HC Deb 06 February 1969 vol 777 cc597-717

3.55 p.m.

Mr. Peter Walker (Worcester)

I beg to move, That this House notes with regret Her Majesty's Government's admission that there is now no possibility of fulfilling their election pledges to build 500,000 houses per year by 1970; and deplores the manner in which Her Majesty's Government's policies have resulted in the rising cost of homes and the increasing costs of mortgages which, combined with the damaging activities of the Land Commission, is deterring the spread of home ownership. Hon. Members on both sides will, I think, agree that bad and inadequate housing is possibly the greatest social evil. That was the view of the Labour Party at the last General Election. It put in its election manifesto those very words: … bad and inadequate housing is the greatest social evil in Britain today. Throughout the election campaigns of 1964 and 1966, housing was probably more instrumental in bringing about the return to power of a Labour Government than any other single issue. The question of mortgage rates, house prices and the ambitious programme which Labour announced to the country all made attractive items in its election manifesto.

In the Labour Party's manifesto for 1966 there was the plain statement: Our first priority is houses. There was thus a clear indication that a Labour Government would give housing more priority than any other issue. The party went on in its manifesto to be categorical as to its intention regarding the number of houses to be built: We have announced—and we intend to achieve—a Government target of 500,000 houses by 1969–70. After that we shall go on to higher levels still. It can be done--as other nations have shown. It must be done … Those were the words in the Labour Party's election manifesto, and there was no one more enthusiastic about this issue as a vote-winner than the Prime Minister himself. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is not present this afternoon, because of all the issues in those two elections the Prime Minister decided that housing was the one which would attract the most votes. His words at the 1966 election about the 500,000 target were more categorical than the manifesto itself.

At Bradford, a marginal constituency won by the Labour Party, the right hon. Gentleman said: We shall go on year by year … reaching by 1970 no less than 500,000 new dwellings. He added: This is not a lightly given promise "— unlike all the others— It is a pledge. We shall achieve the 500,000 target, and we shall not allow any developments, any circumstances, however adverse, to deflect us from our aim. On 18th January last year, the Government announced officially that they had abandoned the target of 500,000 houses. There was hardly a voice of protest from hon. Members opposite, many of whom had been returned to membership upon that very pledge. The present Minister of Housing and Local Government, when interviewed recently by Mr. Anthony Harris of The Guardian and questioned about the Government's abandonment of their election promises, said: I am not a targeteer". The right hon. Gentleman has changed from what he used to be. He has been a "targeteer". On 14th November 1966, in a statement from his Ministry, he said: The Government, in putting forward the objective of a national housing output of 500,000 a year by 1970, indicated greater priority for housing over the period. It intends to maintain this priority. On 7th December, 1966, in reply to a Question from his hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun), the right hon Gentleman said: There is no change in the target of 500.000."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th December 1968; Vol. 737, c. 1139.] So he was still a targeteer then. On 13th May, 1967, talking to the building industry's Economic Development Committee, he said: The Government see no reason to modify their 1970 target of 500,000 houses a year. Thus, in 1966 and in 1967, the right hon. Gentleman was a targeteer. Then the Government prevented him from achieving his target.

The position was beautifully summed up by the present Minister of Public Building and Works, in a debate in March, 1966, when he said rather appropriately, I thought: I want the country to look at the number of houses which we have built, the efforts we have made and are making to ensure that we achieve our realistic target of 500,000 houses by 1970. … I ask no more than that the country pass its judgment on that."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th March, 1966; Vol. 725, c. 2177.] I ask no more than that, and I hope that the country will pass its judgment upon the Government's total failure to achieve that target.

What is the present position? A few weeks ago, the present Minister of Housing and Local Government rather complacently boasted of the completions for 1968, stating that it was a record, with over 400,000 houses, when, in fact, the total was 413,000, knowing full well that the figure was much inflated as a result of the Betterment Levy introduced in such a way that large numbers of developers started houses in 1966 and 1967 to avoid paying the levy. Therefore, there is bound to be an increase in completions.

There has been no apology from the Minister for the prospects for 1969 being worse than those for 1968, for, although the number of completions last year was a record, the number of starts fell by no less than 53,000 over the previous year—33,000 fewer starts for owner-occupation and 20,000 fewer for publicly-owned housing. The Ministry of Public Building and Works estimate for the coming year is that the number of houses for owner-occupation will be 5 per cent. down on the previous year. The Federation of Registered House-Builders, in a recent survey, showed that twice as many builders expect to build fewer houses in 1969 than in 1968 and that twice as many builders expect to start fewer houses than in 1968.

I therefore ask the Minister clearly to state how much less than the target of 500,000 houses will be achieved in 1969–70. The Prime Minister, in one of his remarkable pieces of wriggling at Question Time, when asked about the Government's failure to fulfil their election promise, said: There is a cut of 16,500 houses in each of the two years, as compared with the 500,000 target. It is our view that to this extent it will be that much more difficult to reach the 500,000 target; it will be 16,500 houses more difficult."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th January, 1968; Vol. 756. c. 1947.] Perhaps the Minister will confirm that the new target is 484,000 houses for each of these years. If he cannot give us the figure, can he explain why it was possible for the Labour Party to give a categorical figure in 1966 for 1970 when it is now, in 1969, constantly evading what will be the figure for 1970? We want to know to what extent the whole target is going to fall short.

Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)

The hon. Gentleman has just said, correctly, that council house building starts went down by 20,000 last year. Is he aware that 95 per cent. of the councils in the country are now Conservative-controlled and have no undue love for council housing? Does not he agree that it is a criminal thing to cut council housing or any other kind, in view of the terrible need?

Mr. Walker

I hope that, later on, the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) will chastise the Government for the measures they are bringing in which are preventing local authorities from going ahead with increased programmes. I greatly respect the hon. Gentleman's constant and passionate interest in housing, which he has shown for many years; I have read with interest his many contributions on the subject.

Both the hon. Gentleman and we want to know what the Government now think of their White Paper on housing policy, which, strangely enough, was published at about the same time as the National Plan and contained a series of undertakings and promises, none of which is to be reached. The Government might as well tear it up. Since they have failed to fulfil the promises contained in that 1965 White Paper, let them produce a new one so that the public can understand their future ideas on housing targets.

Is it true that the Minister has reluctantly come to the conclusion that there is no need for as many houses as he once thought? It is rumoured that he is trimming his policy down to much lower figures than are contemplated now. If so, he should inform us of the basis of his calculations, since all the evidence available to me suggests that, rather than cutting down or slowing down the housing programme, there is need to continue to accelerate it.

We had the final statement on this by the then Minister of Housing during the 1966 General Election. The right hon. Gentleman, who is now making such extravagant promises as Secretary of State for the Social Services, was in typical form. In his own election address he commented as follows upon the Government's programme: I have launched a drive to expand the housing programme to half a million a year by 1969"— he even beat the Labour Party's manifesto— 250,000 to let and 250,000 for sale … Of course, this is merely a beginning. If a Labour Government is returned to power, I shall help to carry out the rest of the programme on which we were returned to power last October. The Government have failed to fulfil their pledge of 500,000 houses a year; they have admitted their failure; they have refused to give details of the extent to which they are going to fail; they stand condemned for having utterly misled the country.

Mr. Raphael Tuck (Watford)

I heard the hon. Gentleman say that, so far from there being a need to reduce house building, the need is to accelerate it. Is he referring to private house building or to council house building? If the latter, how does his statement that there is need to accelerate it square with the constant cry of the Opposition to reduce public expenditure?

Mr. Walker

We had a record of achieving our targets in house building both to let and to sell. That is the basic difference between the two sides. Through their policy and attitude towards home ownership, the Government are keeping people in council houses who would willingly buy houses of their own if it were not for the monstrous policies of the Government. I know the hon. Gentleman's constituency of Watford rather well and how he was elected very much on the basis of promises about mortgages. I am sure that he is aware of that position.

I turn now to the prices of houses. Once again, a great deal was said by the Labour Party about prices going up under the Tories, yet the Government have followed a series of policies which have added to prices. The cost of the increases in Bank Rate has tremendously affected the prices of houses. The Government have increased the cost of the National Insurance stamp from 12s. 11d. to 17s. and the Selective Employment Tax is 37s. 6d. for each person employed in the building industry. Thus, if we take the National Insurance stamp and the S.E.T. together, whereas when Labour came to power the industry was paying 12s. 11d. for each man, it is now paying 54s. 6d. through these two forms of taxation.

Then there was devaluation, with its effects on the cost of imported raw materials. Birmingham Housing Committee estimates that this has increased the cost of each house built in its area by £80. The Transport Act imposes various additional costs on the building industry and there have been increases in the fuel tax. The import deposits scheme has a particularly adverse effect on timber imports. Even the change to British Standard Time adversely affected the building industry almost more than any other. Finally, we have the Betterment Levy, about which I shall say something later.

In total, the effect of these measures has been that when Labour came into office in October, 1964, the average-price new house was £3,500, whereas today it is £4,500. This is the measure of the failure of a Labour Government to do anything about house prices. In some localities, the figures are worse. The average price of a three-bedroom council house in Birmingham when Labour came to power was £3,150. Today, it is £4,400.

Thus we have the failure to fulfil the programme, the increase in the price of houses, and then the remarkably adverse effect upon the whole subject of mortgages. There is no need to remind the House of that famous electioneering remark of the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. George Brown): For the new mortgages we have something in mind to the order of three per cent. What is now a notorious remark is one which he revived when, at a by-election in Erith a year later, he started his speech with the words: Some clever johnnies, they want to ask me, what about mortgage rates. I say, 'Brother, don't you worry. This will be done and we shall publish this year our proposals for doing it'. There are many people paying mortgages in Erith who are still waiting for something to be published.

Then, on mortgage interest rates, the Prime Minister conducted a superb electioneering campaign. He went all over the country, from one marginal seat to another. He started, in his own manifesto: We are going to help owner-occupiers with bigger mortgages at lower rates of interest. He went to Sittingbourne, a marginal seat, where he said: By intelligent monetary policies, Labour will bring mortgages within the reach of young couples living on average incomes. He then dashed down to Stevenage, another marginal seat, where he said: We shall cheapen the cost of housing by our interest rate policy. He then went and spoke in his own constituency and said: One hundred per cent. mortgages, lower interest rates and cheaper legal charges will help those who wish to buy. Finally, in his eve of the poll election broadcast, the right hon. Gentleman said: We believe that the Government should act positively to help owner-occupiers by lowering interest rates and, of course, to help them with cheaper land. That was the great tour of the Prime Minister to get the votes of those struggling to repay their mortgages. What has happened since is that mortgages have gone up time after time. Indeed, two things have happened in that mortgage interest rates have gone up and the amount available for local government mortgages has gone down steadily. In 1964, when Labour came to power, the mortgage interest rate was 6 per cent. By February, 1965, it had gone up to 6¾ per cent. In May, 1966, it went up to 7⅛ per cent. In May, 1968, it went up to 7⅝ per cent. Now there is speculation everywhere that it is likely to increase again.

I plead with the Minister of Housing and Local Government not to say anything today to encourage us to think that interest rates will not rise, because he knows what happened the last time that he did that. In reply to a Question on 8th April, he said: I do not accept the hon. Member's assumption that a rise in rates is inevitable in the very near future."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th April, 1968; Vol. 762, c. 899.] Ten days later, they put up the rates.

At the same time as interest rates have gone up, look at the way local authority mortgages have gone down. When Labour came to power in 1964, £179 million was available for local authority mortgages. By 1966–67, it was down to £135 million. Then it came down to £130 million. This year, is it down to £104 million, and now the Government have the audacity to announce that next year it will be down to a miserable £30 million. It means that, next year, about 25 people in every constituency will have the chance of a local authority mortgage. That is the manner in which this Government have treated with absolute contempt those concerned with owner-occupation.

To sum it up in simple terms, the real result of Labour's policy is that the young couple wishing to buy a new house today of identical size and type to the houses available when Labour came to power will have to find £200 more deposit for an 80 per cent. mortgage. In addition, the mortgage repayments per month will have gone up from £18 6s. 4d. then to £27 6s. now. That represents an increase of £2 a week for a young couple buying an average-price semi-detached house on a 80 per cent. mortgage. That reflects the failure of the Government in this sphere, and it is one which is affecting adversely the happiness of those concerned.

The Government have taken one measure to try and appease them. They brought in the mortgage option scheme. I wonder whether they are pleased with its results. Do they think that they have made a major contribution to the problem? Of those applying for mortgages, 9 per cent. take advantage of the scheme, and 91 per cent. reject it, for the very valid reason that even of those 9 per cent. who have taken advantage of it already it appears that they have been absolutely swindled by the scheme. They find when they go into the scheme that it is to their advantage, but in a year or two they find that it is to their disadvantage. Under the Government's legislation, they have no chance of getting out of it.

I give the pledge now that one of our first acts when we return to power will be to change the scheme so that people can contract out of it when they find that their circumstances have changed dramatically.

The prospects for those buying houses are bleak. The cost is high and the likelihood is that it will go even higher. Only a week ago, the Chairman of the Building Societies Association said that he expects that, in 1969, the movement will provide fewer mortgages and that possibly costs will have to go up.

So we have this remarkable record of failure. Do not let anyone estimate what a shortage of building society funds means to some of the more important movements in the country. The hon. Member for Salford, East, I know, is particularly interested in the housing society and housing association movements. He will know how, at present, a number of housing societies with cost-rent projects find it impossible to obtain the mortgage facilities that they require to carry out some of their activities.

Finally, we refer in our Motion to the Land Commission. It started two years ago in February, 1967. Already it has failed completely to fulfil any of the promises made for it. It has failed to reduce land prices. It has proved to be the most bureaucratic method of collecting taxes invented, even by this Government. Far worse, it has caused a great deal of human suffering and distress of a type of which any Government should be ashamed.

When the Minister speaks, I expect that, naturally, he will announce some changes in the future of the Land Commission. I cannot believe that he will have sat in his office during this period knowing of the real human distress that the Commission has caused and not decided to take some action. I am critical of him for not taking action already. Judging by the cases which have been sent to me, I warn him that, unless he acts immediately, he will have on his hands some very distressing human problems, because there are men and women up and down the country whose lives have been ruined by the action of the Commission.

The complacency of the Government is staggering when they read, as they must have, the interview with Sir Henry Wells, the Chairman of the Commission, with Mr. Peter Smith, which appeared in the Daily Mail a few weeks ago. In that interview, Sir Henry said that the Land Commission Act was "most complex" and had some loose and rather nasty ends that need tightening up. If the Chairman of the Commission is saying that in public I presume that he said it to the Minister some time previously.

I want to know what action the Minister took when the Chairman of the Land Commission told him of the "rather nasty ends" that needed tightening up and went on to say: I am aware of many cases of unfairness. I can only administer the law as it stands. 1 suggest that that phrase is a terrible condemnation of the Government. Unfairness in this Act, which Sir Henry Wells has to administer, is something for which the Government are completely responsible. It is an Act passed by them. Surely, if already the Chairman of the Commission considers that he is aware of unfairness, the Minister should act immediately to stop that unfairness?

For some months the newspapers have been full of tragic cases. There is the famous case of the Sweetings. They are a young couple aged 26; he is a builder's labourer, earning £13 a week. His uncle gave him a barn to convert into a house and he did so by his own efforts at weekends, and the evenings, with the help of his brother-in-law. When the barn was converted, he moved into it and, at that stage, the Land Commission came along and asked him for a betterment levy of £960. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] He finds it impossible to pay; he has no such money. He earns only £13 a week, so the repayments cannot be met in any way. The Betterment Levy is imposed on the uncle, who still owns the barn. The uncle is old; he is poor and he is sick.

His relatives asked the Land Commission not to send any letters. I am told that, perhaps inadvertently, perhaps of legal necessity, thereafter two letters were sent to the uncle. One, fortunately, the mother of Mrs. Sweeting intercepted and the other was discovered there. Mrs. Sweeting cycled four and a half miles to save the uncle from seeing the letter, knowing the adverse effect that it would probably have upon him.

This is one case of a young couple whose lives have been ruined. In fairness to the Minister, he has had two members of the Land Commission see Mr. and Mrs. Sweeting. I gather that Mr. Sweeting has been advised that, in certain circumstances, he can appeal, but there will be a long delay before the outcome of the appeal is known. Think of the distress of that young couple all this time, not knowing what is to happen.

Then there is the case of a Mr. and Mrs. Jones, who live in Gloucestershire. They are an old couple, aged 71 and 73, living in a cottage. The cottage has no hot water, only an outside toilet, a shed for washing and no bath. They had an offer for part of their garden and decided to sell, to put these amenities into their cottage. The estimate for the amenities was £1,700 or £1,800. They sold the piece of garden for rather less than that. The Land Commission comes along and asks them for a levy of £460 on the proceeds of the sale. This makes it quite impossible for that couple to improve their cottage.

Then there are the absurd and ridiculous cases; the case of someone approached by a company wishing to install a wireless aerial, a communications mast, on their land for the purposes of the local authority ambulance service. The person refused, he did not like the idea of having this on his land. Eventually, because he is told that it is essential for the area covered by the ambulance service, he reluctantly agreed. For doing this, he gets paid a rent of £75. Along comes the Land Commission and it assesses a net development value of £528 on the land. What wonderful encouragement to people who assist public authorities!

I now come to another example, concerning a growing problem of the Land Commission, the problem of the widow. This is one from my constituency, about which I have written to the Minister and he has the correspondence. This case was of a couple who bought a piece of land to build on for their retirement. Under the Act, any such couple with a piece of land which they are to develop for owner-occupation by themselves do not pay the Betterment Levy. This couple were, therefore, in the position that, when they developed the plot of land for their retirement, they would not have to pay levy.

Unfortunately, the husband died and because the widow inherited the land she is subject to the Betterment Levy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] This particular lady has been assessed for a levy of about £400, on developing a bungalow for her old age. I wrote to the Minister and his reply was as follows: When the Act was debated, careful thought was given to extending the exemptions provided by Section 61 of the Land Commission Act to include such cases. But the matter is not so simple as it may appear. Any concession to widows or widowers would undoubtedly have led to pressure for similar concessions to other surviving dependants or relatives of a deceased owner who may have equal or nearly equal grounds for seeking exemption. I should hope so. I hope that it would apply to such people. It is monstrous that widows should be excluded from these provisions because other dependent relatives might then be included.

Perhaps the most typical case of all is that of the young couple trying to provide a home of their own. I want to read this letter which is sent to me by someone living in Buckinghamshire, a Mr. Allen. He says: When my wife and I became engaged three years ago my uncle gave us a plot of land to enable us to have a house built, houses being so expensive in our area. We lived in a flat for two years while we saved a little money and then we had a small bungalow built on the plot of land. We moved in in April, 1968 only to find ourselves faced with an assessment to betterment levy of £830, due in July 1968, since which time interest has been accruing at the rate of 3s. 5d. a day. We have not yet settled this liability nor can we, although we have been threatened with High Court action to recover the levy promised. We have appealed to the Land Commission, to our local M.P. and to the Minister of Housing. They all sympathise with our case but are unable, or unwilling, to do anything about it. I am a clerk, articled to an accountant and still trying to study for my final examinations. My wife is expecting our first baby in May. I have informed the Land Commission of the complete and utter impossibility of paying. We are already mortgaged to the hilt and cannot possibly raise the necessary money. But why should we, anyway? We are not speculators in the land nor have we made any financial profit by having our own house built. On the contrary, we have had nothing but expense. This has all been a great worry to myself and my wife, more especially since she is suffering enough already by still having to work long hours to help keep us. Obviously, individuals such as myself can do nothing about this, but I only hope that you can see that this wicked Act is amended for people like us. I plead with the Government to realise the colossal unhappiness of ordinary people who suddenly receive a massive bill which they cannot pay and which they are legally enforced to pay. I have dozens of letters like this. The Minister must have hundreds. Surely the time has come for the Minister to announce this afternoon that, for all cases concerning owner-occupation, the Betterment Levy will corns to a complete end?

I want: to make our policy about the Land Commission quite clear. It is very simple. We will abolish it in its entirety. Until we achieve that happy objective, I plead with the Government to see that owner-occupiers are excluded, and I want the Minister to make clear this afternoon that he has no intention, as he has the powers under the Act, to increase the levy either to 45 per cent. or 50 per cent. Originally, when the Government put forward this Measure, they took provision to increase it in two stages, from 40 per cent. to 45 pet cent. and then to 50 per cent. In view of the misery that it has already caused, we want at least a categoric assurance that this will not happen. We also want an assurance that he will not take advantage of the powers under the Act whereby, on the second appointed day he can give the Land Commission more powers of compulsory purchase than it has now.

The Land Commission had three objectives. The first was to produce the right sort of land at the right time. The figures show categorically that it has achieved little in that respect. The second objective was to ensure that the cost of land was reduced. The evidence is clear that it has been increased. The third objective was that part of the development value should be returned to the community. This the Government have done by the most enormously expensive method possible. We should like to see the Commission abolished immediately. If it is not, swift changes must take place.

During the 13 years of Conservative government, home ownership in this country was encouraged by a whole series of policies. Unlike this Government, we fulfilled our housing targets. We reduced the stamp duty on house purchase. We abolished Schedule A. We revised the Profits Tax provisions to help building societies. We encouraged local authorities to enable council tenants to become owner-occupiers. This is in sharp contrast with the record of dismal failure on the price of houses, on mortgage interest rates and on the Land Commission of the present Administration.

The next Conservative Government will, at the earliest opportunity, abolish the Land Commission and the Selective Employment Tax and restore to local authorities the right to sell council houses to tenants who wish to buy them. We shall handle the economy in such a way that Bank Rate is not constantly at 7 or 8 per cent. We shall revise the mortgage option scheme so that it means something to far more people than a miserable 9 per cent. of those concerned. In total, we shall start to create a society in which people are encouraged and enabled to own a home of their own.

4.32 p.m.

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

First, I should like to offer felicitations to the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) on his first major speech in his new rôle. I think that the House enjoyed his rumbustious manner, which went some way to concealing the nakedness of the case which he was seeking to deploy.

The timing of the Motion is more than a little curious on at least two counts. It seeks to censure the Government, first and foremost, because we have announced the abandonment of the target of 500,000 houses. This announcement was made not last week or last month, but more than 12 months ago, on 17th January, 1968, in this House, by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and again on the following day, publicly by my right hon. Friend. The reasons for our decision have been fully explained. Thus it would be hard to describe the first leg of the Motion as exactly topical.

The second count on which I find the Opposition's timing somewhat odd is that they choose to debate a critical Motion on housing and home ownership almost immediately after my right hon. Friend has announced a double record in housing. In the year just past a total of 414,000 houses were built in Great Britain—an all-time record. And within this total no fewer than 222,000 houses were completed for home ownership. This represents a new post-war record.

The House may find it illuminating to compare the present Government's housing record over the past four years with the Opposition's record during their last four years of office. The Tory Party is splendid house builders in opposition, but I want to consider what it did when it was in office. From 1965 to 1968 inclusive, a total of 1,586,000 houses were built compared with 1,274,000 under the party opposite in the years 1961 to 1964.

In short, during a four-year period we achieved well over 300,000 homes more than they did—an increase of nearly a quarter. When I remind hon. Members that this extra housing is roughly equal to all the houses in Leeds and Bristol together, it will convey some idea of the margin by which we have improved on the Conservative's record of housebuilding.

