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Orders of the Day — House and Land Prices (Scotland)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th February 1973.

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Photo of Mr Patrick Wolrige-Gordon Mr Patrick Wolrige-Gordon , Aberdeenshire East 12:00 am, 26th February 1973

The hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) congratulated us on becoming Socialists. Occasionally while he was speaking I almost felt like congratulating him on becoming a Conservative. In a controversial debate there seems to be some cross-fertilisation of ideas, which I welcome.

I congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on their success in reversing the downward trend of house building under the previous Government. I hope that there will be no public comment on that. The rise in land prices is being picked upon by many as a symbol of weakness and a crisis of confidence in the British economy. I think that for that reason the matter needs to be put into perspective.

Listening to some of the debate one would think that we were the only country in the world in which land prices had not risen and had not been rising steadily for a considerable time. Land is in short supply, and it will become in even shorter supply unless we start doing something drastic with the oceans. Land price is therefore bound to be high. The general consensus is that it will become even higher. There is nothing sinister about that; it is an inevitable development of a shortage of living space compared with what has been known in the past.

The question which faces the House is what to do about it. The Labour Party has a significant gap in its motion. I was glad to notice that on this occasion the gap was filled in by the good speech of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) who told us what hon. Gentlemen opposite would do about the situation. He said that they would nationalise land, and he brought in a splendid reference to the Oxford Conference and the welcome which that idea was given by the sons of large farmers who thought that it would enable them to keep their farms. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that if he believes that he will believe anything.

The general understanding of what hon. Gentlemen opposite propose to do about the land situation is the old one. They would nationalise land, and I think that we should know what that would mean. It would mean stealing. What is the point of doing it otherwise? What is the economic advantage to the nation, to the general public or to the voters of Dundee of nationalising land if we do not obtain it substantially cheaper than we otherwise would?

Anybody can buy land at any time. The public, in the shape of the Government, public authorities and local authorities can buy land. They could buy it in the past. If they want, they can and do acquire land by compulsory purchase. Those authorities who paid any attention to future trends were as able as anybody else to buy land early and keep the rate down. What assurance do we have that a nationalisation authority would be so much more efficient and so much less keen to obtain its pound of flesh than the variety of competing and different interests which exist now? The answer is, none at all.

It has never happened yet, and to a monstrous lethargy will be added monumental inefficiency. The only advantage of the Labour Party's policy of land nationalisation lies in taking the land at a low rate of exchange compared with what it is worth. It is a once-for-all advantage and can never be repeated, and the subsequent burden on the country will be enormous.

I turn briefly to the amendment, and particularly to its reference to the action that we have taken to stimulate all agencies in the provision of housing. I wholly support that policy, confident in the belief that when the Government speak of stimulation they do not regard that process as having stopped. It must carry on.

Coming as I do from an area of Scotland where large-scale development is in progress, I am particularly concerned whether housing will be adequate to meet the needs of incoming industries. Many of the companies coming to the north of Scotland do not regard housing as their problem. In a sense there is no reason for them to do so. But I suggest to those companies and the Government that they should do so. Some companies invest considerable sums of money in plant and machinery, which they can recover from the sale of their products or services. In the north of Scotland, in many cases, they will need a new community or a great increase in an old community in order to serve their plant and machinery. But not all these companies want to play the same part and invest the same kind of money in building that community needed to service their plant, nor to take long-term responsibility for the future of those communities once their immediate interest has gone. A caravan site is just about the limit of what they see as required provision for their workers. That is not adequate.

Will the Government consider doing more to encourage new industry coming into our part of the country to play its part in creating the communities that its activities tend to create and to put a part of the cost as a charge on its products in exactly the same way as for the amortisation of its building of the plant and machinery? The more we can do to increase resources to meet the infrastructure needs of these developments, the better.