LAND AND NATURAL RESOURCES
1. Mr. Onslow
asked the Minister of Land and Natural Resources what increase or decrease in staff there was in the Department under his control in the period 16th October, 1964, to 15th October, 1965; and what increase or decrease he anticipates in the period up to 15th April, 1966.
The Minister of Land and Natural Resources (Mr. Frederick Willey)
The Department was not set up until 21st October 1964. The staff numbered 277 on 16th October, 1965, and I expect there will be an increase of 78 by 15th April, 1966. These figures include the staffs of the National Parks Commission and the Water Resources Board.
Can the Minister give any reason for this increase of nearly 30 per cent. in the next six months?
Yes, Sir. This is largely due to the work that will be required in the setting up of the Land Commission, the work of the National Parks Commission and the Water Resources Board.
2. Mr. J. E. B. Hill
asked the Minister of Land and Natural Resources whether he will set up a central advisory committee to assist in co-ordinating the process of commons registration.
No, Sir. I do not think that this is necessary. I have from the outset been in close touch with the various bodies affected; and I shall keep [column 590]in touch with them while registration is going on. These arrangements are working smoothly and effectively.
Would it not be helpful to have even an informal group of advisers, consisting of those most expert in this matter, in order to collate the experience and knowledge of procedures that have already been reached?
As I have said, I do not think that it is necessary at the moment. One awaits the report of the Nuffield Trust inquiry, and one can look again at this matter in the light of that report.
National Parks and Preservation of the Countryside
3. Mr. Parker
asked the Minister of Land and Natural Resources when he proposes to make a statement on the future of national parks and the preservation of the countryside.
With the agreement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, I propose to give an indication of the lines on which the Government are thinking to the Conference on the Countryside in 1970, which is meeting later this month. We can then take account of the results of the Conference, and of the informal consultations which have been opened with representatives of the local authorities, before submitting proposals of Parliament.
Transactions in Land
4. Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
asked the Minister of Land and Natural Resources what will be the relevant date or dates in his proposed legislation after which transactions in land will be subject to liability to a levy, and which will render the land concerned subject to the possibility of subsequent compulsory purchase by the proposed Land Commission.
The Bill will provide for a day to be fixed by Order, after which liability for levy will arise on transactions in land and the Commission will be able to exercise its powers of compulsory purchase. I expect this to be towards the end of next year.
But will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear, as the White Paper certainly does not, whether, [column 591]when that liability arises—as I understand it, on the day which he intends to appoint—it will bite on transactions, planning permissions or sales which take place before it?
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will put down a Question on that point. He has asked for the date, and I have given it.
6. Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
asked the Minister of Land and Natural Resources what is his estimate of the annual yield of the levy of certain dealings in land foreshadowed in Command Paper 2771.
I estimate that when the scheme is fully operating, the gross yield will be about £80 million per year, on the basis of a 40 per cent. levy.
How much of that £80 million does the right hon. Gentleman estimate will be passed on to the consumers—the purchasers or lessors of houses—as a passing on of the charge?
As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, the major purpose of this levy is to relieve the burden of the high cost of building.
But is the Minister aware that, whatever the purpose may be, it is everyone's experience of taxation that it tends to be passed on to the consumer? Will he, therefore, apply his mind to my original Question as to how much of this revenue he thinks he will get will, in fact, be paid ultimately by those who buy, let or rent houses?
We have made it quite clear that we intend to relieve, as set out in the White Paper, by means of concessionary disposals for housing and by lifting the burden on the local authorities.
8. Mr. Hay
asked the Minister of Land and Natural Resources what right of appeal or arbitration he proposes to set up for local or public authorities, housing associations or individuals against the sale price or ground rent demanded by the Land Commission on sale to such bodies or individuals.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources (Mr. Arthur Skeffington)
That is a rather surprising reply. Does the Parliamentary Secretary realise that the Land Commission in these [column 592]circumstances will be in a position in which it could literally hold to ransom not only private individuals, but local authorities and other authorities? Is it not necessary that some kind of right of appeal or arbitration such as I have suggested in the Question should be provided? Will the hon. Gentleman look at this again?
My right hon. Friend is always prepared to look at anything again, but the hon. Member, with his great experience in these matters, knows that the price is adjudicated on by the district valuer, and in the light of very considerable experience, not only of transactions in recent years but under the 1947 Act, we find that no difficulty has been experienced and do not expect any difficulty now.
5. Mr. Wingfield Digby
asked the Minister of Land and Natural Resources whether he will make a statement on his appointment of members of the reconstituted Forestry Commission.
