HL Deb 29 November 1962 vol 244 cc1345-64

5.10 p.m.

LORD SILKIN rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they propose taking to make more land available for development, and particularly for housing development; and whether they have any plans for dealing with the high cost of land. The noble Lord said: This is what is known as an Unstarred Question and I am permitted to make a speech—I hope one not too long—to explain the purpose of the Question. I can say quite simply that the purpose of this Question, unlike that of many other Questions on other occasions, is to get information. The new Minister of Housing and Local Government has, on numerous occasions recently, made statements in the country, at the Conservative Conference and, I think, in another place, that he proposed to make more land available for housing and for other purposes. I recognise that the new Minister is an extremely able person—most people recognise that, including the new Minister himself—but there are limits to what even an extremely able person can do. One thing he cannot do is to make land available which does not already exist; and I wanted to know exactly what the Minister had in mind when he said that he was going to make land available. In the first place, he does not own any land himself; nor does his Department; nor does the nation as a whole. There is no land available which he has power to put at the disposal of those who are going to carry out the development and I have been wracking my brains as to what he could mean when he said that he was going to make land available.

There are a variety of possibilities. One of them is that there is a certain amount of green belt land, some of which has been designated and some of which is still in the melting pot and awaiting confirmation. I wonder whether the Minister had in mind the possibility of using some of the green belt land. I would say that I do not regard green belt land as absolutely sacrosanct; that you must not take one square inch or one square yard of that land. In some cases the Ministry has -been rather silly about it in refusing permission to build a cottage where no possible harm could come of permitting it. But we treasure the green belts. We think they are fine institutions to prevent the unlimited growth of large towns, and we should certainly regard it as quite wrong that the green belts should be materially interfered with. I should like to know Whether he has in mind any interference with the green belts.

There is the question of agricultural land. Has the Minister in mind making agricultural land available for housing or other developments? I should be grateful if the noble Lord could tell us that. I recognise that a certain amount of agricultural land will of necessity have to be used as time goes on to meet the needs of an increasing population. But is that what he had in mind? If so, is he going to discriminate between good agricultural land and bad? There is the possibility of permitting greater density in existing development. A certain amount of land can be saved in that way. And there is one more possibility—that of taking a more common-sense view of planning applications on appeal. I know a good many cases where refusal, seems to be quite arbitrary, the reasons given being those you would expect if there were a real reluctance to permit development. They seem very often to be mere pretexts. Has the Minister in mind to loosen up on that kind of thing?

Let me give one example known to me of an area of 14 acres which was formerly the site of an American camp, on the outskirts of a village. All the services were laid on. An application was made for the development of that site, and ore of the reasons for refusal was that it would unduly enlarge the existing village and alter its character. If we are not going to enlarge existing places, how on earth are we going to deal with the housing problem? Of course, an access of a hundred or so houses will enlarge the character of the existing village; but it is assumed that that is automatically wrong. I can see nothing wrong with the existing village and if the noble Lord who is going to reply were to see that village I think he would admit that anything one does to that village must be for the better and not for the worse. That is merely an example of the arbitrary and irrational way in which many planning decisions are made. If one of the methods of providing more land would be that the Minister would loosen up and deal more rationality with planning appeals I should be wholeheartedly in his favour. I am very puzzled, because, after all, he is the fifth Minister of Housing and Local Government. He has been in office for only five minutes and if he has the answer to the land question and can deal with "he shortage of land, it is a sorry reflection on his four predecessors, who, no doubt, had given some thought to the question. The problem is not a new one.

The other part of my Question relates to the cost of land. That is becoming more and more serious, both for the private person who wants to build or to buy a house for himself, and certainly for local authorities. It is no uncommon thing to find one has to pay several thousand pounds for the site of an individual house—and I am not thinking of expensive areas such as Chelsea, Kensington, Westminster, and so on, but of suburban areas. I saw an advertisement recently where somebody was asking £4,500 for the site of a new house in one of the suburbs. If this kind of thing goes on, it will become almost impossible for the normal, ordinary person to build or to buy a house for himself. If more than half the cost of the house is going in land, then it really is a very serious matter. It is quite beyond the means of a person with an income, say, of anything under £2,000 a year, who has to get a mortgage and to repay it, to acquire a house of that kind. I should like to know What the Government have in mind to deal with the high cost of land. It is one of the things the new Minister mentioned as something he had in mind.

