HC Deb 09 March 1971 vol 813 cc327-68

7.30 p.m.

Mr, John Fraser (Norwood)

I beg to move Amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 13, leave out from 'enactment' to end of subsection and insert: 'with the exception of the functions conferred on the Land Commission by sections 6 to 26 inclusive of the Land Commission Act 1967 which shall be transferred to the Housing Corporation, and all property rights and liabilities to which the Land Commission is entitled or subject immediately before the appointed day is likewise transferred to the Secretary of State with the exception bf such property rights and liabilities to which the Land Commission has become entitled or subject by virtue of sections 6 to 26 inclusive of the Land Commission Act 1967 which is hereby transferred to the Housing Corporation; and accordingly as from that day any enactment passed or instrument made before that day, shall have effect, except in relation to anything done before the appointed day, as if for any reference to the Land Commission there were substituted, in all cases relating to the functions of the Land Commission under sections 6 to 26 inclusive of the Land Commission Act 1967, a reference to the Housing Corporation, and in all other cases a reference to the Secretary of State'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)

It will be convenient if we take at the same time Amendment No. 3, in page 2, line 9, leave out from 'be' to end of subsection and insert: 'transferred to the account Housing Corporation'. and Amendment No. 4, page 2, line 22, leave out Clause 3.

Mr. Fraser

We cannot allow the Bill to pass without examining the loss which the country will suffer as a result of the termination of the Land Commission's acquisition powers. The purpose of the Amendment is to transfer to the Housing Corporation the powers which the Land Commission exercises under Sections 6 to 26 of the Land Commission Act, 1967, to acquire and grant land to those who need it for socially desirable purposes at as cheap a price as possible. I wish to give the House an example why the powers should be exercised.

The authorities in the Greater London Area have immense problems in finding land for housing. There is overcrowding and shortage of space and the intervention of public authorities is needed to ensure that housing is provided. The local authorities have compulsory acquisition powers, but many authorities in Greater London, including the Greater London Council, choose not to exercise them. A good example is the London Borough of Bexley, which, following the poor example of the Prime Minister, has practically no housing programme. I could name six Conservative local authorities whose total housing provision does not come up to even half the provision of Southwark. Therefore, power is needed to acquire land and to use it for socially desirable purposes.

The purpose of the Amendment is to transfer to the Housing Corporation, which is a housing authority and which could act in the same way as the Special Housing Development Society in Scotland, power to acquire land in areas where local authorities are falling down on the job or where central direction needs to be given. The Housing Corporation is equipped to do the job and to provide an alternative to lagging Conservative authorities in London. The important thing which the Housing Corporation could do is something which I regret the Land Commission failed to do, namely, to grant concessionary freeholds. If the Amendment were accepted, the Housing Corporation could acquire land at existing use value and grant it to housing associations and owner occupiers at less than the full development value. The development value would remain in public hands and therefore would take some of the inflationary element out of land and housing costs and enable cheap land to be provided for owner occupiers and housing associations.

Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)

We shall not have cheap land again.

Mr. Fraser

That epitomises the philosophy of the Conservative Party. We believe that it should be possible to acquire cheap land and powers which could ensure its provision should not be lost.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor)

The effect of the Amendment is to clothe the Land Commission in another suit. I understand the anxiety of the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. John Fraser) to preserve the Commission, but the Amendment would not achieve its object and would also cause the retention of no fewer than 950 civil servants to operate a scheme which is unnecessary. By abolishing the Commission we shall save over £2,500,000 on administrative charges alone. This is a wrecking Amendment.

I wish to raise a point which can be raised only at this stage. What provision does my right hon. Friend the Minister propose to make to help the people obliged to pay the charge which arises under the Land Commission Act after the Bill has come into effect? I realise that there is a continuing liability on those people, but I ask my right hon. Friend to persuade his colleagues in the Treasury to be lenient with those unfortunate people left with commitments and who have to discharge them in full. If he could make a minor concession in that respect, it would be a great help to a large number of people who carried out transactions before the July concession.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Michael Heseltine)

I thank the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. John Fraser) for the clear way in which he moved the Amendment. My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Dr. Glyn) had a point when he described it as a wrecking Amendment. I know that many hon. Members opposite still believe that the Land Commission has a purpose, but we have discussed that at great length on Second Reading and in Committee. It would be misconceived to resurrect the Commission through the means of the Housing Corporation, which was set up for different purposes and was never intended for the purpose which the hon. Member for Norwood has in mind.

One of the consequences of the Amendment would be that the finances of the management fund would be transferred to the Housing Corporation. As the Bill says, the fund is insolvent, and therefore a substantial liability amounting to many millions of pounds would be transferred to the Housing Corporation if the Amendments were accepted. I am sure that that is not the intention of the hon. Member for Norwood.

By proposing that all the land of the Commission which it retains should be transferred to the Housing Corporation, the hon. Gentleman is perhaps missing the point of the remit of the Commission dealing with the land which it was expected to acquire. It was not simply told to acquire what might be regarded as local authority land. It was given a remit to acquire land for mineral working, private development and land suitable for local authorities or for housing associations. It would be a wrong use of the Housing Corporation if it were to acquire land for mineral extraction. That has never been the intention. It would not be practicable or acceptable in principle to use the Corporation for the purposes proposed in the Amendments. I therefore ask the House not to accept them.

A great deal of the land disposed of by the Land Commission has been offered to and accepted by local authorities. Perhaps that goes some way towards fulfilling the purpose which the hon. Member for Norwood had in mind when tabling the Amendment. The Commission's intention when disposing of land is to offer it, in a large number of cases, wherever reasonable and practicable, to local authorities. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to accept my assurances that, in practical terms, we have done all we can to help in what is a deliberate political decision to terminate the Land Commission. The hon. Member may not accept that. I can understand that—if I were in his position I might not accept it—but that is the will of Parliament and within that we try to administer it as humanely as possible.

Mr. Bruce Douglas-Mann (Kensington, North)

I apologise for being absent from the House when the Amendments in my name were called, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. John Fraser) for moving the first of them. I heard the Minister's reply with interest. I am sure that he understands the point, but perhaps the House would forgive me if I go over it again.

It is generally accepted that one of our gravest social problems is the housing problem, the problems of the homeless, of three million families living in situations which no one can accept as satisfactory, in slums or overcrowding, in houses which lack amenities which we all regard as essential. The Bill will aggravate that situation by removing one of the weapons with which we could effectively deal with this problem. I am not satisfied that the main points with which the Land Commission could deal can be dealt with in any other way than by a national body to collect land, bring it forward for development and itself develop it.

The Amendments would transfer those functions of the Land Commission under the 1967 Act dealing with the collection and bringing forward and development of land to the Housing Corporation, to enable it to perform the housing function which the Land Commission could perform. I accept that the Land Commission, as a relatively new body, has not yet performed these functions, but I hope that all hon. Members accept that there is a need for a national agency which can provide housing in areas other than those of housing need.

Our greatest problem is that, where there is housing need, there is no land, and where there is land, there is no housing need. This is obviously not a complete equation, but it balances very closely. To rely on local authorities, whose responsibility must be primarily to their own residents, to solve the housing problems of other areas is to ensure that the housing problem is with us perpetually.

Many examples were given on Second Reading of local authorities resisting proposals for the development of land in their own areas by or on behalf of other local authorities. Only a body like the Housing Corporation or the Land Commission or a national housing agency can ensure that land is brought forward to solve the problems of stress areas outside those areas. Of course there are provisions which enable local authorities to act as agents for others, but this does not work very effectively, because a local authority acting as a agent against its wishes will not be very diligent in performing its functions.

Many hon. Members will appreciate that we have a problem in local authority housing of lack of mobility. I know of many people who are living in urban areas in a council house which they were delighted to receive when they first got it, opposite the factory where they used to work. Now they have retired, but they are still living opposite the factory; whereas families living miles away who desperately need housing close to their work cannot get it, because the family which has retired is still living in this house. Any family which has acquired a council house has no right to a council house in any other area, unless it can find someone who is willing to swap. This serious problem is gravely aggravating our housing problems.

A national agency which can provide housing which would enable people from North Kensington to move on retirement out of the stress area to live by the sea, or which would enable a family at present living in North Kensington to move to another area where there may be work, is badly needed. This cannot be done through local authority housing.

