HC Deb 09 August 1972 vol 842 cc1720-1
29. Mr. Hunt

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what reply he has sent to the further letter dated 2nd August addressed to him by Mr. Harry Hyams on the subject of Centre Point.

Mr. Peter Walker

None, Sir.

Mr. Hunt

While I understand my right hon. Friend's reluctance to pursue this public correspondence, may I congratulate him on so successfully flushing this elusive millionaire into the open, if only to defend the indefensible? Although Mr. Harry Hyams now appears to be getting the ministerial message, will my right hon. Friend say when he expects to be able to place before the House the details of his proposed legislation to deal with the scandal of the empty office blocks?

Mr. Walker

I said in my original statement that unless the majority of the office blocks concerned were occupied within a few months, we would introduce legislation. That is still the position.

Mr. Lipton

When will the right hon. Gentleman do something? So far he has written two or three letters and said that he will do something in a few months' time. We want to know what he will do now.

Mr. Walker

This is a problem that has been going on for some years, including under the previous Government. When I made my statement I made it perfectly clear that unless this ended within a few months I would introduce legislation. I have only ever written one letter which was in reply to a particular request from this correspondent and as far as I am concerned the position remains quite firmly that I have given notice that unless it is ended within a few months I will introduce legislation. I was grateful to the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) for saying the other day that he would assist such legislation.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

Will my right hon. Friend consider writing to one of the shareholders in the company owning Centre Point—namely, one of the organs of the Co-operative Society—to ask it to exercise its influence?

Mr. Walker

No, Sir. This legislation does not concern any specific project or building; it concerns the principle involved. I am not interested in any specific shareholder or company. I am just interested in trying to tackle this problem.

Mr. Freeson

May I say to the right hon. Gentleman that we would not object to any such correspondence as is mentioned in the Question? If the right hon. Gentleman feels it necessary to present legislation to the House in the autumn, may I ask him not only to cover the question of office blocks being held empty because of questions of capital appreciation but also to pay close attention to the need for applying such legislation to residential property being held empty for similar purposes on an increasing scale? I have been to see some of them recently, within the last two days, and it is appalling.

Mr. Walker

Local authorities already possess considerable powers in respect of residential property by way of compulsory purchase order when they feel that residential properties are unnecessarily remaining empty. The legislation I have in mind is specifically for office blocks. The problem of empty residential property is something we will continue to examine.

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