been made. On 28th July, 1966—nine months before the Act came into operation—my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) moved an Amendment exactly on the point of one of these concessions and on the same day I divided the Committee on an Amendment dealing with the other of those concessions. It took the Government 21 months in one case and two years in the other to realise that we were right. I am justified in saying, "We told you so."

One thing that I will go out of my way to do in this connection is to congratulate the Government upon the fact that in those two cases they made the relief retrospective. The concessions dated back to the commencement of the Act. Let them bear that in mind as a precedent.

In those two instances this extra-statutory device was adopted, but there is power in the Act itself for the Minister to act by Order. It is in Section 63, which reads: The Ministers may by order direct that no levy shall be charged in such circumstances falling within any of Cases A to F as may be specified in the order. Cases A to F are all the cases.

The Section also says: No order shall be made under this section unless a draft of the order has been laid before the Commons House of Parliament and approved by a resolution of that House. Any exemption conferred by virtue of this section shall be without prejudice to the operation of sections 56 to 62 of this Act. I understand that to mean that they are not to take away the exemptions already given by the Act, but, certainly, further exemptions could be given.

This is the appropriate action which the Minister ought to have taken to relieve hardship as soon as the cases started pouring in. As soon as he saw that the warnings we had given throughout the passage of this Bill were coming true, in clear fact and stark reality, he should have come to the House with an order under Section 63 of the Act. He did nothing except to make those two minor concessions which I have mentioned.

One major category of hardship in which the Minister ought to have acted at once and used his powers of exemption at a very early stage was in cases of small transactions. The position must have been quite clear from the day-to-day operations of the Land Commission. Last year, the levy cost £2 million to collect. Half the Land Commission's cases were sales at not more than £1,500. That half brought in only one-tenth of the total of £8.3 million collected. If we work that out in figures, we see that for small transactions—half the Commission's work—it cost 24s. to collect every 20s. of levy. That is hardship enough on the taxpayer, but it is not quite that sort of hardship about which this debate is concerned. We are concerned with the way in which the person of modest means has been harassed by the fear of demands for payment of terrifyingly large amounts of levy on small sales.

As long ago as November last, Sir Henry Wells, the Chairman of the Commission, said that the development value in a plot of land for one house averages over the country between £500 and £1,000. That means a betterment levy, if one is selling just a single plot, of something between £200 and £400. The Minister ought there and then, if not earlier upon the information he must have received from the chairman much earlier than when the chairman made public disclosure of these figures, to have brought an exemption Order to the House. I think that he could safely have exempted transactions up to £5,000 at that time.

I hope that the House will also bear in mind when judging at what time the Minister could have acted, that, even if he had acted last November on small transactions to exempt them immediately Sir Henry Wells made that public disclosure, the crippling effect of the levy on the sale of a single plot might still be hanging over the heads of hundreds whose transactions took place before November last, because the levy is assessed on transactions in the past. That is what makes this levy so loathed—its lingering effect. If one sold a year ago one may still be waiting for the axe to fall. For some the axe has fallen and they have paid the levy.

On one construction of Section 63 it is thought that the Order cannot be retrospective. I hope that is not right. If it be right, that is all the more reason that the Minister should have acted retrospectively when the warnings we had given him were coming true. Those warnings were given loud and clear. I mention one which was given on 9th August, 1966. Again, it was given by my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde when he moved a new Clause to exempt small transactions. The Government obstinately resisted it. We divided the Committee and the Government won. So we have had two years of hardship upon the parties to small transactions. Again, I must say, "We told you so."

Again, I say that the Minister should have taken the appropriate action to reimburse those who had suffered. But the Minister has always set his face against an Order which would so far admit that the Government were wrong from the first as to refund any levy already paid. The Government have failed to act even in those simple cases about costs and expenses being allowed as a deduction from the amount assessed for levy. This was something which could have been amended easily by Order, cases where valuers' fees are deductible but not estate agent's commission or legal costs. It is ridiculous to charge levy on money which has been expended.

I have a letter written by the Minister for Planning and Land as late as last Thursday to my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Dance), in which he referred to this matter of an allowance, in the calculation of betterment levy, for legal and other costs. He says, in explanation: It is proposed that in future costs incurred on the disposal of land liable to levy should be allowed in the assessment of levy, but Mrs. Westwood"— My hon. Friend's constituent— will not benefit since, as is customary with changes in taxation, the provision is not retrospective. We were told all through the stages of the Bill that this was not taxation, but something quite different. I suppose that the Minister would have applied the same principle even if he had taken action in the past to relieve the most serious case or category of hardship, that of the owner-occupier who sells his home. Would he have applied the same rule—no refund however wrong it was from the start to take the money from that person?

I like the phrase which I noticed in an article in the Sun last Thursday, under the heading, "Stonewall Robinson". It said: Nobody can pretend that an injustice is not an injustice because it happened before April 5, 1969. Injustice has been done to many an owner-occupier who sold his home during the last two years. With the precedent of the exemption of such a transaction from Capital Gains Tax, a person's home should have been made exempt by order as soon as the hardship cases arose.

What would happen was fully forecast by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), when he moved a new Clause on Report, on 26th October, 1966, to exempt owner-occupiers from the levy. The Minister and the Government as a whole cannot say that they were not warned. In that debate the Minister had an array of all the talents in front of him telling him how foolish he was to insist on imposing the levy on the homes of the people.

Not only was there my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames, but my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northwich (Sir J. Foster), my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith), my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) and my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain). Even the Liberals joined in support of my right hon. Friend's new Clause.

The prophecies quickly came true, as right hon. and hon. Members know from their postbags every day over the past few months. The answer of the Minister of State at the time was that it was a common experience of all of us that the great majority of owner-occupiers will not be affected by the levy. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), who said that, was thoroughly sincere and believed what he said. He refused, however, to support that statement with figures. In fact, he was proved wholly wrong, because the Government have now admitted that the common experience is that when the sale price contains only a small amount of development value it has "given rise to difficulty". What a complacent understatement.

A very high proportion of pre-war houses have been found to have development value—not just small development value, but quite substantial development value—and the proceeds of sale have been assessed to levy. The hardship from that arises in this way. Suppose that a family is obliged to move. Perhaps the head of the family has had a change of job and has to go to another town. The proceeds of sale of his old home have to be invested in his new home. He has to clear off the mortgage of his old home, pay the costs of sale and the costs of purchase, and he is lucky if he does not have to find further capital to get into his new home.

Then, on top of that, suppose that, as in many cases, there is an assessment to development value, sometimes of £1,000. A betterment levy of £400 would then be payable. He will probably have to resort to a second mortgage to buy his new home; a second mortgage, at interest rates under the present Government of about 15 per cent. to 20 per cent. on second mortgages—a millstone round that family's neck for years. This is the sort of real practical hardship which is coming from the betterment levy. That is the position for those who cannot choose whether they move.

For those who can choose, many have stayed and have not taken the risk of incurring that sort of hardship. I was interested to read a report in The Times today of a statement by the Minister for Planning and Land in which he forecast an acute housing shortage in the immediate future in the seven counties round London because the population of the Outer Metropolitan Area is growing at an unprecedented rate. I do not quite understand that. I do not think that people become of the age to require houses all of a sudden. I should have thought that it was possible to judge how the population requiring houses was increasing over a period. But let us pass over that one.

The Minister said that there would be required 31,000 acres over the next seven years and to meet that Surrey County Council will be asked tomorrow to approve a report that adequate land to meet the target shall be made available in the county, partly by redevelopment of old property and of smaller infilling plots, rather than wholly by development of virgin land. To explain what that means, the report says, later: pulling down Victorian houses, taking in gardens and allotments, and using odd plots". This is to be done—or it is hoped that this is to be done—to solve an acute housing shortage … in the seven counties round London". This is just what the betterment levy has been killing. This is just what people have been stopped from doing—bringing forward the one plot, the fill-in plot, the area in the garden, and so on—because it is just in these cases where they have suffered penalties from the betterment levy. When those who sell their houses or land are so harshly treated by demands for levy, others will not volunteer for similar treatment.

May I again quote the Sun, even in the absence of the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Maxwell). An article in the Sun, only last Thursday, said: Thousands of people are saddled with bills they would never have had to pay if the Act had been drafted properly in the first place. It is the Government's duty to put this right. It can be put right without legislation, merely by an order of the Minister. The Act was not intended to penalise small householders. It was aimed at the unearned profits of big land speculators. Nor was it intended to penalise those who have had their property taken away from them compulsorily and have then been called upon to pay betterment levy out of the miserable amount of compensation which they received. This is perhaps the unkindest cut of all and I think it has caused more bitterness than anything else in this connection—for someone to have his property taken away compulsorily and then to be charged a levy on the compensation.

Another article in the Sun on the same day, headed, Now repay these land tax victims had a sub-title "Legal Muddle", The article said: This is grossly unfair. The Act was never intended to penalise small home-owners … The debts of the 10,000 victims of this legal muddle should be wiped out. Payments they have made should be reimbursed. People like struggling young couples, widows, and even in some cases pensioners, should not have to pay simply because it took so long to improve this ill-drafted Act. There is still time for the Government to retrieve themselves from allegations of injustice of that sort which are now being hurled at them by the victims of the levy. Everyone agrees that those victims have suffered grievous hardship. To remedy this I do not mind whether the appropriate action is an extra-statutory direction, a Statutory Instrument, Maundy money or luncheon vouchers, but give 'em their money back.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)

Mr. Willey.

Mr. Peter Walker (Worcester)

On a point of order. I hope that, if this debate is to be at all possible, there will now be a statement of the Government's position. This is an Opposition Supply day, exploring a very important and vital subject. Unless the Minister speaks now, back benchers on both sides will be deprived of the opportunity of commenting on the Government's policy and nobody from the Opposition Front Bench will have an opportunity of doing so. I therefore urge the Minister for Planning and Land to make a statement now.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The Minister has no doubt heard the hon. Gentleman's statement, but it is not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)

Further to that point of order. This debate will be a nonsense if the request made by the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) is not complied with. If hon. Gentlemen who have cases to raise and who wish to know whether they are covered by the White Paper—"Modifications in Betterment Levy"—which runs to only one and a half pages and which tells the House little, are not to hear what the Government's policy is before the debate proper begins, speeches will be much longer than they need otherwise be. It would be for the convenience of the House as a whole if the Minister could make an explanation at the beginning.

The Minister for Planning and Land (Mr. Kenneth Robinson)

Further to that point of order. I think that the House is aware that there has frequently been criticism of too many Front Bench speeches in short debates. In those circumstances, as I am the only spokesman for the Government, I propose to wind up the debate, having listened to what the Opposition, and, indeed, the whole House, have had to say. The Government's policy is set out clearly in Cmnd. 4001.

Mr. Peter Walker

Further to that point of order. It is outrageous for a Minister to say that he will not explain the Government's policy to the House because there has been criticism of too many Front Bench speeches. Everybody now present wants to hear what the Minister has to say. I ask him to make a statement now.

7.38 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Wiley (Sunderland, North)

At the outset of my speech may I say how delighted I am to see the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) gracing the Opposition Front Bench. The hon. Gentleman played a prominent part in our discussions on the Land Commission Bill, and on at least one occasion he helped us to improve the Bill. I have been a catalytic agent to the Opposition, but tonight I part company with them. It would be ungracious not to recognise that the Government have, even if it be late, taken some effective action; and, as previously, I welcome the White Paper and the action they have taken. We cannot discuss the details. We shall have an opportunity to debate them on the Finance Bill. I realise that if I were to endeavour to do that now I should be out of order.