It is all very well for the Government to refer to Circular 10/20, in which they say that local authorities will have their backing and encouragement in implementing proposals to solve our housing problems, but local authorities in the areas with the most acute housing stress do not have the land which they could develop, while local authorities which do have the land do not have the stress or the responsibility or the desire by their ratepayers and electors to solve these problems. On the grounds both of mobility of labour and of people wishing to move on retirement, a national housing agency is urgently needed.

The Housing Corporation is not perhaps the ideal instrument to perform this function, but there is the power in the Housing Act, 1964, which constituted the Housing Corporation, as follows: If, after the Corporation have acquired any land, it appears to the Corporation that there is no housing society, whether in existence or about to be formed, to which the land can suitably be sold or leased, and that the land is capable of being used to provide housing accommodation for letting, the Corporation may prepare and submit to the Minister a scheme for the Corporation themselves to undertake all the operations required for the provision of such housing accommodation … I should like to see the Housing Corporation exercising those powers much more vigorously. The Amendments would transfer both the functions and the land which the Land Commission at present holds to the Housing Corporation, so that the latter can extend those powers to start tackling the housing problems at a level at which they can be resolved.

I do not believe that, in the absence of a national housing body with responsibility for providing housing all over the country, for relieving pressures in stress areas by developing estates on the South and East Coast and other areas where people may wish to retire, or still other areas where jobs are available, this can be achieved. This is one of the functions of new town corporations, but they are not the sole answer. A national housing agency of the kind that the corporation could be is essential for a solution of the housing problem.

The Minister said that if the funds of the Land Commission were transferred to the Housing Corporation, a deficit would be transferred; but also transferred would be land, which, the last Report of the Land Commission shows, has a value of over £8 million, which is a good deal larger than the deficit. So both land and liabilities would be transferred.

I see no objection to the corporation having a great deal of valuable land which is capable of development, as well as the accompanying liabilities. No owner-occupier regrets the fact that he has his house even though he also has a mortgage on it. The Housing Corporation would be in a similar situation. It may regret the liability but that by no means outweighs the advantages of having the land.

I therefore urge that, in considering the Amendments, the House should gravely weigh the disadvantages of abolishing the one instrument which we have—perhaps not a perfect one or one which has yet proved itself—for tackling our housing problems nationally. These problems cannot be resolved other than on a national basis. There have been many recent illustrations of the difficulty of resolving these problems. The Francis Committee's Report, which was published only a few days ago, illustrates the appalling conditions in much of the private sector.

I do not wish to go back over the proposals in regard to the abolition of the betterment levy. I believe that some such experiment will have to be made again because the fundamental problems of housing are closely related to the cost of land and to the problem of whether it is right that the 53 million people who are crowded into this island should have to pay house prices which reflect the enormous increases in value which have accrued by reason of the pressure of demand for housing.

Our Amendments are not intended to be wrecking Amendments but seek to save the provisions which are essential to the solution of housing problems. They are in no way contrary to the Government's election commitments. One of the Conservative Party commitments was a promise to try to resolve the problem of bad housing conditions. This is one of the necessary weapons in resolving those problems and I urge the Government to think again about this matter. I hope that the Amendment can be accepted.

Amendment negatived.

7.52 p.m.

Mr. Michael Heseltine

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I am conscious of the fact that this has been a controversial Bill, and we have explored at great length the arguments of hon. Members opposite who were responsible for bringing the Land Commission into existence. When in Opposition we were unable to find that their policy justified the introduction of the Land Commission and the betterment levy which was associated with it. We believe that there are more effective policies, and these are the policies which the present Government propose to deploy in partnership with the local authorities. One of the fundamental differences between the two sides of the House springs from our conviction that this problem cannot be solved unless there is a real partnership between local authorities and central government.

We have an underlying suspicion of any instrument of central government policy which sets out to override the wishes of the democratically elected local representatives. This was one of our principal objections to the establishment of the Land Commission in the first place. We believe that the policies involving consultation and suggestions to local authorities on the need to release more land are much more likely to achieve the additional land that is required.

One cannot consider the Land Commission without reference to betterment levy. We on this side of the House are convinced that where there is a case for taxing the gains on land this can be dealt with adequately through the existing capital gains machinery, which was originally used for this purpose by the earlier Conservative Government. This is the position to which we have now returned following the abolition of betterment levy.

The betterment levy caused a tremendous amount of hardship and its effects continued long after adjustments were forced on the Labour Government as a result of the pressure which arose. This tax probably caused greater hardship for people in the way in which it was administered than any other tax with which this country had been confronted. At one stage there were such difficulties and so many hardship cases built up that some 70 letters a week were being sent to Members of Parliament who were being asked to deal with real human difficulties. I accept at once that, in face of the hardship caused, the Labour Administration amended their own legislation.

Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)


Mr. Heseltine

It is not right for the hon. Member to decry the point that there was real hardship.

Mr. Howell

I am not decrying the point, but the fact is that action was taken to put that matter right and that sort of situation has not existed for the past 18 months.

Mr. Heseltine

I wish to be fair, and I accept that in order to deal with a small number of cases the previous Government took action, but the fact is that the hardship continued. During the deliberations on this Bill I and other hon. Members have quoted examples of the hardship that was caused because of this form of taxation. We did not believe that it was either fair or necessary. Our view was that it did much to accelerate the rate at which land prices rose. Land prices have risen by about 100 per cent. over the last five or six years: the fastest rate of acceleration occurred at the time the betterment levy first came into effect.

Mr. James Dempsey (Coatbridge and Airdrie)

Could I refer the Under-Secretary to what happened in Fort William when it was decided to develop the pulp paper mill? The cost of land then jumped by 700 or 800 per cent. That was long before the passage of the Act and long before betterment levy was ever considered.

Mr. Heseltine

It is always possible to introduce individual examples, but general national statistics do not support the figure given by the hon. Gentleman. The fact is that the general increase on average was about 100 per cent. in the five or six years immediately preceding our election.

Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)

The statistics show that when the regulations originally introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Silk in, were withdrawn, the bonanza began and land fortunes were then made.

Mr. Heseltine

I would have to look at the detail, but I would say that the period of 1959 approximated to the period of one of the greatest leaps forward in the acquisition of privately-owned houses. This was a time when the earlier Conservative Government took the housing programme, involving public and private housing, to an unprecedented level. The trend went on after 1959.

Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)

If that were so, why was the then Minister of Housing, Mr. Henry Brooke, attacked so strongly for not building sufficient houses?

Mr. Heseltine

There were never sufficient houses. This was something the Labour Government faced when they failed to reach their 500,000 target and saw their programme year by year fail to reach the levels it had reached in preceding years.

I do not wish in this debate to start swopping these sorts of experiences. Everybody realises that building houses is a very complicated matter and many factors are involved. All I am saying is that the Conservative Party believe that in relation to the housing programme the betterment levy only accelerated land prices and had an adverse effect on the supply of land coming forward for development. We thought it right to commit ourselves to an early repeal of the betterment levy and to the abolition of the Land Commission. This Bill carries out that election promise. Nothing that has been said changes our conviction that this is the right Bill to have introduced. Our party believes that this is just one more of its election promises which it is bringing to early fulfilment. I have every confidence that the House will give the Bill a Third Reading.

8.0 p.m.

Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)

This Bill has been marked by a pleasant and agreeable Committee stage conducted by a pleasant and agreeable Minister. Where we willingly pay tribute to the personal qualities of the Minister, we regret that we cannot pay tribute to the Bill that he introduced. When it entered its Committee stage in all respects it was an odious Bill. It has emerged from its Committee stage and its Report stage still an odious Bill.

It is justified on two grounds only. The first is that the betterment levy, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) championed and with which all hon. Members on this side agreed, caused hardship. But hardship to whom? The Under-Secretary keeps going back to the early days when on one occasion 70 letters were received in a week. What the contents of the letters were he never tells us. However, the difficult about which he spoke was rightly and democratically changed in this House, as he knows—

Mr. Heseltine

The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that while I did not see the letters they were seen by his Government and the contents were sufficiently clear to persuade right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite to change the existing law.

