§ 2.53 p.m.
§ Lord SANDYS
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty's Government how many office blocks have been purchased for the purpose of administering a wealth tax, how many of these are standing empty and what is the cost to the taxpayer of these arrangements.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY of STATE, DEPARTMENT of the ENVIRONMENT (Baroness Birk)
My Lords, the Property Services Agency leased seven buildings and started constructing another to house wealth tax offices. Alternative uses for these premises have been sought since my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in another place on 29th November 1976 that the Government had decided not to introduce a wealth tax in the life of this Parliament. More than 80 per cent. of the office space of these buildings has now been filled, and only one building remains unoccupied. The total annual rent bill of the seven leased buildings is about £900,000. The estimated total cost of the building under construction is £2.1 million.
§ Lord SANDYS
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. What justification can the Government claim for these purchases, particularly when one building is totally empty at the present time, and when the proposal for a wealth tax has been placed neither before Parliament, nor before the country as a whole?
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, Governments may, very exceptionally—and this has applied to Governments of both Parties—need to authorise the PSA to enter into commitments before legislation is laid or debated, so that the necessary accommodation can be provided in time. In the case of the wealth tax, my right honourable friend the Chief Secretary gave a Written Answer in another place on 13th March 1975, and a Supplementary Estimate was subsequently approved.