There is not only the high cost of land. We hope that a good deal of development will take place which will necessitate development on a wider scale—shopping, open spaces, and so on. I have been asked what is to happen about open spaces. The cost of acquiring open spaces, which is on the basis of developed land, is going to make the acquisition of open spaces almost prohibitive. I do not want to make a speech beyond what I have already said. I hope that the noble Lord who is going to reply will give us a satisfactory answer, but, if not, I promise him that he will have an opportunity of making a more favourable reply and I shall certainly endeavour to arrange a debate on the subject, because I think that this is one of the most important questions that we are facing in connection with redevelopment in this country at the present time.

5.21 p.m.


My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for having asked this question, and I am only sorry that he has not spoken for a greater length of time, because I always listen to his observations with the greatest pleasure. I appreciate the fact that he has asked a question, but, in my view, there is no question and no answer until we can get to the root of the problem. This was discussed at great length yesterday in your Lordships' House, when reference was made over and over again to the drift of population to the South. In my view, that is the crux of the question. If we draw a line from London to Bristol, South of that line, along that line and just North of that line, we find an enormous increase of population. The greatest increase of all is in Loudon itself and in the South-Eastern counties.

In 1970, if the present state of affairs continues, there will be one continuous street from Charing Cross to Reading, and equally the same situation will arise North, East and South of London. Between 1951 and 1960, the insured population of the South-East of England rose by 873,000, an increase of almost 100,000 workers a year. This represented an expansion of 12.2 per cent., as compared with only 4.7 per cent. for the rest of Great Britain. This has had a profound effect upon the amount of land available for further development and also upon the price of land. When I was a young man many years ago, many more years than I care to remember, I recall hearing that a famous man wrote a book about land and made the observation that the amount of land in this country is fixed. That is obvious; but it is remarkable how people overlook the obvious and self-evident observations. The effect is that when we talk about the market value of land we are, I am sorry to say, using a misleading phrase. So far as land is concerned, the demand increases but the supply remains virtually static, and therefore the phrase "market value" is hardily properly applicable to land.

What are the remedies for the present situation, so far as the cost of land is concerned? One suggestion is to re-institute price controls. Personally, I think that they are not desirable. They involve more officials and also they give rise to evasions in every possible way. Another remedy is the nationalisation of land. I am entirely opposed to that, though I appreciate the fact that other people take a different view. A third suggested remedy is increased compulsory purchase. This involves an inevitable dilemma. If the full market price is paid, the taxpayer or ratepayer will have in effect to pay for the profit the landowner would enjoy. If less than the market price is paid, this causes an injustice to somebody, in that there is one price for the private buyer and another price on compulsory sale to a local authority.

What is the remedy? Let me make a couple of revolutionary suggestions. First of all, with the exception of New Towns, there shall be no further new buildings, except on the site of existing buildings, erected in London and within 50 miles of Charing Cross in all directions for the next five years, after which time the situation can be examined. Likewise there shall be no further industrial development certificates granted for any industrial development within the same area for the next five years. I appreciate that this is somewhat ferocious action to take, but there is no halfway in the matter. Either we take strong action along the lines I have suggested, in order to prevent the further drift to the South, or we allow it to continue year after year. Just think of it in 1970, if nobody does anything—there will be one street from Reading to Charing Cross, with shops, bingo clubs and cinemas all the way along for a distance of 35 to 40 miles. What a lovely prospect! It is an impossible situation, and if we do not stop this drift to the South there is indeed no question and no answer.

5.27 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Meston, is certainly right: it is an impossible situation; but I am not sure that it is impossible in quite the way he means it. Though undoubtedly the increase in population in the South has considerable effect on the shortage of land and high prices, I should suspect that the more potent factor is the early marriages that have been going on in our nation. This took everybody by surprise, including, I believe, the Government Actuary.