Mr. Silkin

Undoubtedly, that is so; but that is what we are all saying. It is difficult to understand why the hon. Gentleman jobs back to a matter which was corrected perfectly satisfactorily more than 18 months ago.

The hon. Gentleman then goes on to say that another hardship will be alleviated by a return to what a Conservative Government used to do. I do not follow this, because the capital gains tax to which the profits and losses on land will be subject is the capital gains tax of 1965. That was a Labour Government tax, and not the Conservative Government's short-term tax introduced in the Budget of 1961 or 1962. In other words, we shall not be returning to the philosophy or taxing policy of a previous Conservative Government.

Here I must enter one caveat. There are those on this side of the House, though I am not among them, who have suspicious minds and fear that this Bll is only the first stage in a rather sinister and grisly process towards the abolition of the tax on capital gain as we know it. If that is so, the community should be made aware of the fact that, by the passing of this Bill, at least £12 million will be thrown away this year, at least £31 million will be thrown away next year and that £11 million a year thereafter will be thrown away and lost. It will go into the pockets of those who have been fortunate in their land deals Good luck to them if they have been. However, the community as a whole has a right to be considered.

Incidentally, these figures are very conservative in both senses of the word. The Minister has said that he is no mathematician, and we agree with him. He has added that he is not certain of the figures. They may be higher. He justifies them on the ground of the existence of the capital gains tax. However, he does not deny that a sum totting up to something like £60 million over three years, even on the most conservative figures, will be lost in revenue. That sum of £60 million wantonly thrown away by this Government without any reason could pay for a lot of school milk, a lot of children's meals and a lot of old age pensions.

The second point concerns the Land Commission. Its aim was a brave one. Had it been given time, it could very well have justified its existence. It was not given much time. Its aim was simply to provide land, to hold land and to buy land for the community so that it could be used wherever necessary for the benefit of the community. It was an extension of what we do already with new towns. To say that the powers of the local authorities are sufficient is to ignore the limited ability of a local authority to purchase and hold land, and I think that the Under-Secretary agrees that it is not always desirable for a local authority to hold land. But some national institution should do it.

In slaughtering the Land Commission, the Government are slaughtering one of the best and most likely methods of bringing land into some form of disciplined development. At the moment, it is too haphazard, too piecemeal and too lacking in any logical content in its development.

My right hon. and hon. Friends and I regret the passing of this Bill. I do not have to advise them to divide against its Third Reading, because I know that they intend to. But there will come a time—and it may not be too long ahead—when a more permanent method of dealing with the nation's land incorporating some form of levy will be brought into existence which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite will not be able to destroy. When that moment comes, the community as a whole will benefit just as it is being cheated of its rights at the moment.

8.7 p.m.

Mr. John Farr (Harborough)

I welcome the end of the Land Commission, and I do not share the expectations of the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin), who foreshadows the re-creation of the Commission in a few years time. Tonight, the Commission is being buried once and for all. It is perhaps appropriate to describe the atmosphere in the Chamber as being rather akin to that of a funeral parlour. It is appropriate to the occasion, and I hope to write a short epitaph for its tombstone.

The right hon. Gentleman was not a member of either of the two Committees which considered the Commission in 1964 and 1966. In that connection, it is more than a little frustrating to think of the hours and weeks that we wasted to no purpose.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the cases of hardship in a fairly flippant tone. He suggested that some were trivial and that many, if not all, were rectified by the adjustment to the Act made by the last Government. However, he is quite wrong in that respect. Although the number of hardship cases that I used to receive was reduced from a flood to a trickle after the previous Government acted, a persistent trickle remained.

Even today I have a tragic case of a constituent who was compelled to move from his house in a clearance area. He stuck it out because it was a nice house. Eventually, the developer came along and said to him: "You are going to get a compulsory purchase order served on you for your house unless you move. To save you the time and trouble of going through all that, I shall give you a few hundred pounds extra if you will get out quietly." My constituent and his wife did not want to leave. However, they left and bought another house with the money. No sooner were they in that new house than they were assessed for levy on the extra money which they got for moving, reluctantly, from their old house, in which, incidentally, my constituent had been born. That is the type of hardship which continued under this wretched Act until the end of its life which, I understand, is culminating tonight or will culminate when the Bill goes through another place.

Hon. Members on both sides have many examples like the one which I have just illustrated. I am sure that all hon. Members are glad to see the whole lot wrapped up tonight.

I should like to put two questions to my hon. Friend. The first concerns the date of termination of chargeable acts which, in the Bill, has been written down as 22nd July, 1970, after which no further levy will be raised. Is it possible for an Amendment to be made, perhaps in another place, to alter this date if not to a considerably earlier date, at least to the date of the General Election, 18th June last year, when the British people, in giving the Conservative Government a mandate for the next five years, at the same time gave a good-bye to the Land Commission and, so to speak, emphatically rejected all that the Land Commission stood for and, I should think, gave my hon. Friend a good case for making the date at least five weeks earlier.

If possible—I believe that my hon. Friend referred to this point in his speech on Second Reading—some of us on this side would like to see all the wretched machinations of the Land Commission—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sure the hon. Gentleman realises that we are on Third Reading. I hope that he will, therefore, stick to the contents of the Bill.

Mr. Farr

Certainly, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I immediately bow to your desire. I was referring to the date in the Bill and expressing the hope that possibly it could have been made considerably earlier. However, I understand that that would be difficult, if not impossible, because a considerable amount of unravelling of past transactions would have to take place.

The second matter about which I want to ask my hon. Friend concerns the disposal of land which, I think, is dealt with in Clause 3. Will my hon. Friend give an assurance tonight that this disposal will be undertaken in a speedy and energetic manner? In parts of the Midlands there is a great shortage of housing land. I should like to be assured that it will be offered to the highest bidder, whether a private builder or a local authority, so that houses are provided at the earliest possible date and the large acreage of land which the Land Commission still holds is put to some useful purpose. Can my hon. Friend give me any idea when he expects the completion of these disposals to have taken place, and has he a time table in this respect?

I welcome the end of the Land Commission. It sees the end of many hours of wasted time by hon. Members on both sides. As we foreshadowed in those Committee days of 1964 and 1966, the Land Commission did nothing but make land more scarce and more dear. We on this side are very glad to be rid of it.

8.15 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

I am sure that the House would wish me to pay tribute to Arthur Skeffington who worked with me in setting up the Land Commission with energy, enthusiasm and devotion. I could not have had a more loyal colleague. I am sure that the whole House will join with me in mourning the loss of a dear friend.

No pretext has been given for the Bill. The betterment levy, at the time that it was discontinued, was working smoothly and was accepted as being fair. Revenue was rising steeply to £65 million.

The Land Commission was beginning to play a useful and significant part in bringing land forward for development.

The only excuse for this legislation is that which has been given again by the Under-Secretary of State tonight—that the Government are carrying out their electoral mandate. We heard the same excuse for the Industrial Relations Bill and for the Immigration Bill yesterday. Each of these Measures will prove to be an albatross, and we shall have the unedifying sight of the Government with three hung round their neck.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin) referred to our amicable discussions, and the Bill is particularly regrettable because we have made considerable progress since the bitter controversies when the Land Commission was first introduced. We no longer have the controversy about compulsory purchase. Its necessity is accepted.

The first objective of the Land Commission White Paper, that the right land should be available for development at the right time, is now agreed by everyone. The argument is about means.

With very little conviction, the Minister and the Under-Secretary say that we can rely on the local authorities. However, they know that we cannot. The local authorities are equipped with all the powers to achieve their object and they have been successful in bringing land forward for their own public purposes. However, we are concerned with bringing land forward for private development, and we know from experience that the local authorities are not able to tackle the job.

In Committee the Minister conceded that there should be some supplementation to the powers of the local authorities and that this should be done in an ad hoc way, as has been done in the case of the new and the expanded towns. The Minister conceded the case for a national agency where it is impossible to get "full development from ratepayers' money". That is just the problem which we face. It is impossible, or very difficult, to support private development from ratepayers' money. It is certainly impossible to do it on an adequate scale.

The Minister for Local Government and Development (Mr. Graham Page)

The right hon. Gentleman has quoted me as supporting some national agency. I do not know whether it is a misprint in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I cannot recollect supporting any national agency for this purpose.

