Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [20th March]:
That the Betterment Levy (Prescribed Rate) Order 1967, a draft of which was laid before this House on 28th February, be approved.—[Mr. Greenwood.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irvine)
I think that it would be convenient for us to follow the practice started yesterday of taking all these Orders and Prayers together. I must point out that there is a new Motion on today's Order Paper which was not taken yesterday.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Rippon (Hexham)
On a point of order. My hon. Friend the Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones) was in the middle of his speech when we adjourned yesterday.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Jones (Northants, South)
When we adjourned yesterday morning I was drawing attention to the list of 10 regional offices which had been formed to deal with questions concerning the Land Commission and matters arising from the terms of the Act. Will the right hon. Gentleman given an assurance that these offices will be effectively manned and will be operative on the appointed day? Is there any indication as to the volume of inquiries reaching these offices? Am I right in assuming that all matters related to the Act, whether they be concerned with the acquisition of land or the question of the betterment levy, are properly directed to these offices?
I am not sure that the necessary publicity has been given to the matter, some concern exists as to what course should be taken by a person wishing to make an inquiry. It would be useful to have the Minister's assurance in this respect. Further, I should welcome the right hon. Gentleman's assurance that inquiries will be handled competently and that there will be staffs adequately trained and with adequate experience to deal with these 1559 questions—perhaps not now but at least on the appointed day.
§ The Minister of State, Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Frederick Willey)
I can assure the hon. Member that the regional offices are already operative and giving advice, and that the other day the Chairman of the Land Commission said that he would ensure that there was effective liaison with the professions and the other people affected.
§ Mr. Rippon
In spite of the Minister's assurance, is he aware that many offices of the Land Commission, including the Northern regional office, had not, by 17th March, received copies of the Order made on 8th February?
§ Mr. Jones
Builders and developers are of necessity having to start making arrangements to try to avoid the terms of the Bill. Mr. Deputy Mayor—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] I beg your pardon, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That reveals my background.
This may be what the right hon. Gentleman means in referring to bringing forward land for development. The very fact that many owners and developers of land are having to take measures to avoid the Act's effect and to start ridiculous minor works before 6th April. The outcome of this type of work will not be land coming forward early for development and will not mean the expansion of private building. It is not true development. These circumstances make a mockery of sound business common sense. It is the creation of artificial conditions which will still further unsettle the building industry. Uncertainty, difficulties in the assessment of future markets and unpredictable land values all flow from this unwanted Act. The indecent haste of its introduction aggravates this situation and will prove it to be a half-Measure in every sense.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)
I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones) for not only trying to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but momentarily succeeding, when he was part heard in his admirable speech. I am all the more in dereliction because, although I could not be here yesterday morning, I have had the pleasure of reading the first part of his speech in HANSARD. I was glad to find that the quality of the remainder was equal to that of the beginning.
Although my hon. Friend may be excused for feeling a little indignant with me, he should not try to revenge himself upon the occupant of the Chair by addressing him as Mr. Deputy Mayor. I have heard many slips of the tongue during my years in the House, but this is the first time that that appellation has been addressed to the Chair, so my hon. Friend has made history.
The Minister is also making history, but not in a good way. We are all in a sense making history, because this is a curious debate, having started on Monday morning, which up to last year we should have found surprising enough, and resumed at nine o'clock on a Tuesday evening, with the small matter of the nationalisation of the iron and steel industry sandwiched between.
The debating of so many Regulations in so short a time after the Act has reached the Statute Book, and in a mixture of affirmative and negative Resolution procedures—at least on this scale—is unprecedented in my experience. This demonstrates three things, first, the industry, if not of Ministers personally, at any rate of officials. It is a reasonable assumption, because, throughout this complex Measure, one has had the impression that, although the voice is the voice of the Ministerial Jacob—and a hesitant, somewhat un-informative voice it has been in the main—the hand is the hand of the Departmental Essau.
Ministers have had some ideas here, a few of them good but some a muddled over-simplification of the ideas of Henry George. They trusted to their officials to see them through and not, apparently, wholly in vain.
