HC Deb 19 February 1969 vol 778 cc633-7

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Harper.]

11.52 p.m.

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I think that I am right in understanding that no hon. Member has at this moment claimed the Adjournment, and I trust, therefore, that I shall be in order in addressing the House briefly on a matter which is of some concern.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)

Has the hon. Gentleman given notice to any Minister?

Mr. Cooke

There is always some difficulty about this, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because if one did give notice the Government would make certain that one never got the chance to raise the matter on the spur of the moment, as it were.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I understand that the hon. Gentleman's answer to my question is "No". I must inform him that Mr. Speaker has deprecated most strongly any hon. Member speaking on the Adjournment without giving notice. It is only fair that the Department should have an opportunity, and, indeed, I think that it would be improper for a Department to seek to thwart the hon. Gentleman in the way he suggests.

Mr. Cooke

I never suggested that the Department would try to thwart an hon. Member. That would be quite improper, and I am sure that no Department would try to do it. But, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the Government Whips have occasionally not looked with favour on hon. Members who seek chance opportunities to air grievances. I wish just to say a few words on a certain matter, and I shall be scrupulously fair to the Department concerned. When you have heard what I have to say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will not, I think, feel that I am in any way departing from the spirit of the Adjournment debate. This will be preliminary to what I shall hope to raise more fully on another occasion.

I wish to speak about the activities of the Land Commission, particularly as they affect the South-West of England, although it has been active in other places as well. I am concerned about the considerable administrative cost of this organisation. I am concerned also that it has not yet managed to acquire much land and its activities have not yet borne considerable fruit. Perhaps the Government can make out a case for the continued existence of this institution. Perhaps not. However, I wish to draw the attention of Parliament—and this is an opportunity so to do—to the fact that the activities of the Land Commission so far have not achieved the aims and objects stated in the Act which set it up. It may be that they are beginning slowly and will take some time to get under way, but we should seek an early opportunity to explore further the Government's mind and to try to understand the workings of this body.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I intervene to point out the difficulties which the hon. Member is bringing on himself. Apart from contravening a standing principle of the House, he is now seeking to explore the mind of the Government without giving the Minister a chance to be present to hear what he has to say.

Mr. Cooke

We all know that the Government are in the habit of reading HANSARD, and my very brief although not contentious remarks will no doubt be noted. The House would like to know a little more of the Government's mind in this matter, and, whereas the Government could seek an opportunity at an early day, it is difficult for a private Member to get an opportunity to question the Department concerned. I hope that I have been fair in what I have said so far.

I will also try to be fair in the last thing I want to say. I will not cite cases, but the incidence of the levy made in the provisions under which the Land Commission has been set up seems, from cases which have been published recently in the Press, to be falling all too heavily on people of modest means who find that the sudden and unexpected impost of a tax on the modest profit which they have made is a source of great distress and financial difficulty. I am not sure that the aim of the Government who set up the organisation was that the levy should fall so harshly on so many modest people. The purpose of the levy was to cream off some of the suggested large profits made by large property operators.

I have been scrupulously fair; I have seized an opportunity which does not often occur. The Government should seek an early opportunity to explain themselves further. I have said nothing that could be challenged as a matter of opinion. I have stated only facts which are well known and I have merely marshalled them. I hope that the few brief remarks I have made will not go unheard and unanswered.

The Debate having been concluded, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER suspended the sitting of the House at three minutes to Twelve o'clock till Ten o'clock Tomorrow pursuant to Standing Order.

Thursday, 20th February, 1969

Morning Sitting

Mr. SPEAKER resumed the Chair at Ten o'clock a.m.