Clause 5. — (Valuation Appeal Committees.)

Orders of the Day — Valuation and Rating (Scotland) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th June 1956.

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Photo of Sir Charles MacAndrew Sir Charles MacAndrew , Bute and North Ayrshire 12:00 am, 27th June 1956

The next Amendment to be called is the one in the name of the Secretary of State, and with it can be discussed the preceding Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes), in page 6, line 10 to leave out "or carrying on business".

Photo of Mr Jack Browne Mr Jack Browne , Glasgow Craigton

I beg to move, in page 6, line 10, to leave out "carrying on business" and to insert: engaged in business or employed". This Amendment fulfils the undertaking given during the Committee stage that in appointing the committee the sheriff should be able to appoint representatives of the broadest possible degree of local opinion. As the Bill stands, only residents and principals in business are eligible for appointment. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan) moved an Amendment in Committee to include those employed in business. He withdrew his Amendment when he appreciated that some of those employed by local authorities or in trades unions would be excluded.

8.45 p.m.

As a result of this Amendment the local co-operative or bank manager, the local fire officer or trades union organiser, who may not live in the area but who spends his working life in the area, will be eligible for appointment to the Valuation Appeal Committee. The Amendment is in line with the recommendation in paragraph 92 of the Sorn Report that members of the local appeal committees should be responsible local persons, which clearly implies an almost unrestricted choice, and that is what the Amendment gives.

Photo of Mr George Lawson Mr George Lawson , Motherwell

What we should like is not to broaden but to narrow the scope of the choice by the sheriff in this matter. There will be for the first time in many years a revaluation of all property. For example, innumerable houses occupied by manual workers will be revalued. The sheriff is to select people to serve on the Valuation Appeal Committee after consultation with persons—not, according to the Bill, consultations with organisations: he is to consult persons. We have to bear in mind that many of those whose homes will be revalued are manual workers and people in the poorer sections of our society, and we also have to bear in mind the kind of circles in which the sheriff is likely to move and the kind of people with whom he is likely to be in touch.

He is not likely to be in touch with ordinary manual working people. As we see it, the arrangements under Clause 5 of the Bill are weighted heavily in favour of the professional and business elements, and what we should like to ensure is not that the sheriff shall be able to make more contacts with those elements, but will make contact with the others. In Lanarkshire, for example, there are many whom the sheriff can bring into the Valuation Appeal Committee without having to seek them from outside the county. There are plenty of working people there, too. What we greatly fear is that the sheriff, given this wider scope, will have less and less contact with ordinary working people and that he will too easily find business men, those who work in the area because their firms employ them there, as well as those who live in the area.

In a matter of this sort the manual workers should be quite heavily represented. We fear not only that they will not be heavily represented but that they may not be represented at all, or, at best, only meagrely. We want some guarantee that the sheriff will go out of his way to find people representative of the manual workers, among others, to look after the interests of the manual workers, as well as those of the business people. We must recognise that as things are arranged in our society the people who are easily seen, the people easily reached, the prominent people, are those prominent in business or professional life, and there are many of them from whom the sheriff can choose some to serve on the appeal committee. But if, in addition to those who live in the area, the sheriff is also empowered to choose those who work or who have business in the area, the scope for bringing in representative people from the manual working-class of our society will be considerably narrowed. We on this side of the House see no reason at all why the sheriff's scope in this respect should be widened. We think that the Bill is bad, but it will be worse still if it is widened in the fashion proposed by the Amendment.

Photo of Mr Jack Browne Mr Jack Browne , Glasgow Craigton

The Government accept the principle that the members of the committees should represent the broadest possible degree of local opinion. The hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) is speaking to an Amendment which is really contrary to this principle. The Government consider that it would unnecessarily restrict the sheriff and might appear to give the appeals committees an undue bias in favour of occupiers of one particular class of property, that is dwelling-houses.

One of the merits of the existing appeals committees, which the Sorn Committee wished to retain, is their local knowledge. It is obviously an advantage that the sheriff should be able to draw on as wide a range of local knowledge as possible in selecting members of the new committees. I can assure the hon. Member that "persons" covers consultation with organisations.

I assure him that members of local councils will not be cut out and that the sheriffs will not be unmindful of the recommendation of the Sorn Committee that members of these councils should be included. We believe that the interests of manual workers are best represented by the sheriff having the widest possible choice of local knowledge, and local knowledge does not always entail living in the locality. It could be a case of working in the locality. I hope that the hon. Member will accept that explanation.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Mr Jack Browne Mr Jack Browne , Glasgow Craigton

I beg to move, in page 6, line 11, to leave out: annually in the month of June". The Amendment is consequential upon an Amendment made in the Scottish Standing Committee to provide that members of the local valuation appeal committees should hold office for three years.