1561 The second thing which is demonstrated is the speed of preparation and promulgation of these Regulations and Orders. That, perhaps, constitutes a triumph of technical virtuosity, for which those responsible may take their blushing credit unseen. If experience counts for anything, these 20-odd Instruments are merely a prelude to further amending Orders and Regulations hereafter. This flood of initial Instruments will spill over into a further welter of amending and consequential Orders.
The third and least satisfactory characteristic of this matter is, of course, the complexity of this new branch of land and property law which affects many citizens so closely in their daily lives. I have said in previous debates on this Measure that this Act outdoes in complexity the many complex Measures in this sphere with which I have been concerned both in this House and in the practice of the law. This first spate of Statutory Instruments confirms and reinforces the melancholy impression that I had formed.
It is the last two of these characteristics—the complexity and speed with which they have been promulgated—which is the link between the criticism which my hon. Friends and I feel it our duty to make in respect of the Orders on which the debate started yesterday, and our criticism of the first appointed day Order which figures for the first time today.
It is the complexity and difficulty of the procedures and arrangements in respect of the levy, and the inadequate time for the digestion and proper comprehension of these provisions, which makes 6th April next so wholly inappropriate and far too early a date for bringing this Measure into operation. I will, therefore, comment first on the Orders on which the debate started yesterday and then refer to the inescapable conclusion to be drawn as to the fixing of the appointed day. I say straight away that, so far as my researches have gone, some of these Statutory Instruments are reasonably inoffensive.
§ Sir D. Walker-Smith
My hon. Friend, with his customary ingenuity, may be able to find offensive parts in them, which will be canvassed hereafter in the courts, if not in this House.
1562 However, by and large, things like the three sets of Regulations dealing with Case F and the Notification Regulations—albeit at regrettable, if necessary, length—deal with matters inevitably arising out of, left over, by the Act. It is not so much for their individual content as for the contribution they make to the totality of complication that they merit criticism.
I cannot tonight go into the detail of these 20 and more Regulations. I will, therefore, confine my comments to a few, particularly the Planning Assumption Regulations and the Material Development Regulations, together with the appointed day Order. As for the first two, both are concerned with what is, and what is not, a material development. They are, therefore, concerned with a vitally important concept in the scheme of this Act—doubly important, because the powers of compulsory acquisition of the Land Commission are confined to land capable of material development—that appears in Section 6(1) of the Act—and also important in the context of the betterment levy.
In the context of betterment levy it assumes great importance because, as we see in Schedule 4, in the computation of base value we have to exclude the value of planning permissions for material development but are entitled to include them for non-material development. These two Regulations are a very good illustration of my submission that it is not so much the content and purpose of the Order taken in the general context of the Act as the complexity which they introduce in the law that is objectionable. I should like, therefore, to consider, first, the purpose and effect of the two sets of regulations, and then the complexity that they introduce into our law.
The effect of the Material Development Regulations is to widen the scope of what is non-material development. That, of course, improves the position of the levy payer in the context of base value, because the tolerances in the Schedule are, broadly speaking, wider than in the corresponding provisions in the Town and Country Planning Acts, which are concerned not with levy, but with whether development requires planning permission in order to be undertaken. Therefore, the liability to betterment levy is correspondingly the less. So the purpose 1563 and content of the particular Regulation is not a bad one in that sense because, up to a point, it assists the levy payer.
The effect of the Planning Assumption Regulations is also beneficial to the levy payer, although less obviously and less directly. Here, the effect is not to widen the range of non-material development—in fact, it is the opposite, it is to widen the scope of material development and, therefore, prima facie, it operates against the levy payer. But, in fact, the scope of the widening of what is material development is relatively small and specialised, compared with the potential of what might have been included in the Regulations under the powers accorded—and I should have thought very surprisingly accorded—under the Act. That is in paragraph 11 of Schedule 6 of the Act.
It really is rather an extraordinary Act—again, I think, unprecedented in my experience—because under these powers the Minister could have brought Regulations to the House which would have virtually negatived the definition of material development in the Act itself under subsection (2) of Section 99. It could have done that by bringing back into the definition of material development a development permitted by the General Development Order which Section 99(2) takes out.
In passing, that is a remarkable thing to find. It is remarkable to find in an Act of Parliament a basic provision, and in the same Statute to find a Regulation-making power which can negative the basic provision of the Statute. It should not be in the Statute—I must tell the right hon. Gentleman that—and the House of Commons should not pass legislation in that form. I hope that it will not happen again, if I might put it in that way.