May I say, however, that I recognise that one of the difficulties which circumscribe anything that the Government might do is the necessity to take effective steps to prevent widespread evasion. The Motion refers to the cases where the levy has already been paid, and I want to say a few words about those cases. I said in the debate on the Budget that I should like the Government to reconsider making the provisions retrospective. Like the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), for this purpose I accept the various steps which the Government might take to make the provisions retrospective. I take the hon. Gentleman's point, which is very germane to the present discussion; namely that the Government have already taken action with regard to the interim period.

Mr. James Dance (Bromsgrove)

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) mentioned the case of a constituent of mine. Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that in a case like that, where expenses have been incurred in the selling of the property, there should also be repayment?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)

Order. To regularise the debate, may I say that it would be out of order to discuss the question of retrospection.

Mr. Willey

I am discussing it within the same terms as the hon. Member for Crosby did—within the terms of the provisions of which my right hon. Friend might take advantage.

Mr. W. R. van Straubenzee (Wokingham)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I respectfully submit to you that it would be in order for us to discuss retrospection, provided that it was within the terms of a Section 63 Order? I understand that we must not talk about the White Paper, but we can surely talk about retrospection otherwise?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I understand that it is not possible to have retrospection under a Section 63 Order. It would be out of order to anticipate the debate on the Finance Bill.

Mr. Walter Clegg (North Fylde)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Has not the House already passed retrospective legislation under Section 63?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

We cannot discuss the question of retrospective legislation since the Finance Bill is likely to be published shortly. It would be out of order under Standing Order No. 11 on anticipation.

Mr. William Baxter (West Stirlingshire)

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I thought we were discussing a Motion on the development levy. Surely in discussing such a subject one must have regard to what has taken place in the past. I see nothing in this Motion that prohibits a Member from bringing in, as a germane point in his argument, a reference to the fact that someone has paid betterment levy in the past and is experiencing financial embarrassment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

What the hon. Gentleman has said would be quite in order in the debate.

Mr. Willey

Perhaps it would help if I were to refer to the past, as I was endeavouring to do, in dealing with the action already taken by the Government concerning the interim period, when, in the light of their experience, the Government made concessionary provisions in the case of transactions already carried out.

I agree with the hon. Member for Crosby that this appears to be a precedent for dealing with cases under the Land Commission Act. In this case, as I understand it, the concession has retrospective effect. As that has already been done, we ought to consider generally from an administrative point of view whether there are any difficulties in taking similar action in further cases. I expressed myself tentatively in the debate on the Budget when I was referring to the White Paper, which I agree we must not discuss this evening, because one never knows how difficult administratively retrospective action will be. But the day after I had spoken I noticed that Sir Henry Wells, the Chairman, said that he had recommended this course of action to the Government. He said: There are administrative difficulties but they are not insuperable. If the Government give the go-ahead we can make retrospective payments to all concerned. I regard this as convincing evidence that from an administrative point of view whatever action the Government take, the Land Commission would be in a position to do this. This is not unimportant. If one took action such as this, one would not be likely to take such action if it might result in incidental unfairness. But Sir Henry Wells said: I am naturally concerned about hardship. I am only human after all. I should have thought that in the light of that, one would accept, for the purposes of considering what action should be taken, that administratively this can be done, and one should also take note of the fact that the Chairman of the Commission has expressed an opinion which I assume carries the weight of the Commission itself.

I have always held—hon. Members who have heard me speak about the Land Commission before will know this—that if one sets up a Commission such as this, its authority should be respected. If one chooses to administer in this way, one does not administer through a Department but through a public body and one should recognise its opinions and advice.

I also take the point which has been raised by the hon. Members for Crosby and for Bromsgrove (Mr. Dance) that some of these cases have been before my right hon. Friend for a considerable time. During this time it appears that my right hon. Friend has also been aware of the views of the Land Commission about some of these categories of case. That is something which ought to be considered. One ought to consider, whatever action my right hon. Friend takes, avoiding the creation of hardship among similar cases. As the House knows, I am against retrospective legislation as a rule. It is out of order to discuss the matter tonight, but if one is considering administratively what should be done and one decides in some of the cases to change the position with regard to the levy, then in one way or another the Government ought to do it in all cases.

There is a further fact which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, and that is the question whether this is taxation. The hon. Gentleman is quite right. I emphasised, speaking for the Government, that this was not taxation. If one turns to the White Paper on the Land Commission one finds that it is not represented as taxation. We emphasised that this was a device to avoid a two-price system. The hon. Member for Crosby criticised me because of the view I took, but, taking the view that I and the Government took, there is much greater flexibility here than there would be in the case of taxation. That is a fact to which my right hon. Friend ought to pay attention.

I emphasise this factor because it is relevant to the position that we touched upon, namely the relationship of the Land Commission to the Department and the Government.

I was surprised to read—I hope it was an inaccurate report—that Sir Henry Wells was understood to be talking about a wide breach between himself and the Department, and he was reported as being very angry. In fact, he is a very mild man, and I hope this report is not true. I hope my right hon. Friend will take the occasion to assure us that relations between the Land Commission and the Department are amicable and constructive. I mention this because when we set up the Land Commission the Chairman of the Commission, Sir Henry Wells, declared his position without ambiguity. He said: The first job of the Land Commission … will be to build up a land fund … He went on: … money collected as betterment levy would go straight to the Treasury, but money the Commission made out of dealing in land would go into the land account, which would be under the control of the Commission subject only to the Minister and Parliament. Sir Henry added: I would fight like hell if there was any suggestion that the fund should be raided as we built it up. We shall have money for dealing with this difficult and intractable problem of redeveloping the twilight areas, but this can take a little time.

Mr. W. Baxter

Will my right hon. Friend accept that the intervention of the Land Commission in the purchase of ground has caused a considerable rise in the price of ground and, therefore, indirectly a considerable rise in the cost of the houses put upon that ground, the whole cost ultimately being thrown back on the person who wants his little cottage or house? I ask my right hon. Friend to direct his attention to the iniquities which have been brought about by the intervention of the Land Commission in this way.

Mr. Wiley

I come to the directly opposite conclusion about it—that a greater intervention by the Land Commission would tend to depress land prices.

Mr. Clegg


Mr. Willey

No; the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity. There are others who wish to speak, and we have only a short time for the debate.

Sir Henry Wells made quite clear that he wished the Land Commission to acquire land on a large scale. In these cases, there is no levy and no payment to the Treasury, but the Commission would build up the land fund, and his particular interest in the use of the fund, as he said, was in the rehabilitation of twilight areas.

In one of our recent debates, I made plain, as the Commission itself has made plain, that I told the Land Commission that its objective should be to build up the scale of its acquisition programme within the first two years as rapidly as possible. This the Commission has failed to do. I feel that a new situation is developing. I do not consider that the matters dealt with in the White Paper need have been dealt with in the Finance Bill, and it seems to me that the Treasury is now having a much too effective voice in what the Land Commission does. There is certainly in Sir Henry Wells' mind a dichotomy between the Treasury endeavour to raise money by way of levy and the Land Commission's endeavour to do the real job which it was set up to do. I hope that my right hon. Friend, who gave us an encouraging report in an earlier debate on the Land Commission, will be able to assure us that every effort is now being made to encourage the Land Commission to go ahead, as it intended to go ahead, with the land acquisition programme. This is the job which it really wants to do, and I hope that no restrictions or restraints will be put upon it in going ahead with that job.

7.53 p.m.

Mr. Walter Clegg (North Fylde)

I follow the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) in expressing my delight at seeing my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) on the Opposition Front Bench. He well deserves his place there, for he has played a great part in our debates on the Land Commission Bill, and I am certain that he will give the Minister for Planning and Land a hammering later tonight.

I find the right hon. Member for Sunderland, North so personally disarming that it is often more difficult to go for him than for some other hon. Members on the benches opposite, but I shall take up some of the points which he made. He pointed out that Sir Henry Wells had said that to put everyone right and to give everyone his money back is feasible. Therefore, the House is not debating something impossible. I discount in advance any argument from the benches opposite tonight that this would be too difficult to do technically—an argument which, coming from the mouths of those who invented the Land Commission in the first place, would be absolutely diabolical. It just would not wash.

I take up also the point which the right hon. Gentleman made about the hand of the Treasury in this business. In our first debate today, we had Jewell and Warris. Now we have the juvenile lead from the Treasury here in the person of the Minister of State. No doubt, he will be keeping the Minister in order. It is wrong that the Treasury should have an influence in this matter. We are talking tonight about hardship and injustice.

The right hon. Gentleman expressed worry about widespread evasion. This was one of the constant themes during our discussions on the Land Commission Bill in Committee, but I cannot see how that could be a factor which could militate against the remedying of hardship which has already been established.

I turn now to the debate on the Report stage of the Land Commission Bill on 26th October, 1966 and I refer to the Cassandra-like speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page). He made it in a debate initiated by a new Clause moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) for the exemption of owner-occupiers. My hon. Friend had this to say: Because the Bill is called the Land Commission Bill, many people have thought that it affects merely the great landed estates and areas of land and have never realised that the levy is a levy also on bricks and mortar, not only on factories and offices and things like petrol stations and restaurants but on dwelling houses and on the homes of the people."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th October, 1966; Vol. 734, c. 1113.] That has been proved very true.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sunderland, North did not exactly pooh-pooh what we were saying, but he referred to something which, he said, was more important: The most important consideration to the owner-occupier is what we do about mortgage rates."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th October, 1966: Vol. 734, c. 1111.] Events have proved him very right there. The right hon. Gentleman was being a Cassandra in the opposite sense.

One matter which mystifies me and makes me wonder what the Minister will say tonight is the attitude which he showed to hardship on the occasion of our last debate, again initiated by the Opposition. After an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker), the Minister for Planning and Land said: I shall come to the hon. Gentleman's other point. I certainly have no further amendments to the Land Commission Act to announce today. The Act has been in operation for less than two years, with long transitional provisions, and it is much too early to review the main provisions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th February, 1969; Vol. 777, c. 622–3.] Since then, there has been a review. It will be interesting to hear from the Minister what persuaded the Government to take a different attitude so soon after that positive statement. I suggest that there were two motivating influences. First, there was the pressure exerted in the House by hon. Members on both sides who brought forward examples of hardship. Second, and, perhaps, even more potent—I suspect that it was, though I do not like to think so—there was the tremendous interest in hardship taken by the Press. Hardly a day passed without new evidence of hardship being brought out. I pay great tribute to the Press for the pressure which it put on and the very proper campaign it has run against the Land Commission Act and the hardship which it has created.

I could cite many examples of hardship, and I know that others of my hon. Friends will be putting such matters before the House tonight, but I shall not go into detail because the case has been so thoroughly established. It was established in the debate to which I have just referred, and masses of evidence are coming in every day. The Government's response to the hardship has been grudging, belated and insufficient.

We have to face the fact that there is here a division of justice. People on one side of the line get justice while those on the other side do not. The bitterness which this creates is corrosive. Any constituent in this trouble knows that someone in exactly similar circumstances, but divided from him merely by a date, may get compensation, or his money back, while he does not. That sort of situation reflects on the good name of both the Government and Parliament.

I do not think that the Government will listen to what we have to say. They have become deaf to all reason. If the Government will not listen, I shall address my arguments to right hon. and hon. Members on the back benches opposite. It is not good enough to say that it is not possible to do justice. Parliament has an interest here. If the Treasury were to say that these injustices could not be put right for technical reasons or—even worse—because we could not afford it, that would be intolerable because it is the House of Commons and not the Government and not the Treasury which is responsible for putting this injustice right. The Opposition have done all they could to bring the problem into the light of day. We predicted that this situation would arise.

Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)

My hon. Friend is making an effective speech, but he should not give up heart at this stage. It is reported, following a meeting between Government back benchers and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the Chancellor indicated that he was considering retrospective legislation on this matter.

Mr. Clegg

Perhaps that is why we have the Minister of State, Treasury here. I hope so. The opportunity to put the matter right rests no longer with this side of the House. We have done all we could to persuade the Government. The people who can put it right are the back benchers opposite, and they can do it in one of two ways. Either they can revolt against the Government in public, which they might not want to do, or they can bring pressure to bear on the Government behind the scenes.

It is the fair name of Parliament which is at stake here. I am not bothered about the reputation of the Government, but I am concerned with the reputation of this House, which has the ancient duty of seeing that the grievances of the people are put right—and put right they should be and without nonsense. If back benchers opposite fail in this, they will be failing not only their party but Parliament itself. It is very important that Parliament should be shown to have the power to remedy grievances and injustices.

I have made my position clear from time to time about the Land Commission Act. I say in fairness to the Commission, although it has often the rough edge of my tongue, that, so far as I can see from its reaction to these grievances, it is on the side of justice. The ball lies clearly in the Government's court and, in making that clear to the House and the public, the Commission has done us a great favour and I hope that it will be heeded.

8.5 p.m.

Mr. Niall MacDermot (Derby, North)

This is a somewhat curious sort of debate and curiously timed. The Opposition have chosen, on a Supply day, to put down a motion criticising a situation which they know perfectly well is being fully dealt with in a White Paper which has been published, and they know that a Finance Bill is to be published very shortly which will deal with the points they have raised.

Mr. Graham Page


Mr. MacDermot

I listened attentively to the speech of the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) to see what more he was going to suggest should be done than is contained in the White Paper. I can only recall his making one suggestion—that the first and major exemption should apply not only to properties where the market value is £1,500 or less but to properties where the market value is £5,000 or less.

Mr. Graham Page

I am sorry that I did not make myself clear or that the hon. and learned Gentleman was not listening. I intended to convey the impression, if I did not say it in words, that there should be refund of levy and that there should have been retrospective orders under Section 63 or other devices used for retrospection.

Mr. MacDermot

This is the difficulty. I have no doubt that what the Opposition wanted to do was to put down a Motion to say that the changes proposed in the White Paper should be retrospective. No doubt, however, they were told that, under Standing Orders, this would not be in order because we were shortly to debate the Finance Bill, on which they would be able to raise that point. The result is that we have what I repeat is a curious debate in which everyone is trying to find a way round the rules of order in order to discuss the one and only live issue, everything else being as dead as a dodo.

Mr. Clegg

We are told that the levy is not a tax. Is it definite, therefore, that it will be in the Finance Bill?

Mr. MacDermot

I think that we have been told definitely that proposals for these amendments will be in the Finance Bill, and that is a perfectly normal and proper way of dealing with the matter. I agree that betterment levy is not a tax—that has been made clear throughout. But occasionally Homer nods and it is wrongly referred to as a tax. I made the error myself in a letter to The Times not long ago and was taken up on the point next day. But it is an important consideration when we consider what is the right way to deal with what are admitted cases of hardship. I shall come to this point later in my speech.

The proposals themselves, leaving aside this question which we find difficult to discuss within the rules of order, are not subject to criticism, and I am not surprised. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister for Planning and Land and the Government most warmly on the boldness of the White Paper. We all know that for some considerable time hon. Members have been raising particular cases which have arisen. My right hon. Friend rightly would not be rushed into making piecemeal decisions on them. He wanted to look at the working of the Act in the light of the review being made of it by the Land Commission itself. He said so clearly. Now that that has been completed, he has brought forward proposals which, if hon. Members opposite were frank, they would admit have surprised them by their comprehensiveness and by how far they have gone—I say this without fear of contradiction—beyond what was being asked for by critics of the working of the Act. I can recollect a host of detailed proposals put forward from the Front Bench opposite which are quite unnecessary now because of the sweeping nature of the first major concession, the general exemption for property where the market value is £1,500 or less.

Mr. Graham Page

What would the hon. and learned Gentleman do about the cases that have already arisen where hardship has been suffered?

Mr. MacDermot

The hon. Gentleman knows me better than to interrupt me with a point like that. I have said that I shall return to that point, and he knows me well enough to know that I shall. He has made his speech. Perhaps he will now listen patiently and take it when hon. Members reply to him, and let them make their speeches in their own way. I repeat, since the hon. Gentleman apparently interrupted me so as not to let me make this point—he did not have the generosity to concede it, though the hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) did—that the first concession is a very sweeping provision, which at one stroke gets rid of nearly all the complaints there have been on the working of the Act.

It does not stop there. I shall not weary the House by going through the White Paper, but it goes on to deal with other points which should be dealt with but are not covered by that first, general provision. I can recall the kind of speeches which were made suggesting that the definition of "family" should be extended to deal with the case, for example, where a plot of land was given not to a son or daughter but to a grandson or granddaughter. The complex legislation which would be involved in meeting cases of this sort is now rendered unnecessary because of the general provisions in the first and second reliefs.

Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)

The hon. and learned Gentleman dealt with the Act in Committee. If he says that these proposals are so good now, why did he not accept them in those days?

Mr. MacDermot

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. I was not one of the Ministers dealing with the Act in Committee. I was at the Treasury at the time. I was responsible for the administration of the Act during the year I was at the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, but by then the Act was already on the Statute Book.

When we consider past cases I remind hon. Members that when we passed the Act the object was to have a comprehensive levy on all betterment. There is no reason in principle why an owner-occupier with a single plot of land should not pay his contribution by way of betterment levy to enable the public purse to get back that which the public has given, the development value in the land. The principle is just as much valid in the case of a single plot as in other cases. It was for this reason that when the betterment levy was introduced it was made comprehensive and applicable in all cases.

But two things have emerged from experience of the working of the Act in particular cases. First, it has been seen that many other factors can be at work in particular cases which would make it unreasonable or unjust to levy the betterment levy in those cases, or in some of them. The other is that the cost of dealing with a large number of small cases makes it hardly worth while administratively to try to collect the levy. Those together are two very good reasons for altering the provisions in the way suggested in the White Paper.

The general argument put forward by the Treasury against making retrospective a tax concession, a tax relief, is very simple. It is that if one tries to make it retrospective one must draw the line somewhere, and the question is, "Where do you stop? How far can you go back?" There must be a limit to the period for which one can reopen old cases.

When we are dealing, as we are here, with a levy which is relatively new and has not been operating for many years, my view is that that argument of principle does not have much force, and we must look at whether retrospection is administratively practicable. I imagine that the money at stake is not of an order that would worry the Chancellor very greatly.

If what has been done here is an effort on the basis of our experience to get the levy right for the future and to meet cases of what are considered to be proved hardship and injustice, it seems to me that there are very strong arguments for trying to make the concession apply to people who have already paid levy as well as those upon whom the levy will fall in the future. I shall be very interested to hear what my right hon. Friend has to say about this.

I have no doubt that there are considerable administrative difficulties. We must remember that one of them is that under these proposals it is intended that cases which are exempt from betterment levy should still be open to the charge under Capital Gains Tax. Very many of the cases concern owner-occupier plots, and they will be entitled to the owner-occupier exemption. It might be that it would be right to enable the relief to be applied to all such cases. There would be great administrative complications in the cases where one was to say, looking back, "This transaction is no longer to be liable to betterment levy. We will repay the levy." What is to happen then? A great deal more trouble and expense must be gone through in trying to make the transaction subject to Capital Gains Tax. I should be interested to hear what my right hon. Friend has to say on this point too. I hope that he will listen to the arguments on the subject in the debate, and will not close the door to further debate on this topic.

I very much welcome the action taken by the Government in the White Paper. I entirely reject the argument put forward that the problem could have been dealt with by order. I am surprised to hear such an argument from the hon. Member for Crosby, who is the Chairman of the Statutory Instruments Committee. I recall that on one occasion when we were trying to lay an order to deal with a matter in connection with the levy we had our proposal reported on unfavourably by the hon. Gentleman's Committee. We had instead to announce a concession and to say that we would have the matter dealt with by legislation under the Act. That was on a very minor point.

I am sure that if we had brought forward proposals of this kind, and, in particular, if we had tried to make them retrospective to the time of the coming into force of the Act, all hell would have been let loose in the report which the hon. Gentleman would have made as Chairman of the Statutory Instruments Committee. The matter had to be dealt with by legislation, and that is why it was right for my right hon. Friend to deal with it in the way in which he did.

8.19 p.m.

Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)

A Government who introduced the War Damage Act, 1965, concerning the Burmah Oil Company, can hardly argue against retrospection. There have been several other examples since I have had experience in these matters in the House where, if it has been in their own interests, they were happy to go back several years. Therefore, I think that the argument of the hon. and learned Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot) is wrong in that respect.

I think that the hon. and learned Member is also wrong on the question of making an Order to effect the changes. Section 63 of the Act provides precisely for making an Order that certain transactions shall be exempt from the betterment levy. The most important of the concessions in the White Paper is the first—exemption in the case of sales of land for development where the sale price does not exceed £1,500. I should have thought that that was precisely the kind of case that was designed to be included in this provision if it was found suitable later.

Mr. MacDermot

indicated dissent.

Mr. Lubbock

The hon. and learned Gentleman shakes his head. I am not a lawyer, but that was said by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) and the Chairman of the Land Commission, Sir Henry Wells, who is an eminent authority and who has lived with the Commission for several years, and I believe that it is also the opinion of Mr. Desmond Heap, who has written a book on the Land Commission, and who has recently indicated in a letter which he wrote to The Times that the use of Section 63 was the right way in which to remedy injustice.

The hon. and learned Gentleman said that he would be interested to know how much it would cost to make these provisions retrospective to the initial date of the operation of the levy. He said that he could see no reason in principle why this should not be done, because it was a comparatively recent imposition and was not like discovering that some amendment was needed to a tax which had been instituted many years before. I was glad to hear him say that, because it is a useful thing to have on the record from the hon. and learned Gentleman who knows a good deal about these matters.

In his Budget Statement, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the amount which had been collected from transactions which came to less than £1,500 was only one-tenth of the total. I cannot remember how much of the levy was collected in during the years 1967–68 and 1968–69, but it was very small, so small as to be almost derisory in relation to the cost of the Commission itself, as the hon. and learned Gentleman knows.

One of the complaints which my hon. Friends and I have had to make in the past—my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley) was asking Questions about it only the other day—was the ridiculousness of the yield of the levy in relation to the number of people employed to collect it.

Mr. MacDermot

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman realises that that is a false argument. It always takes time to build up a new levy or a new tax if its operation is not made retrospective. There are bound to be high costs of collection in the early stages. One must look to the eventual yield and then set the cost against that.

Mr. Lubbock

I do not want to go into this in detail, but that intervention reinforces my point in the context of this debate, which is that the yield took a long time to build up, much longer than Ministers gave the impression it would take when the Second Reading debate took place.

If the cost of the concession is £1½ million in 1969–70 and £3½ million in subsequent years, it must have been a much smaller figure than that in previous years. Therefore, I doubt whether it could cost the taxpayer more than £3 million to make reimbursement right back to the starting date of the operation of the levy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle says that it would cost less than that. It is a tiny amount, but it is important in relation to the cases of hardship which we have heard mentioned this afternoon. I do not want to rehearse many of them, for they are well-documented in various newspapers, but I shall later mention one which has occurred in my constituency.