Photo of Mr James McInnes Mr James McInnes , Glasgow Central

I ought to express our appreciation of the Amendment, which meets the desires embodied in an Amendment which we on this side of the House moved in Committee. I am glad that the Government have accepted the view that an annual appointment would be impossible.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Mr Jack Browne Mr Jack Browne , Glasgow Craigton

I beg to move, in page 6, line 22, to leave out paragraph (f).

In Committee the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) moved that the Secretary of State rather than the sheriff should approve the scheme prepared by each valuation committee setting out its arrangement for the hearing of appeals. Several speeches were made suggesting that the sheriff should not become involved in such detailed matters. The hon. Member withdrew his Amendment on my promise to reconsider the matter. At the time, I suggested that it might be wisest to omit this paragraph (f). On reflection, we think that that would be the best course. We do not want to create undue formality in the committee's proceedings, and we think that approval of the scheme by either the Secretary of State or the sheriff would be an unnecessary complication.

Mr. Fraser:

We on these benches think that it would be wise to leave out paragraph (f), and therefore I advise my hon. Friends to accept the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Mr George Lawson Mr George Lawson , Motherwell

I beg to move, in page 6, line 31, to leave out from "appointed" to "shall" in line 32.

This seems to us to be another example of the Government falling over backwards in an effort to appear fair. This Clause, which sets up the appeal committees and their structure, wipes out the existing committees. The argument put forward has been not that these committees have not been doing the job well—because it is admitted in the Sorn Committee Report that they have done the job exceedingly well and there is no fault to find with them—but apparently certain other people have said that not only should these committees function in a way that is fair but that they must seem to be fair. So, in this effort to seem to be fair, the Government have destroyed the existing committees. Not only that, but they have gone to lengths which seem almost farcical to ensure that the valuation authority in this case shall have no officer on the appeal committee. In this case they are debarring the appeal committee from having as its secretary an officer of the valuation authority or the local authority.

It seems that this is a case of taking the effort to appear to be fair so far that the position becomes not only absurd but most unfair to the local authority. After all, it is the local authority which has to pay the bill. The local authority might have an admirable man to do this job. For example, the deputy town clerk might be first-rate for doing this job, but he is expressly debarred in the terms of the Bill from taking on the job. Instead, some outside lawyer will be brought in and given the job, which can only be a part-time one. He will be established in the local authority offices and given all the facilities at the disposal of the valuation authority or the local authority, but it will have no control over him, and it will have nothing to do with him except to pay him.

It seems to me and to my hon. Friends that this would be a small measure to take. It could in no way upset the seeming fairness of the appeal committee. It could not prejudice the committee if on it there was the secretary who was himself an employee of the local authority. Remember, the local authority or the valuation authority has no control whatever over the assessor. The valuation authority cannot influence his decisions. All it does is to appoint and pay him, and thereafter it has nothing to do with him.

Therefore any suggestion that the valuation authority might influence or in some way prejudice the decisions of assessors, or arrive at some biased decision simply because he was an employee of the valuation authority, seems absurd. I suggest, therefore, that the local authority should have at least this tiny say in the matter, and that it should not be exclusively debarred from having one of its employees as secretary of the appeal committee. We do not say that an employee of the local authority should be the secretary; all we say is that he ought not to be expressly barred, as is the case in this Clause.

9.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Jack Browne Mr Jack Browne , Glasgow Craigton

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) said that the Government were leaning over backwards to be fair, and I agree with him. In this case, I think that is the right position. The Sorn Committee made their recommendation of sheriff appointed valuation committees, in order, as the hon. Member said, and he used the Committee's own words: that justice may not only be done, as it is already, but that it may more clearly be seen to be done. In implementation of this, the Committee recommended, among other things—and this is a point which I must make quite clear—that the clerk should not be employed by a local authority. If he were an officer of the valuation authority or any rating authority and also secretary and, to some extent, adviser of the appeal committee, this would be contrary to the principle of the Bill.

The restriction in the Bill is no reflection on the impartiality of local government officers. It is a necessary corollary to the Sorn principle regarding valuation appeal committees, a principle so admirably expressed by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. D. Johnston), who said, in the Scottish Standing Committee: … valuation appeal committees should have three attributes; first, local knowledge; second, impartiality; and third, the power to manifest their impartiality."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Scottish Standing Committee, 20th March, 1956, c. 374.] For these reasons, I would recommend the House to reject the Amendment.