At least, the right hon. Gentleman, having taken these unreasonable powers, has not exercised them as widely as he could. He has in these Regulations confined the operation of bringing back material development to the classes specified in the Schedule to these Planning Assumption regulations; that is, as the House can see by looking at the Schedule, mainly to local authorities and statutory undertaker operations, leaving the private citizen levy payer, generally speaking, with the benefit of Section 99(2) and 1564 General Development Order permitted development.
I say in the main, but not entirely, because the first matter is Class XII, which deals with development permitted by private and local Acts. As the House has been recently and topically reminded by the Brighton Marina Bill, private developers may still proceed in this way. But, in the main, it bites on local authority and statutory undertakers development and does not bear upon the private citizen.
Although the purpose of these Regulations, up to a point, may be kindly, and the effect on balance even helpful, for the reasons I have given, the complexity is formidable. When we remember the key importance in this Act of the concept of material development, vitally important as it is to the citizen in assessing whether his land is likely to be liable to compulsory acquisition by the Land Commission or not, and again vitally important in assessing his liability to levy, then, if we consider the steps he must take to inform himself of his elementary and fundamental rights, they are formidable and perplexing indeed.
I have not had very long to consider these Regulations, but I have compiled a little list of the provisions which the private citizen, potential levy payer or property owner, may have to consider to see whether any specific matter is comprised within material development which for those two reasons is so vitally important to him.
At the moment, I have a list of 10, but I lay no claim to its being comprehensive. No doubt there are more which one will discover hereafter. He has to look, first, at the basic definition in Section 99(2); secondly, at the Third Schedule to the Town and Country Planning Act, 1962; thirdly, at the Schedule to the Town and Country Planning Act, 1963 which amended the Third Schedule to the Act of 1962; fourthly, at the General Development Order 1963 and the General Development Order, 1964. I see that I have included both those in No. 4. It appears that I am moderate in the presentation of my case.
Fifthly, he has to look at the Schedule to the Planning Assumption Regulations to check the position under the General Development Order because the two are 1565 at variance; sixthly, at the Material Development Regulations, because excepted development under the Regulations is not the same; seventhly, at the Use Classes Order of 1963 plus the Use Classes Order, 1965; eighthly, at the Schedules to the two sets of Regulations to check this time the effect of material development and the inter-changeability of the Use Classes Order; ninthly, if one is concerned with advertisements, at the Control of Advertisements Regulations, 1960; and tenthly, possibly at other Acts affecting specialised forms of development.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Arthur Skeffington) rose—
§ Mr. Skeffington
The right hon. and learned Gentleman realises that, of those 10, eight were passed by a Government: of which he was a distinguished member.
§ Sir D. Walker-Smith
The hon. Gentleman is biographically mistaken. I retired from the late late Administration—the last but two. I retired from it on 21st July, 1960, and I think I am right in saying that all the enactments to which I have referred were passed after my light and learning, such as it was, was removed from the counsel of the Front Benches and took a more appropriate position further away.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I am interested in the right hon. and learned Gentleman's obituary, but he must come to the Order.
§ Sir D. Walker-Smith
Did you say my obituary, Mr. Speaker? I should have thought that going from the Front Benches to the back benches was more in the nature of a rebirth and regeneration than an obituary. That seems to carry all the House except the present incumbents of the respective Front Benches. I am sorry if I was temporarily led to other matters by the helpful intervention of the Parliamentary Secretary.
The point I was making was that all this farrago of statutes and regulations, at which the ordinary citizen has to look to find out matters of fundamental and inescapable importance, in regard to his land and property, makes it difficult for 1566 the citizen to understand his rights and makes nonsense of the assumption that he is expected to know the law. We know the old maxim that ignorance of the law excuses no man; but there is no excuse for any Government who make law too complex for the comprehension of the citizen whose life they regulate.
All these diverse and difficult matters, arising, as they do, in this fundamentally important context of material development, could and should be grouped and codified into a single schedule to the Act. The right hon. Gentleman should give that consideration—provided the Act lasts long enough for him to be able to do so. It is apparent from the complexity of the Regulations, from the number and diversity of matters to be comprehended, interpreted and applied, that the appointed day has been fixed with a lack of realism and without proper regard for the rights and interests of the citizen.