Mr. Willey

I agree at once. "National agency" are my own words. However the Minister cares to take it, he was talking about ad hoc authorities. They were national authorities, because they were distinguishable from local authorities. I concede that I have called such a body a national agency.

Why should the Minister do this? The hon. Gentleman is committed by the electoral mandate. But there are two other reasons. One is that I believe that the Government are deliberately trying to discourage development. I also believe, as has been said in earlier discussions, that the Government were alarmed, as I pointed out on Second Reading, that if the Land Commission had been allowed to carry out its current programe it would have built up a land fund of £35 million to £45 million which certainly would have established it once and for all as a national agency effectively helping development. If the Minister remains in office long enough—and I bear him no ill will—he will live to regret, as his predecessors have regretted, that there is no national agency to bring forward land for development.

Equally, there is now general agreement on the second objective of the Land Commission White Paper. Everyone agrees that a substantial part of the development value created by the community should return to the community. Again we are concerned with means. The Government say that we need not do this through betterment levy; it can be done through capital gains tax. As I have repeatedly pointed out, this is the real purpose of the Bill, and that is why it is such a squalid and sordid Measure. By a sleight of hand, to take the Government's own figures, they are providing £12 million this coming year, running up to £31 million, as a tax-free bonanza, which will total £100 million over the likely period of office of the Government. This £100 million will substantially go to large landowners and land speculators. We proved in Committee just how few people will benefit from this bonanza. The last Report of the Land Commission showed that 40 per cent. of the levy was accounted for by 444 transactions. The Bill will mean that some people will be tens and some people hundreds of thousands of pounds better off.

As my right hon. Friend said, we must consider this in the context of what the Government are doing. The Exchequer revenue is a single entity. While the Government are dishing out £12 million to landowners and speculators, people who go for dental treatment are having to contribute an additional £12 million to the Exchequer. Whose hardship is the Government concerned about? Can it be that wealthy landowners and land speculators are so badly treated that it is necessary during this coming year to provide them with £12 million tax free? When we consider that this is being done, not only in the context of dental charges but in the context of charges for school meals, school milk and prescriptions, we have the classic case of Tory priorities.

It is to his credit that throughout our discussions on the Bill the Minister has been uncomfortable and ill at ease. He has lacked his usual self-confidence and has given figures which have confused us and confused him. He has every reason for discomfort. The Bill is nothing but a squalid and sordid pay-off.

8.25 p.m.

Dr. Glyn

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr), I am delighted to assist, as they say in France, at the funeral of the Land Commission. I feel sure that there will be few mourners in the country. A large number of ordinary people were badly hit financially by the effects of the Land Commission, and they will certainly welcome the Bill.

The Bill fulfils an election promise. We are dismantling a piece of machinery whose functions can be perfectly well exercised by other Departments. Although the Land Commission was represented by some solid and good men, it had a deficit of £20 million, of the taxpayers' money, but I will come to that point in a moment. I am not suggesting that the investment of that money was unwise. The Land Commission had a duty to buy the land and no doubt the land was bought at the best price.

I want to discuss the disposal of that land, and I suggest to the Minister that business operations should not be the first consideration. There is a great shortage of land for development, and, without flooding the market in a particular area, my hon. Friend would be wise to make sure that the land is disposed of at a reasonable speed. I will concede that if the land were retained for a long time the price it would fetch eventually would be higher, but since there is a shortage he should, without causing a glut of land in any one area, make sure that the land previously owned by the Commission is disposed of as quickly as possible.

Mr. Idris Owen (Stockport, North)

My hon. Friend has suggested that there should not be a glut of land in any one area, but does he not agree that a glut means a price reduction?

Dr. Glyn

I agree that it would mean a price reduction, but the Minister must give careful consideration to how much land should be freed in a particular area, whether for private or public development. My hon. Friend has suggested that if the land is sold quickly there will be a glut and if he waits a long time he will get a higher price, but the Minister must look at it in a sensible manner and see how best the interests of the area can be served. How he should perform this operation is entirely up to him.

The right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin) has brought to a head a subject of great importance. He is quite right in saying that this operation will now be taken over by the capital gains machinery. What happened under the Land Commission was that a land owner said to himself that he wanted EX thousand for the land and he therefore added to the price the amount of tax he would have to pay. This inevitably caused an increase in the price of land. One danger is that we shall be perpetuating the increase in the price of land, because the percentage which will be taken by the capital gains tax will still be added to the price. I think there is a case for no capital gains to be applied to land which is to be used for housing.

I will not deal with some of the sad cases which have resulted from the Land Commission. A few have occurred in my constituency and the Minister will be aware of at least one of them. I raised on Report a matter which is more apposite to this debate, and I trust that the Minister will deal with it. Since this legislation is really retrospective, I hope that he will extend the period during which people must find the money for transactions which were completed before 23rd July, 1970.

I cannot see either the legality or equity in the present arrangement. This is essentially a retrospective Bill in that by the time it has gone through both Houses of Parliament and received the Royal Assent, its provisions will be retrospective. I see no reason why the Minister should not say to the Treasury that a great many people incurred liabilities before 23rd July whereas, had they sold on 24th July, they would have been liable for less tax.

Because of the delay in issuing the levy under these provisions, many people were not called on for a contribution—they did not receive their buff envelopes—for about three years. I am not suggesting that their debts should be liquidated but just that where there are difficult cases people have been badly caught out, there should be discretion exercised by the Revenue, prompted by the Minister, to allow an extended time for those debts to be paid.

I welcome the Bill and hope that the Minister will answer not only the points which my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) and I have raised about the liquidation of land, but will give a spark of hope to those unfortunate people whose transactions were completed before 23rd July.

8.33 p.m.

Mr. Michael Cocks (Bristol, South)

The hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) referred to Clause 3 and the disposal of land. He said that the land should be sold to the highest bidder and be brought forward for housing development as soon as possible. Is he aware that there is absolutely no guarantee that the highest bidder will choose to develop the land straightaway? Indeed, if he should be a national developer he may choose to hold on to it and to keep it in reserve for a considerable time.

The hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Idris Owen), the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Trew) and I have spoken on a theme to which I wish to refer briefly. It is no coincidence that the three of us are new to this House. By that I mean that we are not involved as some hon. Members are in the history of these matters. We are seriously concerned about the way in which the Government see the rôle of the small builder.

I recall raising this matter with the Minister on a previous occasion, but time was short and I am sure that inadvertently he was unable to deal with my question. As the small builder plays a useful part in society, I should like to know the Government's intentions and hopes for him. The small builder usually knows the locality and must live with the local people after he has completed his building. If he perpetrates any gross horrors, he must answer for them later.

If the Minister can tell us what the effect of the Bill when enacted will be on the small builder who acquires land, he will go some way towards reassuring us that the Government have these problems in mind. It is no good the Government pushing through legislation without any thought of the consequences which will flow from it.

8.35 p.m.

Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)

Many Labour Members of Parliament represent city dwellers living in terrible housing conditions. Those city dwellers need land at reasonable prices for houses. This land lies mainly at the periphery of the big cities. Once planning permission is given to build on that land, what was previously a potato field becomes overnight a gold mine. Fortunes have been made, are being made, and will be made in this way—paid for by the community in higher house prices.

The last Labour Government attempted to relieve the community of this penalty. The Conservative Government are shifting the burden back on to the community. Many hon. Members opposite will admit that when we discuss landed estates we are touching the very heart of the Conservative Party. The Bill is a hand-out to their friends. It is a hand-out of £31 million a year by 1973 which, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin) said, would have gone to put right some of the things which the Government are doing wrong. It would have obviated the increases in school meal charges and avoided the cuts which are being made in free milk and house building.

Not only is this a hand-out to landowners. It is a hand-out to big landowners—estates of £100,000 and more—because the small landowner—the owneroccupier—has been exempted by the amending legislation.

I shall speak for only one minute more before resuming my seat. I feel strongly on this issue, as do many of my hon. Friends. This is a class Measure in favour of the rich and against the interests of the poor. I warn hon. Members opposite that land prices cannot and will not be allowed to soar in the way they are doing. When the Government are defeated and replaced by a Labour Government, something will have to be put in the place of the legislation which the Government have removed.