Photo of Mr Douglas Johnston Mr Douglas Johnston , Paisley

Having so kindly praised me, will the hon. Gentleman recollect that the Amendment I put down was rejected.

Photo of Dr Dickson Mabon Dr Dickson Mabon , Greenock

Although what the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) has said may well be the case, that the Government are bending over backwards to be fair in this matter, the spine which will be fractured is that of the local authority. That is adding insult to injury.

We have tried to argue that the way in which local authorities are cut out of this Bill is grossly unfair. We feel that a gesture has to be made here and there to clothe this outrageous robbery which bears on local authorities in some decent way. The Joint Under-Secretary has argued that this would not be a reflection on the local officers concerned, but a breach of the principle which was so well enunciated by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. D. Johnston).

Surely the principle is that it has to appear to be fair. That does not mean that any person with local knowledge engaged by the local authority, not necessarily employed by the local authority—there is a substantial difference—should not be associated with the Committee. If there are officers of that standing, surely it is the case that they might contribute well to the appearance of impartiality as well as to the action of impartiality. I think it was a double-edged argument.

The Joint Under-Secretary ought to think about it and be willing to accept the Amendment, not only because he feels that there is truth in our side of the argument, but because we feel that a concession has to be made to local authorities somewhere in the Bill, because they are being asked, in the last analysis, to make all the payment for this system of valuation, while in return they are getting very slender powers. Here we are asking, indeed pleading, that one little item should be left to at least dignify the local authority with some unreasonable connection with the whole system.

Amendment negatived.

Photo of Mr Thomas Fraser Mr Thomas Fraser , Hamilton

I beg to move, in page 6, line 33, to leave out "the" and insert "any Valuation Appeal".

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Would it be convenient for the hon. Member to discuss this Amendment and that immediately following?

Photo of Mr Thomas Fraser Mr Thomas Fraser , Hamilton

The next Amendment, as you suggest, Mr. Speaker, falls to be considered along with this one. The Joint Under-Secretary, in resisting the last Amendment, said that the secretary of the appeal committee must manifestly appear to be impartial. That is the case for this Amendment. As the Clause is drawn at present, the Secretary of the Lanarkshire Committee, to give an example, can appear on behalf of a client before the local appeal committee in the city of Glasgow, or a partner in business with him can do that. That would not, I suggest, be a very proper thing for either the secretary or his partner to do.

My Amendment proposes that a person who is appointed secretary of a local appeal committee will not, so long as he enjoys that appointment, appear on behalf of a client before any valuation appeal committee, nor will any partner in business with him. I think the Amendment will readily be accepted by the Joint Under-Secretary in view of the words he employed to resist the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson).

Photo of Mr Jack Browne Mr Jack Browne , Glasgow Craigton

I must confess to having some sympathy with the Amendment. The Sorn Committee, in paragraph 92 of its Report, recommended that the secretary should be a solicitor and should be debarred from practising on valuation cases. As the Clause stands, it does not go as far as this, but it provides that the secretary shall not by himself, or by any partner or assistant, appear before the committee of which he is secretary.

When the Bill was drafted, it was intended to implement the Sorn Committee recommendation, but investigations showed that it would be difficult to find solicitors in a position to act at all in remoter areas. Furthermore, if, for example, a partner in a firm of Glasgow solicitors accepted the post of secretary of, say, the Renfrewshire committee, it did not seem essential to debar his partner or himself from appearing before the appeal committee, in, say, Dunbartonshire, Lanarkshire, or Stirlingshire. We do not consider that that would be improper. We feel that to discourage solicitors in this way from accepting these posts would too dangerously reduce the field of selection. It is for that reason, and that reason only, that we cannot accept the Amendment.

Photo of Mr George Lawson Mr George Lawson , Motherwell

Are we to understand from the Joint Under-Secretary that the only people to be acted against are local authorities, that they alone are suspect or may be thought to be biased? Presumably, simply for his own convenience, a barrister with a vested interest is to be permitted to act in this way. Time after time it emerges that local authorities are being acted against. If it is fair for a local authority to be treated in this way, surely the hon. Gentleman must go the whole hog and say that what applies to the local authority must apply also to the barrister. If he will not say that, it is clear that there is bias here which must be condemned, and I hope that my hon. Friends will take the matter to a vote.

Photo of Mr Thomas Fraser Mr Thomas Fraser , Hamilton

Does not the Joint Under-Secretary appreciate that the secretary of, say, the Lanarkshire committee—I might make a guess who it would be—will go before the Glasgow committee acting on behalf of a client and seek to impress the Glasgow committee by reference to what he knows to have happened in the Lanarkshire committee? Surely he should not be allowed to appear before another committee? Surely he cannot be said to be a man without bias in these matters.