This conclusion is strongly reinforced by experience, in particular, the experience of the sad fate of Part VII of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, relating to development charges and all the regulations which it, too, spawned in its day. The Attlee Government were very proud of Part VII when they insisted on its enactment in the teeth of our criticism—just as proud of it as the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of State is proud of this Act.
Now Part VII is irretrievably gone and none so poor to do it reverence. I speak on this with some feeling and perhaps even a little knowledge. I speak on it against a background which, happily for other right hon. and hon. Members, is unique. I think that I am the only hon. Member left in the House who participated in the debates at all stages of what was then the 1947 Bill. Certainly, I am the only person—not only in the House but, unhappily, in the country—who, having so participated, had the unenviable task of seeking in a professional capacity to interpret and apply the development charge provisions and now seeks to give some counsel to the House on this new proposal against that background.
It is a melancholy qualification, but one which perhaps entitles my warning in this matter to be regarded as something more than the mere Cassandra contribution of 1567 the routine party line. Against the background of that experience, I counsel the right hon. Gentleman to think again on these matters, to seek greater simplicity in the law governing them and to give more time for its comprehension and interpretation.
If the right hon. Gentleman does not, if he turns a deaf ear to my plea, which is well meaning and not one based on partisan feeling, then history may repeat itself and his proud edifice crumble in the dust like that of his predecessor. If that is not enough to influence him, there is one further consideration which may touch him more nearly. Not only may the edifice crumble in the dust but, with it, the architect who has given it form and substance.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. James Allason (Hemel Hempstead)
I hope that the Minister will treat very seriously the expert contribution of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith), because solicitors and estate agents have to be perfectly aware of the provisions of the Act if they are to advise their clients, and the ordinary people of Britain are entitled to know something about it. At this very late stage Regulations are being introduced which are too late, or the Act has been put into effect too early. The Minister cannot have it both ways. The Minister seems to be totally unaware that solicitors will have to advise their clients about these provisions. He thinks that his pamphlets are in print and yesterday he said:The booklets are not out of print."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th March, 1967; Vol. 743, c. 1006.]However, today I received a note saying that the Stationery Office has asked the Ministry to supply these booklets when they come into print again. I received a letter from the Ministry this morning saying that the "Guide for Estate Agents and Surveyors" is out of print. Somebody is wrong and it is either the Minister or the Ministry. The two seem to be saying completely the opposite.
§ Mr. Willey
A question was put to me by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) about a specific booklet. He had been misinformed, although I do not 1568 attach any blame to him for that misinformation. He said that that particular booklet was out of print. It is not; it is still available.
§ Mr. Allason
If the studies HANSARD, the right hon. Gentleman will see that I first raised the matter of these pamphlets being out of print when, in the course of a speech by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), I drew attention to a letter which I had received from the Stationery Office and which was dated 16th March telling me that these pamphlets were out of print. The Minister flatly denied that, and yet his Ministry says that they are out of print. It is too bad that experts cannot even get the material on which they are expected to work.
§ Mr. Reginald Eyre (Birmingham, Hall Green)
Is my hon. Friend aware that only this evening the Stationery Office has sent a package to an hon. Member sending copies of the pamphlets, but saying that the "Guide for Estate Agents and Surveyors" is out of stock and that none is available?
§ Mr. Allason
That entirely confirms the message which I had from the Ministry. I prefer the message from the Ministry to the Minister's statement.
§ Mr. Rippon
Is my hon. Friend further aware that many people cannot even get copies of the Orders and Regulations themselves and that some, which were laid on 14th and 16th March, have not even been heard of?
§ Mr. Allason
It is abundantly clear that the experts who ought to be advising people still do not have the information available to themselves.
§ Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Aston)
If these pamphlets are out of print, as with any other best seller, new editions can be published.
§ Mr. Allason
I apologise for being so good natured and giving way so freely, Mr. Speaker, but I have always been recognised as one who readily gives way.