The hon. and learned Gentleman said that there was no reason in principle for exempting the sale of houses by owner-occupiers who, after all, if there were an increase in the value of their land created by the community, ought to make their contribution, however small, to the recovery of betterment for the community as a whole. I am not sure that there is not a very good reason in principle for exempting these small transactions by owner-occupiers.

When a man moves house and, presumably, goes into one with the same amount of accommodation, as he would if he had a family of a certain size, needing, say, a three-bedroomed house, he moves from one three-bedroomed house into another at the same price, if he is not moving from one region to another. If he has to pay betterment levy on the first, the proceeds of the sale are not enough to enable him to buy the new house, and if he does so, he finishes up out of pocket. That could deter mobility, because people would say that they were not prepared to move if they had to face the burden of these costs which they could not recover in terms of an increased sale price and so on. That would be a marginal disincentive to the kind of mobility which we all want.

Some time ago, we warned the Government that these things were bound to happen. My hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle made his maiden speech on the subject of the Land Commission. He said that we sympathised with the Government's objectives, that we wanted land to be more readily available and that we wanted active steps to be taken to discourage speculation and that we wanted to allow the community to share the fruits of the appreciation of land values.

My hon. Friend said: … we feel that these proposals will not achieve these very desirable aims."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th May, 1966; Vol. 728, c. 659.] My hon. Friend went on to explain in some detail why they would not do so, and we tried to make some alterations in the scheme when the Bill was on Report to achieve the right kind of development levy. No one disagrees with that principle and at the time the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) was in sympathy with the idea that some part of the development value should be recoverable by the community.

Unfortunately, at that time the Government paid no attention to us. They refused to listen to our advice and now we are in the position of having to consider how best to recover from the difficulties which have been drawn to the Government's attention in debates and in newspapers which have done a great service in focusing attention on the problems of the Land Commission.

I make no apology for speaking in this debate notwithstanding the fact that we shall have another opportunity to discuss the problem in debates on the Finance Bill, because the more occasions we bring it to the attention of the Minister for Planning and Land, the more likely he is to come to a solution with which both sides of the House agree.

It is most unfortunate for the Minister for Planning and Land. He seems to be always saddled with the most difficult questions. He has only just finished dealing with prescription charges and now he is having to defend these policies which are of extreme unpopularity. I expect, when the summer is over, to see him moved to the Department of Employment and Productivity to help the right hon. Lady with her difficult task there. I am sorry for him, because he has been given the impossible task of defending this White Paper—impossible unless there is to be an element of retrospection.

The right hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), who was responsible for the introduction of the Act, said that he did not believe it right to create hardship as between similar cases. That is exactly what will happen if we are to have cut-off dates, for certain people who entered the transactions immediately before that date will not be able to derive benefit from these concessions, while those who entered them immediately afterwards will be able to derive benefit.

Looking through the White Paper I am not at all clear who is to benefit. This has been brought home to me with some force when, at my advice bureau last weekend, I had to discuss a case with a lady who has disposed of a small plot of land and who wanted to know whether she would be liable to the levy. If the Minister can tell me whether this lady will escape, I would be grateful.

This lady is 79, living on social security and supplementary benefit. This is not one of those invented cases one sometimes hears, these are the facts. She looked after an aged gentleman, and he then died. The only asset was his house, which he left to her. The house was an old one, built a long time before the war, and she decided that the sensible thing to do was to sell off a little bit of garden and to use the proceeds to install modern amenities such as a bathroom, and so on. She sold the land for £850, then the Land Commission came along and said that she was liable to pay £218 betterment levy, thus wrecking her plans for improving the property and bringing it into a reasonable condition.

Is this really the objective of the Minister for Planning and Land? I am sure that it is not, because another of the Government's policies is to try to renovate older houses. Yet if this lady has to pay £218 out of the proceeds she received from the sale of the land, it would be impossible for her to carry out her plans. I will give the right hon. Gentleman the relevant dates, and perhaps he will be good enough to reply to me, because my constituent is extremely anxious about this. Naturally, she wants to know as soon as possible, and I assured her, when we discussed this on Saturday morning, that, since there was a debate in the House on Monday, I would raise it then.

I am informed by her financial advisers that the date of the assessment, whatever that means, was 13th February, and the date of charge was 24th April. If the right hon. Gentleman can assure me that this old lady will be exempt from a charge of £218, remembering that she has nothing else to live on but her pension and social benefits, I should be very well satisfied with having taken part in the debate. Probably it is not only the £1,500 limit to which this kind of argument applies.

The right hon. Gentleman ought to listen very carefully not only to the arguments put from the Opposition Front Bench by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), but also to the many voices being raised on his own back benches, in particular, the experts on the Land Commission Act, the right hon. Member for Sunderland, North and the hon. and learned Member for Derby, North. If these hon. Members, who have studied the Act and have watched its operation, say that the concessions ought to be back-dated to the beginning of the coming into force of the Act, then it is a very strong argument for the Minister accepting that and saying tonight that he will do so, thus relieving the anxieties of a great many people.

8.33 p.m.

Mr. William Baxter (West Stirlingshire)

We are in some difficulty tonight in debating this Motion since this matter will come up again on the Finance Bill. I very much regret that the Opposition have drawn the Motion in such narrow terms, rather than on a broader base so that we could consider most of the aspects of the Land Commission Act. We are fairly fortunate in Scotland in that, as the Act has not been operated to a great extent, there are fewer people who have had to pay betterment levy than there are in England.

The White Paper says that we ought to give relief to those whose land is worth not more than £1,500. Even if there are only a few in Scotland, there are many people in England and Wales who will be compelled to pay the betterment levy for the period that the Bill has been in operation. I add my voice to those who have spoken tonight, and ask my right hon. Friend and the Chancellor to pay special regard to retrospective payments in cases such as we have been discussing. I should like to see all aspects of the Land Commission Act reviewed by Parliament.

My right hon. Friend for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) introduced what is probably the most complicated and difficult Measure ever put upon the Statute Book. Even today many valuers and others who have to work the Act find it difficult to understand and apply in a fair and equitable manner.

There was no reason for this legislation to be so complicated. Most people agree that when betterment has occurred because of acts by the community as a whole, a proportion of the betterment value should return to the common weal. There should be machinery available throughout the country to operate this legislation in a simple and satisfactory manner.

There should be a utilisation of the powers which are already in the hands of local authorities to value land as originally purchased. If agricultural land is used for housing, one can understand that a completely different situation will arise. The rise in the value of that land should not go solely to the owner of the land, but to the community as a whole. Nobody would question the rightness of a proportion of that increased value being paid back to the common weal.

This policy could have been implemented in a simple and straightforward way. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North seemed to indicate that the intervention of the Land Commission, even in the purchase of the land, would not boost the price of land to the betterment of those who sought to build their homes upon it. But the fact is that this is what has occurred.

We have had a limited experience of this provision in Scotland and we can see the problem growing in momentum as the years go by. The cost of housing will increase considerably to those who want a house of their own. I know of one case involving 28 acres of fairly good land on which a firm had an option amounting to £28,000 prior to the Act coming into operation. I understand that at the time the planning committee did not give planning consent for the land to be utilised for housing. At present the Land Commission is negotiating for the land provided that the local authority will give it planning permission. It is not proposing to pay £28,000, but I understand that it is prepared to pay £80,000 for the land. If it pays that sum for the land, its value will increase immeasurably. For what purpose? It will bring in a certain amount of revenue to the Treasury. But who ultimately will pay? Will it not be the young married couple who want a house, or the elderly couple who wish to build a cottage for retirement on that land?

I feel that my right hon. Friends have misunderstood the basic principles of the Labour Party on this matter. I am a member of the Labour Party, and do not apologise for saying this. I believe that a proportion of the improvement value of land should go back to the people. This is a simple belief. But what this Act has done is to increase the price of the land to people who wish to build their own houses upon it. This must be borne in mind.

There should have appeared on the Order Paper a straightforward Motion to the effect that the Government be asked to reconsider the whole concept of the Land Commission Act, even to the extent that it should be reviewed and recast. However, the Motion which is at present on the Order Paper does not indicate that. It is just an expression of opinion, which is of no great moment or importance. It deprecates the fact that hardship is being caused to certain people, and certainly hardship has been caused to individuals. The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) has given examples of such cases, and one understands that individual cases of hardship will be rectified. But this does not rectify a bad Act of Parliament. This Act is bad in conception. Not only is it not understood by the mass of the people or even by professional people but it does not do what it is intended to do; namely, keep the price of land as cheap as possible and give any profits back to the community. It does the opposite.

This is a bad Act. The concept of introducing a proper land levy system was good, but this system has been compiled in the most ham-fisted manner possible. One of the great tragedies of the House is that there are too many academic thinkers in it who are not practical people. As a builder, as a member of a local authority for more than 30 years, and as someone who knows something about the problem and has discussed it with district valuers, I believe that the Act which the Labour Government put on the Statute Book to control the price of land was the most stupid Measure I have ever come across. In the circumstances, a straightforward Motion asking that reconsideration be given to the Act would have been the most appropriate.

8.41 p.m.

Mr. W. R. van Straubenzee (Wokingham)

I did not think that it could happen, but I am beginning to feel sorry for the Minister for Planning and Land. There is no nicer individual in the House, but night after night, day after day, he gets a merciless battering. That is to be expected from this side of the House, but we have listened to three speeches in succession by hon. Members opposite giving him a walloping. We have listened to the originator of the Act, the right hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) and the hon. and learned Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot), and we have just heard a swingeing speech from the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. W. Baxter). I do not think that any diehard Tory could have assembled a better set of adjectives than those used by the hon. Member. We salute him. We have reason to know that he is one of a select band of hon. Members opposite whose feet follow their voice. We know that when he speaks as he has just spoken he means business.

We should have liked to table the sort of Motion to which the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire has just referred, but we are restricted by the rules of order. In principle, concessions under the Act have been made retrospective. That has been established by the Opposition Front Bench and it is not disputed on the benches opposite. Secondly, as the right hon. Member for Sunderland, North made clear, the Chairman of the Land Commission, using the full authority of his position, has said that there is no insuperable difficulty about making any future action retrospective. That clears out of the way any difficulties of the Minister on those two grounds.

I wonder whether the Minister understands the irritation, expressed throughout the country, caused by any suggestion that there should be a date before or after which transactions should be effected. Just before Easter, through the courtesy of the Chair, I was permitted to raise on the Floor of the House the case of a Mr. Frank Whitfield of Bracknell, a window cleaner whose house has been compulsorily purchased. He was born in the house. He had to pay a substantial levy on what he had called his cabbage patch.

One of the results of that debate, which was courteously answered by the Minister, was that last week an elderly gentleman got in touch with me. He has asked me to keep his name private. He has been to see Mr. Whitfield—he does not come from within my constituency—and has offered to pay the whole of the development levy. It will be agreed that that is an extraordinarily generous gesture, particularly when it is made totally anonymously without strings. It illustrates, however, the strength of feeling which these cases have aroused in the general public. It is illustrative of the difficulties which have touched the hearts of innumerable people.

Secondly, I want to draw attention once again to the special difficulty in which those whose houses are compulsorily purchased find themselves. In all fairness, I think that there is considerable strength in the argument, used by the Minister when we debated this matter previously, that it would be difficult to exempt from levy as a class those whose properties were compulsorily purchased. I respectfully differ on this from one or two of my hon. Friends. I have raised the matter in this way only to get the argument on its feet.

The argument is legitimate in the sense that one of the difficulties faced by a person whose house is compulsorily purchased is that he is not free in terms of the time which the transaction takes. It is clear to any observer of our proceedings that the Government, however unwillingly, were being shoved, pushed and harassed by the Opposition. Certain matters will come forward in the Finance Bill, which for procedural reasons we do not debate tonight, showing that clearly to be true. That would never have happened had it not been for sustained Opposition pressure.