But I accept that this Motion is mainly concerned with home ownership and with, perhaps somewhat typically, the private rather than the public sector. We all remember how the party opposite used to stimulate the expansion of private house-building by restricting and cutting back on local authority housing. Even so, the best it could manage was 748,000 houses built for owner-occupiers in 1961 to 1964. We managed 842,000 in our four years—an increase of almost one-eighth—and this, as I have shown, despite a vast increase in local authority house-building.

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

To put the matter in perspective, would the Minister tell us the number of houses under construction when the Labour Party came to power?

Mr. Robinson

There can be no better perspective than a straightforward comparison—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."]—of the records over four years of both parties when in power. Of course, it is true that starts were down last year.

Mr. Peter Walker

My hon. Friend asked how many houses were started when the Labour Party came to power. The right hon. Gentleman knows that the number was well over 400,000.

Mr. Robinson

This is not likely to have very much effect on the last two years of a four-year period, nor on the last three. These are the figures. While the Tories preached for years about creating a property-owning democracy, the Labour Government, by creating the right conditions, actually stepped up the rate of private house-building.

Nor, I repeat, has this achievement been secured by cutting back building by local authorities for those in social need. Building for those living in slums, the elderly, the overcrowded—a form of building shamelessly neglected by the party opposite—has been increased more sharply. During the last four years public authorities have completed 215,000 more houses than the Opposition in their last four years—an increase of over 40 per cent.

I would like to pay warm tribute to their achievements in new house building. Most of it has been concentrated in the 135 areas selected for priority with their programmes. For London, despite formidable difficulties over land, authorities approved tenders for just under 120,000 houses in the four years 1965–68, a rise of 50,000, or over two-thirds, on the previous four years. Therefore, we have something approaching an extra million people in new homes, about one-third of them in homes of their own.

If the Tories had remained in power, most of them would still be sharing with in-laws, or existing in overcrowded tenements or basements of slums rack-rented by Rachman and his kind. Slum clearance, too, has been on an upward trend in recent years, with about 90,000 houses a year now being cleared. Local authorities will be able to improve on this rate as shortages are steadily overcome.

Increased building for owner-occupation has, in fact, gone hand in hand with increased building by public authorities for those who could never afford to buy homes of their own. The result has been a new record total for house building in Great Britain during each of the four years since we have been in office. These are not mere post-war records, but the highest figures ever achieved since records began—and, moreover, achieved at a time when the country has been passing through acute economic difficulties.

Great credit is due to the building societies who, in 1968, for the third year running, set a new record for mortgage lending. They advanced £l,578m. in 1968—a rise of £100m. on 1967. Although this does in some measure reflect higher house prices, the actual number of mortgages on new houses went up significantly during last year.

The year 1968 was not an easy one for the societies: they had to face a high rate of withdrawals for most of the year, and the net inflow of funds was disappointingly low until the last quarter. By running down their liquidity they managed to finance a new post-war record of completions.

Private house-builders, too, deserve great praise for their contribution. Throughout 1968 they had to put up with high interest rates, difficulties in some cases in obtaining bank credit to finance their operations, and all the uncertainties that followed devaluation. It was very difficult in the early months of 1968 to forecast which way the market for new houses would turn. But the builders kept on building and, as we now know, demand remained as strong as ever and, by the end of the year, completions had broken the previous record.

The Opposition's Motion talks of deterring home-ownership. Just how effective this deterrent has been is demonstrated by the 840,000 houses built for owner-occupiers. But perhaps I can list briefly some of the positive steps which the present Government have taken to encourage owner-occupation.

Our option mortgage scheme started on 1st April last year—it has not yet been running a year—and our mortgage guarantee scheme on the same day. The first gives borrowers who do not qualify for tax relief a subsidy of 2 per cent. on their mortgage interest payments. I would like to make one or two particular points about the second, that is, our mortgage guarantee scheme. This applies only to borrowers taking an option mortgage and is to help families who can afford monthly mortgage payments but find it difficult to meet a substantial down payment towards the purchase price.

Building societies are normally prepared to lend only up to 75 per cent. or 80 per cent. of the valuation of a modern house. In some cases they have lent up to 95 per cent. provided that the extra amount has been guaranteed by an insurance policy paid for by a single premium. Under the new scheme, building societies are prepared to lend up to 25 per cent. of the valuation of the property over and above the normal amount they would have lent without insurance. The additional amount is guaranteed by an insurance policy in the way that higher than normal advances have been guaranteed in the past; but in this case the Government share the risk without charge, thus reducing the insurance premium.

It is true, as the hon. Gentleman said, that about 9 per cent. of new borrowers choose an option mortgage. We estimate that by the end of last November about 30,000 new borrowers had taken an option mortgage and about 160,000 existing borrowers had switched to the new scheme; while about 4 per cent. of new borrowers—about 10,000 householders—had taken advantage of the mortgage guarantee scheme.

The Opposition's Motion refers to the rising cost of homes, and the hon. Gentleman in his speech made a good deal of this. It is true—and we deplore it—that new private house prices have risen by almost a third during the four years we have been in office.

Mr. George Younger (Ayr)

Whose fault is that?

Mr. Robinson

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman waits for what I am about to say.

It may be that the improved building standards insisted on by the National House-Building Registration Council have contributed something towards this increase—[Laughter.] This is a perfectly valid point. Any hon. Member opposite who is in the building industry—and there are a number of distinguished representatives of that industry on those benches—will know that it is a valid point and that it may well have contributed something towards the increase. With the Government's backing, about 90 per cent. of all new private houses now carry the N.H.B.R.C.'s 10-year guarantee against faulty workmanship.

What is really remarkable, and what makes the Opposition's Motion not so much an irrelevance as an impertinence, is that although they did virtually nothing to provide safeguards against jerry-building the average price of new houses, mortgaged by private owners, rose during the Opposition's last four years more steeply than during our four years of office.

This is all the more remarkable when one remembers the great store which the hon. Gentleman, in his speech, set on such things as Selective Employment Tax and devaluation. Despite that, the rise has been less than during the last four years of the Tory rule.

Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)

Does not that prove that both Labour and Tory Parties are equally incompetent?

Mr. Robinson

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would like to demonstrate that under a Liberal Government all would be for the best in the best of all possible worlds. For the moment all I want the House to note is that, here again, the Tory record is pathetic compared with ours.

There are also the new towns. Here, quite recently the Government have adopted a positive policy towards owner-occupation. As the House will know, we want to see a broad 50/50 split between rented and owner-occupied homes. I know that hon. Gentlemen opposite now profess to be in favour of this policy, but they notably refrained from pursuing it when they were in office.

The Government, of course, deplore the worldwide rise in interest rates which has inevitably obliged building societies to raise their rates in order to remain competitive. The plain fact is that this country cannot reduce its interest rates unilaterally. Unless other countries reduce theirs, they are the only way of protecting our reserves.

As for the building societies, they have to remain competitive: they have to pay enough to their investors, who are mostly ordinary people and often owner-occupiers, to attract money, and also to ensure that money is not withdrawn from societies and invested elsewhere. Early last year the volume of withdrawals demonstrated that the rates that they were paying to their investors were no longer competitive. If a mortgage famine had developed, not only would thousands of prospective house-owners have found themselves unable to raise a loan, but present owner-occupiers would have been stuck had they wanted to move house. Obviously, if building societies have to pay more to borrow money, they must charge more for the money they lend.

I have outlined to the House the record of our achievement on house building. But we are also protecting a continuing future rate of house building in the private as much as in the public sector by ensuring that land will be available.

This brings me to the Land Commission's activities, referred to in the last part of the Motion and in the last part of the hon. Gentleman's speech. I welcome unreservedly their inclusion in this debate, since it gives me an opportunity to remind the House of the purpose and objectives of the Commission and to answer the sustained and ill-founded campaign which is being waged against it by hon. Members opposite, and faithfully echoed in certain newspapers.

It also gives the House an opportunity to probe a little more deeply the Opposition's policy on all these matters. "We shall abolish the Land Commission", says the party opposite, and the hon. Gentleman added the other day, in a moment of optimistic exuberance, "within weeks of taking office". But that is not a policy; it is mere posturing.

How would hon. Members opposite secure the orderly release of land in areas of high demand? How would they try to control the supply of land in the interests of good planning? What is their attitude to the principle of Betterment Levy? I shall return to this in a moment. How would they avoid sharp increases in land prices due to scarcity of land for development? It is, indeed, the Opposition's proposal which would carry a grave risk of soaring land prices once again. There is no justification for the hon. Gentleman's claim that prices have risen as a result of the Land Commission.

The average annual increase in the price of land for private house building in England and Wales has been far lower during our term of office than it was in the early 1960s, when the party opposite was in power. Indeed, the average price of land for public sector house building has been fairly stable during the period 1966 to 1968.

There will, of course, always be a few cases where high prices are paid, usually for small areas of land, and they are bound to get maximum publicity. Of course, there is no room for complacency, but the evidence of the last few years does not support the wilder allegations which have been made of a massive rise in land prices.

We established the Land Commission to ensure that the right land was available at the right price and at the right time. The Commission has been criticised because, so far, it has not bought much land. So far, it has completed the acquisition of 279 acres, but completion in land acquisition terms is the end result of what, hon. Members well know, is inevitably a long process. Where compulsory purchase, planning application and public inquiry are involved, it is bound to be longer still.

Negotiations for the acquisition of a further 2,100 acres are in hand. Further cases in which the Commission has approved action cover another 5,500 acres and many other cases, involving thousands of acres, are under investigation.

Mr. Peter Walker

I am not certain what the term "approved action" means. Does it mean that the Land Commission has sanctioned the commencement of negotiations or has approved the money?

Mr. Robinson

It means that action to acquire that quantity of land has been approved by the Commission. It does not, of course, mean that every acre of it will be ultimately acquired. This is already a sizeable and growing programme of land acquisition, but it is not by any means the whole story.

It often happens that as a result of the Commission's intervention, land is put on the market and made available for development which would not otherwise have become available for building. There have already been more than 100 cases, covering nearly 1,000 acres, in which the Commission's action has led to land being made available in this way for development. Thus, the House will see that the acreage of land so far acquired is a fairly poor indication of the Commission's activity in its land operations.

It is only a beginning, because the processes of land acquisition are necessarily slow. They are slow because they are hedged around with safeguards for the landowner. Even if the Land Commission had rushed in to buy without first making careful study of the land situation and without completing its surveys of land availability, it could still not have acquired very much land in less than two years of operations. The bare statutory procedures for compulsory purchase, even if the case is unopposed, will take the better part of six months. If there was opposition, the period would be far longer—perhaps well over a year.

If hon. Members opposite criticise the Land Commission for not having acquired more land, one answer would be to remove these safeguards for landowners. I do not see any sign that this is what the Opposition want to do. Indeed, their attitude throughout the passage of the Land Commission Bill through the House was to object to the Commission's acquisition powers under the Bill. Never did they suggest that the procedures were too slow. Not once did they suggest that any safeguards for the owners of land should be removed. It is hardly for them to complain that the Land Commission should by now have acquired more land than it has.

Nor is the Land Commission's own activity confined to the purchase and sale to builders of land for development. The investigations which it has made of what land is available for development have been invaluable in enabling us to judge how best to ensure an adequate supply of land for housebuilding.

Another advance which we have made is to bring into existence a committee in which the Ministries, the builders, the building material producers, the building societies and the local authorities meet regularly to identify the physical and financial problems which arise on housebuilding in the private sector. This committee has existed only in the time of the present Government. Presumably, our predecessors on the benches opposite did not think that they needed to be informed on such matters. With this information, however, we can ensure that the right land is made available for development through the Land Commission. It can co-operate with the local authorities, which, indeed it is doing.

When the planning authorities release land in planning terms, the Commission can buy it and then pass it on to builders as required. By so doing it will ensure that it does not go into the stocks of a firm of builders which already has an adequate supply of land and would, therefore, not use it for immediate development. Other building firms will thus get a chance which they might not otherwise have had to buy the land.

The Commission will also be able to phase the release of land so that the development takes place both in the right places and at the right time. This was all spelled out in the original White Paper on the Land Commission, and without the Commission there would be no means of meeting these objectives.

Our other main objective in establishing the Land Commission was to secure that a substantial part of the development value created by the community would be returned to the community.

Mr. Arthur Jones (Northants, South)

Before he leaves the difficulties with which the Land Commission is faced concerning the release of land, will the right hon. Gentleman deal briefly with the clear conflict that there must be between the aims of the Commission, on the one hand, and the local planning authorities, on the other?

Mr. Robinson

That is a complete myth. It is one of the many myths that are rampant about the Land Commission. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I have been listening only this afternoon, in a context to which I will refer presently, to a number of planning authorities saying how helpful they found it to cooperate with the Commission. One of the main jobs of the Commission is to assist, not to hinder, planning authorities.

I had turned to the other main objective of the Land Commission, to secure that development value created by the community is returned to the community. This is what the Betterment Levy is achieving. The first year's total was small but the figures are rising rapidly. This year, the Commission will collect £8 million and next year should bring in not less than £15 million. There is no reason, once the transitional exemptions have worked themselves out, why the ultimate yield of the levy, in three or four years' time, should not be somewhere around the £80 million which was originally estimated.

Mr. W. H. K. Baker (Banff)

I take it that the right hon. Gentleman is giving the United Kingdom figures. Can he break down the £8 million and £15 million between Scotland and England and Wales?

Mr. Robinson

I am sorry, not without notice, but I will ask my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary whether he can provide those figures for the hon. Member in winding up the debate.

Does anybody deny that it is a good principle that development value created by the community should, at least in part, be returned to the community? This is what the Betterment Levy is about.

Mr. Reginald Eyre (Birmingham, Hall Green)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Robinson

I have given way a large number of times. I still have a good deal to say and I do not want to detain the House inordinately long.

One of the reasons for the relatively slow build-up of the levy is that we deliberately made transitional provisions to give a smooth introduction to the new system. These arrangements succeeded. There was none of the disruption of the land market which the Opposition had confidently predicted. We gave exemption to people who owned single plots on which they wanted to build houses for themselves or their immediate family. We made special provision for stocks of land held by builders. Above all, we provided that where a development had been started before the first appointed day, 6th April, 1967, then, by and large, there was exemption from Betterment Levy. We gave long notice of this and widespread advantage was taken of it. The building of thousands of extra houses, as well as other projects of development, was begun before the first appointed day.

All this explains the comparatively low yield of levy in the first year or two. But the Opposition can hardly complain now, since they never moved a single Amendment to reduce the exemption in these transitional provisions in the Land Commission Act. They wanted, and still want, wider exemptions. They cannot play it both ways by objecting now because the yield of the levy is not greater.

Mr. Eyre rose

Mr. Robinson

I am sorry, but I cannot give way.

In any event, the Opposition, while loudly proclaiming their intention to abolish the Land Commission, have been careful not to say what they would do about the Betterment Levy. The hon. Gentleman was true to form this afternoon. He was very careful not to say a word about what they would do about the levy.

In their master brief of November, 1967 the Opposition said: Any increase in land values should be taxed in the same way as other capital gains". Even there, they are careful not to say whether that means that gains from land would only be charged at the same rate as Capital Gains Tax. If they want to give up this source of revenue, then they should say so openly. I hope that the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friend will make this clear in winding up tonight.

If they think that there is no case for the community recovering the betterment which it has created, then, again, they should say so openly, so that the country can judge between our two policies.

Of course, with any levy there will be individual cases which may seem hard. But where such cases demonstrated that the Act was not working as we intended, we have, on the recommendation of the Land Commission, announced changes. We have made concessions to deal with difficulties which arose over the interim period and the Land Commission is applying them. We shall be introducing legislation to give effect to these extra statutory concessions.

But I must emphasise that on the ordinary run of cases now arising where people realise net development value, they cannot plead to be exempted from their due liabilities, nor could the Commission exempt them just because they have not made financial provision for their liability. The Land Commission, in appropriate cases, is willing to accept payment of levy by instalments.

The House will not expect me, nor my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, to deal in detail with individual cases of alleged hardship which have been or may be raised during the debate, but, of course, I will take up with the Land Commission any case that an hon. Member cares to raise with me. Let me just say, in general, that, though it is bound to assess and to collect levy in accordance with the provisions of the Act passed by Parliament, I have no doubt that it does so with humanity and with such flexibility of approach as the law permits.

Mr. Peter Walker

The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned concessions. Is he saying that the only changes that are being made to the Land Commission are those announced a few weeks ago about single plots of owner-occupiers? Apart from that, is he saying that he can make no alteration, despite what the Chairman of the Land Commission has said?

Mr. Robinson

Concerning the Chairman of the Land Commission and the article in the Daily Mail which the hon. Gentleman quoted, that report, which followed a long interview given by Sir Henry Wells, provided a wholly distorted impression of what he discussed with the interviewer. It did not represent Sir Henry's views of the objectives of the Land Commission to which he has subscribed publicly on many occasions.

Mr. Peter Walker

In view of this—

Mr. Robinson

I am sorry, but I cannot give way again.

Hon. Members

Give way.

Mr. Robinson

I chose my words with care. I say that this article gives a distorted impression of the Chairman's view, which he expressed in a long interview.

Mr. Peter Walker rose

Mr. Robinson

I will 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.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Sweeting case. I will say a word about that, because there has been far more publicity about that case than any other. Negotiations are going on and I am hopeful that the difficulty may be resolved quite soon to the satisfaction of both sides and within the terms of the Act. I am satisfied that the Land Commission has acted with understanding and a sense of fairness throughout.

Perhaps the most difficult area in the country for making land available is the area round the edge of London, the outer Metropolitan area. Demand for land for housing in this area is high, and it is a demand which comes from within the region itself.

I have this very afternoon had a meeting with the chairmen and chief planning officers of the county councils of eight counties in the outer Metropolitan area. Indeed, thanks to hon. Gentlemen opposite choosing this day for the debate, I had to put the meeting forward by an hour.

The purpose of this meeting was to follow up the announcement we made last year that it was necessary to provide land in the outer Metropolitan area for private housebuilding on a scale sufficient for the building of 35,000 houses a year for seven years. This is required to meet immediate need and to cover the period before the completion of the further study on the development of the South-East now being carried out under the chairmanship of the Department's chief planner, Dr. W. Burns.

Today's meeting with the local authorities was most constructive, and I am confident that, as a result, we shall get the release, in planning terms, of sufficient land for the private housebuilding we want to see.

In all this the Land Commission has a vital rôle to play in co-operation with the local planning authorities. This was acknowledged by the planning authorities at today's meeting.

The problems which the Land Commission is tackling are substantial and they will take time to solve. It has made a good beginning and, given time, the success of its operations will be apparent for all to see. Without the Land Commission we shall not achieve the provision of land in accordance with good planning policies, nor secure the return of betterment for the community.

We have only to consider what happened when the Opposition were in power to see the advantages which a proper use of the Land Commission will bring. The Opposition removed the development charge provisions of the 1947 Act and allowed massive profits from land speculation to be made by land developers in the late 1950s and early 1960s. They stimulated one of the biggest booms in land prices we have ever seen, and they made sure that the community did not share in it.

After the return to market value in 1959, the process went on. The price of housing land more than doubled in the early years of the 1960's. This was the price the community had to pay for the refusal of successive Conservative Governments to tackle these land problems.

The present Government have had the courage to tackle them. We have not only achieved a record house-building programme, but we are ensuring the continuation of that programme into the future by seeing that the necessary land is available.

When we took office we inherited a dismal programme of new house building. The local authority programme had been ruthlessly cut back under the Selwyn Lloyd squeeze to fewer than 120,000 completions in 1961, and total completions had been allowed to dip below their magic 300,000 in 1963.

We said that we would give a greater priority to housing than ever before, and that is what we have achieved. Not just one freak year of 400,000 completions, but a sustained output over four years with each sucessive year setting a new record. This exceptional achievement, in the face of all our economic difficulties, has transformed the housing problem we inherited. An end to the housing shortage that has been with us since the end of the war is at last in sight.

By 1973, we should have a margin of about 1 million more houses than households. This should be just about enough nationally to give us the 5 per cent. margin we need for mobility of labour and for the ordinary working of the housing market. Of course, local housing shortages are bound to perisist, particularly in London, and more than 1 million slums will have to be cleared. But the crude national housing shortage should then be over, and with it an end to spiralling house prices in both the new and secondhand markets. Supply will at last balance, and then exceed, demand, and what the market will bear will no longer be inflated by scarcity.

The Government's answer to rising house prices is to build enough houses to create a buyer's market, and we are well on the way to doing just that.

Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)

I think that my right hon. Friend might be wise to qualify his optimism, in view of the fact that Conservative councils all over the country are now starting to slow down starts in housing programmes, and beginning again to sell land in the public sector held by local authorities to their friends the speculative builders. This may affect the number of houses we are trying to produce for our people.

Mr. Robinson

I accept the main point of my hon. Friend's intervention, that this is the one: unknown factor. What I have said presupposes that the local authority contribution will continue roughly on the scale of the last few years. I sincerely hope that it will.

In comparison to all this, the Opposition's housing record is a sorry one. Not only did they cut back building by local authorities for those in social need, they could not even get a respectable output of homes to buy. Why did they fail so dismally in both the public and the private sectors? They professed to believe in a property-owning democracy. They did, in fact, create an office-owning oligarchy. I readily concede that their office building record far outstrips ours, but they chalked up that record at the expense of the would-be home owners who had so misguidedly put their faith in Tory promises. In the light of the facts that I have given to the House, I can only describe this Motion as a flatulent piece of fiction, and I confidently invite the House to reject it.

5.13 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Jones (Northants, South)

We have listened to a characteristic speech from the right hon. Gentleman, a mixture of rhetorical phrases and calm, sweet reasonableness. I propose to follow his latter example, because I hope that we shall get more meaning out of the work of the Land Commission than will otherwise be the case. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for dealing with the Land Commission relationship in answer to a question I put to him.

I propose to limit my remarks to the second part of the 1967 Act, that part which is concerned with the acquisition, management and disposal of land. I am glad to see in his place the right hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), who struggled so long and enduringly with this difficult piece of legislation. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is today looking at the outcome of his monumental labours. I think that he may be disappointed with many of the things that he sees, because the Government set off with high hopes for the significance and usefulness of that Act.

The right hon. Member for Sunderland, North said when we were discussing the Bill: What we are at present concerned with is the supply of land and the price for land development. Later he said that the purpose of the Bill was to ensure that land is available at the right time for implementation of national, regional and local planning …".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th May, 1966; Vol. 728, c. 608–9.1 I think it must be admitted that as yet the Commission has had little of a positive rôle to play in that respect.

In its first Report for the year to 31st March, 1968, the Commission said at paragraph 37—and this really contradicts some of the points made by the right hon. Gentleman— … the Commission are an important addition to the planning machinery, for although Great Britain has perhaps the most sophisticated planning system of any country, it is one designed to control land use rather than to promote the development of land". I think that that is the fundamental difficulty of the relationship between the Commission and its objectives and the duties and responsibilities of local planning authorities.

During the Second Reading debate in May, 1966 it was maintained from this side of the House that the idea of the Commission could be justified only on the ground that local authorities could not, or would not, exercise the powers they had to realise the objectives which were identical with those the Commission set out to achieve. I think that there is here a clear conflict of purpose between the Commission on the one hand and the existing procedures of local government and local planning on the other. The Commission has found—as Ministers have found—that the delays of local government procedures are inescapable for it, particularly where local authorities hold land or refuse to release it for planning or development.

At paragraph 31 of its Report, the Land Commission reiterated the point made by the right hon. Gentleman: The areas of greatest pressure on land are also the areas in which planning policies tend to be most restricted and … some relaxation of these policies is required before the Commission can operate on a useful scale. To what extent can the Minister influence local authorities? I am pleased to hear of the meeting that he had today. What he may be doing is using the threat of the powers of the Land Commission to influence local authorities to release land. The Minister smiles and shakes his head.