In my brief lifetime, there have been at least three systems of planning. First of all, there was the old more or less free-for-all, which led to ribbon development, and that was very unfortunate. Then we had a Socialist system, which produced a situation whereby the greatest penalty that could be inflicted on anybody was that his land should happen to take the eye of the local authority. It was rather like living in an oriental autocracy where, if you had a good looking wife, you took jolly good care that the ruler never cast his eye upon her. That system has now been replaced by the present one, which has this terrible drawback that in certain parts of the country land is fetching famine prices.

In my locality not very long ago land for residential accommodation was valued at £15,000 an acre, I was told. That enormous price has meant, of course, that a good deal of land has come on to the market which would never have come on before. For instance, a piece of the land I have just mentioned happened to be a girls' school, and this is going to be developed, much to the annoyance of the parents. The same thing happens with excess gardens of houses, where gardens are too big to keep up and owners are tempted by these enormous prices. Therefore, to some extent, this famine is creating its own solution. One cannot pretend that it is a happy solution, and the plight of anybody who has to buy at the rate of £500 per flat or several thousand pounds per house, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said, is not an enviable one. Frankly, it is extraordinarily difficult to see what solution there can be in a free society. I am looking forward with interest to what my noble friend has to say in reply.

There are odd palliatives which one can call to mind and which I do not think are being adopted so vigorously as they should be. I do not believe, first, that the Government are purging their own Departments of the surplus land which they hold all over the country in small pieces, probably in many cases almost forgotten. There should be a vigorous search through every Department in the Government to see whether it is necessary for these pieces of land to be held, and whether they serve any useful purpose: and, if not, they should be made available to the local authority if required for residential purposes. And there must be no question of paying the War Office, or whoever it may be, compensation for lack of development.

Then, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said, and as I said in a speech only yesterday, we ought to do a great deal more in our villages. Planning permission is not being given freely enough in our villages, largely because of the long-standing prejudice of people who tend to have influence on the planning committees of local authorities. I must confess that I am unable to produce a solution, and I dislike making a complaint without being able to do so. However, I am nonplussed, and I await with great interest my noble friend's answer.

5.32 p.m.


My Lords, it is a tragedy that over the past few months this grievous problem of land prices has been drawn into the inferno of Party politics, but it is at least gratifying that during the past few minutes Party politics have been excluded, and that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has put his Question in a most practical and, if I may say so, sensible manner. Those of us who live within 20 miles of London, either North or South of the Thames, know to our cost what maintaining a house, whether it be freehold or leasehold, is like; and we know also what travelling is like if we have to commute to and from Town each day. It is in that context that much of the problem exists. In the village where I reside the population has doubled over the past six or seven years, and so has the price of land. The reason is not hard to see. It is largely because more and more people are commuting to London: they want to live somewhere which can vaguely be called country and since the train service is good, if uncomfortable, they congregate into this area and others instead of living 60 or 70 miles out. It is perhaps somewhat ironical that the building of the M.l motorway has encouraged people to move out almost as far as Stony Stratford to commute each day.

I should like to ask my noble friend who is to reply whether the Government are giving serious consideration to moving more office accommodation into the suburbs, in order to relieve the congestion on the railways, quite apart from the roads, and also to try to stop this blocking up of every space in London with offices. There is a problem here with special relation to the Green Belt. I hope that my noble friend may have a few words to say later upon the Green Belt. If more offices are moved into the suburbs, it is fair to assume that a certain amount of Green Belt land may have to be used for its erection. I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that Green Belt land is not necessarily sacronsanct; but what I hope the Government will avoid is any temptation to put large housing estates on Green Belt land. Houses or other buildings built on this land should be carefully and attractively designed.

The other solution to this land problem seems to me more building of New Towns, where land can be more judiciously used than is at present done on some of the L.C.C. and other housing estates. I am not trying to prejudice myself against the London County Council, who have enormous problems to face. To quote the case of Stevenage, there the land has been used intelligently. There are factories on one side of the Great North Road and shops and residential accommodation on the other, with bridges over the road separating the two, so that people can walk over the bridges instead of having to cross and compete with the enormous amount of traffic on the A.l.