Exactly two weeks ago, I wrote to the Parliamentary Secretary on the subject of relief from Estate Duty and asking a 1569 very simple question. He has not been able to supply me with an answer. Time is ticking by and 6th April is drawing very near. I know that the hon. Gentleman is extremely courteous and would wish to answer my simple query if he could, but my query deals with a problem which the Act does not expressly cover, and he is probably having to think up Regulations to meet it.
§ Mr. Skeffington
I certainly remember signing a letter about a fortnight ago on this very point. It may be that the hon. Gentleman sent me two letters, I have certainly sent one.
§ Mr. Allason
The hon. Gentleman very courteously sent me one letter, and I wrote back saying that now the situation was slightly different, in that instead of the man who had died owning a property outright, he owned it through a property company, which makes the whole thing different. This is the problem and this is what will require regulations. How on earth is anyone to act, in this case the executor of the man who has died, and to sell land at about 6th April? He does not know the position.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will come to the many Regulations and Orders that we have before us?
§ Mr. Allason
Property decisions have to be taken on the basis of the facts as they are available. Decisions have to be taken some weeks ahead. It is not reasonable to leave people in the dark right up to 6th April. It is grossly unfair to launch a new system of taxation, virtually retrospectively, and that is what the Minister is now doing. Even if it were not retrospective it is complicated enough.
I have calculated that there are 144 pages in the Act relating to taxation, to the levy element. In addition one must add 74 pages in these Regulations, and I exclude the explanatory notes, because they do not have the basis of law. That provides us with 218 pages of additional tax law so far supplied. To this must be added the additional Regulations, which will later be made, and any other elements of tax law which will arise in the Budget, in the new Finance Bill, which will be required as a result of this. All this adds up to it being quite un- 1570 reasonable to introduce these Regulations now, and to make sure that they begin applying on 6th April, when people do not understand them and cannot get advice about them.
I am happy to say that I am luckier than some of my hon. Friends in that I have a complete copy of the Regulations. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham read out a paragraph from page 12 yesterday. He said that it was the most appalling gibberish. It is worse than gibberish; it does something very peculiar indeed. It turns the laws of mathematics upside down, because if anyone has a copy they will see, on page 12, talking about the famous fraction T over T plus R. It is the phrase immediately before that which reads:… the amount of the landowner's expenditure … may be expressed as T/T+R …It is a very long time since I was at school but, unless things have changed very substantially, an amount cannot be a fraction. An amount is a sum of money. Here we are told that an amount is a fraction. This means that the sum of money involved is a fraction, one sum of money divided by another.
We have a large number of very highly educated university professors who ought to be gracing the benches opposite. I am glad to see that there are several supporters of the Government—a signal change from the position yesterday morning. Even so it would be helpful if we had a great many more of those experts, who might be able to instruct the Minister in those matters. This does not make any sense.
§ Mr. Willey
I do not follow the hon. Gentleman, because T is defined as an amount and R is defined as an amount. Presumably an amount over an amount plus an amount is still an amount.
§ Mr. Allason
That is not so. If we divide nothing by nothing, we do not get nothing; we get one. An amount divided by an amount does not result in an amount; it results in a fraction.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
I cannot allow what the hon. Gentleman has just said to stand. Nothing divided by nothing is not one. It is indeterminate in mathematics.
§ Mr. Allason
I turn to Statutory Instrument No. 309, which deals with the notification of a chargeable act or event to the Commission. Taking, for example, Case D, it is in order to find out how notification to the Commission is to be expressed. Page 6 of the Statutory Instrument says that the authority paying the compensation is the right body to inform the Commission of various matters. The matters are set out in Schedule 3, the most appropriate of which are the amount of the compensation in paragraph 4 and, in paragraph 5,How much of the compensation is in respect of depreciation of the value of the interest in land in respect of which the right has accrued.That is a direct quotation from Section 40 of the Act. That does not help us very much in trying to ascertain how the person paying the compensation is to find out how much of the compensation is in respect of depreciation.
Section 33(3) goes into greater detail. One has to discoverthe amount of the compensation; the base value of the relevant interest; the amount of any expenditure on improvements or ancillary rights in so far as it has increased the development value of that interest; and the restricted value of that interest after the depreciation.In Schedule 4 on page 112 of the Act there is a description of how one should discover the base value.