Photo of Captain James Duncan Captain James Duncan , South Angus

I have a great deal of sympathy with the object of the Amendment. Hon. Members may recollect that during the Committee stage I said that I thought the most difficult job the sheriff would have would be to find people to act as secretaries of the committees.

Photo of Mr Thomas Fraser Mr Thomas Fraser , Hamilton

They have got them all now.

Photo of Captain James Duncan Captain James Duncan , South Angus

The Bill is not law yet so they cannot have them all now.

It will be a most difficult task to get the necessary men. I do not know the position in Lanarkshire, but there simply are not sufficient solicitors in the outlying districts from whom we could choose if, on appointment, they have to give up their valuation practice. It is because I realise the practical difficulties that, although I am in sympathy with the Amendment, I am forced to support the Government.

I know that the Sorn Report, in paragraph 92, suggested that solicitors who were appointed as secretaries should not deal with valuation cases, but I am forced to the conclusion from my experience in the rural districts that the Government are right in this decision.

Photo of Mr Arthur Woodburn Mr Arthur Woodburn , Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire

I hope that the Secretary of State will look at this matter again. It is my experience that people tend to specialise. The Under-Secretary suggested that partners in a firm might be acting in one place and making representations in another. Once when I was travelling by train there was a little bit of a scandal going on about local authorities and I could not help overhearing the conversation of the people in the compartment. One was talking about the "good old days" when a partner in a firm went on the parish council and another firm had a representative on the town council. They did not do anything corrupt but those on the parish council gave the orders to their pals on the town council, and those on the town council gave the orders to their pals on the parish council.

I would say that there is a danger that all the partners in a firm in, say, Lanarkshire, might specialise in this business of being secretaries to Valuation Appeal Committees. From one point of view this might be very expert, but no one would suggest that it would give confidence to the general public if they were all scratching each others' backs and saying, "If you do this for me, I will do that for you". That has been a common practice in some walks of life, as many of us know.

The important consideration is to be clear of all that by making it impossible for such a person to be in the know and to be making representations while in the know to people who know that he is in the know. That would not be satisfactory. The Government have gone out of their way to keep the thing clear of town clerks and county clerks, but if they propose to have a clean sweep they ought to make it a really clean sweep. In a town I know there was a lawyer who acted for the town council. He also acted for clients who were buying stuff from the town council. He was a general Pooh-Bah and did everything in legal matters in the town. Nobody can suggest that such a system is satisfactory, and I do not know that he even saved the cost of a lawyer to either party. He probably charged them both the usual fees, but it gave him a very powerful influence and he was a dominant figure in the area for thirty or forty years.

People of this type exist in the small places, but in this instance there are all sorts of people whose services could be drawn upon. No one will suggest that even in the smallest areas there are not people who could be employed to do this work. I suggest that the Government should reconsider the matter.

9.15 p.m.

Photo of Mr James McInnes Mr James McInnes , Glasgow Central

We on this side of the House are beginning to feel somewhat ill with these small doses of sympathy which have been extended in the last two or three minutes, with dollops of hostility at the end. I could not appreciate the intervention of the hon. and gallant Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan). He says that there will be a scarcity of such people to act as secretaries.

Photo of Mr James McInnes Mr James McInnes , Glasgow Central

A scarcity of suitable people. Does he not recognise that as a result of the Bill twenty such suitable people are already redundant? The large burghs will no longer exist as valuation authorities, and the Secretary of State has powers to make certain combinations of what is left after the large burghs become redundant, combinations of county councils covering a very large area, for valuation purposes.

Not a single hon. Member, not even the Joint Under-Secretary of State, has denied that it is undesirable for the secretary to take on valuation work in this capacity as a solicitor, even in some other area. No one will deny, for example, that if he takes on secretarial work on the Valuation Appeal Committee and he is a solicitor, he can find ample opportunity of taking on other legal work, not necessarily valuation work. We are not denying anybody a living, but there is no scarcity of such individuals. I must ask my hon. Friends to divide if the Government are not disposed to accept the Amendment, because our overtures to the Secretary of State in Committee were treated somewhat sympathetically. We naturally concluded that there would be no difficulty in accepting the Amendments.

Photo of Mr Jack Browne Mr Jack Browne , Glasgow Craigton

By leave of the House, I would say that we should like to accept the Amendments. It is a question, not of the convenience of the persons concerned, but simply of skilled personnel in remoter areas. I assure the House that we have done our very best to ensure whether or not we could insert this provision. We cannot do so, and I must advise the House to reject the Amendment.

Amendment negatived.