This problem of land prices is obviously one that cannot be solved in a moment. It is a question of supply and demand. State control of land has been suggested in some circles, but here again there is difficulty, because land needs in a place like Sutton are very different from those in a place like Stratford: there would have to be a great deal of regionalisation, and it would add to the problem. I wonder whether the Government would also look at the question of the speculative builders, of whom there seem to be far too many nowadays, who throw up houses indiscriminately without any intelligent thought about the use of land. I do not say that this applies in every case, but one sees far too much of it. In Surrey, it is virtually impossible, if you want to build a house, to employ a builder of your own choice, who may well use land far more judiciously than a speculative builder would.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, or some other noble Lord with great knowledge of housing, will instigate a debate shortly on the New Towns, because we can then discuss the whole question of land prices in relation to what I believe is a partial but very important solution to this problem—namely, the building of more New Towns. I hope that the points which have been raised will command the Government's close attention.

5.39 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Meston, has put his finger upon the essential point—namely, that there is only a limited amount of land available. The population of this country is increasing; and not only that, but the standard of living is rising and people are able to demand and afford batter accommodation. More than that, not only is the population increasing, but the number of families is increasing even more rapidly, and people are insisting upon having separate accommodation for each family. In those circumstances, it is inevitable that the price of land will increase because it is entirely a function of the demand for land, and the demand is steadily increasing and will continue to increase as far as anybody can see.

Moreover, when we make comparisons between conditions now and conditions before the war, we have also to take into account the fact that the purchasing power of money has fallen and cones- quently the price of everything has been multiplied to a corresponding extent. It is impossible to stop this progress. It may be mitigated to a certain extent if you like to allow some land at present scheduled under Town Planning Regulations not to be developed or to be restricted in its development, to be developed or to be developed more extensively. To that extent you increase the effective amount of land which is available. But there is obviously a limit to the extent to which that can be done if you desire a development to be orderly and advantageous to the community generally.

Nor is there any means by which you avoid this process by means of compulsory purchase of land or other devices of that kind, because the value will be there whatever happens. You may be able to conceal the destination to which it goes or to alter that in some way or other, but the value is there, because the demand is there. Therefore, there is only one solution which can be found for this problem, and that is to enable the Government, or the local authority, as the case may be, to take a tax or a rate based upon the value of the land, apart from the value of the buildings or other improvements which are upon it, and to make that available for the financing of public services and other development. That is the only solution which there is to this problem, and it is a perfectly simple and feasible one.

It is perfectly just, because this valuation has been created entirely by the growth of demand and not by anything Which has been done by those who happen to be owners of land. If it were done, there is not the slightest doubt that in many cases there would be an incentive upon owners to allow development of land which is at present allowed to remain idle or in a very inadequate state of development, because it will be obliged to pay tax according to its real value and not according to the use which is made of it at the moment. In that way you would have an increase not to the absolute amount of land, which is fixed by nature, but to the amount which was effectively available and offered for renting or for purchase as the case may be. No doubt you would also discourage a certain amount of speculation which takes place at the present moment, and which induces people to keep land off the market for the moment because they hope that at some future date they will get a still better price for it. But that is the only thing that can be done in order to deal with the high price of land—to restore it to the people who have created it, the community at large.

5.45 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended speaking on this subject, but while the noble Lord, Lord Meston, put his finger on the position as it affects the area around London and 50 miles from it, I rather think he receded from that point of view to assume, as did the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, that the problem was one which was confined to 50 miles around London, and that if the drift from the North to the South was brought to an end the problem would disappear. That is far from the case. It is a problem which exists in almost every large centre of the population, and nowhere more so than in the areas which are most affected by the loss of population to the industrial South and the Midlands of England.

I do not know whether the previous debate, in which it was made perfectly clear that the Scottish Office were greatly influenced by what was done in matters of legal procedure South of the Border, will apply in housing matters, and that if anything which the Minister of Housing is going to do in relation to making more land available in England will necessarily be followed by the Secretary of State for Scotland. But I should like the House not to forget the fact that these problems arise in the North of England and in Scotland, although the price of land has not necessarily risen to the astronomical figures which have been quoted in the South. Local authorities and other people responsible for building the housing in the North are working under the difficulties that land is not available as they would wish it and, by direction of the Secretary of State for Scotland, local authorities are being required more and more to put up multi-storey tenements, going up to nineteen and 23 storeys high, at costs which make it virtually impossible that the Government can ever attain their objective of getting rents up to an eco- nomic figure. Because we are now finding that Scottish local authorities are having to pay up to £4,000 for the building of a three or four-roomed flat. That is the position which is being forced upon them, because the alternative is to use more and more agricultural land.