The Minister of Housing and Local Government is reported as having told the National House Building Registration Council on 21st November last that there were problems of making land available for private house building, thus repeating the allegation made by the right hon. Gentleman that land is being held back for development. The Minister of Housing and Local Government said at that meeting that it was the local authorities who had the great areas of land and had not released them for development, not the developers in the private sector. He said that local authorities were the biggest hoarders of land in the South-East, the West Midlands and the North-West. That contradicts what the Minister said today, that it is the private builders who are hoarding land. The Minister of Housing and Local Government also said that approaches had been made to local authorities, particularly in the outer Metropolitan areas, to release enough land for 35,000 private houses to be built over a seven-year period, and perhaps this is the meeting to which the right hon. Gentleman referred earlier.

Mr. K. Robinson

I do not want the hon. Gentleman to be under any misapprehension. I did not say that there was hoarding. I said that the Commission's operations could ensure that when land was made available it could go to those builders who would use it immediately and not put it into their stock.

Mr. Jones

If the Minister looks at the record, he will see that he accused the private sector of hoarding land, and he also said that land should be taken from those who had years of supply and made available to those who could build on it at once. I see the right hon. Gentleman's point, but there is a contradiction here. There is a clash of interests between the Land Commission and local planning authorities and the threat of a conflict in their relationships, which would be most unfortunate.

Paragraph 25 of that same Report sayss: The Commission may, in some cases, have to take the initiative and, if necessary, seek a decision from the Minister on appeal. So, if the Commission is dissatisfied with the planning procedures of local authorities, it will turn to the Minister for backing. That would be a very unfortunate situation to develop between central and local government. The Land Commission has a rôle in hastening decisions by local authorities, having regard to the economic planning considerations, the use of the land, the availability of building resources and, essentially, the release of more land for development.

After all, it is the monopoly position of planning authorities, restricting the availability of land for development, which leads to high prices. This is the nonsense of the situation which the present procedures have caused. This is something which must enjoin action by the Government to prevent the situation becoming increasingly difficult. The Government should speed up the planning and appeal procedures. I have genuinely tried to see a rôle for the Land Commission and have concluded that there is none. I sympathise with the frustration and obvious difficulties faced by Sir Henry Wells and his colleagues. The Government have been very persuasive all along, as was the Minister today, about the possibilities and potential of the Commission's work, but the fruits for which they hoped have not materialised.

The solution does not lie with the Land Commission. It is the Government's duty to speed up planning procedures and ensure greater availability of land. I can see no rôle for the Land Commission, especially with the proposed local government reform. I recognise that the Government are committed to the Commission and there may be a minor rôle for it in the interim, but in the long term there will be none.

We must remember the demand on resources which the Commission makes and that, up to last March, it had a staff of about 1,400, which is down now, I believe, to 1,200, but which included no fewer than 760 staff qualified in surveying, land valuation and so on, at salaries in excess of those paid in local or central government. This has played havoc with many of the staffs of local planning authorities and their valuation departments. The Commission has only a limited future and, in the long term, the Government's policy will prove to have been misdirected.

5.24 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)

I regret much of the tone of the debate, and particularly that of the opening speech. It is extraordinary that there should have been this attempt to attack the Government's record in a housing debate when, on every criterion, with regard to the number of houses built or anything else, the Government's achievement is crystal clear. It is the peak of hypocrisy for right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite to attack the Government over the number of houses built.

It is proper for me to express my dissatisfaction that we have not achieved a higher figure and to tell my own Front Bench that I am dissatisfied that we should be moving away from our target of 500,000 houses a year, which I still believe is needed if we are to meet the urgent need for new houses. I give way to no one in my anxiety to overcome the need for housing, but hon. Members opposite have no right to voice an opinion on this matter in view of their miserable record.

One has only to look at the figures to see the discreditable way in which hon. Members opposite ran down the local authority building programme—something which, under their stimulus no doubt, Tory authorities may be seeking to do again at this moment. No one can doubt the need for houses to rent, yet it was their policy, which they achieved, of destroying the local authority house building programme which contributed to that.

Any examination of the figures of houses built for sale shows that we have kept our promise not to increase local authority house building to the detriment of the great need for houses to buy. We have not only enormously increased the local authority house building programme but have also, I am glad to say, increased the number of private houses for sale. The figures for the past year, quarter by quarter, are enormously greater than when hon. Members opposite were in power.

But this is a matter not just of figures on paper but of human beings being rehoused who could not get a house before. Nothing that any hon. Member opposite says can get over that simple fact. Most people are concerned with those facts far more than with the vapourings of someone who comes on to the Front Bench and opens his first contact with this subject with the kind of speech which we heard this afternoon.

Mr. James Allason (Hemel Hempstead)

The hon. Member wanted precise figures. Would he agree that if the private house building figures in 1964 had been continued in 1965, 1966, 1967 and 1968 33,000 more houses would have been built in the private sector than have actually been built?

Mr. Blenkinsop

What we are concerned with is facts and not the presentation of all kinds of ideas in the hon. Member's mind of what they would or would not have achieved. What we are conscious of is the efforts to alter the situation in the last year of run-up to the election to achieve a different situation from what had happened before. That does not alter the stark facts relating to what the Tory Government did. That is what concerns the bulk of my constituents and the bulk of those who need housing. They judge us, quite properly, on our achievements.

I am far from saying that I am satisfied that we have done all that I want to see done. I want to see a considerable extension of what has been achieved but I recognise the value of what has been achieved. Hon. Members opposite who attempt to extract some party political benefit out of the case they have advanced this afternoon will find that it will not get much response outside, where people are much more concerned with realities.

I am concerned chiefly about the position of the Land Commission, which has suffered from the fact that it has been the subject of party political dispute since its initiation. It was impossible to get any clear idea of what right hon. and hon. Members opposite intended to do. Under the Tory Government there was a continual dispute between Ministers about their intentions in this sphere—for instance, whether they intended to allow private individuals to continue to get away with the swag arising from betterment, to which they had made no contribution, or in what way they intended to deal with this issue.

Mr. Bruce Campbell (Oldham, West)

As the hon. Gentleman keeps talking about facts and achievements, and as he obviously lends himself to the colourful picture which the Minister painted of how the Labour Government encourage home ownership, will he explain to the House why the Labour Government drastically curtail the amount of money which local authorities may lend on mortgage, thus preventing people from buying cheaper and older houses, upon which they cannot get a building society mortgage?

Mr. Blenkinsop

I should have thought that the hon. and learned Gentleman would be the last person to put that point. Hon. Members opposite more than anyone else are pressing the Government to restrict the amount of money in circulation and the facilities available for local authority spending and lending. Again, I may regret this, as indeed I do, but the two-facedness of hon. Members opposite is extraordinary. At one moment they demand that the Government should take far more rigorous action to restrict public grants and public lending. On the other hand, in individual cases they demand increased spending. I understand the difficulties associated with this restriction. I also understand Britain's present financial position. Until we achieve much greater financial independence in the world, we must face these restrictions, unfortunate though they may be.

Mr. Walter Clegg (North Fylde)

Is the hon. Gentleman arguing that before the Betterment Levy there was no tax on increases in land value? Were not profits from land and land realisation subject to Capital Gains Tax, Corporation Tax, Income Tax and Surtax?

Mr. Blenkinsop

The Capital Gains Tax was introduced by the Labour Government [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It was in reality. I know that there was a nominal tax, as indeed a nominal rate relief scheme was introduced by the Tories, but it had no effect. It was typical of hon. Members opposite that they made some kind of face-saving operation which had no relation to reality. I am not satisfied that we have gone far enough in the way of Capital Gains Tax, but I shall not seek to extend the debate into subjects far beyond those covered by the Motion.

I come to the important issue of the work that I believe that the Land Commission can and should do. It is unfortunate that the Commission's whole operation has been bedevilled by the political arguments which started during the passage of the Bill which set it up and which has continued, unhappily, since it came into operation. I greatly regret that those who have this job to do must perform it in the most difficult circumstances.

The co-operation which the Land Commission could offer and has tried to offer to local authorities, planning authorities, and others, has not been made as much use of as many of us would wish. The very Amendments made to the Bill to meet some of the pressure applied by hon. Member opposite have delayed the operation of the Bill and have meant that funds which would normally have come to the Land Commission have not been forthcoming. Many developers took the opportunity to acquire land well ahead of time so as to avoid levy. There is nothing improper about this. It is merely the fact. This meant that the Commission could not start effective operation until much later than many of us had hoped. Thus, the reality of the contribution the Commission can make has been delayed.

The Commission's first Annual Report shows the increasing volume of work which it is undertaking and the contribution which it can make. It was highly irresponsible of hon. Members opposite to announce their intention, if unhappily they ever have the opportunity of exercising it, of ending the Commission's work.

Two questions must be asked. First, does this mean that the Tories propose that we should revert to the miserable state of affairs which operated when they were in office, when no one knew what Tory policy was with regard to betterment value, and so on? That is the financial question as to where the increased value should go. There is the other question whether the Tories discount so completely the value of the work that the Commission can do in aiding local authorities and private developers to develop areas of land in a coherent and sensible way.

The Commission has acquired, during the short period it has operated, much information of immense importance. It would be an appalling tragedy if doubt were to be cast upon the continuance of its work. Nearly all planning authorities note the lack of information available to them about the ownership of properties, and so on. It is precisely in this area that the Commission can make a very useful contribution. It is a tragedy that this fact has not been as fully recognised as it should be. I place the responsibility, in part at any rate, on hon. Members opposite for the way in which they have made this a Party issue.

It is a tragedy that the contribution which the Land Commission was willing to offer has been regarded in such narrow party terms. Therefore, in view of the present political situation and control in many local authorities, alas they have not looked at the contribution which the Land Commission can make in a coherent and sensible way. It is a very much greater tragedy—not just in political terms, which is a minor matter, but in terms of the welfare of the country and the actual question of the use of land—that this issue should be regarded in such a narrow way by hon. Members opposite when speaking on behalf of their party.

I am glad that now the Land Commission is showing in an effective way in the work it is doing the kind of operations it can undertake. I am glad that one of the first operations it undertook was in my part of the world, in the North-East. In a district adjacent to my constituency it was able to undertake work for the Houghton-le-Spring local authority. I regret that because of the provisions of the Act it was not possible for the Commission in most cases to make a contribution towards the cost for the local authority. I would have been happier, although I understand the questions involved, if, as many of us hoped would be possible, the Land Commission could pass on some of the value which comes eventually to it to the local authority instead of the value going to the Treasury.

I recognise, in spite of that, that the Land Commission can and does make a very important contribution, particularly where the local authority has to carry out a tedious and lengthy operation in determining who are the owners of a particular plot of land when the land is in multiple ownership, tracking all this down, and through a complicated lengthy process of compulsory purchase. The Commission can do it on behalf of a local authority. So far from this being against the interests of the private builder, in many cases it is in his interest.

In many cases land has been acquired by a developer without the intention of developing it in a reasonably short period. I ask whoever is to reply to the debate for the Government what information he can give about the actions of the Land Commission in trying to ensure that land which has been acquired in this way by potential developers is brought into active use at an early date. This is one of the objects of the Land-Commission. We know that there are many complications, complications to which, alas, hon. Members opposite are sometimes the first to add. Very often the element preventing a builder from getting on and acquiring the land he wants is not the Land Commission but another developer who is in possession of land suitable for development but who is not prepared to develop it at that time.

I understand it is the intention of the Commission to proceed in such cases to try to secure the transference of the land from those who have no intention of early development to those who have such an intention. I should welcome this. I hope that my hon. Friend in replying to the debate will say something about this part of the Land Commission's work. I have pointed out in the past that local authorities do not get the advantage in price which I would like them to get in the development of areas of land. This might apply in the case of central area redevelopment.

I should also like to have information about circumstances in which the Land Commission has indicated that it might be able to help where certain parts of a larger area to be taken over are intended for "non-remunerative use"—that is to say, for open space or playing fields and general amenity purposes. This will be of increasing importance in the legislation that this Government are rightly introducing for the improvement of many older areas. I understand that where there are areas of that kind it may be possible in some circumstances for the Land Commission to pass certain financial advantages to the local authority. I should like to hear what progress is being made in that type of case.

Another type of case concerns the problem in which the Commission can make an important contribution in respect of redevelopment of derelict land. Many of us are much concerned that there are still such vast areas of dereliction and semi-dereliction which clearly need to be developed, and can be developed with the resources which are available. The National Coal Board through the opencast mining executive would be delighted to put to work some of the machinery they have for redevelopment of some derelict areas. The Land Commission could play a very important part here.

The Commission has been restricted by the limitation of its financial resources by reason of the fact that it has not been able to acquire or sell the amount of land that it might have expected and to build up resources to enable it to move into this field of activity as quickly as was hoped. I ask my hon. Friends to look at this feature and to see whether the Commission could play an important part in the whole national programme of redevelopment of areas of derelict land which are important in the development areas of the North-East, the North-West and what are called the "grey" areas.

So far from wishing to end the work of the Land Commission, I want to see its possibilities of operation widened. There are certain restrictions on it at the moment which are utterly unreasonable. Some of those restrictions, I think, have been put there understandably to safeguard the position of the private owner and to avoid powers of acquisition being unreasonably used. Hon. Members opposite, with some of my hon. Friends, inserted those provisions, but now it is those provisions about which some hon. Members opposite are cavilling. I should welcome a provision which would help to overcome any of the hard cases which inevitably arise, but I suspect that often some individual hard cases have been used to cloak relatively vicious profiteering which used to go on in land values. Just as in the days gone by we always had quoted to us the case of the widow who owned property, we are given the view that these were the only people who ever owned property.

While we must seriously look at any cases of hardship, perhaps the time will soon arrive to review not only these cases but also this legislation from the other side of the coin. We must ensure that there is reasonable flexibility for the Land Commission to do the job we intended it should do and which it has shown, in its first year of operation, it can do if we cease our petty criticisms of it. It has an important task to perform for the nation as a whole.

5.50 p.m.

Mr. John Hunt (Bromley)

I welcome this opportunity to contribute to this important debate, particularly since my constituency of Bromley has felt the full impact of rapidly-rising land values and house prices.

My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) reminded the House of how in 1964 the Labour Party played up this issue. Hon. Members will recall how thousands of younger voters in our constituencies, particularly those who were about to marry and set up home, were wooed and won over by Labour candidates, not by the policies of nationalisation or comprehensive education, but solely by the prospect of lower mortgages and the promise to set up the Land Commission which, they were to d, would put a stop to speculation and reduce house prices. Today those young people are physically four years older and politically four years wiser.

There can seldom have been a more cynical exploitation of the hopes and ambitions of the younger generation than Labour's housing pledges to them in 1964. Our only hope is that the depleted benches opposite is an indication of the guilt which so many hon. Gentlemen opposite must feel at Labour's broken election promises.

For two years we have had the Land Commission. Far from lowering the cost of land it has increased it, just as Conservative spokesmen warned it would do at the last two elections. Despite what the Minister said, there is clear evidence that, for example, in the first auctions after the passing of the Act land was being quoted at about 40 per cent. higher than previously; in other words, quoted prices were reflecting the full cost of the Betterment Levy.

We have been told on a number of occasions—this was repeated today—that one of the main functions of the Land Commission was to bring on to the market land that was being deliberately held back by speculators. From what has been said and learned, that has proved to be yet another Socialist bogey. In the first year of its existence the Land Commission was not involved in any land transactions. It raised only £463,000 in Betterment Levy against an operating cost of well over £1 million.

Mr. Blenkinsop

When the hon. Gentleman speaks of the Commission not having been involved in any land transactions in its first year, is he aware that a certain time was necessary to start inquiries and obtain the necessary information in advance of negotiations being conducted?

Mr. Hunt

I was coming to that. I acknowledge that it takes some time for a Commission of this sort to establish itself on a working basis. However, even if the Betterment Levy brings in the £8 million which is now estimated for the current year, and the £15 million which is estimated for the year after that, that will still be falling a long way short of the £80 million a year which was being quoted at one time and to which the Minister referred even today.

The right hon. Gentleman spoke about returning money to the community, but the money which has been raised by this levy so far has, in the main, gone straight into the coffers of the Treasury and has made no constructive contribution to a solution of our land and housing shortages. That vast fund which we were told would be available for urban renewal has already been seen to be yet another image of Socialists' imagination. The disappointment and despair of the younger generation has been intense and universal. Had the Government deliberately set out to hamstring and alienate this section of the community, they could not have done it better.

During the past four years the cost of housing has rocketed. As my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester pointed out, this has been a reflection not only of the levy but also of S.E.T., devaluation—which put up the cost of raw materials, and particularly building materials like timber and copper—and high interest rates, which have added substantially to builders' costs. My hon. Friend also referred to the staggering burden now falling on builders, who are having to pay a weekly contribution of 54s. 6d. per man employed as against 12s. 11d. when Labour came to power.

Mr. Robert Howarth (Bolton, East)

Did not the hon. Gentleman hear what the Minister said about rising house prices? While he has spoken of the increases which have taken place in the last four years—he said that prices had rocketed—would he care to describe the increases which occurred in the previous four years?

Mr. Hunt

The whole tone and content of Labour speeches in 1964 and 1966 gave the impression that the level of house prices and the cost of land would be reduced. This has not been achieved and this is our charge aginst the Government.

In addition, the Government are severely curtailing the amount of money available to local authorities which wish to advance money for house purchase. In the next financial year there is to be a cut of £65 million which, I maintain, is as vicious as it is short-sighted. As has been pointed out, this will particularly hit young married couples of modest means who have hitherto looked to their local councils for help with the purchase of older property which building societies are often reluctant to finance. It is such houses which give these young couples a chance of their first foothold on the ladder of home ownership. In areas of high property values, such as my constituency, these older houses are often the only ones that young people in this category are able to afford.

We must remember that these advances for home ownership are financed by councils borrowing at normal rates in the ordinary money market. This is not subsidised welfare but an opportunity to help people help themselves. It also releases council property and other rented accommodation. One is reluctantly forced to the conclusion that this latest squeeze on home loans is another reflection of the Labour Party's well-known antagonism towards home ownership and that sense of security and independence which it brings.

My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester quoted a number of tragic cases of people hit by the Betterment Levy. I wish to draw attention to a case of hardship and injustice which has arisen in my constituency as a result of the operation of the land Commission. This involves a young couple, Mr. and Mrs. Len Elliott, who were given a small plot of land by an elderly lady who wished to help them. They applied for planning permission before the Land Commission came into existence, but owing to an initial refusal of planning permission by Bromley Council and the time taken by a subsequent appeal to the Minister, which was upheld, the Act came into effect before their bungalow could be built. The land was then valued by the Land Commission at £2,000, and Betterment Levy of more than £700 has now been demanded from Mr. and Mrs. Elliott.

That case and others cited in the debate highlight one of the major flaws and injustices in the Land Commission Act, that levy is demanded on a notional assessment of betterment even though no actual profit is made by the owner of the land. I accept, as I am sure that many of my hon. Friends accept, that there is a case for taxing profits from land development. But the time to impose a levy on people like Mr. Elliott is when they sell and move, not when they have to find the levy out of their modest income or savings at an early stage.

The purpose of the Land Commission was said to be to hit speculators and to reduce the price of land. Instead, it has increased the cost of land and hounded men like my constituent who just want the chance to stand on their own feet, to be subsidised by no one, and to be left alone. The Minister said that he would take up cases of individual hardship which were brought to his attention. I asked him here and now to look into that specific case in my constituency. I hope that something can be done to remedy the injustice which these people have suffered.

The Motion rightly refers to the damaging activities of the Land Commission which are deterring the spread of home ownership. The many thousands of people in this country who have been hit by the monstrous betterment levy will echo that judgment, and so, I hope, will the House tonight.

6.2 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

I feel that I must tiptoe into this languid and soporific discussion. It is an awful anticlimax to me. At one time, my critics were so fierce that I thought that I should get off lightly if I only suffered impeachment. Whatever the dissatisfaction, it appears to be very muted. All we have is a feeble side-kick in a woolly, wishy-washy Motion before the House.

I pay tribute to the chairman of the Land Commission and to its distinguished members. I pay tribute to them for what they have done in what everyone who had anything to do with the legislation realised would be a difficult initial period. I say in passing to the hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. Hunt) that it is no good constantly saying that the levy is increasing the price of building land. It is not. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is."] No, it is not. We have for the first time—this is one of the important results of the Land Commission's work—a depository of information about land prices, and Sir Henry Wells has said that the levy has not in general increased the price of building land. He is in the most authoritative position to give an opinion about it

I agree that there may be cases—I shall say a word about them—in which it appears that a developer is being held up to ransom. I should like to know what the developer has done. One of the important changes which the Land Commission Act brought about is that we have for the first time compulsory purchase backing for private development as well as public development. If developers feel that they are being held to ransom, my advice is that they go and see the Land Commission immediately.

Now, the levy itself. A great deal has been made about the initially low return of the levy. This, of course, was expected. One of the few matters upon which, I think, the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) was sympathetic towards me was the extension I made of the exemptions when we brought the Land Commission into operation. It is generally accepted that those exemptions were fair. I think that we can say, too, that they have had the byproduct of bringing a good deal of land forward for development.

One could have been harsher. One could—I emphasise this—have introduced retrospective legislation at least to the point of the White Paper. There are plenty of respectable precedents for that. But, when we have a change such as this, I believe one should be as equitable as possible, phasing the introduction as smoothly as possible. That is what we did. However, if hon. Members complain about the amount which has been received, we can always consider, as we said in the White Paper, the rate of the levy. It is easy to increase the return. But, again, reviewing the past two years, one must accept that this was a modest and fair rate of levy, and it has been generally accepted.

Bringing the figures up to date, one finds that this year there has been an 18-fold growth in the return from the levy—a very satisfactory growth rate. We finish this last year with more than £8 million received by way of levy. It is now not I but the Chairman of the Land Commission himself who now says that in a few years the levy return will be £80 million.

In short, what is happening, and happening rapidly, is that artificially created values are now being artificially reduced. Now, a substantial part of the value created by the community is being returned to the community. That is the political issue. I welcome the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) to the Front Bench on this subject, because his predecessor took a very different view. His predecessor said that he was also against the Capital Gains Tax, that it was a "dud" tax, and, since he was speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, I took it as authoritative.

Now, the hon. Member for Worcester has made quite clear that, in spite of a lot of blather from the Opposition about abolishing the Land Commission, they will not abolish the levy. So the electorate will feel themselves very much misled when, after all the propaganda, they find the Tory Party accepts, as most sensible people in the country accept, that fundamentally the levy is right.

I shall come shortly to the cases which hon. Members have mentioned, but the fact is that the system has worked remarkably smoothly. We know that of all the assessments which have been made only about 1 per cent. have been challenged. This was a controversial matter. It is remarkable that in 99 per cent. of cases the assessments have been accepted. It is a remarkable achievement, but I accept that there appear to be—one cannot say more than that because we see only Press reports from a fairly extensive Press haul of Land Commission cases—some cases of unfairness.

I remind my right hon. Friend that within the Act itself there is provision for postponing the collection of levy, and there is also the express provision which we made, anticipating such cases, that by Order we can make further exemptions. The important consideration, as my right hon. Friend said, is that we should look at these cases sympathetically. The purposes of the levy are well understood, and no one is anxious to be unfair.