All this is to be done, apparently, not by the owner of the land, but by the person paying the compensation. It is extremely unsatisfactory that the owner of the land who will have to pay the compensation is not concerned with the calculations and valuations which are made on his land and which are sent to the Commission and turned into the amount of money which has to be paid by the owner, who is suddenly presented with a fait accompli. Presumably, before that, the owner will have been sent a questionnaire asking how much he paid for the land and how much he had spent on improvements in the last 15 years. He has to work all this out and send it off to somebody who then sends it to 1572 Newcastle-upon-Tyne. This is the sum total of Statutory Instrument 309. All that it provides, in fact, is that somebody else does the job and the interested party does not come into the calculation at all.
Material development is one of the most important issues. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East, has described the simple way in which anybody can discover what is material development merely by referring to 12 different places and hoping for the best and that he has got it right. My right hon. and learned Friend particularly drew attention to paragraph 11 of Schedule 6 of the Act, which completely contradicts what is said in Clause 99. I will come to that rather later.
First, let us consider what is and what is not material development as laid down in the Material Development Regulations. We were told that the Act was to cope with land speculators. The first example of the land speculator is the man who fails to meet the requirement ofa flag which is attached to a single flagstaff fixed in an upright position on the roof of a building".If he is so unwise as to erect a flagstaff which is not a single flagstaff, he is a wicked land speculator and he must pay the levy. What on earth is a single flagstaff? Does this mean that it does not have a cross tree or that it is more than one flagstaff on the roof of a building?
Then, we have to look at the flag which is flown from the flagstaff. It must bear… no inscription or emblem, other than the name or device of a person or persons occupying the building".Therefore, in the case of Fred's Cafe, one might have "Fred" on the flag but not "Fred's Cafe". All I can say is, poor old Fred.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) must decide to which hon. Member, if any, he is giving way.
§ Mr. Allason
I was just about to be very helpful and refuse to give way on the ground that you might have thought that I had overdone it, Mr. Speaker.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I thought that the hon. Member had not given way. Apparently, his hon. Friend wants some information about "Fred's Cafe".
§ Mr. Allason
That would not be on the top of a building. If somebody were to erect it from the ground, he would have to build the building round the bottom of the flagstaff and then it would be doubtful whether it was on the roof of the building. If, however, the building was built round it, it would probably be liable as material development.
We ought now to turn to the question of agriculture. Here arises the question of what is an agricultural building or a building on agricultural land. In my constituency, for example, the watercress growers now have a packing station so that instead of the watercress being packed on their own separate watercress farms, it is all sent to one packing station. Is that a building on agricultural land or is it not? If it is not, this type of building will presumably be liable for the levy although it is used for agricultural purposes.
There is a great deal of confusion. Initially, the Selective Employment Tax was charged because it was held that it was not an agricultural object. Then there was a change of mind, because of an action in the courts, and it was no longer charged. Equally, in this case, there will be enormous difficulties over what is a building on agricultural land. I should be interested, for example, to know what will happen in the case of Covent Garden if it moves to Nine Elms. Will that be a building on land used for agriculture, or is it outside the definition of those words? These Regulations are perhaps too brief in that, as a result, they require a great deal of interpreting.
As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East, said, paragraph 11 of Schedule 6 empowers 1574 other Regulations to be made to contradict the Material Development Regulations. We have precisely that, because Statutory Instrument No. 318 contradicts the Material Development Regulations, and it is done with intent.
The Minister told us on 27th October of last year that the intention was that the Material Development Regulations would not count against a statutory authority when the activity was constructing a pipeline. On the other hand, when it came to the owner of the land receiving an easement, that, in turn, was betterment and therefore the levy would apply. That was the opinion of the Minister as expressed at the time, and he ended up by saying:The Regulations will, therefore, stipulate that value due to this sort of development is not to appear in current use value. It is impossible to set out in the Bill the sort of cases we have in mind, and for this reason we have to depend on the making of regulations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th October, 1966; Vol. 734, c. 1552.]He has now made Regulations which have been declared by my right hon. and learned Friend to have exactly the opposite result, and so it seemed to me. I am fortified by the fact that the same view is taken by my right hon. and learned Friend, who is a great expert on the subject.