If, in fact, there is to be any alteration of the problem to make it possible for local authorities to provide houses at a more reasonable price, particularly in lieu of the Bill relating to rents which is presently before another place, then I hope that Ministers will not forget that this is a problem on a national basis, and not one which affects only certain parts of the country. I think my noble friend Lord Silkin, when he introduced his Question, made that perfectly clear. While I would have accepted that the noble Lord, Lord Meston, was speaking particularly and not necessarily exclusively to the problem which arises in this part of the country, when my fellow Scot, the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, merely because he lives down in this part of the world, also followed the same line I thought it would be only right that I should make it perfectly plan that the areas to which the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, referred as "the tribal areas" also have their problems of shortage of land.

5.50 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that we are all most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for having put down this Question and allowing us, in a manner of speaking, to finish the debate which was started yesterday. At the beginning of his speech the noble Lord said in a most pleasant and disarming fashion that all he wanted was to obtain information; that that was the purpose of his Question, and that there was not some other ulterior motive, as might be the case on other occasions. But I think I must be a little careful, because he went on to make certain remarks about my right honourable friend, casting considerable doubt on the ability to live up to his undertakings to make more land available—which, as the noble Lord said, he has on several occasions stated he will do.

But my Lords, it was only yesterday that we had a long and most interesting debate on the location of population, industries, factories and offices, and on the need for the redevelopment of the centres of towns. Not unnaturally, what was said during that debate has impinged considerably on the subject of the Question asked by the noble Lord this afternoon. Clearly, the location of population and industries and the redevelopment of town centres affects, indeed has the major effect upon, the problem of housing. It is precisely this effect over the next 20 years in the areas of the great conurbations of the South East, of the Midlands and the North West that is being studied in the regional surveys into land needs which are now being carried out by the Ministry of Housing, and which were referred to by my noble friend Lord Jellicoe yesterday. It is hoped that, the results of these surveys will start to come forward during the course of next year.

That, in itself, is an answer to the noble Lord who has asked what the Government propose doing to make more land available for housing development. But, of course, it is only part of the answer: there is much more to it than that. As noble Lords know, the allocation of sufficient land for development is a task for local planning authorities. They have to review their plans at least every five years, and they can also submit ad hoc proposals at any time. The first development plans by local planning authorities made in the early 1950s were meant to see us through until 1971, but they are already proving inadequate. The reasons are not far to seek. The population is increasing more quickly than was expected, due both to a sharp rise in the birthrate and to greater longevity. There has also been a decline in the number of persons per household and a corresponding increase in demand for separate dwellings. This was a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, and the figures are quite interesting. In 1951, there were 13.1 million households in England and Wales, but in 1961 there were 14.7 million, an increase of 12.1 per cent., compared with the population increase of only 5.3 per cent. Economic prosperity is, of course, also a vital factor in demands both for land and for housing, and this is a factor of which Her Majesty's Government have no reason to be ashamed.

In view of this situation the Minister of Housing and Local Government sent a circular in 1960 to local authorities reminding them of the need to maintain the supply of land for development. There is evidence that this circular has encouraged authorities to allocate more land; there is a constant stream of new town maps and reviews of plans coming into the Ministry of Housing. However, in order to reinforce the effect of the circular of 1960, and to remind authorities once again of the demands which the inceased housing problem is likely to produce, my right honourable friend will soon be issuing a further circular on this subject. Here, possible reference might be made to the plea of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, that a commonsense view should be taken of planning applications, and that if these come to appeal the Minister also should take a common-sense view. It may well be that this point will be looked after as the result of the action my right honourable friend is taking.

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said in the debate yesterday that he doubted whether, in fact, local authorities were submitting revised plans every five years, and he suggested that the Minister should speed up the review of plans. It will give some satisfaction to the noble Lord to know that revised plans on an ad hoc basis are being submitted to the Minister and that my right honourable friend is urging local planning authorities to speed up the process very considerably. In most places land is, in fact, available and some can be allocated for development by local authorities as and when necessary. But the noble Lord's Question clearly has in mind those areas where the pressure of population is greatest and where land for housing is scarce, or even non-existent, or where for good planning reasons it may be undesirable to release any more for development. And naturally it is quite clear that the pressure of population is not only on London but, as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, pointed out, in other large centres in the Midlands and in Scotland as well.