A person selling voluntarily by private treaty can control the time at which he completes his sale. For example, if I have understood the matter aright, the key date that the Minister needs to know to answer the case raised by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) is the date of the conveyance of the additional land sold by the old lady whose predicament, I am certain, touched the hearts of everyone who heard it.

A person whose land is being purchased compulsorily cannot control the date. Therefore, if later the allevation is tied to a date, it will once again hit those whose property is being compulsorily purchased. It is this aspect of compulsory purchase which I draw once again to the right hon. Gentleman's attention for consideration when he replies.

That is all I want on this occasion to say about this matter, and in my concluding sentence I give this word of advice not only to my constituents but to anyone else who wishes to observe it. It has come to my attention, not surprisingly, that those whose duty it is—a duty laid upon them by Parliament—to impose levies in cases which are mentioned in the White Paper are doing so with a very heavy heart.

I have a case, which came to me on Saturday, of a person of modest means. In all sympathy the case has been discussed by the southern regional offices of the Land Commission. It is quite clear—it comes right through the reported conversations—that those concerned in the offices feel mighty bad about still having to impose a levy in the case because of the date which is mentioned in the White Paper.

Therefore, my advice to all such affected people is that they should undertake a form of civil disobedience: that is to say, they should prevaricate. I am quite certain that the answer is to extend the correspondence, to extend the negotiations, to wait and delay and not to pay, because I cannot believe that the Minister, who is a man of keen intelligence, can fail to be impressed by the arguments which have been thrust upon him from all sides today and which, in particular, have come from behind him. When that day comes, it will be the sustained pressure of this side of the House which will be responsible more than any other single factor.

8.50 p.m.

Mr. R. F. H. Dobson (Bristol, North-East)

I want to start almost where the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) left off. I was hoping that, in his concluding passages, he would have paid some tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister for listening to the pleas made in this House on many occasions about the hardship cases, and I have played some part myself in making those pleas. I was hoping that at least one hon. Member on the Opposition benches would have placed on record that my right hon. Friend has been active, has measured up to the discussions which we have had, and has really tried to help in these very difficult personal cases which have come to light.

My right hon. Friend's attitude, I think, has been exemplary, for he has had to administer a difficult Act in difficult circumstances. He has had to persuade, and to argue with other people about whether or not he was in a position to give some remedy in the difficult cases to which Members of this House and the Press have drawn attention. Despite the fact that this is a critical Motion I should have thought that at least one hon. Member on the Opposition benches would have had the graciousness to have applauded my right hon. Friend's efforts which are so clearly laid out in Cmnd. 4001. If hon. Members opposite will not, I will, for I believe that my right hon. Friend has gone a long way to meeting all the criticisms which have been made against the Act.

My right hon. Friend has one further step to take, and that is on the question which has been raised particularly by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot), the question—and it is a difficult one for us to deal with tonight—how far retrospection will be allowed and whether there will or will not be a paying back of the amounts collected, which have caused hardship throughout.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)

The hon. Member cannot talk about retrospection, for he would be anticipating consideration of the Finance Bill.

Mr. Dobson

I was only relating it to the Motion as it speaks of hardship. Some of the hardship has arisen because the money has already been collected. Of course, I heard the Rulings which were given early in the debate, and I will abide by them. However, I should have thought that the statements made by Sir Henry Wells were most important, coming from a high-ranking official in the Land Commission. If he says that there will be no administrative difficulty for the Land Commission in any changes which might possibly flow later on, I would hope that my right hon. Friend would accept that statement made with some authority and would take it into account when he makes his decisions.

I remember when the Bill was first debated in the House talking about it to some back-bench colleagues on this side of the House, and they forecast, incorrectly as it turned out, that we would have a series of Land Commission amending orders or Bills in most years because of the complexity of the Bill. The hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. W. Baxter) said it is a cumbersome Act and a difficult one. I am sure that is true, and I do not think anyone would dissent from that. The important thing is that the changes which the Government propose to make, and for which we have heard not one good word in favour from the other side of the House, will meet the greater part of the problem and hardship cases which have been raised so far, and I am pleased indeed to have this opportunity of saying to the Government that I am delighted that the changes are to be made.

I think that the Motion is, therefore, ill-balanced and ill-conceived in that sense, and I shall vote against it.

8.55 p.m.

Mr. Donald Williams (Dudley)

We have heard from both sides of the House an indictment of what the Land Commission has done in terms of betterment levy. We have also heard that most people welcome the rather belated move by the Government to modify the errors which have been committed.

I want to take as my theme the cost of land for development. I am not talking of the innocent person of small means who has suffered hardship, but of people who know about the value of land, and there is no question that the operations of the Land Commission have substantially increased the cost of a house purchased by an individual.

To give a simple illustration, a house sold for £5,000, which is purchased on a mortgage at the generous rate of interest of 8 per cent. per annum, which is a most unusual figure today, would cost in capital and interest, if the mortgage were repaid by half-yearly rests over 20 years, £10,105. The largest ingredient in the purchase of that house is interest, which is £5,105. The next largest item would be the house, built at a cost of between £3,500 and £3,750. The small plot of land upon which it stands will have cost between £1,250 and £1,500.

These figures were given to me over the weekend by a reputable builder. In his opinion the increase in the cost of land due to the betterment levy is between £300 and £500. It is not the fault of the builder; he is producing a good product very cheaply. The additional cost is solely due to the operation of the levy, and this makes life difficult for people who want to buy houses.

The nub of the argument tonight would have been in a discussion of retrospective legislation. On the debate on the Budget Statement, mine was the first voice to be raised requesting retrospective legislation in this context, but all that I can do now is to say that I think that such action would be correct.

Arguments from this side of the House have repeatedly been based on the contents of postbags which have been filled with complaints and on correspondence in newspapers dealing with cases of hardship and injustice. I hardly dare mention to the Minister that when the opportunity came I intended to bring forward the case of a Mrs. Pierson, who had a small plot of land upon which stood a derelict cottage which had to be pulled down at a cost of £93. She had to spend £28 on professional fees, and betterment levy of £40 was raised upon her. The result was that out of the £200 she received for the sale of this small piece of land she was left with only £39. This is a ridiculous state of affairs. Strangely enough, the piece of land adjoining hers was sold in similar circumstances for £400, and on that land a further betterment levy of £110 was raised. The land was not used for a dwelling-house, but for a car park space for the local Liberal club.

I have a third case in a different bracket which may be of interest to the House. This concerns a man and his wife purchasing a small bungalow with a large garden. The family increased until there were five children, and they had to move out of the two-bedroom bungalow. The parents sought to purchase an old house with a sufficient number of bedrooms and, in the process to sell their own house. They were warned by their legal advisers upon the sale of the house that betterment levy might be exigible.

The builder or the purchaser therefore got in touch with the local office of the Land Commission and, in consequence, wrote a letter to my constituents stating that according to his information no betterment levy would be charged. My constituents therefore sold their small bungalow for £3,000 and put the whole of the proceeds into accommodation large enough to take their family, using every penny. The next thing they knew was that they had a demand for £276 and they had not a penny to pay it with.

These are difficulties which many hon. Members have experienced. There is no question but that the pressures brought upon the Government by many hon. Members have produced this first step towards rectifying these injustices.

9.1 p.m.

Mr. J. E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)

It seems to me that in bringing in complicated legislation in this and the earlier Parliament the Government have made their task much more difficult by never having a satisfactory de minimis rule. We saw that in connection with the Finance Acts and the Transport Act. In the Land Commission Act the net chosen had such a small mesh that inevitably many small transactions were caught up in it, virtually clogging not only the administration of the Commission but involving the Ministry, Members of Parliament and professional men in a quite unprecedented stream of complicated correspondence.

I pay tribute to the action of the Minister—who I acknowledge to be a very humane person, as we know from his actions as Minister of Health—in considering the position broadly. I see the White Paper as evidence of his conclusions about what should be done. None the less, the Motion is very much concerned with the degree of hardship which will remain in future. It would be most undesirable if that were to be the monument to the Minister's administration.

One bad consequence of the last two years is that it has been difficult for people to change house as a result of the operation of the levy. That fact must operate against this Government's policy of wanting a degree of mobility in the movement of families and labour—and particularly the movement of families from one house to another. In the many and varied cases that we have all had one situation has struck me as particularly undesirable.

I can give an example from my constituency of South Norfolk. A man and his wife were living in a three-bedroom council house. They owned a small piece of land—as is the case with many people; they may buy part of a field, representing a certain amount of their savings—and they wished to have a house of their own. They vacated the council house, thereby greatly assisting the local authority's housing policy, and sought to sell part of their land to obtain finance to erect a bungalow.

The land was planned for three plots, and my constituent sold one to his bother-in-law for £500, intending to build on the third lot himself. He found when they measured it out that it was not actually fit for three bungalows. He gave part of the extra plot to his brother-in-law, and, I understand, did not charge him any more. He hoped thereby to have enough money to start building a bungalow for himself with the intention of completing much of the interior work himself. These are poor people. The bother-in-law is a pensioner, a retired agricultural worker. My constituent found that in total he was asked to pay out of his receipts of only £500 no less than £348 in levy. As a result, he is greatly discouraged from his project of building a bungalow for himself.

I expect we have all had cases of constituents who have bought either in the open market or at arms length, separately advised, single plots of land on which to build houses. I have a constituent, a Mr. Cunliffe, of Diss, who paid £500 for part of a lady's garden on which he wished to build a bungalow. He is not a man of great means, and he had to calculate this on a very tight budget. Unfortunately the district valuer raised a case C assessment against him urging that the property is worth £750 market value, and he has to pay another £100 levy as a result.

This is very undesirable in the small case C transactions because if the original vendor followed the Government advice at the commencement of the Act and did not seek to add the prospective levy to the asking price the district valuer could always quote the market price which was inclusive of any levy. This seemed from the start to be a great injustice to the purchaser from a vendor who was not seeking to add a levy element in the asking price.

My constituent, and there are others like him, wrote to me through a solicitor 12 months ago. The Minister and his predecessor have been very courteous in answering complicated inquiries. I have advised such people, and their solicitors have advised them, to appeal on value, as a result of which protracted correspondence is going on on value. Solicitors inform me that one of the difficulties is that the fees of a valuation are not allowable. I quote from the letter from the solicitors: We are afraid that we do not agree with the Minister's statement that valuers fees may be set off against assessment to levy. Paragraph 19 of Schedule 6 to the Act merely says that valuers fees may be set off against market value for the purpose of calculating the levy, which means in fact that only a proportion of the fees are allowed against actual levy. There is one further strange result, which is that if by any chance the market value is reduced on appeal to the base value, so that in fact no levy is payable, there is nothing against which the valuers fees can be set off. It will be seen, therefore, that whatever happens the appellants are bound to be out of pocket. Mr. Cunliffe says that at the moment he cannot afford to pay the levy, let alone pay the valuer, so that he is helpless. We once more urge that this situation be urgently reconsidered as the whole situation seems to be contrary to the principles of natural justice. That exactly summarises the position. It reflects the opinion of professional people in the countryside who are trying to advise small and in some ways simple people on what their rights and obligations are. It has been impossible to get clear rulings. This case, on which the Minister has already written to me twice, is still going on. I cannot help wondering how anyone can be expected to go on incurring costs which he is not allowed to set off against liability at present and will not be in the future unless something is done.