It appears to me that, probably, there are three categories of case in which there has been difficulty. The first arises from the interim period. People acted in ignorance of the provisions of the Act. It was not our fault. We tried our hardest—it is not the Opposition's fault either, because they tried equally hard—to make sure that everyone knew what the provisions were, and, as I have said, although it has often been done, we were anxious to avoid legislation made retrospective to the date of the White Paper. Also, I am sorry to say, these cases very often seem to have been the result of bad professional advice. However, in spite of that, one has still to consider cases of personal hardship, and the Government have given an undertaking that concessions will be made. That is one category of case. I think that everyone accepts that we made fair provision, but if nevertheless as a result there are individual cases of hardship arising, let us look at them.

The second group of cases seems to touch the question whether the exemptions which we have already made about single family dwelling houses go wide enough. I do not see why we should not look at this second category. Thirdly, a different kind of question is whether there should be any de minimis provision. We discussed this when we considered the Bill, when I believed that there should be no de minimis provision. We did not then have any experience. This is largely a practical question. Now, I do not know what that experience indicates but I am sure that it is a matter which the Land Commission will consider.

Mr. Peter Walker

I am interested in the right hon. Gentleman's remarks that things are not working in the way he expected. Surely, the time has come for the Government to make decisions in the two spheres to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred, whereas the Minister this afternoon announced categorically that he had no intention of altering the Land Commission.

Mr. Willey

The hon. Member has, I think, misinterpreted my right hon. Friend. I said, incidentally, that when one introduces comprehensive legislation such as this one is under a duty to keep it under constant review. One cannot legislate for all cases.

As to the second objective of the Land Commission—to ensure that the right land is available at the right time—here again the Commission can demonstrate that it is going ahead. Its growth rate is not so good, but, if my arithmetic is right, it is fivefold. That is not insubstantial. My right hon. Friend the Minister talked about land in terms of acres. I calculated roughly the value, and I think that one would value the land at £20 million-£25 million. A considerable amount of land is, therefore, in process of being acquired by the Commission.

I agree with the Chairman and the Commission that it is a bit thick to be criticised for proceeding slowly by the very people who were so critical of the possibility of the Commission resorting to accelerated methods of land purchase. I do not criticise the Commission. The position was that the land was coming forward for development and the Commission has acted reasonably and sympathetically.

My criticism arises from a different approach. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop). I think that we should concentrate—I am sure that the Chairman of the Commission will agree with me on this—on the positive rôle that the Commission has to play and express disappointment, whatever the reasons may be, that so far its progress has been relatively slow.

I know that the issue is presented as an acute, sharp political difference between the parties, but that is not the case. It is really a question of whether we want to take a more constructive, positive view of planning as a whole. The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) used to attack me because we did not deal with planning. I assured him that we would. We have now dealt with it. There is still, however, a rôle for an executive arm to planning. That is what the Land Commission is doing. I would encourage it to do much more. Again, to express this differently, there is the idea of the land bank, which is not the preserve of hon. Members on this side but was put forward by the Civic Trust and by the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys). If we are thinking of the work of the Land Commission in this context, we cannot be altogether satisfied that it is not getting ahead fast enough.

Again, there was the idea of a national agency which the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) raised when he was on these benches. Again, if one is concerned about this, one would like to see the Land Commission going ahead more quickly. I would say, certainly to my colleagues on these benches who committed themselves to undertakings in their election manifestoes, that we should be disappointed in what has been achieved so far. We envisaged the Commission being the main agent for acquiring land for building.

I appreciate and understand why progress has been relatively slow. I know the difficulties about acquisition. I know that, as in the case of the levy, this will accelerate as we go along. I would like to see more signs, however, of the specific rôle of the Land Commission in bringing forward land for development at the right time. The Commission, in its Annual Report, records that I indicated to it the scale and priorities of its operations. The Report records that I said that its objective should be to build up the scale of its acquisition programme within the first two years as rapidly as possible. I feel that this has not been done and that we should have progressed much more rapidly.

Now that the Commission has overcome the initial difficulties, I hope that, with the encouragement of the Government, it will now break through and do much more to ensure that we regard planning not only as regulatory, but positive, and that we get the right development in the right place at the right time.

As its Annual Report records, I also asked the Commission to make land available to housing associations on concessionary Crownhold terms. This has not been done. I know the difficulties. The hon. Member for Crosby and I discussed them in Committee. This, however, is something which should have been done. It is certainly one way of reducing the price of land for housing. We would be far happier if we had examples of concessionary Crownhold.

The same applies, incidentally, to Crownhold as a whole. The Land Commission states that it will resort to Crownhold in the case of Church sites and like cases. I would like it to try a much wider use of Crownhold, particularly in the case of comprehensive development.

I emphasise all this because it affects price. I am afraid that a lot of nonsense is talked about land prices, but the activities of the Commission can in fact affect prices. When the Commission acquires land, it does not repay the levy to anyone. I took good care to ensure that it did not pay anything to the Treasury but should buy the land at the Commission's price. This is very much a key to the operations of the Land Commission.

As the Chairman of the Land Commission—I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will assure me that this is a correct quotation and that there has been no misrepresentation—has said: We can buy land 40 per cent. cheaper than local authorities because we buy net after deducting the levy. This provision may enable us to cheapen the price of sites, for either private or local authority housing development by increasing the supply. Although we have to get the best price reasonably obtainable, the 40 per cent. advantage gives us a margin if. by increasing the supply of land, this price is reduced, without financial embarrassment to us. That is important.

Apart from the broad planning grounds which should compel us to make greater use of the Commission, we should also make greater use of it because this could have an impact on land prices. I hope that my right hon. Friend will resist the Treasury, which, naturally enough does not wish to lose the proceeds of the levy. We are concerned, however, also with land prices.

I repeat, therefore, as I said at the outset, that the whole House should pay tribute to Sir Henry Wells and his colleagues for surviving a difficult initial period without upset and with only few cases being produced which, as I have said, we should consider sympathetically. No one wants to cause undue personal hardship. In setting up the Commission we had two clear objectives which I believe are generally accepted and I hope that having overcome the initial difficulties, the Commission will now be given a clear go-ahead from the Government.

6.20 p.m.

Mr. W. H. K. Baker (Banff)

I humbly echo the tribute paid by the right hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) to the working of the Land Commission itself. It is not the members of the Commission who are unpopular in this context. I am satisfied that they are working as humanly and humanely as possible in dealing with the many cases which come before them. The fault is the miserable piece of legislation which the right hon. Gentleman himself successfully piloted through the House. It is a very difficult piece of legislation. It is contentious and sets a tremendous problem for those who have to administer it. It is for that reason, if for that lone, that I add my tribute to the Commission.

Mr. Willey

The hon. Gentleman really cannot make such a division. The Chairman and the Commissioners have said that they fully support the principle enshrined in the Act.

Mr. Baker

They have been appointed to carrying out a job and are doing so to the best of their ability. I was criticising the legislation which gave them the job in the first place.

This is a United Kingdom debate, and one is often tempted in such a debate to try to score party points. But I maintain that in this one we should have had a Scottish Minister present who understands what is going on in Scotland. The Land Commission Act was a United Kingdom Measure, but in this debate we have only English Ministers from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. Following an intervention I made, the Minister of Planning and Land said that he would obtain information on a specific point. I am grateful to him and look forward to it with interest. I would like to have gone into several points in some detail about the work of the Commission in Scotland, but I had better leave some of them out and write to the Scottish Minister concerned.

If I were asked to describe the Land Commission Act, three "Cs" would come to mind—cumbersome, complex and constrictive. The Act is, first, cumbersome because of the various ways in which the Commission itself has to carry on its work. Paragraph 8 of the Report and Accounts of the Commission for the year ended 31st March, 1968, says: On the levy side also, the process leading from the transaction to the collection of levy may well take up to seven months in a straightforward case. When assessment is disputed, a much longer period can elapse before the amount due is received. Hon. Members opposite have criticised us for saying that we are not in favour of the Betterment Levy—that we would rather have it taken by the taxation system. If it is done through the ordinary tax return—that is, through taxation on the gain in value by development—it is a simple method and it will not take seven months, but very much less.

Secondly, the Act is extremely complex in its operation. I know a small firm of solicitors in Central Scotland consisting of three partners. Such is the complexity of the legislation that they have decided that one partner shall be occupied entirely on dealing with questions of the Land Commission. My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), when the Act was in Committee here, described it as a lawyer's paradise, and that is true.

Mr. Clegg

It is a lawyer's nightmare.

Mr. Baker

That is equally true. It is for that reason that one partner in the firm is working almost entirely full time on problems of the Land Commission.

Thirdly, the constricting aspect of the Land Commission is that, in spite of what the right hon. Gentleman said, land is not coming forward for development because of the levy. I advised a constituent who saw me on this point not to sell a piece of land for development until two years or so had elapsed, because I am certain—and I warmly welcome the statement by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) to this effect—that as soon as we are back in power we shall abolish the Land Commission and all it stands for.

I shall refer to the Report of the Land Commission for its first year of operation as it applies to Scotland, but not in as much detail as I would have done had a Scottish Minister been present. Paragraph 27 refers to the requests that the Secretary of State for Scotland made to the Land Commission at the outset. One of these requests was that it should make available more land for development for private housing. I applaud that.

The right hon. Gentleman asked that the land be made available particularly in Central Scotland. He asked that it be made available so that an increase of 50 per cent. could be made in the current rate of private housing building in Scotland. This in itself is to be welcomed, particularly as council house rents in Scotland are so low and place such a tremendous burden on the local ratepayers. I hope that this will be one of the marginal benefits of the Act in Scotland.

Some hon. Members have referred to a likely conflict between local authorities and the Commission in purchasing land. In general terms, do the Government visualise the Land Commission implementing such parts of the planning procedure as are now in the formative stage in the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Bill, specifically in relation to area plans? This is important.

The other general question is, in what relationship does the Commission stand to the Crown Commissioners? It may be said that this is covered in the Act, but it is anything but clear, in my submission. Paragraph 36 of the Report refers to it partially, as does paragraph 50. Paragraph 36 states that … the Crown is not bound by the Planning Acts … This in itself is clear. But paragraph 50 gives a list of bodies exempt from paying levy, and they include Crown bodies. Does this refer to the Crown Commissioners?

I want to refer also to two cases of hardship which have come to my notice. The first involves a middle-aged executive officer who works for a widely known national firm. He is getting on now to retirement age. He has about nine years to go and recently was moved South by his firm. Before moving he bought a house, to which he intends to retire. Being a canny Scot, he decided to let his house for eight years. It is true that ignorance of the law is no excuse. This man, hoping to put a little something more on the side towards his retirement, let his house for £102 per annum. He was immediately faced with a levy of about £325 before he had received a penny in rent.

I maintain, and have maintained throughout, that this is manifestly unjust and unfair. I hope that even now the Government, in looking at this legislation will examine this point. The right hon. Member for Sunderland, North and the Minister dealt with exemptions under the single family dwelling-house. I hope that when the Minister examines this he will take another look at a specific problem which affects England and Wales as well as Scotland.

I refer to the case of the father who wishes to house his son at his farm and utilises some of his own land to build a small dwelling-house for him. Under the Act, that development is subject to levy. This is unfair and, in a certain limited sense, is causing even more depopulation from Scotland, which is something, as my hon. Friend the Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. G. Campbell), on the Front Bench will recognise, which we cannot afford.

I want to raise one case which is a very niggling one and which has caused a great deal of concern. There is not a lot of money involved, but it is something which can really put a businessman up the wall. This occurred in my constituency in the area of Craigellachie which is a small village on the banks of the Spey. This firm, which wrote to me, had a number of employees living in the area but working elsewhere in the county. Many of them had to leave their cars in the road overnight simply because there was no garage accommodation. The firm for whom these men worked cleared and levelled ground at a cost of £20. Planning permission had already been granted, but after discovering that the cost of the buildings it intended to erect, with the conditions laid down by the local authority, were prohibitive, which would make it necessary to charge rents beyond the means of the local people, it decided to discontinue the development.

The total cost of levelling the ground, searches for title, etc., came to £84 5s. Having decided not to go ahead with this, the firm sold the ground for £100. Before Betterment Levy was imposed, it had to deduct from that £100 the expenses it had incurred in investigating how to make use of the land. The Land Commission said that the only expenses which it could charge were those of levelling the ground, namely £20, plus surveyor's fees of 10 guineas, making a total of £31 10s. The Land Commission claimed that the base value of the land should be £31. If that is added to the allowable charges of £31 10s. it makes a total of £62 10s. which the Land Commission claim is the sum which has to be deducted from the selling price of £100 before the levy is chargeable.

The firm maintains that according to its computations it has incurred expenses of £84 5s., to which should be added the sum of £31, being the base value prior to the sale. This makes a total of £115 5s. On the whole transaction, the firm makes a loss of £15 5s. These are small figures in the light of the enormous sums with which the Land Commission is dealing. The firm agrees that the loss incurred was its own fault, but it asks, and I entirely agree, why should it be taxed on a loss? It seems to be against all principles of justice. This is a small but niggling case, the kind of thing which is causing grave annoyance, disquiet and to a certain extent, injustice.

It is for this reason that I shall take the greatest pleasure in supporting my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Lobby tonight, when they vote on this Motion.

6.37 p.m.

Mr. Robert Howarth (Bolton, East)

I can only assume that the lack of support on the benches opposite for the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) is an indication of his hon. Friends' lack of feeling on this subject. The whole thing has gone off at half-cock. This motion is so ridiculous that his right hon. and hon. Friends do not believe it, either. I can only assume that the Opposition had something else in mind—who knows, motor taxation, or something like that?—but that they decided, in view of the fiasco that one of their hon. Friends has made of that, that it would be better to try another tack. Their lack of enthusiasm betrays their real feeling.

I begin by congratulating the Government and my right hon. Friends, and all who have been closely involved, in what is, by any standards, a tremendous achievement in housing. This record of achievement which began in 1964 is well worthy of praise. The figures given by my right hon. Friend certainly took the wind out of the speech by the right hon. Member for Worcester. In every direction he had the ground knocked from beneath him.

I have the pleasure of representing an old Lancashire town, in which I have always lived. It is one of a number of towns which has been cruelly treated by industrial development, leaving us with a legacy from which my generation and others are still suffering. I often wonder whether many of those hon. Members opposite who live mainly south of London have any first-hand knowledge of the conditions in some of the older industrial towns. I suspect that some of them did not even know about the constituencies for which they were adopted until they were adopted. They pay their visits and then are happy to return to the comfortable areas of the Home Counties, or Kensington or Chelsea. This is reflected in the contributions we have had from them today, which have related only to a very narrow part of the Motion and have in no way attempted to justify the Opposition's attack.

The Government's achievements are there for everyone to see, certainly in areas like South Lancashire. A tremendous difference has become apparent during the last few years to anyone like myself who lives in South Lancashire, where the scene is being transformed by industrial development, new roads, new schools, new hospitals and, above all, new houses. My experience and that of people living in the area is that one cannot drive for many miles on a major road in Lancashire without coming across a major new road being constructed or proof of the great expansion in house building, which is borne out by the facts and figures given by my right hon. Friend. It is an eye-opener to drive east or west, south or north and to see the extent of Government-supported building which is literally transforming South Lancashire.

Ours is a record of which we can be justly proud. Of course, it costs a great deal of money. I noted with interest the challenge of one of my hon. Friends to an hon. Member opposite who talked about a reduction in money made available by local authorities for home loans. He referred to the great contrast between the cries of the leaders of the Conservative Party for a reduction in Government spending and the great eagerness of back bench Members opposite to call for additional Government spending.

Mr. Clegg

Would the hon. Gentleman admit that the money provided to people for house purchase is loaned? It is not given to them by way of subsidy; they have to repay it. How will the Government's cuts affect Lancashire, where such loans are particularly valuable because of the older properties there which our constituents have to buy?

Mr. Howarth

The first house I bought many years ago was purchased through a local authority mortgage. I know only too well the value of local authority mortgage facilities. I should have thought that, in view of the amount of money which has been made available by building societies in the last few years and the availability of these loans, the cuts will not have a serious effect on the position.

I read the handout from the Building Societies, Association, which expresed confidence in being able to meet the demand for home loans in 1969. The Government ate in the process of introducing measures, which will be debated on Monday, which will help to offset that problem and which will contribute to an improvement in the quality of life which people have enjoyed over the last four years, due to the Government's activities.

I turn to the Government's great achievements in building houses. Not only have more houses been built by this Government than were built by any other Government in our history, but the quality of housing is better than it was at any other time. I wish to deal with the question of the additional numbers of houses built. Some years ago, I was privileged to take part in group discussions on housing with the then Minister of Housing, the present Secretary of State for Social Services. He outlined the Government's policy as being the balance between houses built for renting and houses built for owner-occupation.

There is no doubt that the deliberate depression of the number of houses built by local authorities by Conservative Governments prior to 1964 was having, and has had, a very serious effect on the slum clearance problem. Coming from and representing a South Lancashire town, I know only too well what that means. We see from the figures given by my right hon. Friend how the increase in local authority building has greatly stepped up the slum clearance problem. This is a tremendous achievement.

I am equally pleased that in 1968 a record number of houses were built for owner-occupation. Coming as I do from an area where owner-occupation is, rightly, a commendable ambition of many people which I would encourage, and which the Government have encouraged, this is to be welcomed. Whatever district of my town I go to, I see new estates of houses being built for owner-occupation. The figures speak for themselves and fly in the face of the Opposition's ridiculous Motion. What has been done is to the Government's credit and it is undoubtedly one reason why there is little enthusiasm on the benches opposite for the Motion.

I mentioned the great assistance given to householders through rate relief measures. These are of great value to many people in my constituency. Only a few months ago I had a case of a divorcee who was maintaining her two children. She worked, but, clearly, the rates were quite an item for her. Under the Government's rate relief measures, she received nearly £40 a year for rate relief. This is quite a large sum of money. Examples of the sort of assistance which people are receiving, depending on their circumstances, can be duplicated all over the country.

Great assistance is being given to local authorities by the Ministry of Housing and Local Goverment for rate relief. But for the measures of the Government, the increase in rates would have been quite considerable. But last year, this year, next year and the year after, the offset to keep down the domestic rating amounts to 5d. a year. This has been of considerable value to all local authorities, many of which are Conservative controlled. For them to start squealing about having to raise their rates is ironical in view of the great assistance which they are receiving from the Government to keep rates down. These are facts which, unpalatable as they are to the Opposition, are helpful to our constituents.

We have tremendously increased housing subsidies, and this has led to increased clearance of old houses. I wonder whether hon. Members on the Opposition benches, who live in the salubrious counties, really understand the problems of older towns, where there are acres upon acres of old terraced houses, two up, two down, which were built in the last century. These houses have no modern conveniences; many of them have not even cavity walls. These houses must be cleared away if our people are to have decent homes and the Government by their efforts are speeding up the replacement of old houses by new local authority housing. The figures speak for themselves, and this is a record of which Members on this side are proud.

I have had this week the answer to a Question which I asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government: what had been the increase between 1964–65 and 1967–68 in all grants to the County Borough of Bolton. I was pleased to note that the total grants had risen from just under £4 million in 1964–65 to over £6 million in 1967–68. This figure is considerably increased for the current year, and it is proposed that it will be further increased next year. The Government have thus given important support to local authorities in housing, education and roads. This is the record on which the Government should be judged.

Mr. Peter Walker

Did the hon. Gentleman also ask what was the extra cost of borrowing to the Bolton county borough?

Mr. Howarth

I am aware of the increased cost of borrowing. I also know how it rose during the period of Conservative government. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that it went down during that time. Interest rates are historically high at present, and it is hardly likely that they will go down in the near future, while the international rates are so high.

The assistance given has increased by over 50 per cent. in three years. New houses and new roads are being built, and changes are coming about which result in a better life for those who live in what was an old industrial area.

1 would like to have commented on the additional assistance proposed by the Government in the Housing Bill, which is to be debated on Monday. The Bill gives to local authorities additional assistance and powers so that help may be given to improve older areas of towns, the so-called grey areas, and to transform old houses into decent homes. The Bill gives to local authorities powers which were being asked for in the 1950s and early 1960s. We might just as well have asked for the moon as to ask a Tory Government for the sort of assistance and imaginative and helpful proposals that are contained in the Bill.

The fair rent measures of the Government have resulted in rent officers being appointed. Which Member of Parliament has not had a constituent who has been able to go to the rent officer to have his rent adjudged on a fair basis? This has been of great benefit. This is the progress which has been made by the Government on behalf of ordinary people and, often, in the face of bitter opposition from Conservatives.

Not only have we built more houses during the last four years than were built in any period of Tory government, but the standards have been higher and the facilities provided in the homes have been better. Many hon. Members will be aware of the increasing insistence on local authority houses being built to Parker-Morris standards, which will ensure that they will be adequate in the early part of the next century.

I have taken a great deal of interest in owner-occupied houses. I wish to see the extension of owner-occupation nationally and in my constituency. I have been much impressed by the work of the National House-Builders Registration Council. This is a voluntary body which is gradually extending its coverage and is giving to house purchasers a valuable service. The last segment of the market is proving difficult to embrace within the scheme, and I have on previous occasions suggested that we are possibly approaching the time when there should be a statutory basis for the protection offered by the N.H.B.R.C. to house purchasers. I am in favour of a voluntary organisation controlled by the building industry, rather than a Government body, but it may be that the Government could give asistance, financial and otherwise, to extend and intensify the protection afforded.

The Council has only a limited number of inspectors, and this makes it easier for unscrupulous builders to avoid their responsibilities. Will the Government consider whether there is a way in which they can assist the Council in its work? The best way would be a grant to the N.H.B.R.C. to enable it to increase its facilities, but not in any way to make it a Government body; there are great merits in it remaining a voluntary body within the industry.

I would wish to have commented on the special position of London, but it is not for me to move into an area that is of particular interest to other hon. Members. I confirm the claim of my right hon. Friend, who reminded the Opposition spokesmen that, while they may not have built a record number of houses during their period of office, they certainly were record builders of office spaces.

When I travelled from Lancashire to London before becoming a Member of this House, I was staggered by the sight of the great office blocks which could be seen rising in London, especially considering the paucity of evidence of the building of hospitals and other important things for the community. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite allowed the speculative building of offices because it was profitable, yet the number of hospitals built by them during their period of office was five or six; and that was only too noticeable to someone travelling from the provinces to London.

The position today is quite different. One can hardly go to any part of the country, especially the old industrial areas, without seing firm evidence of the increase in hospital, school and house building. If it is sufficiently known, the record is one which will bring its own reward in support for the Government, and I think that it behoves all hon. Members on his side of the House to ensure that their constituents know of the work done by the Government on their behalf.

As a result of just over four years of Labour government, there are more houses for rent than ever and more for sale than ever. In addition, they are built to better standards. There has been an accompanying increase in all the other aspects of life which are so important and which undoubtedly are transforming the scene in areas such as that which I have the privilege of representing.

I have no hesitation in calling for the rejection of this quite ridiculous Motion.

7.2 p.m.

Mr. A. G. F. Hall-Davis (Morecambe and Lonsdale)

The hon. Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Robert Howarth) cast doubt on the presence of these benches of any hon. Member with a deep knowledge of the industrial areas. Mr. Deputy Speaker, it is a felicitous coincidence that I should be called to follow the hon. Gentleman, since I was born in the town which he represents and lived there for 20 years. In fact, before coming to this House, all my working life was spent in the industrial areas of Lancashire. I suspect that the same can be said of my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg). In view of the fact that there was no other hon. Member on the benches opposite as the hon. Gentleman spoke, perhaps it was an unfortunate moment at which to make that point.