In London a special drive to find land for housing is beginning to show results. There is some surplus Government land; for instance, the depôt at Kidbrooke, which we hope will produce something like 100 acres. And that is an answer to my noble friend Lord Hawke, who suggested that the Government should make surplus land available—and, in parenthesis, I may say here that the Government are constantly reviewing their holdings of land all over the country, not only in London. Land not required will be released for use. Still dealing with London, there is also Croydon Airport, where the Development Plan Amendment recently approved by the Minister will produce some 80 acres of land for housing. Of course, as my noble friend Lord Molson reminded us yesterday, the British Transport Commission, in consultation with the London County Council, are preparing a scheme for the balanced development of their surplus land, as a result of which plans will be submitted to my right honourable friend in due course.


My Lords, may I interrupt my noble friend for a moment? He said something which is most interesting: that at long last the War Department is selling some of its land. Are there other sales in prospect, and has a system of disposal been thought out which does not involve a preliminary offer of a piece of land around to every Government Department before it is put on the market, as that provides unending possibilities of delay?


My Lords, I can only repeat to the noble Lord that the process is going ahead. I am not equipped with the detailed information that he would like. If I may, I will write to him and let him know what is being done in that respect in regard to both parts of the question.


My Lords, I do not want to say this offensively, but most of this sort of land seems to be land available not for ordinary development but for Messrs. Clore and Cotton. They seem to be the beneficiaries of the Government policy, and I should be glad if the noble Lord would make representations to ensure that this land really is made available for the purpose for which it was intended.


My Lords, I will certainly do that, and make the representations asked for.

To help the areas with bad slum clearance problems my right honourable friend has set up a special office in Manchester which will assist the local authorities with their building programmes and also watch the problem of the supply of land in these areas, not only in Manchester but in similar slum clearance areas. I have already mentioned the regional surveys which will enable local authorities in or near the largest conurbations in this country to gauge more accurately the demands upon land for development over the next 20 years.

I think it is appropriate at this point to reply to the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, about the Green Belt. I can assure the noble Lord that there is no intention of solving the housing problem by abandoning the Green Belt policy. The noble Lord, and also my noble friend Lord Auckland, went on to say that they do not regard Green Belt land in general as sacrosanct; and, of course, the noble Lord referred to Green Belt land which is designated and that which has not yet been approved. All I will say in that respect is that before a Green Belt is formally approved there must be clear need for it, and the limits of the Green Belt should be carefully drawn so as not to include land which it is unnecessary to keep open permanently for Green Belt purposes.

At this stage, since I will find it difficult to work it into my speech at a later period, I would mention that my noble friend Lord Auckland brought up the point of moving office accommodation to the suburbs. That point was very thoroughly covered in our debate yesterday and I would ask him to see what my noble friend Lord Jellicoe said upon it. Also he made a helpful suggestion that we should have a debate on the New Towns, and I think that when the time is appropriate the Government would welcome that. With regard to his point about speculative builders, I think I can hardly deal with that on this occasion.

So far I have replied to the noble Lord's Question in so far as it concerns Government action affecting supply of land for development. Yet this is only half the problem. If I may say so with respect, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, although he mentioned greater density, has put undue emphasis on the availability of land—a very precious commodity in this small island and a heritage of unsurpassed beauty which many may say, and do say as they look around them, has been squandered in wanton fashion over the past forty years—and not enough emphasis on the type of development and upon the use to which the land is put. My noble friend Lord Auckland emphasised this use of land, which is so important.

My noble friend Lord Molson referred yesterday to the increasing spread and ugliness of what he called "subtopia", and he described it as neither town nor country, an unplanned sprawl One cannot help but remember the very telling speech made in that debate by the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of London describing the dangers of the uncontrolled growth of London

Nowadays—and I am sure noble Lords will agree—it is very important that more intensive use should be made of land set aside for development, and that higher densities should be achieved through good planning, good design and efficient building, utilising the best methods made available to us by scientific research and by modern techniques. A planning bulletin entitled Residential Areas, Higher Densities is being published to-day and is being sent to local planning authorities. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, mentioned the problem of vary high flats—I think it was in Edinburgh or it may have been Glasgow—and their high cost. The problem of high building is in fact mentioned in this bulletin, which I have here and which is of a very attractive nature. The economics of higher densities are gone into pretty thoroughly and guidance is given to the local authorities in that respect.