Discussions are proceeding at present. It is not for me to say what the alternative will be.

Mr. Peter Trew (Dartford)

Why not?

Mr. Allaun

Because there are several alternative proposals. I believe that the Land Commission, far from going too far, did not go far enough. It will be necessary to have a more effective piece of legislation in future, because we are dealing with big property. Big property employs big brains—the best lawyers in the country—to defend its interests. We shall have to have something effective to prevent evasion.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The Chair has been fairly lenient on the promise of one minute which it heard. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not be led too far astray.

Mr. Allaun

I will conclude, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I believe that something along the lines of Lewis Silkin's Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, will be necessary, so that, where the value of land increases, not through the efforts of the owner, but through the efforts of the community, that increase in value should return to the community which creates it. That is a concept which simple people can see outside the House. We shall implement that concept and reverse this Measure.

8.40 p.m.

Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)

I had not intended to take part in the debate, but, having listened to the speeches so far, I am tempted to intervene because I am intrigued at the way in which it is said, "We are bringing in this Measure because we have a mandate for it". Hon. Members opposite say they have a mandate for this Bill, for the Immigration Bill, for the Industrial Relations Bill, and so on. We have all had experience of elections and we know how they are fought. How ridiculous it is to talk of having a mandate specifically for a Measure of this kind, as though the electors realised that a Conservative Government would be pledged to bring in such a Bill and they answered, "Yes".

I, too, mourn the demise of the Land Commission and the Act under which it was established. It was an excellent Measure. No doubt, it had imperfections. It was brought in to deal with a crying need: sufficient land was not available, land was being obtained by speculators who were making a fortune out of it, and the community, which ought to have had the benefit of that land, was being deprived of the right to it. The Land Commission, therefore, was brought in for the specific purpose of obtaining land and putting it to use in the interests of the community.

It was an experiment and, as I say, it had its imperfections. There were difficulties and there were hardships. Many of the hardships were cured. It is said that there still remains a trickle of hardships. Very well; a trickle of hardships also could be dealt with. But the Land Commission was not permitted the time in which to develop the benefits for which it was intended.

What will the Government put in its place? I listened with interest to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann), who spoke about the difficulties today, the great housing need, the lack of land, and the problems which local authorities have in acquiring land, particularly when the land is outside their area. What will the Government put in its place?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman would not wish to lead the Minister into alternatives and will restrict himself to what is in the Bill.

Mr. Weitzman

With respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am trying to address myself to what the Bill does. I realise that on Third Reading one may speak only about what the Bill contains. The Bill abolishes the Land Commission. I am pointing out that, with nothing put in its place, the community is deprived of an instrument which met a real need.

The Government are taking a disgraceful step in abolishing an institution which should have been allowed to develop and which would have proved of inestimable benefit to the community at large.

8.43 p.m.

Mr. Dempsey (Coatbridge and Airdrie) rose

Hon. Members

Oh. Let us get on with it.

Mr. Dempsey

I have not spoken in this debate or in the debate on the Industrial Relations Bill. I have not troubled the House with speeches, and I think it an insult that hon. Members opposite should make insinuations about being brief. In fact, we are galloping through this business too quickly. It is a serious Bill. It leaves a serious vacuum in our instruments for the protection of community development. Any hon. Member who has views to express should be entitled to express them without insulting references from the other side.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Chair heard no such references.

Mr. Dempsey

I assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I did, and so did my hon. Friends.

We are discussing the abolition of the Land Commission. What protection will there be for the community now? After all, land is one of the most important sources of community development. Land, labour and capital are the three elements upon which our society develops, as it has throughout the ages.

We are discussing legislation aimed primarily at reducing the availability of land for essential social development. There is no doubt that the land owners will sell to the highest bidder. Even though private enterprise wishes to develop an industrial estate, as it has in my constituency, land owners will sell to those willing to develop another project if that would earn them more money. So there will be no priorities for community interest and expansion.

When we talk about the availability of land we talk also about its utility value. The Minister has overlooked the many factors that caused the Labour Government to introduce the Land Commission. For example, at Fort William there was the exploitation, which is a very mild term to use, of the land once it was decided to develop a pulp mill there. The price rose by 700 to 800 per cent. The land owners, not the community, creamed that off, yet the community developed the land. It is only fair and decent that where the community is responsible for expansion of that nature, a social project of that nature, those who develop it should benefit. He who pays the piper should call the tune.

Some hon. Members might not understand what is happening in my part of the country, so I shall tell them another reason why it is necessary to have some control over the sharks. In my part of Scotland normal feu duty, the cost of a piece of ground on which a house is built, was £2 10s. a year. Speculation brought that up to £40 for the same size of ground and for a similar house to be erected. That may be charged for anything for 30 to 60 years, and at the end of the day the land owner still owns the ground. That is sheer exploitation of the people's needs for homes and essential community establishments. The Government have overlooked the importance of protecting people and communities against such exploitation.

I recall very vividly our failure to build a much-needed general hospital because—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not trespass on the good will of the Chair yet again. We are not dealing with feu duty nor with general hospitals. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will return to the content of the Bill.

Mr. Dempsey

If you had given me just another minute, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I think that I could have proved conclusively, even to you, that this matter reflects on the cost of essential services to our community. You have some experience of this yourself. I was about to say that we had a coal pit burning bing converted overnight into a Garden of Eden by the land owners because we required the land for hospital building. We must protect the community against such sharks. In the vaccuum created by the Bill there must be provision for the protection of communities throughout the country.

The Secretary of State for Scotland has just issued a statement about a large town development at Stonehouse in Lanarkshire. What protection are we to have to ensure that the land required will not have to be bought at exorbitant prices? Where is the protection in the Bill against that sort of thing? I have done my best to ascertain to what extent in the Bill individuals, communities, local councils and private developers will be protected following the removal of the Land Commission, which ensured that, when developments of that type took place, the benefits went to the community. Now, the benefits will go to the land owners. It is as simple as that. It is as clear as water—clearer. I have no doubt that those land owners have been rewarded by the Conservative Party for their contributions to Tory Party funds which helped win the last General Election.

Many hon. Members opposite have referred to the fact that this Bill is an election promise. I understand that and accept it. But what about the promises to reduce prices at a stroke and to reduce unemployment? We have not heard about them so far. This Bill is, in fact, more than an election promise. Through it, the Conservative Party is repaying the land owners for the assistance they gave towards its victory at the last election.

Dr. Glyn

I do not think that the other promises were contained in the election manifesto. Nor do I see how the hon. Gentleman can relate them to the Third Reading of this Bill. I would be glad if he would help us.

Mr. Dempsey

The Minister himself referred to the election promise, as did other hon. Members opposite. If they can quote it as a salient feature of their argument, surely I can quote it also.

I am deeply disturbed that this sum of money—estimated to be ultimately about £60 million—will be lost to public funds. As other hon. Members have pointed out, we need that money. We can do with it in Scotland to provide houses and jobs for our people, to start the general hospital building programme which has so far not materialised and for many other material purposes for which the Government are responsible. This is a sad day for the House of Commons because we should be ensuring the birthright of our people that money spent by the community on social benefits should go not to the land sharks and speculators but to the original source from which these benefits come—the people and the communities to which they belong.

8.54 p.m.

Mr. Denis Howell

On Second Reading and in Committee, we were told that the Bill was necessary in order to provide land, to reduce the cost of land to ensure fairness to the owners of land. But at last, on Third Reading, we have had the admission from the Government that the Bill was introduced as a political decision—a decision that is distasteful to many of us, as the Under-Secretary of State admitted. That is the essence of the matter. The Bill is not before the House on the merits of the issue. There has not at any stage been any attempt to examine the merits of the Land Commission or the questions which arise from it.

It is significant that at no stage has the Secretary of State for the Environment thought it right to be present even for two minutes. [Interruption.] I am told that the Secretary of State is watching the big fight. I have a sporting interest. Many of us want to watch that fight so I shall do my best, in the interests of sport, to provide that opportunity—with the co-operation of the Minister.