I will not follow his arguments, other than to draw attention to one specific aspect of the operations of the Land Commission which arises from the provisions relating to the interim period and the effect that they have had on a Lancastrian who is a constituent of mine. Having done that, I shall refer to the attitude that the Minister has adopted to my attempts to protect individuals from the imposition of grossly unjust taxation. My comments arise from the experience of my constituent, Mr. Kershaw, but they have a much wider implication, as will be seen when I outline his experience.

Mr. Kershaw bought land in March, 1967 for use in connection with his business which was established on an adjoining site. In September, 1967, Mr. Kershaw sold his business and the land that he had bought six months previously. He bought the land for £6,000, and he sold it for £6,000. No one disputes that he made no profit on the sale of the land.

Due to the provisions of the Act, he has been served by the Land Commission with an assessment for levy of £1,400. How much further can injustice to the individual go? My constituent feels aggrieved and bewildered, and he has every reason. If he had completed the purchase one week later and had then resold at the price at which he had purchased, he would not have been subject to levy. If he had purchased the land, say, about six months sooner, had obtained planning permission for development and had begun work on the site before 5th April, 1967, again no levy would have been payable.

Of course, the provisions of the Land Commission Act were known. They were known, that is, to those whose business it is to conduct transactions in land. People such as my constituent relied on the natural justice of this country.

We understand that these provisions were framed by the Government for a purpose. The purpose was to prevent the establishment of artificial base values, before the Act came into force, by means of spurious sales.

The provisions by which Mr. Kershaw was caught relate only to a specific period which commenced on 22nd September, 1965, and ended on 6th April, 1967. I will return to that point in a few moments, when I will endeavour to suggest some remedy to meet the position of those who find themselves in like circumstances.

First, I want to say with all the emphasis that I can command that it should be totally unacceptable to this House and the Government that steps to stop some people escaping taxation should result in other people paying taxation in cases where it can be established that there had been no gain or profit to tax. Secondly, I deplore the lack of concern shown by the Minister for people who find themselves faced with this terrifying development in our taxation administration.

For centuries, people have come 10 the Palace of Westminster to seek the redress of their grievances. Hon. Members have been diligent in their championing of the rights of individuals. Almost without exception, Ministers have listened and acted sympathetically when oppression to an individual has been revealed. I would have expected the Minister to realise that taxation without gain is a direct infringement of personal liberty. Certainly, I consider it to be. No talk about the technicalities of a complex Bill can detract from the fact that to tax a man when he has made no gain or profit must be an infringement of his liberty.

Apparently, the Minister does not take that view. On 24th January, I addressed a Question to the Minister of Housing and Local Government, asking … how many assessments for levy have been served by the Land Commission in respect of sales of land purchased between 22nd September, 1965 and 6th April, 1967 and sold subsequent to 6th April, 1967 at a price not exceeding the purchase price? I am surprised that the Minister did not recognise the importance of the issue involved, because his reply was: This information is not readily available and could be provided only at disproportionate expense."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th January, 1969; Vol. 776, c. 189.] I realise that that is a traditional phrase, but I suggest that "disproportionate expense" was an unhappy expression to use in this context. What about the disproportionate expense of Mr. Kershaw's £1,400 levy on a nil profit? My Question was not intended to be anything other than a straightforward attempt to discover how many people have found themselves in circumstances similar to those of my constituent.

We have heard today that the Land Commission has a staff of 1,200 and costs £2 million a year in administrative expenses. I do not think that it is unreasonable for that staff to be asked to search the Commission's files and discover how many people are being taxed on a non-existent profit. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will decide on reflection that his Answer was a mistake and that the information which I sought should be provided.

We are touching here on matters about which this House has always been particularly sensitive: the granting of supply and the rights of the individual to be protected from oppression.

What should the Government do to right this particular injustice created by the Land Commission Act? The Government are responsible for the complexities and drafting of the Act. As a layman, I can only suggest guidelines for action. The provisions which have caught my constituent—and I should be surprised if he were alone—were intended to prevent action to evade the Act during a specific period.

I have no doubt that in this respect they largely achieved their purpose. But retrospective legislation would not open the door to new fictitious transactions. Surely it should be possible now to amend the Act so as to provide grounds of appeal against the disallowance of the purchase price for base value in cases where it can be shown that the purchase was at a genuine price reflecting genuine market conditions.

No one can suggest that my constituent purchased at a fictitious price. The land in respect of which levy has been assessed upon him formed part of the site of an extensive pre-First World War munitions filling factory. The factory was, in fact, destroyed in a disastrous explosion which many people in my constituency still remember. What is more significant is that it has for many years been regarded as part of an industrial estate.

The area has been zoned in the town map as appropriate for industrial use. It was well known to anybody in the district that anyone purchasing land on this industrial estate would be granted all the necessary permissions for industrial development. Because of this confidence in the granting of permissions amounting almost to certainty, the land has changed hands for many years at a price reflecting these circumstances.

If it is felt that to give the Land Commission administrative discretion to allow the price at which land passed in the interim period to be used for base value would be too great an administrative discretion, let the aggrieved party have a right of appeal to the Lands Tribunal to establish that the transaction was a bona fide arm's length sale between buyer and seller.

Alternatively—and I think that there would be more justice in this—let the price be accepted as base value subject to appeal by the Land Commission that the price represented a fictitious transaction.

As I have said, it is clear why the Minister had to introduce the interim provisions, given the fact that he was introducing this cumbersome Act at all. I am sure that the provisions were successful in blocking a tax escape hole. But what is clear is that, in doing so, a number of innocent parties have been trapped and are being unfairly penalised.

In the summer of 1967 the Land Commission made representations to the Minister regarding those who had bought during the interim period plots for the erection of a single house, and the Minister made a concession. In February, 1968, the Commission made further representations and a further concession was made regarding those who had bought and sold plots for a single house. In July of last year the Minister made a further concession in respect of the interim period allowing the first £2,500 of the consideration in any conveyance to rank as base value.

This afternoon the Minister said that he would consider sympathetically individual cases. I should like to know whether he has received any further representations from the Land Commission regarding the interim period since July, 1968.

I have here a letter to my constituent from the Chairman of the Land Commission about this case. It is a courteous letter. This courtesy has been the experience of all who have referred to dealings with the Commission. In the penultimate paragraph Sir Henry Wells says: I realise that this letter is not very help-helpful, but you will appreciate that I can only administer the law as it stands. I have no power to change it. We are not asking the Minister to show sympathetic consideration and pass the buck back to the Land Commission. We are asking him to change the law so that the Commission can do what I believe it evidently wants to do, namely, what it recognises to be simple, logical justice.

On 28th January I asked the Minister whether he would increase the figure allowed for the base value for transactions in the interim period from £2,500 to £10,000. I should like to quote his answer because I think that the right hon. Gentleman has not been very happy about his choice of answers to me on this sensitive subject. He said: No. I am satisfied that the concession announced on 22nd July, 1968, is adequate to deal with cases where the owner of the land could not have been expected to know about the White Paper on the Land Commission and to provide a measure of relief in other cases."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th January, 1969; Vol. 776, c. 289.] An extraordinary kind of relief, I must say. My constituent, Mr. Kershaw, is apparently to regard it as a measure of relief that, instead of being taxed, say, £2,000, he is to be taxed £1,400 on a nonexistent profit. What an extraordinary measure of relief.

In asking the Minister to introduce amending legislation on the lines that I have indicated, I do not regard myself as asking for a concession. Nor am I seeking a so-called measure of relief. I am asking the Minister to right a gross injustice which the Land Commission Act has created and which it is in no one's power but the Government's to put right. The Government should recognise and act upon it and not make expressions of sypmpathy which take people nowhere in the extraordinary circumstances in which they find themselves as a result of this legislation.

7.17 p.m.

Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)

I rise to make only a brief intervention in the debate. I offer my apologies to the House for having had to slip out during the debate, but I heard the opening speeches. I also offer apologies in advance as I have to attend another meeting at 8 o'clock. Therefore, I shall have to be away for half an hour, but I shall come straight back.

The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker), opening the debate, spent a considerable part of his time talking about the Government's mortgage option scheme. I understood him to say that if hon. Members of the party opposite were returned to power they would amend that scheme. He did not add any qualification to that statement. I can only hope that that threat does not mean that they are prepared to unilaterally amend the scheme without proper and due consultation with the building societies and insurance offices conducting house purchase mortgages. If I remember correctly, there were very detailed negotiations between my right hon. Friends and the building societies before the introduction of the mortgage option scheme.

To meet some of the points made by the building societies the stipulation that the option by the house owner could only be exercised once was inserted. It will cause considerable fear and apprehension in the insurance and building society world if, when the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) winds up for the Opposition, he does not make it clear that it is the Opposition's intention, if returned to power, to amend the scheme, if they so wish, only after proper consultation and not any of the wild and woolly promises to abolish all this or amend all that that flow almost daily from the Opposition in their desperate struggle to regain—I nearly said "popularity", but in view of the recent opinion poll I had better qualify that—in their attempt to regain power. Popularity is a transitional thing and we should be on the rebound.

On the mortgage option scheme, I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to say a word or two about the small percentage of people who have exercised the option, but who have found, due to increases in salary, that they are suffering a disadvantage. A few people in my constituency have written to me about this, and I have had to tell them that under the terms negotiated with the the building societies it is not possible to make a change. I hope that the Government will be able to start talks in the near future with the building societies to see whether arrangements can be made to help people who now find themselves worse off under the scheme.

When my right hon. Friend opened the debate for this side of the House, hon. Gentlemen opposite sniggered when he talked about the number of starts and completions. The hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) intervened to draw attention to the fact that in 1964 there were a large number of starts, and these were handed over by the outgoing Administration to the incoming one. The thought that struck me then was that people live not in starts, but in completed houses. The fact that there were a reasonable number of starts at that time should not in any way detract from the magnificent job done by the building industry because of the enthusiasm which has been inspired by my right hon. Friends. A record number of houses have been completed in every one of the years since this Government took office.

I intervened in my right hon. Friend's speech to ask him whether he wished to qualify his optimism about the future in view of the fact that all over the country councils which have fallen to the Conservatives are attempting to slow down the housing programme. My constituency falls in the same London borough as that of the right hon. Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath). The council there is considering reducing its house-building programme. If this sort of thing were to happen all over the country, it could have a significant impact on the housing output. We ought to make it clear to the country that if there is a fall in the number of houses built it: will be due to politically-motivated councils trying to assist their friends at Westminster by slowing down the progress of council house building and house building generally.

The other undesirable practice which is developing in respect of house building and land development is that of selling off land which the previous council has carefully collected for its purposes. There is a clear example of this at Bexley. The local authority there is taking advantage of its temporary period of power to sell to its political friends land which was carefully and painfully assembled by the previous council for building council houses.

The council of which I had the honour to be the leader secured from a nurseryman and from other individual owners a plot of land at Crook Log. It is a reasonably-sized plot, upon which 92 homes could be built for people on the housing list who are in desperate need, but the new council has decided to sell that land for private development. This is most unfortunate, and the decision ought to be reversed.

Mr. Hugh Rossi (Hornsey)

The hon. Gentleman said that a local council was selling land in public ownership to its political friends. He has now identified a plot of land which is up for sale. Is he using the privilege given to him in the House to make a statement which, if made outside the House, would be highly defamatory? Unless he has evidence that the purchasers of the land are the political friends of the people controlling that council, he should have the decency to withdraw his statement.

Mr. Wellbeloved

Speculative builders are not the friends of my party. The land is being sold to speculative builders, and. therefore, is being sold to friends of hon. Gentlemen opposite. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] I have no intention of withdrawing. Hon. Gentlemen opposite can growl as much as they like. That is a clear and straightforward statement.

The trouble with selling land which has been acquired for public development is that it affects the number of starts and completions in the whole of the housebuilding sector. Reverting to the site at Crook Log, I can tell the House that the plans had been approved, the project was out to tender, and starts would have been made in the near future. Now, because of a change of policy which is based on doctrinaire ideas, this land will lie dormant while the new owner decides what he wants to build there and there will be a considerable decline in our endeavours to maintain the output of houses.

The Motion refers to the measures being taken by the Government as deterring the spread of home ownership". From speeches which I have heard in the House, and outside, I know how keen the party opposite is to spread home ownership throughout the country. Hon Gentlemen opposite believe, as I do, and as the vast majority of my hon. Friends do, that it is better to own one's home than to be the tenant of a private landlord. [HON. MEMBERS: "Or of the council."] Indeed. I have no objection to the sale of council houses in those areas where there is not a desperate shortage of houses, and where there are not thousands of people desperately anxious to get into a decent home.

I hope, when the opportunity presents itself, to present to the House a Bill which will confer on the tenants of private landlords the option to buy their homes. Knowing the interest of hon. Gentlemen opposite in home ownership, I look forward with relish to their jumping to my aid in an endeavour to increase home ownership, and to give all those small landlords who, for so long, have had to carry the terrible burden of keeping their houses in good repair, the opportunity to relinquish that burden and pass it on to their tenants.

I am sure that these tenants will be only too pleased to take advantage of the proposals in the Housing Bill to be debated next week. They will be able quickly to put these houses into a good state of repair, and to do all those things which private landlords have neglected to do for so many years. I hope that the hon. Member for Crosby will say whether his party's enthusiasm for the spread of home ownership will extend to supporting me when I put my proposals before the House to bring about that desirable end.

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Robert Howarth) in commending my colleagues on this side of the House to take the view that the Motion is no more than party political humbug, and that we should reject it, and reject it with a resounding majority.

7.29 p.m.

Mr. Walter Clegg (North Fylde)

I have had the pleasure and privilege of sitting with the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) on a town and country planning committee. His contribution today does not, therefore, surprise me, but I think that he is missing one point, and it is one which seems to have been missed by all hon. Gentlemen on the back benches opposite, namely, that the party opposite will not fulfil its promises. They will not achieve the targets which they forecast—

Mr. Wellbeloved

Only if your lot stay on the councils.

Mr. Clegg

This cannot be true, as the hon. Member knows.

The Minister was very cautious about giving figures for this year or 1970 but was quite certain about 1973. When a Minister who does not even know what will happen in 1969 claims to be able to forecast for 1973, this is typical of what the party opposite has done with its pledges, not only over housing but in many other matters.

One of the most interesting parts of the debate was the contribution of the right hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey). It was rather like Frankenstein coming back to have a look at his monster. He wanted to pat the monster on the back and kiss it better, whereas we want to cut its throat, for excellent reasons. Nothing has been said by hon. Members opposite to convince me that it should be retained. Some of the arguments reflect those in Standing Committee on the Land Commission Bill, of which I had the somewhat dubious privilege of being a member.

Today, I feel that rather nasty "I told you so" emotion which no one likes, but which cannot be avoided. We said that the Betterment Levy would raise the price of land, and it has. Today the Minister told us that this was not so and quoted figures, but they were only specific figures about price rises in the last two or three years which was for public purchases. He did not quote any figures for private purchases, which, so far as I know from asking the statistical service here, are almost impossible to get.

But I have some comfort for the Minister, because I found one indication of how much private house prices had risen during the first few years. Talking about housing associations, this quotation says: Unfortunately there are formidable difficulties in the way. Despite the option mortgage, interest rates are too high, land is difficult to find and almost prohibitively expensive in many areas. Since January. 1965, the price of land has risen by about 38 per cent. This is a very respectable source, because the quotation is from the Socialist Commentary of January, 1969. That shows what the party opposite's policies have led to.

We have been repeatedly told that there is no evidence that the Betterment Levy is raising prices, but, having practised as a solicitor, I have seen the levy added to prices, and builders and developers still buying. One example was reported to me by a colleague in the profession. He was rung up by a woman who said that she had a plot of land to sell with planning permission for houses and wanted £8,000 for it. He said, "What about the levy?" She said, "What levy?" He told her about the levy and she said, "Then I had better ask £16,000 for it." She did, and she got it. That is the way that the levy is raising prices. The builder and developer do not mind paying more for the land because they are not the ones who pay the levy. That is left to the man who buys the house. It is the home buyer who pays it. When we see all these millions going into the Treasury, we should remember that it is the small man, effectively, who is paying the money—

Mr. Niall MacDermot (Derby, North)

Is it not surprising that, in the hon. Member's example, the price was doubled, although the Betterment Levy is only 40 per cent.?

Mr. Clegg

I thought that that made the example even worse, because had the woman not been told of the Betterment Levy she would have charged £8,000.

But I have further evidence from the Financial Times of 27th May this year, under the heading "Land Commission—Little achieved so far." Under a subheading, "Much dearer", it says: Developers maintain, however, that because of the Betterment Levy the land which is now coming on to the market is that much dearer. In the first auctions after the passing of the Act, land was being quoted at 40 per cent. higher, the full cost of the levy, and in certain land-hungry parts of the country, such as the area around Nottingham, prices are still about 25 per cent. above the levels ruling before April, 1967. If the Minister wanted practical experience, he could ask my profession and the estate agents and valuers, who will tell him that people are adding on the price of the levy.

The serious difficulty is that, when we consider the price of land, we are given by hon. Members opposite the old justification for the Land Commission—profiteering. This is a dangerous red herring, because the Commission's greatest achievement is to justify the argument which we used in Committee—that it was not profiteering which was driving up the price of land but the shortage of land brought about by planning. This was, to a certain extent, recognised by the Government in the Town and Country Planning Bill, for which the hon. and learned Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot) had some responsibility.

Unless the House realises that it is land shortage, initiated by planning, which causes house prices to rise, we shall never solve the problem. Talk of profiteering clouds the issue. Planners know it, the Land Commission knows it and it is time that the House accepted that much bigger allocations of land for house building had to be liberated by the planners before the Land Commission could be even as effective as the party opposite regard it.

Examples have been given of hardship. The most disappointing feature of the Minister's speech was that he said nothing about helping the owner-occupier with a little bit of land attached to his house. This will disappoint many people not only because of the hardship but because it is the Commission's duty to examine every conveyance. It is the fact that all conveyances must be examined to see whether levy is payable, which clogs up the machine. I hate to suggest anything which would make this wretched thing more effective, but, administratively, this one improvement would. It happens with Capital Gains Tax; why not in this case?

One example from my constituency will show what is happening. A constituent bought a house in about 1936 with quite a bit of garden. Eventually, a road was driven through and he sold it. By then he was an old-age pensioner. He received £800 and had eventually to pay about £250 in levy. We have heard great things about how the community has a right to collect betterment. In this case the extra £240 would have made a significant difference to this old-age pensioner's life, rather than the money going to the Treasury. The Minister should introduce an exemption for people who suffer in this way.

In considering the prospects for home ownership in 1969, it is interesting to note that the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) has shown in recent statements that he is worried. He has been asking the Government to make reductions in interest rates. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to happen. Indeed, it is becoming clear that interest rates will be high in 1969. The December edition of The Building Societies Gazette contains an article by the economist Graham Hutton, who asks: Will 1969 prove the 10 per cent. year? That is a sickening thought. He advances valid arguments to show why interest rates might rise to that level.

Two facts must be borne in mind; first, that some local authorities are already lending at more than 8£ per cent. and, secondly, that on the market Associated Portland, a reputable company, is borrowing from the public at 9 per cent. There is also a big return on the gilt-edged market. There are constant rumours about Bank Rate going up and there is a rumour that the Government will find a means to encourage saving, perhaps by a contractual scheme.

All these factors may make mortgages more difficult to get, because the building societies are in competition with all other kinds of borrowing in an effort to secure more funds so that they may lend more out. The difficulties caused by the mortgage famine are grim. I can appreciate this only too well as a solicitor. Much hardship is caused when a whole range of transactions is held up because people find it impossible to obtain mortgages. This is particularly hard on those who are going in for home ownership for the first time.

Bearing these facts in mind, I cannot, from the home ownership point of view, see much daylight ahead in the coming year, particularly since everything will depend on the general economic situation. We cannot insulate building societies from the fact that local authorities are having to pay high rates of interest for the money that they are able to borrow from the Government. I have come to the conclusion that the only salvation for home owners, as for the nation as a whole, is for us to get rid of the present Government, who mismanage the economy, and elect a Government who know how to manage it.

7.43 p.m.

Dr. David Kerr (Wandsworth, Central)

The last words of the hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) represented about the most facile solution to a difficult problem that one could imagine. One might have the impression that throughout our history of dealing with housing problems there has been a ready-made solution, no matter the complexion of the Government, waiting to be plucked off the trees.

The Labour Government do not have anything of which to be particularly ashamed in their handling of this problem, and the whole essence of the arguments being adduced by hon. Gentlemen opposite is stupid. Apart from prisons, Governments build little else. One does not see even a Labour Prime Minister with a wheelbarrow between his arms or the Minister of Housing with a hod of bricks over his shoulder. Governments merely create the circumstances in which agencies—land developers, regional hospital boards and others—do the building for them.

It is fundamentally stupid to suggest that it is the Government's responsibility if the number of houses built is not sufficient. The Government can only create the circumstances in which others can build. We must, therefore, consider whether the efforts of the Labour Party have been directed towards building more houses or towards obstructing this course.

The gravamen of the charge levelled by hon. Gentlemen opposite is not that the nation is building too few houses but that it is providing them in the wrong sector. Do hon. Gentlemen opposite believe that we are building too many local authority houses?

Mr. Clegg indicated dissent.

Dr. Kerr

The hon. Gentleman is correct. We are not building enough. We must take that into account in considering the charges which hon. Gentlemen opposite are making against the Land Commission and the Government for failing to deliver the goods. I put it timidly—because there are not many hon. Members in their places to listen to me—that we do not have much opportunity to defeat the housing problem while we live in a capitalist society, since the whole essence of the housing situation in such a society is that it thrives on shortage.

Mr. Clegg rose

Dr. Kerr

I trust that the hon. Gentleman will allow me to develop my argument.

I am saying, in other words, that by maintaining a scarcity of houses one maintains house values. It is not an accident but an unhappy fact—perhaps this is where the Government have failed—that property share values on the market today are higher than they have ever been. I cannot see what hon. Gentlemen opposite are grumbling about. I intend to grumble, but not about that. The property companies are doing very well, thank you, and if the Land Commission is having such a slight effect on matters, then there are other means of dealing with them; but perhaps I had better not be too rash.

The charge being levelled by hon. Gentlemen opposite is that a combination of the Land Commission and some sort of incompetence on the part of the Government has somehow deprived the nation of housing. I do not know what sort of incompetence it was which deprived us of housing in years gone by. We have been under-housed for much longer than I have been alive; and to a certain extent, therefore, we have a share of the responsibility.

What have the Government attempted to do to ameliorate the position? Perhaps it is not appropriate for me to speak about the building of houses, not because there is anything about which we need hide our heads, but because it is not a subject about which I can profess to speak with direct authority or information. However, I have had a marginal interest in the Land Commission throughout its history.

It was not without a degree of disappointment that I heard my right hon. Friend record the achievements of the Commission. I understand that, so far, it has collected about £8 million in betterment levy. This sounds a lot, but it is a silly little amount which, in any event, goes to the Treasury and saves me perhaps .001 of a penny in Income Tax.

This should not be the fate of the levy. If the Land Commission is to function, I urge that we look at the possibility of amending its functions so that the levy is devoted properly to urban renewal and betterment and is not immediately handed over to the Treasury. Indeed, the levy is at present such a trivial sum that I cannot understand how on earth hon. Gentlemen opposite can suggest that the Commission's activities are having any real significance in the shortfall of the supply of houses. The efforts of hon. Gentlemen opposite represent the most monstrous piece of silly conjuring with statistics we have seen for a long time, and demonstrates much more the failure of the Conservatives to understand what is involved in housing and land costs than it does the failure of the Land Commission.