I beg the Minister to follow up his assessment of the position with action under Section 63, which we believe he can take, to correct the manifest injustices that will remain even if as a result of the White Paper the situation is changed for the future. I cannot believe that it is desirable that there should be scattered about the countryside, and no doubt in towns as well, lasting grievances as to the treatment received from the Government by one householder as against his neighbour, just by the chance of date. It is not for me to try to remove the distrust and dislike of a Labour Government that may spring up in these cases. It is for me and for all of us to try to avoid lasting grievances which fester with the years.

If one thing has come out of this short debate it is that the sense of the House as a whole is that the situation must not be left in a state of comparative hardship. I strongly urge the Minister to take action to put it right. I wonder how much this will cost. Sir Henry Wells has said that 10 per cent. is all that is yielded by 50 per cent. of the cases. How much is this 10 per cent? It would be a small price to pay to remove a sense of injustice which is persisting in countryside and town alike.

9.3 p.m.

Mr. E. Rowlands (Cardiff, North)

The House may be interested to hear the figures relating to the collection of betterment levy in Wales. The Land Commission has a separate commission for Wales. I have been surprised at the few complaints that I have received about the operation of the levy. Although the figures for Wales follow the national pattern, the local and regional Press has not seriously taken up the levy as a major issue of hardship.

A large number of people have paid small sums, aggravating sums, sums which must have caused some hardship. This has arisen because of the wide net which the levy spreads. Since the operation of the levy, 1,109 people have paid a total of £414,874. If the amendments proposed in the White Paper had been promulgated from the beginning, 1,000 of the 1,109 cases would have been exempted. These 1,000 cases brought in a total of £150,000. This represents £150 per case. These are small figures and do not represent the vicious cases of people speculating and making extortionate profits.

The justification for the betterment levy is the fact that a small number of people should rightly pay a hefty levy for the enormous development value which results from some of the developments. I hope that my right hon. Friend will persist with the positive work of the Land Commission. In Wales, the Land Commission is not unpopular. We do not have a doctrinaire approach to it, as many hon. Members opposite have. There has been a wholehearted response from the local authorities in Wales, which see this as the answer to their problems in terms of development. The Land Commission in Wales and the local authorities are united in producing positive results which, under the Land Commission Act, will embrace both residential and industrial property.

Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

Could the hon. Gentleman give some information about the amount of land made available to the local authorities by the Land Commission?

Mr. Rowlands

Yes. At the moment the Land Commission in Wales is involved in developing a 500 acre site in the Bridgend area which will almost double the size of that town. This is very welcome. It is one of the most imaginative and exciting developments which could happen in the mid-Glamorgan area. It is made possible by the Land Commission Act in consolidating the ownership of that property.

There are five other areas, where the Land Commission is doing invaluable work in consolidating the ownership of derelict land. Pontlottyn, in Glamorgan, is a classic case where the Land Commissioners are doing valuable work in developing an extensive site.

In Wales, we see many positive advantages coming from the work of the Land Commission, and the local authorities have responded willingly in co-operation with the Commission. I hope that the positive side of the Land Commission will be allowed to develop and that we shall not see the end of it, as hon. Members opposite apparently do.

9.17 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Rossi (Hornsey)

The significance of this debate is that it is taking place against a background of innumerable cases of suffering, hardship, misery and anxiety which have come to the attention of hon. Members. No hon. Member hearing of these cases could fail to be moved. No Member could listen without a feeling of burning anger at the injustices done. No Member with a conscience could escape a profound sense of shame that all this has been brought about by legislation passed by this House in our names. Perhaps that is why the benches opposite have been so significantly empty throughout the whole of the debate.

The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), my hon. Friends the Members for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee), for Dudley (Mr. Donald Williams) and for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) have given us instances of this kind. It is not only today that we have learned of the bitter experiences. From the very moment that the operations of the Land Commission began to take effect, hon. Members have sought to bring the hardship suffered by their constituents to the attention of the House. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) said—I thank him for his kind welcome to me at the Dispatch Box—the national Press itself has conducted a campaign to expose these injustices.

Sir Henry Wells, the Chairman of the Land Commission, has publicly admitted— I have compiled at my offices a big dossier of unfairnesses—the Land Commission Act has some loose and rather nasty ends which need tightening up. I am aware of many cases of unfairness. I can only administer the law as it stands. Meanwhile, throughout the country there is a mounting tide of anger against this obnoxious and oppressive legislation which the people want to see swept away.

How was it that Parliament in all its wisdom came to pass such a law? How can it be that right hon. and hon. Members have lent their names to such a repressive Measure? Let us think back for a moment. When the levy was first introduced, we were told that the object was to return to the community part of the wealth, the development value of land, created by the community. Previously, throughout two general election campaigns, the country had been told that huge profits were being made by speculators in land, forcing up the cost of housing for ordinary men and women.

That self-appointed conscience of our society, the sole repository of all social justice, the Labour Party, told the nation that it would remedy all that. A new dynamic instrument of Government, the Land Commission, would do away with all these abuses, cleanse us of the unholy profit-making, and our green and pleasant land would become cheap and plentiful. So it happened that the Labour Government unleashed their hounds to hunt down those rapacious land wolves. What did they bring home?—thousands upon thousands of helpless creatures, which the Government proceeded to skin, gut and devour.

The Government must not say that what has happened was not foreseen. Throughout every stage of the legislation my right hon. and hon. Friends fought the levy line by line. Amendment after Amendment to the Bill was moved to protect ordinary men and women from this monstrous impost. First, we tried to reject it altogether. We failed. Then we tried to exempt owner-occupiers from levy on their houses and gardens. In that we failed. We tried to exempt parcels of land below £5,000 in value. In that we failed. Yet in none of those cases could it be said that a speculator or profiteer would be involved. Throughout, we have said that the price of land could only be forced up by the levy, and that it was adequately confirmed tonight by the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. W. Baxter).

We have suggested alternatives. We proposed that the profits of persons buying or selling land by way of business could be taxed through the ordinary Income Tax and Surtax, and that those who bought for pure investment and then later resold at a profit could be made to pay through the Capital Gains Tax system. If those suggestions had been accepted, the man who sold his home to buy another, the man who made a gift to a relative for development, and the man who made a loss, would have been saved, as he has not been saved so far. But all these entreaties fell upon deaf ears.

When, on occasion, the meaning of what we were trying to say was heard, we were informed that the Government were benign, that the Minister would act with compassion and understanding, that the Act contained a reserve power under Section 63, to which my right hon. and hon. Friends have referred today, which would enable him to order that no levy should be charged where suitable circumstances existed. The Minister at that time was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey). I return to him the compliment which he paid me earlier this evening. He is known to us for his mildness, for his kindliness and the warmth of his personality. While we might have accepted his personal reassurances, we suggested to him that he might not always remain in office, and what if his successor proved to be flint-hearted, unmoved and obdurate?

The right hon. Member for Sunderland, North has shown by his speech today that if he had remained Minister this debate need never have been necessary. He would have heeded Sir Henry Wells and introduced retrospective legislation to remove these injustices. The question the House must ask, having been right in half our prophecy, is whether we shall be proved right in the second half of it.

Will the right hon. Gentleman's successor, by his reply, show himself to be flint-hearted, obdurate and unmoved by the tales of human misfortune he has heard tonight? He may indicate that he is about to make proposals which we may not discuss, but when we can discuss them we shall tell him that they are insufficient, niggardly, a sop to public opinion and no help to those already bruised and injured by the levy. Retrospection is really the urgent answer.

The levy and all that flows from it is a classic example of the autocratic interference by the State in the lives and activities of ordinary people. It is a logical outcome of the application of Socialist dogma and theory and all the things that we on this side of the House loathe with a burning intensity.

We have heard of hard cases of injustices, misery and anxiety. But there is another matter which probably is of far greater importance, to which my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) referred. It is a situation to which the House must direct its mind. If we make laws which are palpably unfair we create in the minds of the people a deep and bitter resentment. Instead of acceptance of the rule of law, there grows up a climate of obstruction and evasion. If we are seen to act arbitrarily and unfairly, we undermine our very system of government, and the term "Parliamentary democracy" becomes a mockery. We remain without honour and without respect.

I need to give but one example. Consider the case of Mr. Sweeting, who received the gift of a barn from his uncle and made it a home for his family with his own hands. As a recompense for his generosity, the uncle received a demand for betterment levy of £1,200. After weeks of negotiations this was reduced to £960. Then, conspiratorially, the Minister closeted himself with Mr. Sweeting's solicitor and suggested that the law could be circumvented by the uncle residing in the home for six months. What kind of law is it that imposes a repressive tax of this kind in the first place, and what kind of Government is it where a Minister has to suggest how it can be evaded? Our whole institution of Government is brought into hatred, ridicule and contempt by Measures of this kind.

I say to the Minister that it will not be enough for him to state that he proposes to alter the law so that a Sweeting case need never arise again, nor that land worth less than the derisory figure of £1,500 will escape the levy. What we say is that he must uproot this law, root and branch. If he will not, then I tell him to go, and we will.

9.30 p.m.

The Minister for Planning and Land

(Mr. Kenneth Robinson): I first join in the congratulations offered to the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) from both sides on his first appearance at the Dispatch Box. It may be that I found some of his language a little exaggerated and one or two of his statements at variance with the facts, but nevertheless he can be well satisfied with his speech.

The fact that this debate is taking place today even before publication of the Finance Bill, during the Committee stage of which we shall doubtless cover the same ground all over again, illustrates the Opposition's studied determination to he dissatisfied with whatever action the Government choose to take. Sometimes, when listening to the distinctly churlish response to the sweeping changes we propose—at least that was the response until the Opposition redeemed it by one or two favourable references in the last two or three speeches—I am left in doubt whether some hon. Members opposite have even read the White Paper.

The changes were welcomed generally on these benches, as, indeed, I would have expected. It is true that the first brief reference to the changes we propose was made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget Statement and that the White Paper itself was issued when he sat down. Naturally, one might have preferred a separate announcement but, since the proposals are to be implemented in the Finance Bill, and because of the consequential changes in the Capital Gains Tax, it was entirely right that the changes should have been first announced by my right hon. Friend in the Budget.

For some time past the House has been, as I well know, keenly aware of the impact of the betterment levy on those who have secured an increase in the value of their land by obtaining planning permission to develop it. It is not surprising that the House is well informed because already, within the last three months, the betterment levy has been debated on six separate occasions. I think that by now it is well appreciated that, apart from a transitional provision, the betterment levy is only sought where there has been a gain in the form of increased development value to the levy payer. This is not to say that the levy payer—

Mr. Dance


Mr. Robinson

I wish to get on.

Hon. Members

Give way.

Mr. Robinson

Very well.

Mr. Dance

Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that there is a gain to someone who has had to pay large legal expenses to be taken account of when he finally sells, as in the case put by my hon. Friend?

Mr. Robinson

I think that I was right in my reluctance to give way to the hon. Gentleman in the first place. If he will allow me to deploy my argument—

Mr. Clegg


Mr. Robinson

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman a little later.

As I was saying, this is not to say that the levy payer will always have made a cash gain because the gain may have taken the form of his increasing the value of the asset which he holds, but a gain there must certainly have been, and 60 per cent. of that gain will be retained by the levy payer. In the ordinary case of sale of land for development, the main figure in the calculation is the price actually received.

There are one or two other false ideas about betterment levy which the Government would dismiss. There is the idea that betterment levy was intended to apply only to speculators in land. This, as anyone who took part in the debates on the Bill must know, is quite untrue. There was no intention to discriminate against any section of the community in this way, and I suspect that the expression "land speculator" is one which is always applied to the other man and never to oneself. Be that as it may, it was always intended that the levy should be of general application.