It would be interesting to see whether the Minister has changed his mind entirely or whether he has made Statutory Instrument No. 318 not in the sense that he explained it to the House in October of last year but in an entirely contrary sense that material development will apply to the laying of pipelines by statutory undertakers, although at other times it is expressly excluded—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not think me discourteous, but this debate must finish at 11.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Rippon
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understood that this was exempted business and that, although the Prayers might end at 11.30, the Motion could continue indefinitely, as could the debate on the Orders and Regulations.
§ Mr. Allason
Of course, I do not wish to keep out any of my hon. Friends, 1575 and I was not aware that there was any terrible shortage of time. I am glad that that has been made clear. However, it so happens that I am very near the end of my remarks.
I feel that these Regulations are an affront to the country and that it is unreasonable to expect professional men to advise their clients on the implications of them in time for them to study the property transactions which may take place as soon as 6th April. The Minister must admit that it is he who has failed the nation.
§ 9.55 p.m.
§ Mr. William Price (Rugby)
I have made my views known on a previous occasion, and I do not want to delay the House for more than a few minutes partly to repeat what I said before and partly to state what I have found out since I last abstained on the Land Commission Bill. The last time that I spoke was on the Lords Amendments. I thought that I had argued my case logically, coherently, and with a good deal of kindness towards the Minister. What reply did I get? None at all.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. This biographical detail is interesting, but the hon. Gentleman must come to the Orders.
§ Mr. Price
I thought that you would have pulled me up before this, Mr. Speaker.
I want to argue against the Orders dealing with the betterment levy. Again, I am not sure that I expect an answer, possibly for two reasons. Having ruled out the possibility that the Minister may be discourteous, we are left with two possibilities: first, that he does not know the answers, or, secondly, that he does know the answers, but he does not want to tell us what they are.
I want to know, very simply, what effect does the Minister say the Land Commission will have on land prices. This is a matter of very considerable concern to everybody in my constituency who might wish at some time to buy his own home. The Government were committed to holding stable, and possibly even reducing, land prices, but slapping on a 40 per cent. tax is a very curious way of going about it. We set out, as I understood, to curb the speculators.
1576 I forecast that the speculators will be the last people to suffer, because what will inevitably happen as a result of this Measure is that land prices will rise and that most of the 40 per cent. will be passed on. In other words, the spivs and speculators, friends of hon. Members opposite—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] That is the sort of response I expected—will pass most of the levy on to the builders, and the builders will do the only thing available to them, which is to pass it on to my constituents who are buying their houses.
I gave some examples last week, and I do not propose to repeat them. I do not propose to trouble the House with some of the anomalies that I found in the research which I did since the Lords Amendments. I would merely point out one to the Minister. It is the case of an elderly widow—a speculator, if you like—whose sole possession is an old house with a fairly large garden, with a brewery next door. The old lady thought for a long time that this would be a nice nest egg one day because the brewery wanted the land. The brewery has made an offer of £400, and the old lady will lose 40 per cent. of it. I must say that that is a very curious way of building what I would regard as being a Socialist State.
There is only one way left open to the Minister to keep land prices down, and he knows what the answer is. It is very extensive use of compulsory powers. Whether or not he will use his powers at this stage, I cannot say.
§ Mr. Price
I am sorry, Mr. Speaker.
I move on to say that the same situation will arise as a result of the Act, which has arisen so often in the past in the case of property, where some people lose all their property for a pittance and others, because they are more fortunate, get a fair market price. That is what will happen. There will be chaos. There is chaos and unfairness already.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We are discussing the Bill. We have about 12 Orders. The hon. Member must link his remarks to one of them. That is quite a broad avenue.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We are not discussing the Act. As the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) reminded me, we are discussing 22 Statutory Instruments. If the hon. Member can find something about compulsory powers in them, he can deal with that.
§ Mr. Rippon
I would like to come to the defence of the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. William Price). As I understand, he is saying that there is a state of chaos and unfairness. The whole purpose of the Motion before the House is to try to remedy that situation.
§ Mr. Speaker
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have a number of Statutory Instruments before us, and it is these that we are debating.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member really must understand what the Chair is saying to him. This is not the First, Second or Third Reading of the parent Act. We are discussing some Statutory Instruments, and the hon. Member, like everyone else, must link his remarks to them.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.