I believe that the Commission is a useful instrument and that it is capable of far more than it has yet achieved. I look forward to seeing it exercising such activity and doing such prodding of land owners that we will hear some real squeals from hon Gentlemen opposite. At present the amount of land which the Commission has managed to take into its ownership is pathetically trivial. More important, however, is the fact that after two years of existence there is now in the pipeline the growing possibility of greater land ownership; and the more that this is accelerated and the greater the control the Commission is able to exercise on the disposal and use of land, the more effective it will become in the terms in which it was originally established.

It is no use hon. Gentlemen opposite creating about the Land Commission and its failure. Any failure lies not in it having done too much on behalf of the nation to help cure its housing ills, but in it not having done enough. I plead with the Minister, as I have done before, to put a little steam under the Land Commission. He should allow it to retain the levy and to apply it to proper schemes of betterment and acquisition. Above all, he should ensure that the Commission accelerates its programme of acquisition.

It is quite clear that, apart from the betterment, apart from the levy and the programme of acquisition, the fact that the Land Commission exists has an effect on the programme of land acquisition by other people which is something we cannot measure in mathematical terms. If a landowner is disposing of land he does so in a different way when he knows that the Land Commission may be interested from when he disposes of it on the open market. He knows that the Land Commission may be round the corner, but he suspects that it is drowsily asleep. I ask my right hon. Friend to think of ways and means of stimulating the Land Commission to do much more.

We are living in one of the most densely populated countries in the world—not the most densely populated, but very nearly. Because of this it is inevitable that the cost of land per acre will go up and that it will go up fastest in areas where the population is rising most quickly either through population movement or increased birthrate. This is unfortunately true in areas of the great conurbations. If we are to make any success of the housing programme in terms of numbers of houses, the need for more new towns becomes apparent. Only by applying ourselves much more assiduously to an ambitious programme of new town development can we go ahead to rectify the growing pressure for land in urban areas.

Reference has been made to the activities of the building societies. I read with great interest the statistics they send to us. It is a little disappointing on this occasion to find that there has been a fall in their assets. Nevertheless, last year the societies recorded an increase in the number of loans they made and the number of houses bought. That is a very praiseworthy record. [Interruption.] I am quoting from the most recent news sheet.

Mr. Rossi

The hon. Member is incorrect. More money was loaned, but there were 100,000 fewer loans made. In other words, more money was lent to a smaller number of people.

Dr. Kerr

I do not hold the document in my hand and I bow to the hon. Member's knowledge. My reading, and I looked at it carefully, but perhaps I made a mistake, was that the number of loans had increased over the previous year. Even if the hon. Member is right, the record of the Labour Government in relation to the building societies has been a remarkable one. It has made a great contribution to the growth of home ownership, which is something we all welcome very much.

I am sorry that I was not in the Chamber when my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) spoke. I understand that he referred to the mortgage option scheme, the once-only option at the request of a building society. I wish to reinforce what he said. It is no use right hon. Gentleman opposite suggesting schemes which would throw the mortgage scheme into chaos. A change of option would not only be highly mischievous for the administration of the scheme, but from the building society point of view it would subject the whole scheme almost to dissolution.

When we look at the total number of houses built we find there is still the large sector built for private ownership. As a house owner myself this seems the only sensible way of going ahead, but there are still many people who cannot deal with the problem of acquiring a house. They cannot do so for a number of factors. As a doctor I know that there are many people who cannot conceive that they are able to buy a house. They cannot deal with the problem for temperamental reasons. They cannot face what it means in payment of mortgage and upkeep of the fabric, for they cannot accustom themselves to something so alien to the climate in which they have grown up.

This is particularly true of those in lower income groups. They cannot surmount the first vital hurdle of the deposit. Although the idea of house ownership looks attractive, it becomes a will-o'-the-wisp. A 100 per cent. mortgage is based on valuation, and often in areas of high housing density where low income groups tend to assemble the valuation does not come up to the price demanded and agreed. It is housing shortage, rising land costs due to rising pressure for land and, above all, the rising cost of money that is the trouble. I do not want to make a speech which would be more appropriate to a debate on the Finance Bill, but we are living through a period not only of rising cost of land but a continued rise in the cost of money, for while land is scarce so is money.

All over the world there is an insatiable demand for capital for investment in a variety of things. The fact that we generate a lot of capital ourselves gives us some help, but that does not solve the problem. The rising cost of money faces any Government with a terrible dilemma. They can either force people to pay the market price for money which is an argument much canvassed by hon. Members opposite or they can subsidise the cost of money by lower interest rates—in effect by paying from the Exchequer the cost of interest to those fortunate enough to own money and land. It is the cost of acquiring money which is causing this situation.

There are a number of ways of dealing with this. My right hon. Friend might think about nationalisation of large banking and insurance institutions. It might be better if as Socialists we had a tighter rein on our interest rates. My right hon. Friend may be sure of my support when he produces a Bill in this context, but there are other things which we might look at even now, such as the acquisition of rented property. We have heard an anguished cry from property owners in a bright little pamphlet referring to the contribution which property owners might make towards solving the housing shortage. The Milner Holland Report seems to have been quickly forgotten. This showed clearly that those with property for rent are absolutely incapable of solving anything.

I am not totally without a good word for land lords, because I have had to learn to swallow some of the harsh things I have said about them in favour of some of the good landlords. In a harsh market they are often generous and helpful, but usually we cannot expect the landlord to do otherwise than maximise his profits. To do that today is to ensure that he cannot provide houses at a reasonable rent for people to occupy in ways socially acceptable in a world which has advanced very considerably from the conditions of the 1930s.

These are all relevant facts. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to tell us, first, the way in which he will persuade the Land Commission to get up steam; secondly, that he will see that it retains the levy and uses it appropriately, and, thirdly, that he will be able to help us solve the problem of the acquisition of privately-rented property, so that we shall have a much larger housing pool.

I want to interpose a word about our housing problem, much of which is dependent upon the immobility of home occupiers. There are several things that my right hon. Friend might think about. One of the most important is a national housing list, with national standards instead of the widely varying local authority standards, a different points system from that which prevails and which is responsible for the difficulties of moving from one town to another, especially in respect 3f municipal housing.

The solving of all these problems would considerably ameliorate our difficult housing position, since much of our existing housing is left empty. We have more dwellings than we have families, yet we are experiencing a nerve-wracking housing shortage in many areas. The immobility of home occupiers is one of the most important factors in our housing shortage, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to tell us what he is doing to improve the situation.

There remains the awful problem of housing replacement and renewal. I am well aware that the difficulties to which I have already referred—the scarcity of land and the cost of money—are of cardinal importance in this respect. Nonetheless, they can be tackled. But they cannot be tackled effectively and permanently in a capitalist system of housing. That is why I hope that my right hon. Friend is applying all his best Socialist thoughts—which he used to promulgate with such vigour and effectiveness—to finding a Socialist solution of our housing problem rather than a patched-up capitalist one.

8.12 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Rossi (Hornsey)

It is, perhaps, one of the occupational hazards of the House that when one is called to speak at dinner time one has not the advantage of addressing Ministers. I am especially aware of that hazard since most of my remarks are in answer to comments that he made.

Nevertheless, I shall continue with what I had it in mind to say. The Minister has earned for himself the much-envied accolade of the building industry—that of a master maker of bricks out of straw. What a monstrous edifice of a speech he made out of one little straw—a straw which he clutched to himself and then raised and brandished round the House.

So fascinated was the right hon. Gentleman that he put it down and circled round it in his speech, returning to it time and time again. This solitary straw, around which he constructed his whole speech, was the figure of 413,715 houses completed during 1968. He chided us with our timing of the debate, but I am sure that he had a sense of relief that we timed it after he was able to announce this figure.

We must give honour where honour is due. Anyone who is interested in the housing problem would welcome a record in house building because it means that more people are housed. But this welcome must be qualified, because it has been attained four years too late. It should have been attained in 1965, and would have been attained in that year were it not for the economic crisis in the winter of 1964 into which the new Administration plunged this country, causing such chaos and confusion in the building industry.

It is said that the Government have built more houses than ever before for private ownership, but I want the House to examine the figures of houses built in the private sector. In 1964, the number of houses completed was 218,094. In 1965, the number fell by 4,295, despite the starts left, of more than 400,000. In 1966, the number was 12,722 fewer than in 1964, and in 1967 it was 17,656 fewer than in 1964.

We had a progressive decline during the first three years of this Administration. The Minister did not tell the House about that. The tendency has been reversed in 1968 so that instead of a minus quantity 2,899 more houses were built in the private sector than in 1964 Even so, taking the four years overall there is still a minus figure of 21,777 houses which we say could and should have been built—and would have been built if the impetus that this Government took over in 1964 had been maintained.

The figure which we are given for 1968, which I welcome, is nevertheless a freakish figure. Historically, it will be shown to be a freakish figure, because we know already that the number of starts for 1968 were 33,500 fewer than in 1967, and it is the starts in 1967 which are completed in 1968 and the starts in 1968 which will be completed in 1969. Those starts were 33,500 fewer than in the preceding year.

Therefore, it does not require much to see that our housing completions in 1969 are bound to be much below the number of completions in 1968, and could well fall below the 400,000 target that this Administration have set themselves for so long. The 1968 figure is in itself a distortion. To see what has been achieved we must examine the graph for the whole period and not put out one straw—the straw that the Minister clutched so gratefully.

In developing his speech, the right hon. Gentleman compared the achievements of the two parties. He did so by lumping together the four years before 1964 and comparing them with the four subsequent years. What he did not tell the House was that the first four years included the winter of 1963, which was the bitterest in recorded memory—when the whole country was gripped in an icy grasp for between six and eight weeks and virtually every activity came to a complete standstill. The housing figures were down in that year as a consequence.

But just as that figure was freakish, inasmuch as it fell below the Conservative programme, its equivalent is now to be found in the freak figure of 1968, which boosts artificially the record of this Government. It is not right to take just an isolated year here or there to justify a particular assertion. One must take the whole range of years to see how progress has gone. I take the 13 years of Conservative rule, going back to 1951, when they inherited a building programme of about 190,000 houses a year. Progressively, that 190,000 was built up to beyond the 400,000 figure by 1964, the number of starts which we left in the hands of the party opposite. The graph of those years shows that progress was constant save for the one year 1963 when there were physical hazards which could not be overcome by the building industry.

That is the way to draw a true comparison between the achievements of one party and the other. We had a progression from 1951, the break-through past the 200,000 target which the late Earl Attlee said was the best this country could do, the break-through past the 300,000 target, and then the breakthrough beyond 400,000. That was the achievement of those so-called wasted years. The figures I have given for the private sector in the subsequent four years 1964–67 show that there was a consistent slipping back from the earlier progression under our Government.

However, having said that in answer to what the Minister for Planning and Land told us, I say at once that I am not a believer in these targets. I do not believe that the Government should set themselves a target of 200,000, 300,000, 400,000, or even 500,000. Like the Minister of Housing and Local Government, I am not a "targeteer". There is nothing particularly edifying in the two parties joining in a sort of double-act to the refrain, "Anything you can do I can do better". It does not impress the public, or make them feel that we shall build more houses, if we spend our time comparing figures and bandying them about the Chamber.

I believe that housing targets are dangerous. We know from authoritative and official statements that, by the mid-1970s, provided that we maintain roughly the programme of 400,000 a year—a few more or less does not matter much—we shall have achieved a favourable balance in the overall housing provision. Therefore, we need not set ourselves bigger and better targets, singing round them, "Ring-a-ring o' roses. What you can do we can do better".

The danger is that, although by the mid-1970s the overall housing problem of this country will have been solved in the sense that there will, by a certain percentage, be more houses than households requiring them, there will still exist centres of dire pressure where bad housing circumstances remain. I refer to the big cities, London, Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow. That is where our housing problem is and where it will persist for many years.

The danger of a national housing target is that we, or whatever Administration it may be, will tend to achieve that target just to show that we have kept our word, wherever the houses are built, whereas the true concentration and emphasis should be on the big cities. In my view, national housing targets will tend to distract attention from where the problem really lies. For my part, I would have them thrown overboard immediately. Let us not waste any more time on them.

The other disadvantage of the housing target is this. New construction is not necessarily the answer in the cities where the real housing problem persists. We still have vast stocks of sound houses in those centres which, after renovation and modernisation, can make a significant contribution to meeting housing needs. Spending money on that work will not take one past one's housing target, but that is where the money must be spent. This is another reason why I feel that both sides of the House ought to give up the double-act on housing targets which we have witnessed in the post-war years. The people would benefit. They would appreciate it even in their vote when they realised that we were tackling the problem seriously in their interests and not merely trying to score party political points.

I commend those thoughts to the Minister. They are my thoughts. They are the thoughts which I shall try to impress upon my colleagues when we come to power. I hope that they will be heeded and, perhaps, find their way into legislation. Meanwhile, because I feel strongly the need to solve our housing problem as soon as possible, I offer them to the present Minister free, gratis and for nothing. I hope that he will implement them, because I believe that that is where the solution lies.

I am glad that the Minister for Planning and Land has returned so that I may now deal with one or two other matters in his speech, becoming party political now, whereas for a moment or two I tried to be non-party political. The right hon. Gentleman told us that his Government have done everything they can to encourage home owners, and he gave us as an example the mortgage option scheme. In fact, that scheme has been a catastrophic flop. Nine per cent. is nothing. Can he say how many of the 9 per cent. are people who wish that they had never gone into the scheme and would now like to pull out, particularly if the allowances for children which they were given in the last Budget have just taken them over the top from a tax point of view? Some of these people have made a poor deal. The Minister ought to help them out of it, amending the scheme so that they can pull out.

I do not for a moment accept that the mortgage option scheme has contributed anything significant to home ownership. Still less has the mortgage guarantee scheme of 100 per cent. contributed anything. Four per cent. is nothing there, either. It is very little use and does not really help. Something far more imaginative must come from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government if real help is to be given to that group of the population so that they may acquire houses of their own.

As the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Kerr) did, the right hon. Gentleman made great play of the additional money lent by the building societies last year, although they had to run down their liquidity ratio. The implication was that we should applaud the Government's encouragement of the building societies to do so, which meant that £100,000 more was lent in 1968 over and above the loans in 1967, showing how keen the Government are on home ownership.

What we were not told, as I pointed out in my intervention to the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central, was that that money represents a less amount of loans. What has happened is that more money has been loaned to fewer people. I must inform the House that during my intervention I quoted the wrong figure. I said that there were 100,000 fewer loans. I meant to say that £100,000 more was loaned but that 6,000 fewer people received the money. It was the figure of 100,000 that caught my eye and I apologise to the House if I quoted a wrong figure.

The argument remains, however, that the fact that £100,000 more was loaned and 6,000 fewer people received mortgages means that the cost of housing is escalating, because much more is being loaned per capita on mortgage loans to acquire fewer houses. This is an indirect proof that the cost of housing is going up fairly rapidly. The figures certainly show that.

Interest charges are, of course, the big problem in home ownership. This is where the present Administration have grievously misled the country. They may well say that they have an alibi and that interest rates tie their hands. We see the little gnomes of Zurich lurking among the benches, and they are pushed forward to show why the Government cannot reduce interest rates.

When the Labour Government made their promise to reduce mortgage interest rates after sitting for 13 years in the wilderness, having nothing else to do but to study these problems, did they not know what the financial problems were? Either they were completely incompetent and did not know, and, therefore, have no business to be running the country, or they knew and grossly deceived the people by promising to do things that they could not possibly do. On either count, they stand absolutely condemned.

Mr. W. S. Hilton (Bethnal Green)

I was interested in the hon. Member's progression argument about housing. There is something in that. If we were to apply that argument to the case that the hon. Member is making, would he not agree that when the Conservatives came to power housing interest rates were 7 per cent. but went up to 7 per cent. during their term of office and that the acceleration in interest rates during their time was far worse than under the present Administration?

Mr. Rossi

I agree that the mortgage interest rate went up to 7 per cent., but for a short time only and never as long as it has been maintained at that level by the present Administration. There is no question of that.

A lot of conflicting evidence has been given to the House today about prices. There has been a denial that prices of houses have increased during the past four years, yet the Minister informed the House in his speech that house prices had gone up by about 30 per cent. during the last four years. Some of his hon. Friends behind him, apparently, have other information and they either disagree or try to improve the Minister's case.

Nevertheless, on the Minister's own admission, it is clear that the cost of housing has gone up by approximately 30 per cent. over the past four years under the present Administration. The explanation which we were given for this was improved standards of new houses. There was, however, what one might call some small print, because the Minister said that the improved standards contributed something towards the cost. Hon. Members should note and underline the small print, because if the implication is that this is responsible for the 30 per cent. increase, the Minister is kidding nobody.

People outside this House are not fools, whatever hon. Members opposite may think of other people within the House. They know that things like the increased tax on petrol, import duties on timber which comes into this country, Selective Employment Tax and things of that kind contribute significantly to the increased cost of housing. These items are the direct action of the Government, who pledged themselves, and came into power on the promise, to reduce the cost of housing and the cost of land.

That is where hon. Members opposite stand condemned. All the bravado that they may muster, all the waving of one magical figure of 413,000 houses for 1968, will never let them off that hook. And so they turn to the Land Commission and they clutch again at the Commission as a panacea and cure for all their woes and evils. But what a ghastly and dismal flop the Commission has been. Not one of its objectives has been obtained. It has not reduced the price of housing. It has not significantly taken the profit away from the speculators, because the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central spoke about a trivial £8 million. To him, £8 million seems significant, particulary when it costs us £2 million a year to collect. Is that what the Commission was set up to achieve?

I should like to give an example concerning the cost of housing. I have a letter from a firm of agents who recite the experience of some developers, who, two years ago, acquired a site for about 36 units. Having acquired the site, they experienced difficulty with the local authority in getting planning consent. There were problems about siting and materials to be used for filling in the land. That discussion, as these discussions often do with local authorities, took 18 months to conclude. They therefore had the land for 18 months after purchase awaiting planning permission.

They did not sit idle, however. They got on with their programme and worked out their costing. They organised their labour. Their costs were based on the cost of land, site works, building costs and estimated levy. They arrived at a figure for the price at which they would sell each of the 36 houses to be built. They started putting them on the market and four or five people agreed to pay the price which they were quoting.

Then, along came the district valuer. Basing his calculations on a recent auction of building land, he calculated a levy which would have increased the price of each of the houses by between £200 and £300. The developers are, therefore, placed in a dilemma. They can either take a loss on the buildings and keep their word, although those concerned have not signed contracts as yet, or they can add £200 or £300 to the price of each house. Neither way is satisfactory from the point of view of a Government seeking to encourage home ownership. Either the Government are going to discourage development going ahead with schemes when they are faced with such a situation, or they are going to make sure that the cost of the levy will be passed on to the consumer every time on the cost of the house, which is what we predicted when the Betterment Levy was brought in. This is inescapable.

Anyone practically concerned with development—whether lawyer, valuer, estate agent, or developer—without exception will tell the Minister that great confusion and uncertainty has been caused by this Measure the only effect of which can be to delay and retard development and send up costs. The Land Commission has failed in its primary function—a function which we heard so much about during the General Election.

There is another function which it has failed abysmally to carry out, though again through no fault of its own but because of circumstances. One of the reasons for setting up the Commission was to make land available for development. There was talk of "hoarding" by speculators, building up private banks of land to release on the market when they could make a good killing. The Commission, we were told, would take it away from them and make it available for the poor people who wanted housing.

According to the Labour Party, sitting in the wilderness for 13 years studying these problems, land hoarding was the real basis of the housing problem. But let us turn to the Annual Report of the Land Commission. On page 6, it says: In South East England … this survey revealed that in many areas available land was limited to only a few years' supply … most of this land cannot be made available for early development. Much of it consists of small parcels, such as back gardens of occupied houses, that are not likely to come on to the market in the near future without resort to compulsory purchase, which would generally be difficult to justify. Some is not suitable for development at all because of physical difficulties. Of the rest of the land shown as available, a high proportion is already in the hands of builders, so that there is very little that can be acquired and developed now by those other builders who need land urgently. Why, therefore, do we need the Land Commission? As my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) said, let us abolish it at the earliest possible moment.

8.31 p.m.

Mr. Niall MacDermot (Derby, North)

I say, with great respect to the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi), that I hardly feel that the length of his speech was justified by its constructive content. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson), my successor at the Ministry, on his appointment, and also on his style and title as Minister for Planning and Land. I never quite understand why it is that more Ministers of State are not given the title which explains to the public what their functions are. I wasted much time as Minister of State explaining to people that I did not deal with either housing or local government, but with planning and land. My right hon. Friend can save a lot of breath in comparison.

The hon. Member for Hornsey suggested that my right hon. Friend, in his devastating attack on the Motion, had clutched at a single straw—this being the simple fact that, under the present Government's administration, more houses were built last year than ever before. That is a fairly substantial straw, and it has sufficed as a sufficient battering ram to crush the Opposition Motion.

The subject I want to deal with in particular was also touched on by the hon. Member for Hornsey and by the hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg). This is the question of why there is a shortage of land in the pressure areas. They both stressed that it is not due to "hoarding" as the hon. Member for Hornsey put it, or to "profiteering", as the hon. Member for North Fylde called it. I agree with the general proposition that there is not hoarding on a large scale. But there are cases of it, and one of the useful functions of the Land Commission can be to help bring forward land which is being hoarded.

In a debate we had last summer I gave some instances and examples of how the Land Commission was doing that. This is not the major problem. If we are to be honest—and I will try to respond to the spirit of the brief interlude in the speech of the hon. Member for Hornsey when he tried to be non-partisan and look at the real problem—it is that land prices ever since the war have gone up pretty evenly by about 7 per cent. a year under all Administrations and under all twists and changes of circumstances.

It is the pressure of demand that is causing those prices to rise and the restriction of supply by planning. I entirely accept what the hon. Member for North Fylde said, that it is basically a shortage in planning terms of land which is available for development in the places where people want to develop which is causing the increase in land prices. What do the Opposition propose to do about it? This is what we never hear. They keep repeating that it is not hoarding, it is a shortage in planning terms that does it. They never suggest any way in which we should get more land released in those areas of shortage, determine what those areas are, and persuade planning authorities to release more land.

The reason is very simple. It is that most hon. Members opposite sit for constituencies which are in those very areas where the demand exists, and where the planning authorities are not bringing forward the land. Therefore it never lies in the mouths of hon. Members opposite to suggest that it is ever right to bring any pressure to bear on these reluctant planning authorities to bring forward more land. This problem is concentrated round the great conurbations. This is where the pressure is and will continue to be. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Kerr), who said that we should endeavour as far as we can to direct this pressure for housing towards new towns.

Let us face it, this is a long, slow and difficult process. Even with the new drive which we have given to new and expanded towns, there will be over the next decade a very great pressure for land round the big conurbations. What is the solution? We are all waiting for Maud. We will see what recommendations come out for the reform of the structure of local government. It may be that if following that, we find our local government system reorganised, as most people generally seem to accept it should be, on the basis of city regions, we shall get nearer to a solution of the problem, in that we shall then have planing authorities who will be responsible both for the areas from which the pressure comes and the areas into which it is being exerted.

It may be that we shall get less delay in the release of land in the areas where land is required. This can only apply in those city regions which are covered by a single authority. I do not know what other hon. Members think, but I find it very difficult—

Mr. Oscar Murton (Poole) rose

Mr. MacDermot

I am sorry I cannot give way. I do not want to be long and I have something to say. I think it extremely unlikely that out of any reorganisation of local government we will see resulting any kind of planning authority which at one sweep will cover all conurbations and all the surrounding countryside land related to and dependent on that conurbation.