This question of the intensive use of land does not apply only to new land. There is plenty of scope for redevelopment of older residential areas quite apart from the clearance of slums where densities are already high. Middle class housing of the Victorian and Edwardian eras—where there are large gardens, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, not so much in demand as they used to be—offers am opportunity to private builders for high density redevelopment on modern lines and of first-class standards. In this connection, may I be allowed to quote the words of

my noble friend Lord Jellicoe spoken from this Box only yesterday. He said [col. 1290] In the long term the chronic obsolescence of our older residential areas … is an even greater problem than that of the slums. It is vital to stop this slow decline from obsolescence to unfitness. My Lords, the measures I have outlined and the encouragement and guidance being given by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government will help to make more land available and to ensure that that land produces as many houses as possible. This in itself should have a steadying effect on land prices, which are the subject of the second part of the noble Lord's Question. As to any plans the Government may have "for dealing with the high cost of land" (to use Lord Silikin's own words), we could, of course, bring about a lasting effect on the market by removing all planning restrictions. In fact Her Majesty's Government have no intention of doing any such thing, and I imagine that the noble Lord will be relieved to hear that.

Nor do we believe that the imposition of statutory restrictions on prices will serve the purpose. Moreover, experience of development charges from 1947 to 1952 indicated that such restrictions slowed down the supply of land coming into the market. I was not quite sure if this was precisely the point that was being made by the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch when he suggested a tax on what he called the actual value of land. The actual value of land, when the district valuer comes to survey it, is the present use value. I think perhaps he meant (there should be a land tax on the increased value of land. Is that right?


I meant a tax upon the total market value of the land.


The noble Lord there is, of course, imposing a general land tax, and that is a very large political subject which I will not touch upon this afternoon, and one with which I think many noble Lords in all quarters of the House would strongly disagree.

Nationalisation of the land has been mentioned and rejected from the Liberal Benches, as well as from behind me, and I do not know that it has even been put forward very convincingly from the Benches of the official Opposition. Of course, nationalisation of the land under a Conservative Government is out of the question, and in any case the land would have to be bought at market prices, which would not solve the problem of land prices for future developers. In respect of this problem the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, confessed himself nonplussed, as I believe did every other speaker, except the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch.


May I say, in self-defence, that I was really only asking for information as to What was the Government's policy? I forecast the possibility of having a debate on this subject, and on that occasion I should certainly put forward my own proposals and those of my friends.


I apologise for accusing the noble Lord of not putting forward proposals, but other noble Lords had found themselves in difficulty.

The point of the noble Lord, Lord Meston, that one should stop London development, or any development within 50 miles of London, is, I think, rather trying to put the clock back—and we argued that pretty well yesterday afternoon. I would only say, in relation to these prices, that one of the points to remember is that when one quotes the cost of land the proper standard of comparison nowadays is the cost per dwelling and not the cost per acre. And that does make a considerable difference. Of course the problem is limited to those areas where land is in short supply, and these high prices do, in a way, encourage the most intensive use of the land, as has been pointed out by various noble Lords, indirectly if not directly, both in new areas and in redevelopment; and that sort of redevelopment is to the good. Therefore on this question of the price of land, to sum up, the Government believe that there would be no advantage to be gained, and indeed many risks to be run, by interfering with the free market in land.

I do not know whether I have given the noble Lord opposite the information he required, but I think I have shown that a good deal is being done to make land available, by surveys, by thorough investigation, searching for surplus land, and by redevelopment of existing land which is already built upon. One way and another, I am quite sure that my right honourable friend is going to be able to carry out his undertaking to make more land available. I hope that that will satisfy the noble Lord, and I think that we shall have to leave the subject now. Perhaps, later, there will be another opportunity, as I am sure there will be, for this problem to be discussed in due course.

House adjourned at ten minutes past six o'clock