HC Deb 14 June 1972 vol 838 cc1506-8
32. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is the latest outcome of his departmental studies on the problem of land shortage; and when he expects to make a policy statement on the matter.

47. Mr. Willey

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will make a further statement on the measures taken by the Government about land prices.

Mr. Graham Page

I have nothing to add to the policy statement made by my right hon. Friend on 27th April explaining the many measures being taken to increase the supply of land.—[Vol. 835, c. 1795.]

Mr. Hamilton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that is simply not good enough? Does not he appreciate that there is a large and increasing mass of evidence that land is being held, where planning permission has already been given, for a number of years, purely for speculative profit-making purposes? Will he undertake to consult the Chancellor of the Exchequer to find fiscal means of preventing that kind of anti-social practice?

Mr. Page

The best way to deal with that is to convince those who are holding land speculatively in that way that they will not benefit from it. That is our object in bringing forward more land. The progress reports from the regions show that our measures are increasing the supply of land. My right hon. Friend and I had an encouraging session with the chairmen of the county councils of the South-East yesterday. The report of the working party on the partnership between the local authorities and private developers is expected in a few days, and I think it will give us further items which we can take up in this respect.

Mr. Willey

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there does not seem to have been a response to the initiative taken by the Secretary of State. In view of this, what further initiatives is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to take?

Mr. Page

The response has been quite encouraging. With respect to the loan sanctions, the £80 million that is to be made available for the acquisition of land, particularly in the South-East and Midlands, and the loan sanction with regard to sewerage schemes, discussions on these are all being pursued and many are in an advanced state at local planning authority level.

Mr. Sydney Chapman

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that we shall never know in reality whether there is a land shortage until we know exactly how much suitable building land we have? Is it not staggering that there has never been an acre-by-acre survey of land in our towns and cities?

Mr. Page

We have now asked the local authorities to give us a report on how much land is available in their areas for development over the next five years.

Mr. Paget

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, speaking from experi- ence as a landlord, I can tell him how astonishingly profitable it has been to hold land and that this profitability has been increased by the prospect of joining the European Economic Community where the land will be about twice as expensive? Is he further aware that the only way to break this racket is for the Government to take over at a very low price, the land which is idle and not being used?

Mr. Page

I think it was proved during the period of the last Government that the public ownership of land or the taking over of land by the Government had no good effect on either the price or the availability of the land.

Mr. John Silkin

May I remind the right hon. Gentleman, as I said earlier, that the price of land dropped by 4 per cent. under a Labour Government as a result of the Land Commission? May I also point out that his figure showing that the highest increase in the price of land took place under a Labour Government is now out of date? His Department's figures related to 1971 and not 1972. Finally, will he say how he can justify the fact that at the moment there are more than 150,000 planning permissions for houses in excess of the number of houses being built? Is this not because of land being hoarded for speculation?

Mr. Page

May I first apologise to the right hon. Gentleman for not thanking him for his kind remarks about me earlier? I am aware of the excess of planning grants over the number of houses being built. This is exactly the problem we are tackling with the discussions in the regions and with the conference which my right hon. Friend and I had with the chairmen of the county councils yesterday.


Mr. Willey

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, may I give notice that I shall endeavour to pursue this matter—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman is too late.