Nevertheless, this is a big fight, people have to be knocked down and I do not want to go fifteen rounds to knock down the Minister. I have to go for the first or second round. The situation in which the Bill leaves the country has to be summarised so that our Opposition can be properly expressed. This Bill is one of the great scandals of this Administration, and one of the first. As most of my hon. Friends have said, this is a bonanza, a hand-out, lolly for the boys. It is an opportunity to provide £43 million in two years for the people who put the Conservative Party in power.

Where does this money come from? This is £43 million contributed directly as a result of rising land prices, brought about by community activities, by local authorities, by creating new communities. This is a question with which the House has had to deal over the years and although the Bill gets rid of the Land Commission and the betterment levy it is fair to say that we have not got rid of the scandal of rising land prices and the exploitation of land—all of those things which cause grievance to large numbers of decent people. These troubles will occur again and again and they will come here to be solved. I was glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) saying that the Labour Party are giving consideration to the scandals that will flow from this.

This hand-out of £43 million is taking place at the same time as the country is in desperate economic circumstances. The decision to hand it out has been taken without any regard to the economic consequences of the industrial life of the country, particularly trade union life. What does the Minister think, what do hon. Members opposite think, will be the effect on responsible trade unionists? They have been asked to moderate their wage increases. What will they think when the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State are blatantly handing out this money to the better-off people in society?—[HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish!"]—Hon. Members may say "Rubbish", but would they like to justify this to trade unionists in their constituency, would they like to tell the postmen why they should be content with 8 per cent. while the Government are dishing out £43 million to landowners? It is an impossible proposition to argue. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) here. He talked about this being like a funeral. If there is any comparison with a funeral it is when the Minister stands up, like a family solicitor reading the will.

My second point is to do with the cost of land. Time and again hon. Gentlemen opposite have said that the Land Commission has put up the cost of land. If it has, it must follow, as night follows day, that the abolition of the Land Commission will reduce the cost of land. That is an absolutely ludicrous proposition. The hon. Member for Windsor (Dr. Glyn) should know better. The cost of land is not determined by the taxation on land. It is determined by the best market price which the seller can get for it. The taxation factor is small. The Government have produced not a shred of evidence to show that the Bill will have any effect in reducing the cost of land.

Thirdly, the provision of land is the great social rôle which the Commission was designed to play and was increasingly playing. There is tremendous pressure on land in the great conurbations of London, the West Midlands and Lancashire because people do not have houses in which to live decently. The abolition of the Land Commission will aggravate that situation. It will not produce any more land.

The Government's policy is to create a partnership with local authorities. Last year they sent out a circular, 10/70, asking local authorities to co-operate with them in bringing forward land for housing. But local authorities which have the land do not have the problem. The authorities in the county areas are elected by people who will not help to solve the overcrowding and slum problems of London, Birmingham and Manchester. They cannot do it on political grounds. It is not in their interests to do it. They intend to hold on to their pleasant country areas.

What do the Government propose to do to bring forward land so that houses can be erected in those areas? On Second Reading the Government said that local government reorganization would help. We have now had the opportunity of seeing their proposals. They propose to hedge in all the big urban areas as tightly as possible and to provide no land for the authorities to solve their housing problems. The proposition in respect of the new West Midlands authority is ludicrous. It is to create a new authority with Coventry at one end and Wolverhampton at the other with Birmingham, West Bromwich, Smethwick and other places in the middle.

I should like the Minister to tell us what he and his friends believe will be the situation concerning the availability of land, not just for local authorities, but for private builders. It is a mistake to think, as hon. Members opposite think, that we on this side of the House are opposed to the provision of land for owner-occupiers. We are not. We introduced schemes like the mortgage option scheme to help people with low incomes to buy their houses. But again and again the small builder, who is hit hard, knows that he cannot get land. This was a unique role which the land Commission fulfilled. It obtained parcels of land and packaged them together and provided the £500,000, or whatever it was, necessary for the sewers and access roads which medium builders and some large builders could not afford to do. All that has gone and nothing has been put in its place. We wait to hear what the Government have to say on these matters.

Although the Bill will abolish the Land Commission, it will not abolish the problems which it was set up to solve. It will not help the social conscience of the nation with regard to the profiteering out of land prices. It will certainly not reduce the price of land for house owners. It will certainly not provide the land where we need it for people who are overcrowded. For these reasons, because it leaves a vacuum which must be filled at some time and to which we shall have to return again and again, we on this side will certainly vote against the Bill.

9.6 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) said that the Bill was one of the great scandals of this Administration. On the contrary, the Measure which this overtakes, the Land Commission Act, 1967, was the greatest scandal of the previous Administration in the hardship which it brought to the small owners of property and the complete failure to carry out any of its objects, either reducing the price of land or making land available.

I join the right hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) in mourning the loss of an old friend of both of us, Arthur Skeffington. Some hon. Members can fight across the Dispatch Box and across the Committees and still be very great friends. I am very proud to say that Arthur Skeffington and I, in all the years which we knew each other—17 years in the House—were always very great friends, and at the same time often able to fight. He could fight. He put his case well and he was always a friend to his political enemies.

I would also thank the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin) and the hon. Member for Small Heath, for the conduct of the opposition to the Bill. We are now reaching the end of the Bill in this House, and we have had reasonable arguments and have not wasted time on discussions. Each side has brought forward the right points to discuss.

My hon. Friends the Members for Harborough (Mr. Farr) and Windsor (Dr. Glyn) referred to the demise and burial of the Land Commission. I do not want to prolong the final obsequies. The sooner we get through the funeral rites of this unlamented corpse, the happier we shall all be. The Opposition have tried hard to give it the kiss of life, but it would be better to give it a decent burial now, to get it out of the way, so that we can proceed with our much more effective, relevant and positive policies, such as making land available, reorganising local government, preparing regional strategies and so on.

These are other promises which we made in the election. Perhaps the Opposition treat those promises with the contempt with which they treated our promise to get rid of the Land Commission. I cannot understand the Opposition's argument, that we should not be bound by something which we said in our election manifesto, that it is wrong to argue that, if one said it in one's manifesto, one has a mandate to do it.

This is the argument solemnly advanced today and at previous stages of the Bill—that we must not say in Government that we have a mandate for this or that we gave a promise to do it. If we are carrying out our promises, we are told, we are doing the wrong thing. We are carrying out our promises, and we are proud to do so.

I had hoped that the final burial service of the Land Commission would have been on the appointed day of 1st April—

Mr. Denis Howell

Very appropriate.

Mr. Page

As the hon. Member says, it would be very appropriate to bury the Land Commission on All Fools' Day, but our programme is getting a little behind. I foresee that if the programme in the remaining stages runs smoothly, the appointed day will be 1st May. I do not think this matter raises difficulties because the vital date for betterment levy is 22nd July. Any chargeable acts or events which occur before that date remain chargeable to levy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough asked whether we could alter that date or set it back. Although at an early stage we considered whether we could make this retrospective, we feared that to give concessions to those who had not paid levy would have been unfair to those who had already paid. It is necessary in any reform of taxation to date the matter from when the reform is announced rather than from any earlier date. Had we made this matter retrospective, it would have been necessary to re-assess those who had been assessed to levy on the basis whether they were liable for capital gains tax. Administratively it would have been difficult, and traditionally tax changes are not made retrospective because of the uncertainty which would be caused in tax matters.

Probably the solution to this matter lies in the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor, who asked whether we could give those who had been assessed a longer time to pay when the chargeable act or event had happened some considerable time in the past. Such people probably would have spent the money which they had acquired from selling property or may have bought other property with the money and would now be faced with a payment of levy out of a small capital or income. I can assure my hon. Friend that we shall give every consideration to those who find inconvenience and difficulty in paying. The Land Commission in the past has given great consideration to this point and when eventually the matter is handed over to the Secretary of State we, too, will give consideration to those who find difficulty in paying.

One argument used by the right hon. Member for Deptford is that, because we are relieving certain people of tax, we are throwing away some £12 million in one year and further amounts in a second year. Surely this is an argument on the lines that if a tax raises revenue then no matter how bad it is, it must be kept because it raises money for some good purpose. The Opposition are putting themselves in the role of a Robin Hood, or Dick Turpin in this case, by taking money through a bad tax because they believe that they can spend it for good purpose.