This struggle, this conflict between the conurbations and the rural areas is, therefore, bound to continue. I thought that the most helpful, positive and most important statement in this debate was that made by my right hon. Friend when he was describing a meeting which he had in his Ministry this afternoon. He spoke of what I know to be a crucial meeting with the representatives of the Home County authorities round London in order to discuss the joint examinations and surveys which have been going on for over a year to assess the real demand and the immediate and urgent need for additional land to be released for planning purposes. I hope very much that my right hon. Friend will keep up the pressure on this subject and will set a definite target date by which agreement must be reached and proposals come forward for the release of further land.

If that is achieved, make no mistake, a great contribution will have been made by the Land Commission, because it is the Commission which has been conducting the sirveys and discussions and negotiations with the planning authorities and which, if the planning authorities wish to play it that way, can be a challenge to the planning authorities. It has the power, when it can establish the need, to apply for planning permission and compulsory purchase in a doublebarrelled application at the same time. The Commission has made it plain that it does not want to play it that way. It wants, not to blackmail and threaten the planning authorities, but to cooperate with them.

However, two way co-operation is required and the planning authorities must take a positive and constructive attitude to releasing land when the need and demand have been established. The authorities will find great advantage in co-operating with the Land Commission which, by acquiring the land in bulk, can release it in a phased programme which will fit in with the local authority's own ideas and plans for development. This is why, with great patience, the Commission has been preaching the doctrine of co-operation. It genuinely means it. I hope that it will not be taken as a sign of weakness and that the planning authorities will co-operate with it. If they do not, it is inevitable that there will be a clash between the Commission and the planning authorities, with the Commission fighting them to release more land. This will not be the best solution for anyone, but it will result if there is not co-operation from the planning authorities. I am well aware of their difficulties, and so is the Commission.

For these reasons, I very much welcome what I regard as an extremely important statement by the Minister this afternoon.

8.43 p.m.

Mr. James Allason (Hemel Hempstead)

I was struck with the Minister's pride in the housing figures. He nearly convinced me that he had them just about right. He said that it was right to abandon the 500,000 target. The fact that the present housing figure was just over 400,000 was immensely satisfactory to him. I began to wonder why the Labour Party got lumbered with the figure of 500,000 houses when, according to what the Minister said, we did not need them.

I do not agree with the Minister one little bit. The figure of 500,000 houses a year is necessary for at any rate a certain time, until there is a housing surplus. Then will be the time to start reducing the housing target. We shall then go over to greater housing renewals. But for the Minister to pretend that he has the housing target right is making a virtue out of a necessity. I was sorry that he seemed to support what the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) said, that Tory councils were deliberately refusing to build houses and that this was the reason for the considerable shortfall last year in the private sector. If this is the case, I am very surprised. If it is not the case—

Mr. K. Robinson

Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman. What my hon. Friend said was not relative to the past, but to the future. He said, and I agreed with him, that what could put our predictions wrong would be if Conservative local authorities refused to go on building houses to rent.

Mr. Allason

That is a purely hypothetical question, to which one could perfectly easily give the answer, "Yes". The right hon. Gentleman is in a responsible position and has knowledge of what goes on in his Ministry, and should not hint that this sort of thing is happening or is likely to happen.

I would like to know how it is that the Conservative-controlled Urban District Council of Berkhamsted, which is seeking to build houses, is being refused permission to do so by the Ministry. The council sought to bring a deputation to see the Minister, who refused to see the deputation. This does not sound like Tory councils refusing to build houses. The fact is that Tory councils are being refused permission to build council houses, which is a very different state of affairs.

The Minister said that the Government had the policy of 50 per cent. ownership for new towns, and that this was the answer to everything. That has been the policy since 1966, when it was announced in the House, but, as with some other matters in the new towns, the news has not filtered through to the sharp end. The Minister must know well the latest Report of the New Towns Commission, but if he will look at it again he will see that the performance of the Commission in the sale of houses to tenants is absolutely lamentable, and he will also see why. Although the policy was announced in 1966, nothing is happening. Simply to have a policy is useless; the policy must be put into effect, and this policy is not being put into effect.

During the long passage of the Land Commission Act through the House, we constantly warned the Government that they were setting up an organisation based on a law which was incomprehensible, unfair and unworkable. I wish to give the House one or two examples which have occurred in my constituency to supplement others which have been mentioned from these benches today.

My first example is similar to that mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker). It concerns a widow who wishes to build on land which belonged to her husband. Section 61 of the Act grants a concession for land in private ownership on which a dwelling may be built for one member of the family provided that the land is in the possession of the owner before 23rd September, 1965. In this case, the owner died and the widow now wishes to build, but permission has been refused, although for a different reason from the one given by my hon. Friend.

I have here a letter from the Minister in which he says: The purpose of this Section of the Act, as you will recall, is to allow the person who may have intended to build a dwelling house, for himself or certain members of his family, on land which he owned before 23rd September, 1965, to do so without incurring a liability for levy … It follows that the exemption is personal to the owner of the land, who must satisfy the strict condition that he held an interest in that land before 23rd September, 1965 … and he adds that this provision excludes my constituent. That is a different, but equally negative answer. It seems to be an utterly heartless one.

The next concession which is available comes in Section 62, where there is a concession for a builder or developer who owns land before 23rd September, 1965.

In this case, there were two builders who owned parcels of land. For the purposes of development, it was found inconvenient for A to develop the whole of his land, and he needed to use a little of B's land. The same applied to B. As a result, A and B agreed to swap a small portion of land to make their developments more simple. They were both entitled to the concession, having owned their respective parcels of land before 1965. However, that did not apply to the land that they swapped, which ceased to be in their possession before 1965. The levy is to be charged on that land.

That seems a reasonable case where the Minister might be generous. However, he writes: The reasons which prompted the exchange of land are understandable, but the situation is that while the developer had an interest in some of the land immediately before 23rd September 1965, his interest in the other part of the land only derived from the exchange after that date. The result is, unfortunately, the same as if the second piece of land has been acquired by an additional purchase. The exemption provisions of Section 62 contain conditions which must be strictly applied, and the Commission have no discretion to grant concessions. Once again, we must stick to the strict letter of the law. In my opinion, the law is stupid.

I turn to another case, arising once again in my constituency. It has occurred twice, in fact. It concerns a house with a large garden, and they were sold separately. In such a situation, if the garden is sold first and then the house, the garden pays levy, but, when calculating the levy, according to Case A in paragraphs 4 and 5 of Schedule 4, Part I, one is entitled to calculate the depreciation of the value of the house as a result of the garden being taken away from it. In other words, there is a reduction in the levy payable on the garden. When, subsequently, the house comes to be sold, the levy is payable on the price raised on the house.

Two of my constituents did not go about it in the right way, unfortunately. They sold their houses first, and then their gardens. In such a case, it works in another way. When calculating the value of the house, one is entitled to deduct from it the loss of value of the garden. This value must be infinitesimal, so little is the reduction made on the levy when paid up on the house. When, subsequently, the garden is sold, the full levy is payable on the garden.

The House will see that in this case it depends when the two sales are made, whether the sale of the house is first and then the garden or the garden first and then the house. What would happen if both were sold at the same time would produce an entirely different situation. By selling at different times the seller must remember that the operative date that the Land Commission takes is the date of the conveyance or transfer, not the date of contract. In settling the contract the seller wants to know how much levy is payable to decide whether it is worth selling the house or garden, but he has to sign the contract not knowing what the date of completion will be and, therefore, whether he will pay a greater or lesser sum in levy. Here again, we have a bit of a nonsense.

The Minister cannot complain that these cases have not been brought to his attention. They have. In each case I have read from a letter from him, but in this case it is from his predecessor: Where land is sold in circumstances which bring it within Case A, paragraphs 4 and 5 of Schedule 4 to the Act provide that an allowance shall be included in base value in respect of the depreciation caused to other land which, immediately before that sale, was held with the land now sold. A good example for illustrating this allowance is that given by your constituents, of a house with a large garden which is divided into building plots. If the building plots are sold first the allowance will be the amount by which the house has depreciated in value as a result of the sale of a part of the garden. If the house is sold first the reverse situation applies. You will appreciate that the calculation of the depreciation is a matter of valuation and that I cannot say which would be the most advantageous course to follow in a particular case. However, I would expect that the depreciation to the house as a result of the severance of part of the garden would normally be greater than the depreciation to the garden as a result of the sale of the house. I cannot agree that the Act is anomalous if a person receives a greater allowance by arranging his affairs one way as opposed to another. This shows that the Land Commission Act gives rise to a whole lot of thoroughly stupid decisions and puzzlement on the part of those who have to try to live with it. The three examples that I have given have been considered by the Government. They are apparently perfectly happy and are prepared to live with stupidities such as that. I have asked the Government to amend the law. They do not think that it is necessary. In consequence, I can only welcome my hon. Friend's pledge that we shall abolish the Land Commission as soon as possible.

8.59 p.m.

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)

I hope that the House will excuse me if I do not follow the argument of the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason), who has led us to the bottom of his garden. I will deal with a few points which cause me concern. Before doing so, perhaps the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) will search through his Press cuttings to find some tear-jerking stories. He may remember that only four years ago one did not have to search through a pile of Press cuttings or obtain the services of the Conservative Party Central Office to get a few tear-jerking cases of widows, and so forth. Almost every day of the week in London there were tear-jerking cases of people being turned out on the streets because they had no protection.

When the hon. Gentleman accuses the Government of creating hardship, he might care to recall the kind of things that happened in London before the passing of our rent legislation. If he accuses the Government of preventing home ownership, he might care to come to my constituency—which is typical of many—which has a number of leasehold houses, and where people whose leases would have fallen in in 1965, or had fallen in then, and who would have been not house owners, but tenants, are now houseowners because of the Government's action in passing the Leasehold Reform Act and making some of its provisions retrospective.

It is curious that in my constituency for some time it was the G.L.C. which resisted people buying their own freeholds. The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) was one of the people who, if they had their way, would have prevented thousands of people from owning their homes and made them go back to the status of tenants. The hon. Gentleman would also have made them go back to the status of being decontrolled tenants. It is, therefore, rank and utter hyprocrisy to accuse the Government of deterring the spread of home ownership. That is not the history and the fact of the Government's policy.

I agree with the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) that housing figures for the country as a whole can be deceptive. If one is seeking a true assessment of whether a housing situation is getting better or worse, one must factorise it, look at a particular region, a particular city, or even a particular borough. The housing situation in one London borough can be reasonably good because most people are owner-occupiers and in a fairly high income bracket. In another part of London, perhaps almost a neighbouring borough, the situation can be very much worse. The Government's record is nothing to be ashamed of. The figures achieved are creditable. One has to look at a local neighbourhood and break down the figure.

I, too, have had problems with constituents who have bought pieces of land comparatively cheaply from a relative, have begun to develop the land, and have then found that the levy is payable. It is understandable that they feel aggrieved by the operation of the Act. What offends them is not the notion of paying the levy because there has been a rise in value, but that they have to pay it before they have realised that value. A person who has realised the development value of the land, has built on it, and then sells the land at a profit, feels no sense of injustice at paying the levy. But a person who gets some land cheaply from a relative and then develops it and finds that he has to pay the levy while he is still in the house, while his building costs and living costs are increased, feels a sense of injustice.

One practical way out of this may be to make greater use of Section 18 of the Act, which gives the Commission the power to grant concessional freeholds. Perhaps my hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong, but I cannot recall any case in which the Commission has exercised its power to grant concessionary freeholds. It may be a way out of the difficulty for the owner-occupier who has bought land cheaply, but has not realised its value.

It is a power which should be used more extensively by the Land Commission to allow land to pass to housing associations at below the market value of the land, because in the conurbations co-ownership and cost-rent housing associations are finding it difficult to compete with the private developer. They cater for a class of tenant who is not catered for by the local authority which provides cheaper accommodation, but who cannot afford to buy a house, and it would be of considerable help to housing associations if the Commission were to make use of its power under Section 18 to grant concessionary freeholds.

I think that the Government must pay some attention to what will be a permanent problem, in view of a shortage of building society funds. It is not simply that rates of interest have been going up all over the world. One buys I.C.I, stock and unit trusts, about which the hon. Member for Worcester knows something, and was laughing a moment ago, and gets a 2 per cent. return. What people are looking for is the capital appreciation. It is time that the Government considered allowing some capital incentive to savers in building societies as well as the very high rates of interest which they receive at present.

9.5 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

The Motion is expressed in terms critical of Government policy towards home ownership, and in that form it expresses public condemnation, as evidenced by opinion polls, of the Government's policy to those who are home owners, those who want to be home owners, those who build the homes for them and those who provide the money for them. The Motion does not try to spell out any alternative policy, but, because the country is obviously convinced that the next Government will be a Conservative Government, it is right that the alternative policy should be known and that in presenting the Motion we should be not only critical and condemnatory but also constructive. I should therefore like, before joining other right hon. and hon. Members in indicting the Government for their policy towards home owners, to state briefly the Conservative policy.

In a phrase, it is to take measures which will be an encouragement and an incentive-to home ownership. That spur would be achieved in four specific ways. The first is by ensuring that there is a steady increase in the number of houses built for owner occupation. We did it before: we can do it again. The number of houses built annually for sale was 10 times greater at the end of the 13 years of Conservative Government than when we came into office—22,000 in 1951 and nearly 220,000 in 1964. In the first four years of this Government, the rate of building of houses for sale went down each year. It rose in the fifth year, but not enough to make up for the previous losses.

Second, we would encourage home ownership by providing a general and genuine 100 per cent. mortgage scheme and by support for mortgages on older houses. Again, we did it before successfully and we can do it again. As those who are in practice in the transfer of property will know, the inability to obtain satisfactory mortgages for the purchase of older houses is the weak link in the chain of sales and purchases. This frequently breaks the chain which leads to the purchase of the newly built house.

Third, we would reform the existing mortgage option scheme so that the non-taxpayer or low taxpayer gets as much benefit from buying his house on mortgage as the standard taxpayer gets. One of my hon. Friends said that the present option scheme is a catastrophic flop, and so it is. My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) gave the pledge that we would reform it.

I assure the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) that we will work out the new scheme with the building societies and that it is quite possible, and not impossible, as the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Kerr) said. The extraordinary thing which has emerged from the present scheme is that all it has done is partially to cushion the borrower against Government policies which have increased interest rates. The 2 per cent. reduction which the mortgage option scheme gives the borrower has already gone by reason of the increase in mortgage rates. That has occured since the scheme was introduced, and the reduction has therefore not been a concession to the low taxpayer but only a slight cushion against Government policies.

Mr. Wellbeloved

The hon. Gentleman is talking of future election promises. Would he be prepared to give a promise on behalf of the Conservative Party that hon. Gentleman opposite would support the right of private tenants to exercise an option to purchase their homes from their landlords?

Mr. Page

No. I would certainly not give such a promise in the form in which the hon. Gentleman put it. I am not signing a blank cheque on the back of his Private Member's Bill. If he would care to let me see his Bill I will consider whether or not to support it.

The fourth point is that we will remove restrictions on the sale of council houses. Wherever there has been a scheme for the sale of those houses, the clever psychologists and sociologists who predicted that no one would buy them have been confounded by the popularity of those schemes.

I admit that when these four items are implemented they will benefit concerns in which I must declare an interest; a housing society, a building society, a property trust company and a firm of solicitors. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] As policies, they are none the worse for that.

The Minister of State taunted me to say what a Conservative Government would put in the place of the Betterment Levy. Throughout our debates on the Land Commission Act we made our position clear. On that occasion we did not have the pleasure of the company of the present Minister of State. We have had the pleasure of two ex-Ministers of State speaking in this debate. One gets nostalgic about the Ministers of State at this Ministry. We have seen two of them off. The right hon. Gentleman had better be careful.

I return to the Minister's taunt. We said throughout our debates on the Measure that we recognised that profits from dealings in land were legitimate taxable sums and that, if such profits were to be taxed, they should be taxed through the normal taxation administration. If the Minister thinks that I am going further and say what amount such a tax should be he can think again, because I am not having a Select Committee appointed to see what secrets I am leaking.

The Minister claimed that the number of new houses built in 1968 was a double record, that there had never been so many built in one year and that the Government could be proud of this record. I congratulate the Minister for brazening it out like that. He has had a dirty job to do. He has had to eat not only his senior Minister's words but the words of the Prime Minister, and they must have been very indigestible for him.

The Minister tried to explain away why the Prime Minister—not somebody hoping to be Prime Minister in the course of a General Election, but somebody who had been Prime Minister for 17 months—had said, not in the excitement of an election meeting but in a straight-forward pledge, on 27th March, 1966, that by 1970 we would be achieving no less than 500,000 new dwellings.

The present Minister of Housing and Local Government had the unpleasant job in January, 1968, of saying that that Government did not expect to reach 500,000 houses in 1970. Indeed, with the few houses started in 1968 and the fewer starts anticipated during this year, we will be lucky to get 400,000 this year and in 1970.

My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester asked what the target was now. Whether we call it a target or what the Government expect the builders to build, I do not mind. If the Minister says he is not a "targeteer", let us hear from him or from the Parliamentary Secretary how many houses we are expected to have built this year and in 1970. Are we merely to hope for the best, or have the Government any firm plan for ensuring that we shall at least get to the 400,000 mark?

Never mind, said the Minister of State, in 1968 there was the highest figure ever for new houses and in 1968 the highest figure ever for houses built for private owners. I remind him that in 1968 there was the highest figure for the population of the country and the highest figure for the number of married couples. That is a fairly good estimate of how many families require homes. There would be something very wrong if in those circumstances the new houses figure was not the highest on record. To claim this as such a glorious record is whistling in the dark. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) said, and I agree with him, that if this is a record it is a record which came four years too late because this amount could have been built in 1965.

The average annual rate of increase since 1964 was 8,000 a year, but that is gross. Taking into account demolitions and closures, the average net annual increase since 1964 was only 5,500 houses, but in the number of married couples there is a net increase of 90,000 each year. An increase of 5,500 houses against the increase of 90,000 married couples looks a little sick. In the private sector there is not even an increase of 5,500 to set against that figure but a decrease, an average reduction in the rate of building in the private sector of 1,000 a year.

Mr. Blenkinsop

The hon. Gentleman says that he would regard it as peculiar if the Government did not succeed in increasing year by year the total output of houses, why was it that in a number of years Conservative Administrations failed to do just that?

Mr. Page

If we take a graph over those years, we find there was a pretty steady rise—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—it may have some curves in it—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—but it was certainly rising and not falling. The building of houses in the private sector in the first four years of this Government fell very rapidly.

Perhaps it is claimed that the deterrent to home ownership which have emerged during this Government's term of office are not deliberate but merely incidental to the general economic policy of this Government. If that is the excuse, it shows that the Government are still classing house purchase as spending on consumer goods. It is a spending to be included, I imagine, in the mind of this Government for receiving all the penalties of freezes, squeezes, little budgets, devaluations and so on.

House purchase is and should be treated as a major form of saving. It stimulates the creation of a national asset, a house. It is deflationary, not inflationary, and should be given the V.I.P. treatment of preference and priorities accorded to other savings. Instead, under this Government, house builders are swept in with others who are accused of employing too much labour and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester pointed out, pay nearly £3 a week per man to meet S.E.T. and the National Insurance stamp. Of course this is passed on, as in every other trade, to the purchaser. House builders are swept in, too, with others who must suffer from import surcharges, import deposits and the rest.

In my constituency there is a considerable timber trade interest. The timber merchants tell me that they have to sell to the building and furnishing trades at much higher prices to take into account the 10 per cent. surcharge, the results from devaluation and, now, as a result of the import deposits there is a 2½ per cent. increase in prices. In all these general financial burdens, if the Government had been really anxious to encourage home ownership they could have made concessions. They could have granted reliefs against S.E.T., the import surcharges, and the import deposits, but they stubbornly refused to listen to proposals from this side of the House which would have relieved the builders and which would have helped to provide the cheaper houses.

In face of all this, it is not surprising that the average house which cost £3,500 in 1964 now costs £4,500 and mortgage instalments are up by 50 per cent. The hon. and learned Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot) suggested that house prices go up 7 per cent. every year. He had probably been reading the Sunday Telegraph a few weeks ago, which forecast a 7 per cent. increase in house prices for 1969. This means another £340 in the price of the average house.

The Minister said that prices had risen more during the last five years of Conservative Government than during the five years of the present Government.

Mr. K. Robinson

Four years.

Mr. Page

Four years or five years. I have taken the precaution during the debate to get the figures, and I tell the House that that is not true. I have the figures with me. The difference is a rise of £793 per council house during that period of Socialist Government compared with £621 during the previous period. [Interruption.] The Minister of State says he wants percentages. I believe in telling the public that the price of a house has increased by £1,000 in the last four years.

The Government could have given relief to individual house owners to assist them in home ownership relief against credit restrictions from time to time. They could have given relief to help the intending purchaser of a house who has been unable to get what is called a bridging loan from his bank. Too often lack of that facility has caused complete disorganisation of home buying.

Not only in buying a house has the prospective home owner been hit. If he wanted to furnish a house he has encountered all the difficulties of hire-purchase deposit, the increased deposit on funiture, increased removal costs and the failure of the Government to reform the law of conveyancing so that legal costs could be reduced. This is not an insignificant matter.

Let me quote the Prime Minister in his own election address in 1964. He said: One hundred per cent. mortgages, lower interest rates and cheaper legal charges. Not one of those things has come about. Instead, there has been increased legal work which has caused increases in legal charges. By the extreme difficulty of the Statutes and the Statutory Instruments which the Government have presented to the country, the cost of transactions on property has increased.

That brings me to the major nigger in the woodpile or spanner in the works—the Land Commision. The Land Commission was proclaimed, in a White Paper and in all the debates on the Land Commission Bill, as something which would bring forward land for development and bring down its price. Many times during the passage of the Bill we were told that the villain of the piece was the developer who was hoarding the land. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) will confirm that he told me that again and again during the passage of the Bill. It was the developers who were hoarding the land. In fact, as the Financial Times said the other day in an editorial, it proved to be a complete myth. We have had it admitted during the debate that the villains of the piece in hoarding land are the local authorities. Sir Henry Wells himself made a public statement to that effect on 21st November.

The hon. and learned Member for Derby, North asked what we would do about it. How would we get the "white" land released by the local authorities? I say frankly that we should be active in seeing that it was released. I am pleased to know that the Minister for Planning and Land has been meeting the local authorities on this basis. But this is five years after the Government came into office. That is why the price of land is going up.

In my own area of Merseyside, there is some terror of the activities of the Land Commission—and rightly so. The Minister mentioned 100 cases in which the Land Commission has in some way or another caused land to come forward for building. A quarter of those cases were in the North-West. The result is that both the local authorities and the developers are nervous of the activities of the Land Commission. They are not bringing land forward for development because they do not wish to attract the attention of the Land Commission, and land coming up for auction now in the North-West is reaching prices 60 per cent. more than 12 months ago. My hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. Hunt) confirmed increases in prices of up to 40 per cent. in his area. One of the factors in the price increase, of course, is the great unknown: no one knows what the levy will be, and no one can tell. Therefore, the vendor is determined to cover himself by high reserve prices at auction and high asking prices.

Those who have not become involved in this business would not realise the complications of Betterment Levy, the way everything goes to the district valuer and the clogging-up of the district valuer's proper functions. Incidentally, the clogging up of the district valuer's office by Land Commission deals has brought housing society work almost to a standstill. It is causing almost a collapse in the housing society system.