Nor is there any suggestion in the Act that owner-occupiers, or any other class of private individuals, are exempt from levy, apart from the provisions of Section 61 which were introduced into the legislation for the express purpose of providing a limited exemption for people who had, well in advance, already secured land with a view to building on it for their own or their family's occupation at some time in future.

Nor does the Act provide, although I accept that some hon. Members opposite at the time of its passage claimed that it should, that transactions below any minimum figure should be exempt from levy. Small realisations of development value may be taken outside the levy provisions by the 10 per cent. which is added to the current use value to determine the base value in a levy calculation, but that is all. With such a comprehensive coverage, it is difficult to see how the claim that the purpose of betterment levy was to tax only those who speculated in land transactions could have originated.

The scheme of betterment levy provides that levy is charged on the difference between a top figure, which is the market value, the purchase price received in the ordinary case of a sale of land, and a bottom figure called the base value. The base value may be either 11/10ths of the current use value of the land, that is, the value of the land for the purpose for which it is at present used, without taking into account any unused planning permission or prospect of its being granted, or the price paid for the land in a previous transaction if that is higher. There are other allowances which may be taken into account, but, broadly speaking, the levy is assessed on the difference between that top and that bottom figure. That means that of the net development value created by the community through the grant of planning permission 40 per cent. is returned to the community and 60 per cent. remains with the vendor, or the developer of the land.

It is not surprising to me that this principle is not widely acceptable to hon. Members opposite, but it is a perfectly reasonable proposition that, in circumstances such as I have described, 40 per cent. of the development value created by the community should be returned to the community. I appreciate that, perhaps because they had insufficient professional advice about the incidence of the betterment levy, many members of the public may have spent the proceeds of their sale without taking liability into account.

Mr. Graham Page


Mr. Robinson

I am sorry, but I cannot give way now.

Hon. Members

Give way.

Mr. Graham Page

The right hon. Gentleman has made that smear on the solicitors' profession before. Solicitors have advised their clients properly and their clients have still lost money through this betterment levy.

Mr. Robinson

I should like the hon. Gentleman to read some of the letters which I have had alleging hardship and making it perfectly clear that the writers had not been advised that there was a liability to levy when there was a liability. I fully accept that there were others who did not take professional advice. I am certainly not smearing the solicitors' profession. I am stating the facts as they have been put to me in letters from the public and from hon. Members.

Mr. Clegg


Mr. Robinson

No, I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman. I have a good deal to say and I have already given way several times.

Hon. Members

Answer the debate.

Mr. Robinson

I am answering the debate, and clearing away of lot of misconceptions which still appear to persist on the benches opposite. It was clear on the last occasion, when the Opposition devoted a Supply Day to the Land Commission, that there were many cases in which this sense of hardship prevailed. The House will recall that on that occasion I invited hon. Members to let me know of cases which they received from constituents where the incidence of betterment levy was operating with undue severity.

This was to supplement the factual information I had already gathered from a close study of the operation of the Act, which I began shortly after taking up my present office. This enabled me, in time, to formulate clear ideas about what should be done to give some relief in future to private individuals of small means, particularly to those for whom a transaction chargeable to levy was an occasion which occurs once in a lifetime. I have considered this problem intensively, and the White Paper "Modifications in Betterment Levy" published on 15th April is the result of that consideration.

It defines the steps which in the view of the Government, ought to be taken to relieve, by way of concession, the most severe impact of levy. I emphasise that I regard the modifications which are to be made as concessionary, because the White Paper reaffirms the view of the Government that the basic principle of the betterment levy still holds good.

Sir John Rodgers (Sevenoaks)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Chairman of the Land Commission says that this should be retrospective?

Mr. Robinson

I will give notice now that I do not propose to give way again because I wish to deal with the debate in my own time and my own order. Since that problem has loomed large in most speeches, it would be very surprising if I were not to deal with it.

I would like to deal with the points made by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) in his opening remarks. He is far too well informed about this matter to think that the concessions could have been made retrospectively by an exemption Order under Section 63. He knows perfectly well, as Chairman of the Statutory Instruments Committee that this could not have been made retrospective, nor could a Section 63 Order have been made to allow costs of sale as a deduction in assessing levy, as we have done, because this would only give total exemption and there is no power to reduce the levy. The hon. Member made another point about the sales of houses. He must know that the great majority of sales of houses are not liable to levy at all. Only about 1,000 sales of houses have given rise to liability to levy in the two years since the Act has been in operation whereas several hundreds of thousands of houses have been sold in this time. This figure will be much reduced as a result of the changes which we have announced.

One of the cases in which it was most strongly represented that people were suffering injustice was where they had built a house on a plot of land which had been given to them free or at a very low price to enable them to do this. Although it will be appreciated that it is inherent in a scheme of betterment levy that levy should be charged on people who develop their own land in pursuit of planning permission, thereby increasing the value of the asset which they hold, levy in these circumstances hit the developers, if I may so describe people who build houses for themselves, particularly hard. In many cases, perhaps most cases, they were not counting on having to pay any levy, and they regarded the gift which they had received as a complete gift of land which could be developed. The White Paper recognises hardship in these circumstances, and the second proposal which it makes is that people who build on land which they have been given will be able to do so usually without any liability to levy. In this way the case is completely met.

Hon. Members

What is "usually"?

Mr. Robinson

Providing development takes place within a reasonable time.

The first proposal in the White Paper deals with another form of hardship which was perhaps of more frequent occurrence. This was where a person who owned a small plot of land which was suitable for development decided to sell it and realise the increased value arising from planning permission with the intention of devoting the proceeds to some personal expense, essential repairs to his house, for example, or repayment of outstanding mortgage. There is no doubt that if many people who took this course had been properly advised professionally, they would have realised that the scheme of betterment levy would impose a liability upon them. But unfortunately this often did not happen. The White Paper acknowledges that an exception can be made in future—

Mr. Clegg

Would the right hon. Gentleman allow me?

Mr. Robinson


Mr. Clegg

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it fair for the Minister to make attacks on professions without allowing an intervention to explain it?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)

Order. There is nothing that the right hon. Gentleman has done so far that is out of order so far as the Chair is concerned.

Mr. Robinson

I have already, as the hon. Gentleman knows, dealt with that precise point in reply to an earlier intervention.

The White Paper acknowledges that an exception can be made in future for these small cases, and we propose that any leviable occasion whether it be a sale or development where the market value does not exceed £1,500 shall be exempt from levy. The money realised will be subject to Capital Gains Tax, but as the Capital Gains Tax does not fall on the owner-occupier, including a person who sells part of the garden of his principal residence, this will mean that there will be total exemption in future in the bulk of this class of case. As the White Paper indicates, this concession will exempt from levy about half the total number of cases under the Act, for the loss of something like 10 per cent. of the levy.

Some people have advocated special treatment for all owner-occupiers who sell their house, but, as the White Paper states, the Government see no reason why a large house in extensive grounds which is sold for development at a high profit should not be liable to levy, even though it was owner-occupied prior to the sale. However, I was keen to do something to help the owner-occupier of the small or medium-sized house, and the White Paper proposes that where owner-occupied houses up to £10,000 value and a quarter acre in extent are sold or leased, the levy payer will receive an increased base value. This means that a really significant amount of development value in relation to the value of property must be realised before levy becomes chargeable. This can considerably reduce the levy payers' liability to levy and in some cases will remove it altogether.

A further category of case which was represented as causing injustice, though not, I think, hardship, derived from the fact that the Land Commission Act makes no provision that the costs of sale of land, professional fees for example, may be taken into account in the levy calculation. One of the main reasons was that these costs were already being taken into account for the purpose of assessments to Capital Gains Tax. Experience has shown, however, that in many cases there is no liability to Capital Gains Tax, and since the charge to betterment levy occurs before the charge to to Capital Gains Tax, there are good grounds for changing the law so that these costs can, if the levy payer wishes, be allowed against his betterment levy assessment.

A further change in the White Paper relates to payment of interest. It was said—and I had much sympathy with the view—that the Land Commission was conferring little benefit in accepting payments by instalments when, at the same time, the beneficiary was running up a liability to interest of quite significant proportions. Interest will not now accrue where the amount of levy assessed is £1,000 or less, so that on all small and medium transactions, the Commission can agree to accept payment by instalments in suitable cases and in so doing will confer a real benefit on the levy payer. The House will know from what is said in the White Paper that four of the five changes which we have announced require amending legislation. Detailed provisions will be made on the Finance Bill

Mr. Peter Walker

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would it not be in the interests of the House if the Minister were to circulate his brief and spend his time replying to the debate?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is not a point of order.

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

On a point or order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the Minister to read his speech and gabble through it?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The practice of the House is to allow latitude to Ministers.

Mr. Robinson

The suggestion was made in some quarters—and this was the burden of much that was said by the hon. Member for Crosby—that the difficulties could have been overcome by giving a discretion to the Land Commission in the assessment of levy. This is not practicable. The essence of a fair tax system is that its provisions should be set down for all to see without widespread dependence on the exercise of a discretion by any arm of the Executive.

There has been criticism—and this perhaps has been the major criticism in the debate—that the changes we have announced in the betterment levy in the White Paper apply to chargeable acts occurring after 5th April, 1969. This follows the long and well-established rule that general changes in taxation should not be made retrospective and should therefore apply only to liability to tax arising from the beginning of the current financial year. The changes which we have announced are, for the most part, general changes in taxation and there is no more reason why they should be made retrospective than any other change in taxation. This includes the exemption from levy of cases under £1,500 market value.

I would remind the House that when the exemption for small amounts of capital gains was introduced in the Finance Bill last year there was no retrospection of this exemption back to the introduction of Capital Gains Tax. Nor was there any Opposition pressure campaign for such retrospection. There is no difference in principle between the main change we are proposing and this exemption.

Mr. Clegg


Mr. Deputy Speaker


Mr. Robinson

I have a certain amount more to say.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It will be within the recollection of hon. Members that the Minister undertook to reply to the debate. How can he possibly be replying to the debate when he is reading a typescript of his speech?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Reginald Eyre (Birmingham, Hall Green)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for a Minister speaking from a Dispatch Box repeatedly to deny the statement of his predecessor that the levy was not a tax?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman must not use a point of order to enter the debate.

Mr. Robinson

I am endeavouring to reply to the debate. I am having considerable difficulty because of a lot of completely false points of order.

I have said that there would be great difficulty in retrospection for the de minimis exemptions, and new anomalies would be bound to follow retrospection. I need mention only the case of someone who sold land for just over £1,500 and who might well prove to be substantially worse off than if he had accepted a lower price and was then given retrospective exemption. For the future, there is no problem because the seller of the land will know that he may be liable for levy if he sells for more than £1,500.

The Opposition have made much play about the Chairman of the Land Commission and the remarks about the administrative problems. He said that the problems were not insuperable. But he did not say that he had recommended any course of action. He has always accepted that these are political decisions. He was as surprised as I was to find himself described as being angry either with me or with the Government and to read that there was a rift between us. I assure my right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) that my personal relationships with the Chairman are close and friendly.

I do not, however, want to put undue stress on the administrative complications. The main issue remains that as regards the general changes in the levy, the governing principle—

Mr. Lubbock

On a point of order. Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Minister promised that he would deal with all the points which have been raised in the debate. I specifically asked—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The House must allow me to hear the point of order.

Mr. Lubbock

I asked the Minister specifically to deal with the case of a constituent of mine which I put to him. I hope that he will do so.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Member is using a point of order to enter into the debate.

Mr. Robinson

The hon. Member knows that individual cases are for the Land Commission to assess. I will look into all the cases which have been raised, but I am not giving an off-the-cuff decision as to whether liability arises.