The right hon. Gentleman's second argument against the Bill related to capital gains tax. However, since these are profits from land, there is surely no reason to have two kinds of taxation on those profits. When the levy is abolished by this Bill, those who make a capital gain in disposing of land will still be liable to tax; those who trade in land will always be liable to the normal income tax on profits which they make in trading. We are putting those gains and trading profits out of dealings in land on the same basis as profits on dealings in any other property.

The right hon. Member for Deptford said that there must be a national institution to take over the land powers of the Commission. In that, he was repeating the argument that we heard in Committee that no local authority should be regarded as sufficiently capable or trustworthy to carry out the task which has been allocated to it. We have confidence that local authorities will carry out this task, and we have more faith in them perhaps than have the Opposition.

Before I conclude, I think that I should report the position of the staff of the Commission and the property remaining in its hands. The rundown of staff has proceeded smoothly. The latest figure of staff in post is 227. That was the figure on 1st March, and it compares with 385 on 12th January. It is expected to be reduced to 100 by 31st March, when only the Croydon office will remain open. In due course, that will be taken over as a unit of the Department of the Environment. The 100 staff will be absorbed elsewhere as the outstanding levy assessment and collection work is cleared. That will be done over a period of two or three years. I am pleased to say that all the remaining staff—that is, the difference between the 100 who are to be retained and the 227 in post at the moment—have jobs to go to, some to private work which they have chosen and others to different appointments in the Civil Service. I am happy to say that we and the staff together have solved all the problems which at the outset presented quite a big difficulty.

Mr. Willey

Will the hon. Gentleman say what is to happen to the premises in Newcastle? In the North-East there was a considerable advantage in getting the Commission's headquarters at Newcastle. What is to happen to the premises?

Mr. Page

If neither the House nor the right hon. Gentleman will hold me to it, I believe that the Treasury has its eye on the premises. I do not think that there is any intention to dispose of them.

Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Derbyshire, West)

Why not?

Mr. Page

It is the Government's policy to try to disperse offices, and this seemed a good opportunity.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

More civil servants?

Mr. Page

No. As I have said, we have reduced the number of staff. We have reduced it in the Commission from about 1,000 to 100.

Mr. John Silkin

I know that the Minister will not wish to make an unfair point. All that he has done is to remove staff from one formerly existing Government organisation to another. The truth is that there are 5,000 more civil servants today than there were when the previous Government left office.

Mr. Page

The reduction has been achieved in some cases by the staff finding employment in private offices. In other cases it has been achieved by filling vacancies which would have been filled in other ways, by redundancies and not by increasing the total number.

What remains to be done is the outstanding levy assessment and collection. At 1st May there will be assessments of levy to be made of between £9 million and £10 million, and the total amount remaining to be collected on 1st May is between £27 million and £28 million. I expect that this will be collected over the next three years at the following rates: in the year 1971–72, £15 million; in the year 1972–73, £10 million; and in the year 1973–74 and perhaps later years, though I hope not, £3 million. We hope to clear it in about three years.

I will explain the position concerning land remaining in the possession of the Land Commission which will be handed over to the Secretary of State. The land currently held comprises 2,473 acres. The land which it is intended to acquire to round off some of these estates comprises 222 acres. That makes a total of 2,695 acres to be disposed of.

One interesting figure out of the 2,695 acres is that 1,170 acres are to be sold by private treaty to local authorities. I think that this shows that the local authorities are prepared to take un the land which the Land Commission had acquired and, in some cases, to develop it themselves to the point of building houses and so on upon it and, in other cases, to develop it with roads and sewers and to sell it off to private enterprise in plots. The amount being sold direct by private treaty to builders is 204 acres, but there are substantial amounts up to 512 acres to be put up for auction.

Mr. Farr

Why is the whole lot not put up for public auction so that the best available price is obtained for the taxpayer?

Mr. Page

In many cases property was bought with the object of its being taken over by the local authorities. In some cases there is already a contract with local authorities, subject perhaps to planning permission and other arrangements. I think it right that, in cases in which there was a deliberate purchase of property for the purpose of comprehensive development by local authorities, the Land Commission should dispose of it in that way.

A substantial amount of land is being put up to public auction, and the Land Commission's disposal policy concerning land for builders, whether large or small, comes under three heads.

First, there is the land which was bought for small builders at their specific request because they were in difficulties with the owner or where ownership was unknown. This is still to be passed over. The small builder will have an opportunity of acquiring that land.

Secondly, there are the small sites which can be disposed of without the need for road works and drainage where the sites are either too small to be lotted or can be conveniently lotted. That land also is available to small builders.

Thirdly, there are the larger sites which need supply services and roads or require planning permission before they can properly be sold. Those are to be sold as a whole and not split up. After all, the Land Commission must deal with its property in a commercial way. It is under an obligation to do so.

That deals with the point raised by some of my hon. Friends about land for small builders. In suitable cases the land is being offered to small builders where it is possible to lot it out in small parcels. But where it obviously needs considerable development, it is to be put up for auction as a whole.

I mentioned the 1,170 acres which are to be sold to the local authorities. The willingness of local authorities to take up that amount of land for development is interesting as a sidelight on the question of what will take the place of the Land Commission in bringing forward land for development.

Circular 10/70 indicated what we think will be the right agency. It is too soon to say what effect Circular 10/70 will have on the release of land for development. The full picture will not emerge until early this summer, when it should be possible to make a full statement on this.

However, encouraging signs are emerging from discussions with the authorities concerned. Despite the ridicule which the hon. Member for Small Heath has poured on our policy, it is showing some progress, and land is coming forward for the public sector and for private enterprise. I can tell the hon. Member for Small Heath, who pressed this, that Coventry Corporation has announced its intention to accelerate sales of surplus land to builders. Staffordshire County Council has agreed to pass on information about the availability of land and to discuss means of development—

Mr. Denis Howell

The reason why Coventry Corporation is bringing land forward for private sales is that the Corporation, scandalously, has stopped all council house building.

Mr. Page

Coventry is determined to bring forward land in this way. Portsmouth Council has announced the release of more land following a recent review—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not wander too far, as some previous speakers have done.

Mr. Page

I know that the interruptions are in connection with an entertainment other than mine in the Box. I was asked this question by the hon. Member for Small Heath, but I will not continue to give examples, although I have half a dozen more in my notes. I assure him that the policy is producing results and that it will not result in the disastrous increase in land prices which occurred from the beginning of the term of office of the last Administration and continued throughout their term.

The Land Commission's failure to stabilise land prices was highlighted in an article appearing in the February issue of Economic Trends which pointed out that land prices had actually doubled between 1963 and 1970, the largest increase of 40 per cent. occurring in 1968 and 1969, which were the two active years of the Land Commission. So the Land Commission did result in an increase in prices, and there was a slackening off in prices during 1970.

I do not claim that the rise in land prices will be stopped by the introduction of the Bill, but I am confident that the measures we are taking to make more land available for development and to remove the scarcity value in the element of land prices will at least slow down the rate of increase, and we shall be able to say that we have carried out our promises, at which hon. Gentlemen have been scoffing so much during the debate.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 255, Noes 217.