Very great concern has been shown by several hon. Members about the way in which the Land Commission and all its procedures have hit the home owner. Of course, his residence ought to have been omitted from the Bill altogether, in the same way as it is for Capital Gains Tax. We have heard of case after case of the development of the garden of a house, the sale of the residence, and so on, in which great hardship has been caused to the individual and small home owner.

The Land Commission Act is, possibly, the most muddled legislation ever put through the House. It is unfair. It is unjust. It is inhuman. It is a wicked Act. We are told that careful thought was given to some of the Amendments which we proposed to the Bill and which would have avoided the hardships. If our Amendments had been accepted, there would have been none of these cases of hardship. Our Amendments would have cured the hardship cases of which we have heard, but these Amendments were thrown aside at the time by the Government.

Will the Parliamentary Secretary tell the House what amendments his Minister will put forward? Will they meet the sort of hardship cases which have been cited in the debate? He must consider both the exclusion of the owner-occupier and the exclusion of such small amounts that they are not worth collecting. Secondly, I ask whether any of the permitted action under the Act is to take place. I hope not. I hope that there will be no increase in the levy and that the second appointed day will not be appointed. Thirdly, will anything be done quickly to improve the option mortgage scheme?

Finally, I return to the question of the target of 500,000 houses. What complacency we have heard today from the Government Front Bench and the Government back benches about broken pledges—the casual tossing aside of election pledges which were given as solemnly and firmly as any could be given. The pledges were given by the Prime Minister and not merely Ministers or insignificant back benchers; they were not merely pledges about lower interest rates, cheaper houses and easier mortgages, but a firm pledge for 500,000 houses a year by 1970. All these were casually tossed aside, and when today we accuse the Government of breaking that pledge the Minister said, "Why talk about it now? We broke that pledge over a year ago."

Even more casual has been the attitude of the Minister of Housing and Local Government himself. He has chosen not to speak in this important debate and not to answer our charges of broken pledges. Will he tell the House what is to be done with the Land Commission, or how he is going to cope with the hardship cases? He is the Cabinet Minister who should be answering the debate. These are serious charges, and if he is not prepared to answer them we can only conclude that the Government do not care about their housing policy being in ruins—and if they do not care, let them get out and let us tackle the job.

9.33 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. James MacColI)

The one thing—[Interruption.]

Mr. Wellbeloved

On a point of order. Is it in order for hon. Members who have not put in an appearance throughout the debate to enter the Chamber and act like an unruly lot of students?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)

That is not a legitimate point of order, but I am sure that the House would like to hear the Minister.

Mr. MacColl

The one thing that the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) said that I agreed with was his warning—a good warning before Lent—that the besetting sin which might affect our Government is complacency. That is true. We have a very difficult job to do under very difficult conditions, and the last thing in the world that we should do is to accept any standard that we achieve as being beyond criticism.

The superb timing which has been mentioned more than once during the debate—the moving of a Motion of censure just when the Government have broken all records in housing—[Interruption.]

I will deal, first, with the point raised by the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. W. H. K. Baker) about the breakdown of the statistics of the levy between the different countries. The £15 million is split as follows: England, £13½ million; Wales, £1 million; Scotland, £500,000.

The hon. Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones)—I hope that he will not think me patronising—began a helpful and wise contribution by asking whether we could not do more to speed up planning procedures in local authorities in order to get a quicker and better use of land scheduled for development. That is the whole point of the new Town and Country Planning Act. It provides for giving more scope to local authorities to produce workable plans quickly and for appeals to be decided more quickly. I hope that, as it gets into operation, we shall find it meeting some of these points.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) and my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) raised a number of matters dealing with the social side of the work of the Land Commission, asking whether it could not do more to provide land for non-profit-making purposes by Crownhold or some other method of keeping the land in question down to a cheaper price. The Commission has power to do these things, but I can see that it is difficult for it to decide when it will do them because of the persistent agitation that it should show large profits. If it is continually under fire from the Opposition, demanding that it should put first of all a profit-making test of efficiency, it is difficult, at the same time, to ask it to do more nonprofit-making but socially desirable things. That is one of the aspects which should come to be dealt with, however, as the Commission settles into its work.

On the question of changes in legislation, I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend the Minister for Planning and Land said. But I want to make one general point. The hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) said that the shortage of land was created by planning, and I think that he is right because, unless one is allowing complete anarchy, inevitably planning must control the use of land. It must create restrictions on the use of land and, therefore, it creates the kind of situation which can lead to great profits accruing to one person while others get nothing.

It was for this reason that the 1947 Act included entrenched financial Sections controlling profits. One of the most appalling things which the Tory Government did during their 13 years in power—and that is a pretty extravagant claim—was to dismantle all the financial provisions and leave the whole machine rudderless, without any power to stop great profits being made. They thus made the task of catching up which we faced when we returned to power far more difficult.

I have seen this from outside, and I have seen it from inside in deciding planning appeals on behalf of my right hon. Friend. Some of these cases are very difficult to decide—for example, where one knows that the question of allowing a farmer housing permission for a green field may involve whether or not he gets a vast fortune by development of the land.

I utter this warning to my hon. Friends—that we must be sensitive to these hardship cases, these deep human problems which arise. But we must also remember that it is dangerous to dismantle an essential part of planning control because of hardship cases. We must consider such cases to see what we can do to improve their lot and let the Land Commission machinery get into operation. We should not start to tinker with that machinery until we see the best way to tackle it.

I know that my right hon. Friend meant it when he said in his opening speech that he was always willing to do what he can to deal with any point of difficulty which right hon. and hon. Members bring to his notice.

Mr. Peter Walker

Is the hon. Gentleman really saying that all the hardship cases created by the Land Commission today do not warrant any change in legislation at all?

Mr. MacColl

They do not warrant the wrong changes in the legislation. The important thing is to find out what is the best way of dealing with a particular problem as it arises. It will be quite impossible at this stage to start making changes in the legislation which may open the gate to widespread exploitation and evasion—[HON. MEMBERS: "Shocking."] If hon. and right hon. Members are shocked it is because they are not accepting the essential need to do something to get a betterment charge for the benefit of the community.

That does not surprise me, because they were divided and violently evasive in office about this. They failed to tackle the problem, they came up with quite different answers from different Ministers, about it as late as 1963. Clearly, they are no better off now in knowing what they will do.

I come to the background against which we have to deal with the great change in housing and home ownership. To pretend that we are not in a difficult economic situation, which calls for the greatest husbanding of resources seems quite absurd. When the Committee of London Clearing Banks wrote to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, as I read the other day, it was not saying, "We have just seen 'Cathie Come Home'. We demand that you produce a tremendous leap forward in housing starts." It was saying that the public sector spending, not private consumption, had to be cut back. This is the problem facing the Government. With the tremendous limits on public expenditure, which we have undertaken to keep, we must get the best possible value from the best possible use of our resources to provide the housing. To pretend that this background does not exist is running away from realities.

Hon. Members said that the rate of interest is too high, and should be very much lower. No one would deny that. The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) made this point in a previous debate. It is foolish to think that we will get the rate of interest down artificially. We have to get it down in the only possible way, which is re-establishing a proper foundation.

The right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) produced a nine-point summary for housing at the Tory Party conference. This dealt with the essentials of Conservative policy. I was interested to see that Mr. Robert McCrindle, who is the prospective Conservative parliamentary candidate for Billericay—[Interruption.] I expect that he would like the support of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite some day—wrote to the right hon. and learned Member saying that in his daily business life he met many people anxious to buy a home. He said: I would like to pinpoint the areas of difficulty and outline how Tory policy can help. First, interest rates. There is great exaggeration as to the number of people these prevent from buying their own homes. Tories risk misleading people by giving the impression that rates will quickly fall. Who knows what economic situation will be inherited on our return to office. I am not concerned about a long-range economic forecast to the day when there is a change of Government. But, accepting that the present level of interest rates in the market is fixed by international forces as much as anything else, we must accept it as a basis on which we can operate. We have done this in two vital ways: by the subsidy for public sector building which is geared to the rate of interest, and by the option mortgage scheme.

The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) painted a remarkable picture of the Conservative Government toiling away, trying to do more and more for the home owner. Suddenly, there is a disastrous election and the Tories are swept out of office and the whole scheme stopped and was ruined. But they have never told us why they did not introduce an option mortgage scheme. They had 13 years in which to work out a scheme. We had to work it out and improvise something to meet the difficulty. Our scheme has not yet been in operation a year. It came into operation in April last year. Yet already we are told that it has been condemned.

The hon. Member for Worcester gave the interesting pledge that he would get rid of the one-way choice and have a contracting-out and contracting-in procedure. My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) gave a warning and wondered whether the hon. Gentleman had the co-operation of the building societies for his suggestion. I remind him of what the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Murton) said about this in Committee on the Housing Act, 1967, where we did not have the advantage of the assistance of the hon. Member for Worcester. The hon. Member for Poole said that opting out had attractions, but that he had discovered, after research, that there were certain very great administrative difficulties. He pointed out that to reverse the option would cause difficulty from the point of view of the building societies.

Last month, in January, the property correspondent of The Guardian had to admit that it was not the Government who were holding things up; it was the building societies which had insisted that the option must be once for all.

Mr. Peter Walker

If the building societies agree at any stage to a change, will the Government immediately accept it?

Mr. MacColl

The hon. Member for Crosby talked about giving people blank cheques. I am not giving the building societies a blank cheque to the effect that whenever they change their view we shall introduce the necessary legislation. I am saying that we did not have it because the lending agencies would not agree to it.

Mr. Wellbeloved

When my hon. Friend said that the Conservative Party proposed to arrange a contracting-in and contracting-out procedure, the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) nodded to my hon. Friend's suggestion that he had got the building societies' consent. Would my hon. Friend undertake to start consultations with the building societies with a view to making some minor amendments in the option mortgage scheme, because there is a small area of difficulty in this matter?

Mr. MacColl

At the moment I am concentrating on getting to the end of my speech. I have dealt with the option mortgage. The position with the 100 per cent. guarantee scheme is even clearer. It was not a matter of the then Government not doing this; it was that the then Minister, Lord Brooke as he now is, was flatly refusing in 1958 to have a guarantee scheme, primarily because of the hostility of the lending agencies.

I will now deal with the points that have been made about council lending. Anyone who cares about housing recognises that the cuts in council lending are a hardship to the local authorities and to the people whom the local authorities can help. Although councils play an important part in providing loans, the provision made by building societies is much larger. Councils are in competition with other forms of investment and are part of the public sector of investment. Much as we would like to extend their area, this we cannot do.

A London daily newspaper reported that local authorities were annoyed that the Ministry had been trawling around £11 million which had not been spent. It is part of our normal procedure to review what has been happening during the year, so that we can make available to other councils any quotas which are not taken up. We have sent circulars to local authorities saying how important it is that they should let us know what is the situation and warning them that quotas not fully taken up by the end of the year could not be taken forward.

When we took stock at the end of 1968 we found an unexpected sum of £11 million was available. Some newspapers thought that it was odd that we should have used the telephone to tell councils about this and invite them to let us know whether they could use the money. Had we wanted to, we could have waited until after the weekend and avoided the work. Instead, we made use of the telephone and offered the money. The newspapers wanted to know where the windfall had come from.

According to another London daily some local authorities in remoter areas where the mortgage situation is not so acute had not taken up the full quota in the current year. It is a romantic picture of the clerk of a rural district council arriving windswept on our doorstep saying, "I have found £1 million in the teapot. I am sure that you would like to make use of it."

But the story is not so romantic as that. The authority from the remoter area with no need for mortgages was the Greater London Council. It had not allocated £15 million. After the windfall had been discovered the chairman of the Finance Committee of the Council was still saying that the Council had been lending at the rate of £60 million and had budgeted for £10 million next year. It is rather odd that it had been unable to use, and did not expect by the end of the financial year to use, more than £4 million.

The chairman of the Housing Committee was a little more realistic. "Interest rates are so high. Who wants to borrow money?" he asked. That is an arguable view, but it is hardly compatible with launching tremendous agitation for more home loans.

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

On a point of order. Should not the Minister address the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, instead of addressing his back benchers?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It is for the Chair to call the Minister to attention. I think that the Minister was quite in order.

Mr. MacColl

London is an area which has an acute mortgage situation. It is all the sadder that the Greater London Council's inability to use the resources at its disposal prevented Londoners from having mortgages available to them. We therefore made a special point of seeing that the London boroughs were invited to take their share. Nineteen of them acted quickly and took £1½ million between them. Harrow, unfortunately, was not able to take any. In the provinces, Manchester and Liverpool took allocations. Many quite small local authorities took some. Birmingham, however—the largest and wealthiest of the county boroughs—told us that it did not require any.

I am asked what are the prospects of housing for next year. I would only say this. We were told that there were not enough houses under construction to provide the target of 400,000. There are 20,000 more houses under construction now than were in the under-construction pipeline which we inherited from the last Conservative Government and which, hon. Members opposite have said, was a legacy which explained the whole of our successful housing policy.

We are prepared to see that every housing authority with real housing need is not stopped; we are prepared to give them all the assistance they want, but we have no power to make a local authority build houses if it does not want to. Therefore, the decision primarily will depend on what I would call the ability—some of my hon. Friends use rather

blunter language—of some of the newly-elected councils as to whether they are prepared to build.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 234, Noes 303.

Division No. 57.] AYES [10.0 p.m.
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Galbraith, Hn. T. G. Marten, Neil
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Gibson-Watt, David Maude, Angus
Astor, John Giles, Rear-Adm. Morgan Maudling, Rt. Hn. Reginald
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n) Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.) Mawby, Ray
Awdry, Daniel Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.) Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.
Baker, Kenneth (Acton) Glover, Sir Douglas Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff) Glyn, Sir Richard Mills, Peter (Torrington)
Balniel, Lord Goodhew, Victor Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)
Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony Gower, Raymond Miscampbell, Norman
Bell, Ronald Grant, Anthony Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Grant-Ferris, R. Monro, Hector
Berry, Hn. Anthony Gresham Cooke, R. Montgomery, Fergus
Biffen, John Grieve, Percy More, Jasper
Biggs-Davison, John Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds) Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)
Birch, Rt. Hn. Nigel Gurden, Harold Morrison, Charles (Devizes)
Black, Sir Cyril Hall, John (Wycombe) Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles
Blaker, Peter Hall-Davis, A. G. F, Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S. W.) Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Murton, Oscar
Body, Richard Harris, Reader (Heston) Neave, Airey
Bossom, Sir Clive Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Nicholls, Sir Harmar
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael
Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward Harvie Anderson, Miss Onslow, Cranley
Braine, Bernard Hastings, Stephen Orr, Capt. L. P. S.
Brewis, John Hawkins, Paul Page, Graham (Crosby)
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. SirW alter Hay, John Page, John (Harrow, W.)
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)
Bruce-Gardyne, J. Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward Peel, John
Bryan, Paul Heseltine, Michael Percival, Ian
Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus, N&M) Higgins, Terence L. Peyton, John
Buck, Antony (Colchester) Hiley, Joseph Pike, Miss Mervyn
Bullus, Sir Eric Hill, J. E. B. Pink, R. Bonner
Burden, F. A. Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin Pounder, Rafton
Campbell, B. (Oldham, W.) Holland, Philip Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn) Hooson, Emlyn Price, David (Eastleigh)
Carlisle, Mark Hordern, Peter Prior, J. M. L.
Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert Hornby, Richard Pym, Francis
Channon, H. P. G. Howell, David (Guildford) Quennell, Miss J. M.
Chichester-Clark, R. Hunt, John Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James
Clark, Henry Hutchison, Michael Clark Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter
Clegg, Walter Iremonger, T. L. Rees-Davies, W. R.
Cooke, Robert Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Cooper-Key, Sir Neill Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Cordle, John Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Corfield, F. V. Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.) Ridsdale, Rt. Hn. Julian
Costain, A. P. Jopling, Michael Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey
Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne) Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Crouch, David Kaberry, Sir Donald Rossi, Hugh (Homsey)
Crowder, F. P. Kerby, Capt. Henry Royle, Anthony
Currie, G. B. H. Kershaw, Anthony Russell, Sir Ronald
Dalkeith, Earl of Kimball, Marcus St. John-Stevas, Norman
Dance, James King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Sandys, Rt. Hn. D.
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Kitson, Timothy Scott-Hopkins, James
Dean, Paul Knight, Mrs. Jill Sharples, Richard
Digby, Simon Wingfield Lancaster, Col. C. G. Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Dodds-Parker, Douglas Lane, David Silvester, Frederick
Donnelly, Desmond Langford-Holt, Sir John Sinclair, Sir George
Doughty, Charles Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mingto
Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir Alec Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Smith, John (London & W'minster)
Drayson, G. B. Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'nC'dfield) Speed, Keith
du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward Longden, Gilbert Stainton, Keith
Eden, Sir John Loveys, W. H. Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Lubbock, Eric Stodart, Anthony
Emery, Peter McAdden, Sir Stephen Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.
Errington, Sir Eric MacArthur, Ian Summers, Sir Spencer
Evans, Gwynfor (C'marthen) Maclean, Sir Fitzroy Tapsell, Peter
Farr, John Macleod, Rt. Hn. lain Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Fisher, Nigel McMaster, Stanley Taylor, EdwardM.(G'gow, Cathcart)
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham) Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Fortescue, Tim McNair-Wilson, Patrick Temple, John M.
Foster, sir John Maddan, Martin Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Maginnis, John E. Tilney, John
Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
van Straubenzee, W. R. Ward, Dame Irene Worsley, Marcus
Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John Weatherill, Bernard Wright, Esmond
Vickers, Dame Joan Wells, John (Maidstone) Wylie, N. R.
Waddington, David Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William Younger, Hn. George
Walker, Peter (Worcester) Williams, Donald (Dudley)
Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn, Sir Derek Wills, Geoffrey (Truro) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Wall, Patrick Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick Mr. R. W. Elliott and
Watters, Dennis Woodnutt, Mark Mr. Reginald Eyre.
Abse, Leo Ennals, David Kenyon, Clifford
Albu, Austen Ensor, David Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central)
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.) Kerr, Russell (Feltham)
Allen, Scholefield Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Lawson, George
Anderson, Donald Faulds, Andrew Ledger, Ron
Archer, Peter Femyhough, E. Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton)
Ashley, Jack Finch, Harold Lee, Rt. Hn. Jennie (Cannock)
Ashton, Joe (Bassetlaw) Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Lee, John (Reading)
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Fletcher, Rt. Hn. SirEric (lslington, E.) Lestor, Miss Joan
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Lever, Harold (Cheetham)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Foley, Maurice Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)
Barnes, Michael Foot, Rt. Hn. Sir Dingle (Ipswich) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Barnett, Joel Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) Lipton, Marcus
Beaney, Alan Ford, Ben Lomas, Kenneth
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Forrester, John Loughlin, Charles
Bennett, James (G'gow, Bridgeton) Fowler, Gerry Luard, Evan
Bidwell, Sydney Fraser, John (Norwood) Lyon, Alexander W. (York)
Binns, John Freeson, Reginald Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)
Bishop, E. S. Galpern, Sir Myer McBride, Neil
Blackburn, F. Gardner, Tony McCann, John
Blenkinsop, Arthur Garrett, W. E. MacColl, James
Booth, Albert Ginsburg, David MacDermot, Niall
Boston, Terence Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C. Macdonald, A. H.
Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth) McGuire, Michael
Boyden, James Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony McKay, Mrs. Margaret
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Gregory, Arnold Mackie John
Bradley, Tom Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Mackintosh, John P.
Bray, Dr. Jeremy Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly) Maclennan, Robert
Brooks, Edwin Griffiths, Will (Exchange) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Hamilton, James (Bothwell) McNamara, J. Kevin
Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.) Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) MacPherson, Malcolm
Buchan, Norman Hamling, William Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Hannan, William Mahon, Simon (Bootle)
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Harper, Joseph Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)
Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James Haseldine, Norman Manuel, Archie
Cant, R. B. Hattersley, Roy Mapp, Charles
Carmichael, Neil Hazell, Bert Marks, Kenneth
Carter-Jones, Lewis Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis Marquand, David
Coe, Denis Heffer, Eric S. Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard
Concannon, J. D. Henig, Stanley Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy
Conlan, Bernard Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret Maxwell, Robert
Crawshaw, Richard Hilton, W. S. Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert
Cronin, John Hobden, Dennis Mendelson, John
Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony Hooley, Frank Mikardo, Ian
Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard Horner, John Millan, Bruce
Cullen, Mrs. Alice Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Miller, Dr. M. S.
Dalyell, Tam Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough) Milne, Edward (Blyth)
Darling, Rt. Hn. George Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.) Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test)
Davidson, Arthur (Accrington) Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Molloy, William
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Howie, W. Moonman, Eric
Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford) Hoy, James Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)
Davies, Harold (Leek) Huckfield, Leslie Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Davies, Ifor (Cower) Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey) Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.) Morris, John (Aberavon)
Delargy, Hugh Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Moyle, Roland
Dell, Edmund Hughes, Roy (Newport) Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Dempsey, James Hunter, Adam Murray, Albert
Dewar, Donald Hynd, John Neal, Harold
Dickens, James Irvine, Sir Arthur (Edge Hill) Newens, Stan
Dobson, Ray Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh) Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip (Derby, S.)
Doig, Peter Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak) Norwood, Christopher
Driberg, Tom Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas Oakes, Gordon
Dunnett, Jack Jeger, George (Goole) Ogden, Eric
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) O'Malley, Brian
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford) Oram, Albert E.
Eadie, Alex Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Orbach, Maurice
Edelman, Maurice Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Orme, Stanley
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Jones, Dan (Burnley) Oswald, Thomas
Edwards, William (Merioneth) Jones, Rt. Hn. SirElwyn (W. Ham, S.) Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)
Ellis, John Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West) Owen, Will (Morpeth)
English, Michael Judd, Frank Padley, Walter
Kelley, Richard Page, Derek (King's Lynn)
Paget, R. T. Rogers, George (Kensington, N.) Walden, Brian (All Saints)
Palmer, Arthur Ross, Rt. Hn. William Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles Rowlands, E. Wallace, George
Parker, John (Dagenham) Ryan, John Watkins, David (Consett)
Parkin, Ben (Paddington, N.) Shaw, Arnold (llford, S.) Watkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)
Parkyn, Brian (Bedford) Sheldon, Robert Weitzman, David
Pavitt, Laurence Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney) Wellbeloved, James
Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd) Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne) Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N. E.) Whitaker, Ben
Pentland, Norman Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford) White, Mrs. Elrene
Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.) Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich) Whitlock, William
Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.) Silverman, Julius Wilkins, W. A.
Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E. Slater, Joseph Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Price, Christopher (Perry Barr) Small, William Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Price, Thomas (Westhoughton) Snow, Julian Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)
Price, William (Rugby) Spriggs, Leslie Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Probert, Arthur Steele, Thomas (Dunbartonshire, W.) Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Pursey, Cmdr. Harry Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Randall, Harry Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R. Willis, Rt. Hn. George
Rankin, John Swain, Thomas Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huylon)
Rees, Merlyn Swingler, Stephen Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Reynolds, Rt. Hn. G. W. Taverne, Dick Winnick, David
Richard, Ivor Thomas, Rt. Hn. George Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Thomson, Rt. Hn. George Woof, Robert
Roberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy Thornton, Ernest Wyatt, Woodrow
Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.) Tinn, James
Robertson, John (Paisley) Tomney, Frank TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Robinson, Rt. Hn. Kenneth (St. P'c'as) Tuck, Raphael Mr. Charles Grey and
Rodgers, William (Stockton) Varley, Eric G. Mr. loan L. Evans.
Roebuck, Roy Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
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