The appointment of Mr. L. A. W. Jenkins to be Chairman of the re-organised Forestry Commission was announced during the Commons Debate on the Seventh Report from the Estimates Committee on 14th June.
The full-time Commissioners are Sir Henry Beresford-Peirse, Mr. M. Compton, Mr. Andrew Watt, and Mr. J. A. Dickson. The part-time Commissioners are Major Sir William Strang Steel, Mr. T. Taylor, Mr. E. G. Davies, Mr. F. Sellers, and Lord Carlisle.
I welcome the emphasis on the Forestry Commission as a timber seller in the new set-up, but can the Minister say whether it is intended to pay a salary, or take powers to pay a salary, to part-time members of the Commission?
We have no such present intention. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to make representations on this subject I will, of course, consider them.
Leasehold Enfranchisement (New Towns)
7. Mr. Allason
asked the Minister of Land and Natural Resources whether he will seek to extend leasehold enfranchisement to include new towns.[column 593]
My right hon. Friend will be presenting the Government's proposals about leasehold in due course.
When he does so, will the Minister take into account the very strong desires of people moving into new towns to own their houses? Now that the Minister is responsible for leasehold enfranchisement, will he over-ride the queasiness of his right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government and be prepared to use all his energy to ensure that leasehold enfranchisement is extended as widely as possible?
We certainly know the hon. Member's interest in this question and it is one which will not be overlooked by my right hon. Friend in presenting his proposals.
Duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster and the Land Commission
9. Mr. Hay
asked the Minister of Land and Natural Resources if he will provide an arbitration tribunal in the event of disagreement between the Duchies of Cornwall or Lancaster and the Land Commission on the sum to be paid in lieu of levy.
No, Sir. My right hon. Friend foresees no need for this.
Can the hon. Gentleman say why there is going to be no need for this? Is it not quite feasible and likely that there will be severe wrangles between the highly respectable bodies mentioned in the Question and this rather ridiculous Commission?
May I remind the hon. Member that a similar situation might have arisen in connection with development charge in 1947 but no difficulty was experienced between the bodies mentioned in the Question and the Government of that time. We do not anticipate any difficulty now. It is inconceivable that there should be the sort of difficulty which the hon. Member suggests.
Mr. H. Hynd
Will my hon. Friend try to curb the desire on the part of the Opposition to provide more jobs for the legal boys?[column 594]
10. Mr. Hendry
asked the Minister of Land and Natural Resources what criteria will be employed for deciding if an area of land is suitable for development, and when the time is opportune; and by what body or bodies the decision will be made.
Local planning authorities or the Ministers responsible for town and country planning will decide whether land is suitable for development on the same criteria as they do at present.
I find that very difficult to understand. Will the Minister please try to reconcile that with paragraph 17 of the White Paper by which apparently land is to be acquired in anticipation of requirements? What sort of procedure is to be adopted for that? Is the White Paper actually a mask for wholesale nationalisation of land?
Perhaps without impertinence I may ask the hon. Member to reread paragraph 17 of the White Paper. There is nothing there which suggests that the normal procedure for deciding planning permission and bringing forward plans for development is changed. The position is as it was.
Local Authorities (Development Levy)
11. Mr. Murton
asked the Minister of Land and Natural Resources if he will state his reasons for exempting local authorities from payment of the development levy on comprehensive development and town development.
Increases in value realised by schemes of comprehensive development and town development are created almost entirely by the activities of the local authority itself and the benefits should therefore accrue directly to the local community.
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that in fact if a public body were to sell any land no levy would be raised on it if it were sold to private interests?
That is another question.[column 595]
Land Development (Levy)
12. Mr. Murton
asked the Minister of Land and Natural Resources if he will state his reasons for exempting Crown interests in land from payment of the development levy.
The levy would be in effect a payment by the Exchequer to itself, and the extra work would not be justified.
Is it not a fact that Crown properties do in fact pay a form of rate?
That is another question.
13. Mr. Allason
asked the Minister of Land and Natural Resources after what period of time the rate of levy on development value described in Command Paper No. 2771 will be raised from 40 per cent. to 45 per cent., and to 50 per cent.; and what figure he proposes to fix as a maximum.
Decisions on all these questions will be taken at the appropriate time, in the circumstances then prevailing.
When “the appropriate time” comes, will the Minister consider the difficulty which will occur if these periods are too close together? For example, suppose a man is asked to treat and decides that he would prefer compulsory purchase procedure to take place. That usually takes a considerable time. What would happen supposing the intervals were put too close together and thereby a man was penalised because he exercised his democratic rights of going to compulsory purchase?