Division No. 234.] AYES [9.28 p.m.
Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian Bell, Ronald Bossom, Sir Clive
Archer, Jeffrey (Louth) Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Bowden, Andrew
Astor, John Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport) Bray, Ronald
Atkins, Humphrey Benyon, W. Brewis, John
Awdry, Daniel Biffen, John Brinton, Sir Tatton
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone) Biggs-Davison, John Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff) Blaker, Peter Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)
Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony Boardman, H. (Leigh) Bruce-Gardyne, J.
Batsford, Brian Body, Richard Bryan, Paul
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Boscawen, Robert Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus, N & M)
Buck, Antony Hicks, Robert Page, Graham (Crosby)
Bullus, Sir Eric Higgins, Terence L. Page, John (Harrow, W.)
Burden, F. A. Hiley, Joseph Parkinson, Cecil (Enfield, W.)
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Hill, John E. B. (Norfolk, S.) Percival, Ian
Campbell, Rt. Hn. G. (Moray & Narn) Hill, James (Southampton, Test) Pike, Miss Mervyn
Carlisle, Mark Holland, Philip Pink, R. Bonner
Channon, Paul Holt, Miss Mary Pounder, Rafton
Chapman, Sydney Hornby, Richard Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
Chichester-Clark, R. Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hn. Dame Patricia Price, David (Eastleigh)
Churchill, W. S. Howe, Hn. Sir Geoffrey (Reigate) Proudfoot, Wilfred
Clark, William (Surrey, E.) Howell, David (Guildford) Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.) Quennell, Miss J. M.
Clegg, Walter Hunt, John Raison, Timothy
Cockeram, Eric Hutchison, Michael Clark Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James
Coombs, Derek Iremonger, T. L. Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter
Cooper, A. E. James, David Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)
Cordle, John Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Rees, Peter (Dover)
Corfield, Rt. Hn. Frederick Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Cormack, Patrick Jessel, Toby Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Costain, A. P. Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead) Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.)
Critchley, Julian Jopling, Michael Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Crouch, David Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Crowder, F P Kaberry, Sir Donald Russell, Sir Ronald
Curran, Charles Kilfedder, James Scott, Nicholas
Scott-Hopkins, James
Dalkeith, Earl of King, Evelvn (Dorset, S.) Sharples, Richard
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry King, Tom (Bridgwater) Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, JamesMaj.-Gen. Kinsey, J. R. Shelton, William (Clapham)
Dean, Paul Knox, David Simeons, Charles
Digby, Simon Wingfield Lambton, Antony Skeet, T H. H.
Dodds-Parker, Douglas Lane, David Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)
Drayson, G. B. Langford-Holt, Sir John Soref, Harold
du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Spence, John
Dykes, Hugh Le Marchant, Spencer Sproat, Iain
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Stainton, Keith
Elliott, R. W.(N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.) Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone) Stanbrook, Ivor
Eyre, Reginald Loveridge, John Stodart, Anthony (Edinburgh, W.)
Farr, John MacArthur, Ian Stokes, John
Fell, Anthony McCrindle, R. A. Stuttaford, Dr. Tom
Fenner, Mrs. Peggy McLaren, Martin Sutcliffe, John
Fidler, Michael Maclean, Sir Fitzroy Tapsell, Peter
Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead) McMaster, Stanley Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton) Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham) Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart)
Fookes, Miss Janet McNair-Wilson, Michael Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N.W.)
Fortescue, Tim McNair-Wilson, Patrick (NewForest) Tebbit, Norman
Foster, Sir John Maddan, Martin Temple, John M.
Fox, Marcus Madel, David Thatcher, Rt. Hn, Mrs. Margaret
Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone) Maginnis, John E. Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)
Fry, Peter Marten, Neil Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)
Galbraith, Hn. T. G. Maude, Angus Tilney, John
Gardner, Edward Mawby, Ray Trafford, Dr. Anthony
Gibson-Watt, David Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Trew, Peter
Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.) Meyer, Sir Anthony Tugendhat, Christopher
Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.) Mills, Peter (Torrington) Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Glyn, Dr. Alan Miscampbell, Norman van Straubenzee, W. R.
Godber, Rt. Hn. J, B. Mitchell, Lt. -Col. C. (Aberdeenshire, W.) Vaughan, Dr. Gerard
Goodhart, Philip Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Vickers, Dame Joan
Goodhew, Victor Moate, Roger Waddington, David
Gorst, John Molyneaux, James Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Gower, Raymond Money, Ernle Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)
Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.) Monks, Mrs. Connie Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Gray, Hamish Monro, Hector Wall, Patrick
Green, Alan Montgomery, Fergus Walters, Dennis
Grylls, Michael More, Jasper Warren, Kenneth
Gummer, Selwyn Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Weatherill, Bernard
Gurden, Harold Mudd, David White, Roger (Gravesend)
Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley) Murton, Oscar Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Neave, Airey Wilkinson, John
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Nicholls, Sir Harmar Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Hannam, John (Exeter) Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher
Harrison, Brian (Maldon) Normanton, Tom Woodnutt, Mark
Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Nott, John Wylie, Rt. Hn. N. R.
Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere Onslow, Cranley Younger, Hn. George
Haselhurst, Alan Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally
Havers, Michael Orr, Capt. L. P. S. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Hay, John Osborn, John Mr. Paul Hawkins and
Heseltine, Michael Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.) Mr. Keith Speed.
Abse, Leo Armstrong, Ernest Barnes, Michael
Albu, Austen Ashley, Jack Beaney, Alan
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Ashton, Joe Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood
Allen, Scholefield Atkinson, Norman Bennett, James (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis) Bagier, Gordon A. T. Bishop, E. S.
Blenkinsop, Arthur Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis Orme, Stanley
Boyden, James (Bishop Auckland) Heffer, Eric S. Oswald, Thomas
Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.) Horam, John Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, Sutton)
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Paget, R. T.
Brown, Ronald (Shoreditch & F'bury) Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Palmer, Arthur
Buchan, Norman Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey) Parker, John (Dagenham)
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Hughes, Mark (Durham) Parry, Robert (Liverpool, Exchange)
Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.) Pavitt, Laurie
Campbell, I. (Dunbartonshire, W.) Hughes, Roy (Newport) Pendry, Tom
Cant, R. B. Hunter, Adam Pemiand, Norman
Carmichael, Neil Janner, Greville Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg
Carter, Ray (Birmingham, Northfield) Jeger, Mrs. Lena (H'b'n & St. P'cras, S.) Prescott, John
Carter-Jones, Lewis (Eccles) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)
Clark, David (Coins Valley) John, Brynmor Probert, Arthur
Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.) Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Rankin, John
Cohen, Stanley Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Reed, D. (Sedgefield)
Coleman, Donald Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.) Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Jones, Barry (Flint, E.) Rhodes, Geoffrey
Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.) Jones, Dan (Burnley) Roberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.) Robertson, John (Paisley)
Davidson, Arthur Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen) Roderick, Caerwyn E. (Br'c'n & R'dnor)
Davies, Denzit (Llanelly) Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, W.) Rodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees)
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Judd, Frank Roper, John
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Kaufman, Gerald Rose, Paul B.
Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.) Kerr, Russell Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)
Delargy, H. J Kinnock, Neil Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)
Dell, Rt Hn. Edmund Lamond, James Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)
Dempsey, James Latham, Arthur Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N. E.)
Doig, Peter Lawson, George Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Dormand, J. D. Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick Sillars, James
Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.) Leonard, Dick Silverman, Julius
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Lestor, Miss Joan Skinner, Dennis
Driberg, Tom Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Small, William
Duffy, A. E. P. Lipton, Marcus Smith, John (Lanarkshire, N.)
Dunnett, Jack Lomas, Kenneth Spearing, Nigel
Eadie, Alex Loughlin, Charles Spriggs, Leslie
Stallard, A. W.
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.) Stoddart, David (Swindon)
Edwards, William (Merioneth) Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John
Ellis, Tom McBride, Neil Strang, Gavin
English, Michael McCartney, Hugh Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Evans, Fred McElhone, Frank Swain, Thomas
Fernyhough, Rt. Hn. E. McGuire, Michael Taverne, Dick
Fisher, Mrs. Doris (B'ham, Ladywood) Mackenzie, Gregor Thomas, Rt. Hn. George (Cardiff, W.)
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Mackie, John Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Maclennan, Robert Thomson, Rt. Hn. G. (Dundee, E.)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Tinn, James
Foot, Michael MacPherson, Malcolm Tomney, Frank
Forrester, John Mahon, Simon (Bootle) Tuck, Raphael
Fraser, John (Norwood) Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.) Urwin, T. W.
Freeson, Reginald Marquand, David Varley, Eric G.
Galpern, Sir Myer Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy Wainwright, Edwin
Garrett, W. E. Mayhew, Christopher Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Gilbert, Dr. John Meacher, Michael Wallace, George
Ginsburg, David Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Weitzman, David
Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C. Mendelson, John Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Gourlay, Harry Millan, Bruce White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
Grant, George (Morpeth) Miller, Dr. M. S. Whitehead, Phillip
Grant, John D. (Islington, E.) Milne, Edward (Blyth) Whitlock, William
Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside) Molloy, William Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Griffiths, Will (Exchange) Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Hamling, William Morris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon) Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Hannan, William (G'gow, Maryhill) Moyle, Roland Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
Hardy, Peter Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Murray, Ronald King TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith Ogden, Eric Mr. Joseph Harper and
Hattersley, Roy O'Halloran, Michael Mr. John Golding.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

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