I now come to the concession relating to gifts of land. Here a somewhat different situation arises. In one sense, the arrangement is to some extent already retrospective. The chargeable event here is not the gift or the inheriting of the land, but the commencement of building operations. Thus, so long as building has not begun, the concession will operate however long ago the gift of land was made. Thus, the general principle of no retrospection has considerably less force and relevance in these cases.

There are two further considerations. First, I think it can fairly be said that, unlike the other categories of case where we are eliminating or reducing levy for the future, in the case of gifts what we are doing is not to make a general change in the levy, but a technical modification which is correcting the operation of the Land Commission Act where its working was producing an anomaly. Unlike the other categories of case where we are eliminating or reducing levy for the

future, in the case of gifts the Act has, I believe, operated in a way that was not entirely foreseen at the time of its passage through Parliament. It is these cases which have seemed to produce undue hardship and have given rise to a degree of attention out of proportion to their number.

For these reasons, the Government have concluded that the change proposed on gifts can be applied to all chargeable acts and events dating from the introduction of the betterment levy. In the same way, the Regulations we have already made—[Interruption.] Hon. Members opposite clearly do not want to hear this—waiving payment of interest outstanding on cases where the levy assessed did not exceed £1,000 apply not only to the future, but also to all amounts of interest now outstanding on all these smaller cases. We are satisfied that the changes we have proposed to the working of the betterment levy are fair.

In certain respects, we have done more than our critics were demanding in the various debates which we have had on the levy. I am confident that the changes which we have made will benefit those involved in small and medium-sized transactions and will in consequence render betterment levy a more acceptable way of returning to the community a part of what the community has created.

Mr. Francis Pym (Cambridgeshire)

rose in his place and claimed to move. That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly:

The House divided: Ayes 232, Noes 281.

Division No. 171.] AYES [10.0 p.m.
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Black, Sir Cyril Clark, Henry
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Blaker, Peter Clegg, Walter
Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S. W.) Cordle, John
Astor, John Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn, John Costain, A. P.
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n) Boyle R. Hn. Sir Edward Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)
Awdry, Daniel Braine, Bernard Crouch, David
Baker, Kenneth (Acton) Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter Crowder, F. P.
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff) Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Cunningham, Sir Knox
Balniel, Lord Bruce-Gardyne, J. Currie, G. B. H.
Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony Bryan, Paul Dalkeith, Earl of
Batsford, Brian Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus, N & M) Dance, James
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Buck, Antony (Colchester) d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry
Bell, Ronald Bullus, Sir Eric Dean, Paul
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Burden, F. A. Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford)
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos. & Fhm) Campbell, B. (Oldham, W.) Digby, Simon Wingfield
Berry, Hn. Anthony Campbell Gordon (Moray & Nairn) Dodds-Parker, Douglas
Biffen, John Carlisle, Mark Doughty, Charles
Biggs-Davison, John Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir Alec
Birch, Rt. Hn. Nigel Channon, H. P. G. Drayson, G. B.
dn Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward Lambton, Viscount Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Eden, Sir John Lancaster, Col. C. G. Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Elliot, Capt, Walter (Carshalton) Lane, David Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Emery, Peter Langford-Holt, Sir John Ridsdale, Julian
Errington, Sir Eric Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey
Eyre, Reginald Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Farr, John Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'n C'dfield) Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Fisher, Nigel Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone) Royle, Anthony
Fortescue, Tim Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Selwyn (Wirral) Russell, Sir Ronald
Foster, Sir John Longden, Gilbert St. John-Stevas, Norman
Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone) Lubbock, Eric Sandys, Rt. Hn. D.
Galbraith, Hn. T. G. MacArthur, Ian Scott, Nicholas
Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.) Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain Scott-Hopkins, James
Glover, Sir Douglas McMaster, Stanley Sharples, Richard
Glyn, Sir Richard Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham) Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B. McNair-Wilson, M. (Walthamstow, E.) Silvester, Frederick
Goodhart, Philip McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest) Sinclair, Sir George
Goodhew, Victor Maddan, Martin Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)
Gower, Raymond Maginnis, John E. Smith, John (London & W'minster)
Grant, Anthony Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest Speed, Keith
Grant-Ferris, R. Marten, Neil Stainton, Keith
Gresham Cooke, R. Maude, Angus Stodart, Anthony
Grieve, Percy Mawby, Ray Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.
Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds) Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Summers, Sir Spencer
Gurden, Harold Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C. Tapsell, Peter
Hall, John (Wycombe) Mills, Peter (Torrington) Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.) Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart)
Hamilton, Lord (Fermanagh) Miscampbell, Norman Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Temple, John M.
Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.) Monro, Hector Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Harris, Reader (Heston) Montgomery, Fergus Tilney, John
Harrison Brian (Maldon) Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh) Turton, Rt. Hn, R. H.
Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Morrison, Charles (Devizes) van Straubenzee, W. R.
Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John
Hastings, Stephen Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vickers, Dame Joan
Hawkins, Paul Murton, Oscar Waddington, David
Hay, John Nabarro, Sir Gerald Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel Neave, Airey Walker, Peter (Worcester)
Higgins, Terence L. Nicholls, Sir Harmar Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Hiley, Joseph Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael Ward, Dame Irene
Hill, J. E. B. Nott, John Weatherill, Bernard
Hirst, Geoffrey Onslow, Cranley Wells, John (Maidstone)
Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin Orr, Capt. L. P. S. Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Holland, Philip Osborn, John (Hallam) Wiggin, A. W.
Hordern, Peter Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth) Williams, Donald (Dudley)
Hornby, Richard Page, Graham (Crosby) Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Howell, David (Guildford) Page, John (Harrow, W.) Winstanley, Dr. M. P.
Hunt, John Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe) Wolrige-Cordon, Patrick
Hutchison, Michael Clark Peel, John Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Iremonger, T. L. Perclvai, Ian Woodnutt, Mark
Irvine, Bryant Codman (Rye) Peyton, John Worsley, Marcus
Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Pike, Miss Mervyn Wright, Esmond
Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Pink, R. Bonner Wylie, N. R.
Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.) Pounder, Rafton Younger, Hn. George
Jopling, Michael Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
Kaberry, Sir Donald Price, David (Eastleigh) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Kerby, Capt. Henry Pym, Francis Mr. R. Mr. Elliott and
Kershaw, Anthony Quennell, Miss J. M. Mr. Jasper More.
Kimball, Marcus Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter
King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Rees-Davies, W. R.
Kitson, Timothy
Albu, Austen Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur Crawshaw Richard
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Boyden, James Cronin John
Alldritt, Walter Bradley, Tom Crosland Rt. Hn. Anthony
Anderson, Donald Bray, Dr. Jeremy Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard
Archer, Peter Brooks, Edwin Cullen, Mrs. Alice
Ashley, Jack Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Dalyoll, Tam
Ashton, Joe (Bassetlaw) Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper) Darling, Rt. Hn. George
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.) Davidson, Arthur (Accrington)
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury) Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)
Bacon, Rt. Hn. Alice Buchan, Norman Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Davies, Rt. Hn. Harold (Leek)
Barnes, Michael Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Davies, Ifor (Gower)
Barnett, Joel Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Delargy, Hugh
Bence, Cyril Cant R. B. Dempsey, James
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Carmichael, Neil Dewar, Donald
Bennett, James (G'gow, Bridgeton) Carter-Jones, Lewis Diamond, Rt. Hn. John
Bidwell, Sydney Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara Dickens, James
Bishop, E. S. Chapman, Donald Dobson, Ray
Blackburn, F. Coe, Denis Doig, Peter
Blenkinsop, Arthur Coleman, Donald Driberg, Tom
Booth, Albert Conlan, Bernard Dunn, James A.
Boston, Terence Corbet, Mrs. Freda Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central) Parkin, Ben (Paddington, N.)
Eadie, Alex Kerr, Russell (Feltham) Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)
Edelman, Maurice Lawson, George Pavitt, Laurence
Edwards, William (Merioneth) Leadbitter, Ted Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)
Ellis, John Ledger, Ron Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
English, Michael Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton) Pentland, Norman
Ensor, David Lee, Rt. Hn. Jennie (Cannock) Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Lee, John (Reading) Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)
Finch, Harold Lestor, Miss Joan Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E.
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Lever, Harold (Cheetham) Price, William (Rugby)
Fletcher, Rt. Hn. Sir Er. c (Islington, E.) Lever, L. M. (Ardwick) Probert, Arthur
Flstcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.) Pursey, Cmdr. Harry
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Rankin, John
Foley, Maurice Lipton, Marcus Rees, Merlyn
Foot, Rt. Hn. Sir Dingle (Ipswich) Lomas, Kenneth Reynolds, Rt. Hn. G. W.
Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) Luard, Evan Richard, Ivor
Ford, Ben Lyon, Alexander W. (York) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Forrester, John Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.) Roberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy
Fowler, Gerry Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.)
Fraser, John (Norwood) McDride, Neil Robinson, Rt. Hn. Kenneth (St.P'c'as)
Freeson, Reginald McCann, John Rodgers, William (Stockton)
Galpern, Sir Myer MacColl, James Roebuck, Roy
Gardner, Tony MacDermot, Niall Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Garrett, W. E. Macdonald, A. H. Rose, Paul
Ginsburg, David McGuire, Michael Rowlands, E.
Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth) McKay, Mrs. Margaret Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)
Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen) Sheldon, Robert
Gregory, Arnold Mackie, John Shinwell, Rt. Hn. E.
Grey, Charles (Durham) Mackintosh, John P. Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)
Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Maclcnnan, Robert Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)
Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside) MacMillan, Malcolm (Western Isles) Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N. E.)
Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C.) Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Griffiths, Will (Exchange) McNamara, J. Kevin Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)
Gunter, Rt. Hn. R. J. MacPherson, Malcolm Silverman, Julius
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.) Skeffington, Arthur
Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Mallalieu E. L. (Brigg) Slater, Joseph
Hamling, William Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.) Small, William
Hannan, William Manuel, Archie Spriggs, Leslie
Harper, Joseph Mapp, Charles Steele, Thomas (Dunbartonshire, W.)
Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith Marks, Kenneth Storehouse, Rt. Hn. John
Haseldine, Norman Marquand, David Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
Hattersley, Roy Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Hazeil, Bert Mayhew, Christopher Taverne, Dick
Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Thomas, Rt. Hn. George
Henig, Stanley Mendelson, John Thomson, Rt. Hn. George
Herbison, Bt. Hn. Margaret Mikardo, Ian Tinn, James
Hilton, W. S. Millan, Bruce Tomney, Frank
Hobden Dennis Miller, Dr. M. S. Urwin, T. W.
Hooley, Frank Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test) Walden, Brian (All Saints)
Horner, John Molloy, William Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Moonman, Eric Wallace, George
Howarth Robert (Bolton, E.) Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Watkins, David (Consett)
Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Watkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)
Howle, W. Morris, John (Aberavon) Weitzman, David
Hoy, James Moyle, Roland Wellbeloved, James
Huckfield, Leslie Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire S.) Murray, Albert White, Mrs. Eirene
Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Newens, Stan Whitlock, William
Hughes Roy (Newport) Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip (Derby, S.) Wilkins, W. A.
Hunter, Adam Oakes, Gordon Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Hynd, John Ogden, Eric Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh) O'Malley, Brian Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)
Janner, Sir Barnett Oram, Albert E. Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas Orbach, Maurice Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Jeger, George (Goole) Orme, Stanley Willis, Rt. Hn. George
Jeger Mrs. Lena (H'b'n & St. P'cras S.) Oswald, Thomas Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn) Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Jones, Dan (Burnley) Owen, Will (Morpeth) Woof, Robert
Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.) Palmer, Arthur Wyatt, Woodrow
Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles
Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West) Park, Trevor TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Judd, Frank Parker, John (Dagenham) Mr. Ioan L. Evans and
Kelley, Richard Mr. Walter Harrison.