That supplementary question was too long.
As the White Paper says, they will be reasonably short intervals.
16. Mr. Costain
asked the Minister of Land and Natural Resources under what circumstances developers owning land with planning permission for purposes other than housing on 22nd September, 1965, or being under a contract to purchase on that date, will be liable to pay a levy.
Where, after the appointed day the developer starts development, or [column 596]disposes of the land without doing so, and the value when he starts, or the price which he receives, exceeds what he paid for the land.
Will the Minister explain how he is to allocate these various funds? How does he propose to separate, for instance, the question of value of land for shops and for houses?
I should have thought that what I have said was quite plain to the hon. Member.
14. Mr. Costain
asked the Minister of Land and Natural Resources if the staff of the Land Commission will include architects and surveyors.
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Land Commission will have whatever professional staff is necessary for its functions.
Will the hon. Gentleman say from where he is to get this professional staff in view of the chaos in the industry at the moment due to licensing proposals?
The hon. Member is well aware of the situation which has existed for some considerable time in relation to professional bodies, and no doubt he has made sound suggestions to put it right. Where there is a shortage of skilled staff it is essential that they should be wisely and properly used in bodies of this character.
15. Mr. Webster
asked the Minister of Land and Natural Resources if the Land Commission will build houses for sale on land acquired by it by compulsory purchase; how extensive these activities will be; and if the Commission will contract with private enterprise building firms.
The Land Commission will be able, with the consent of Ministers, to provide houses for sale on concessionary terms where such bodies as housing associations, co-operative groups or local authorities are not available to meet this need. The extent of the Commission's activities in this field cannot therefore be forecast at present, but in so far as the Commission does build houses for sale, it will not be debarred [column 597]from contracting with private firms where that is the most efficient method.
Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that, if the State is to trade, the principle of a willing seller and a willing buyer will be broached by compulsory purchase and, if the State is to speculate, there will be widespread anxiety in the country? We on this side of the House will want to look at this matter very seriously.
The information which has so far reached me is rather in the opposite direction.
17. Mr. Arthur Jones
asked the Minister of Land and Natural Resources by what means he intends local authorities to benefit financially from the operations of the proposed Land Commission.
As the White Paper indicates, it is the intention of the Government to ensure that the gain to the Exchequer from the operations of the Land Commission will in one way or another be reflected in the new arrangements under which local authorities will receive financial assistance from the Government. I must therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to await the announcement by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government of the results of the review of local government finance.
Has the Minister made any speculation yet as to what extent such a reduction will affect council house rents?
Of course I have considered these matters, but the hon. Member will realise that we have to await the statement which will be made on local government finance.
18. Mr. Arthur Jones
asked the Minister of Land and Natural Resources what powers of entry will be given to the proposed Land Commission in respect of the leases granted for 999 years; and what provisions will be made for future comprehensive development in the light of the length of such leases.
The Land Commission will be empowered to buy out the remainder of the lease by agreement or, if necessary, by a compulsory purchase order.
Will the Parliamentary Secretary say that if the freehold is [column 598]allowed to be acquired by the local authority and if the land is not maintained by the local authority the Government will insist that the freehold shall pass to the subsequent developer?
I think I ought to have notice of that question rather than answer off the cuff.
19. Mrs. Thatcher
Mrs. Thatcher asked F. Willeythe Minister of Land and Natural Resources what estimate he has made of the number of professional valuers required to perform the duties outlined in Command Paper No. 2771; and what steps he proposes to take to secure their services.
Any valuations required will be the responsibility of the Valuation Office of the Inland Revenue, but my right hon. Friend is confident that they will be able to manage.
Is not the Joint Parliamentary Secretary aware that the Valuation Office of the Inland Revenue is already very short of valuers and that this year they have had a lot of additional duties put on them? Will he give the House an assurance that he will not introduce this levy until such time as he is satisfied that there are a sufficient number of people properly to assess the quantum, bearing in mind that in certain cases there is no appeal against the quantum?
My right hon. Friend is aware that there will be a burden on the Valuation Office, but the amount of valuation work in our scheme is to be kept to a minimum. For example, actual market prices will be used as far as possible. So far we have no indications to suggest that the Valuation Office will not be able to deal with these matters.
Does the Joint Parliamentary Secretary's refusal to answer the Question as to how many valuers will be required mean either that he does not know or that he will not tell us?
The precise number of valuers required at this stage is certainly not known, but a general estimate has been made and it was in the light of that [column 599]that I gave my Answer. I shall not seek to deny the House any information that I have.