– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th June 1956.
I beg to move, in page 35, line 12, to leave out from "than" to "then" in line 13, and insert:
such a lease as is mentioned in the next following paragraph".
This is a purely drafting Amendment, in order to ensure that leases which are excluded from the scope of paragraph 2 of the Schedule by the proviso do not come within the scope of paragraph 1. I do not think I need add anything to what I have said.
I beg to move, in page 35, line 47, to leave out "to be increased" and insert:
, or may fall, to be varied".
Paragraph 3, as it stands, covers leases which may provide for a progressive rent, that is to say a rent to be increased by steps as the years go on. There are certain cases in which there is provision not merely for an increase but for a possible decrease. This point was raised particularly with regard to mineral leases where the rent can go up one year and down the next.
All we are doing here is to ensure that paragraph 3 covers not only the lease where the step is upwards but the lease where the step may be downwards.
I beg to move, in page 36, line 5, to leave out from "means" to the end of line 10, and insert:
I beg to move, in page 36, to leave out lines 18 to 22 and insert:
(b) the rent to be reduced in accordance with the foregoing provisions of this Schedule in any year shall be ascertained by taking the rent payable to the landlord by the tenant in respect of that year and adding thereto the amount payable to the landlord by the tenant in respect of owner's rates for the year in which this Act passed.
This also is a drafting Amendment. The sole reason for it is that sub-paragraph (b) of paragraph 4 of the Third Schedule does not specify clearly the year in which the rent is to be taken for the purposes of the paragraph. The Amendment clarifies the purpose of the paragraph.
I beg to move, in page 36, line 23, to leave out paragraph 5 and insert:
5.—(1) Where by virtue of any condition contained in a lease to which paragraph 1 or paragraph 2 of this Schedule applies the rent payable to the landlord by the tenant would, apart from this paragraph, fall to be reduced in consequence of the passing of this Act such condition shall not have effect.
(2) Where the rent payable under any lease to which paragraph 1 or paragraph 2 of this Schedule applies is varied by agreement between the parties made after the commencement of the relevant year or by virtue of arbitration or a decision of any court after such commencement the foregoing provisions of this Schedule (apart from sub-paragraph (2) of paragraph 3 thereof) shall cease to apply in relation to such lease.
I suggest that it would be convenient to take at the same time the Amendment in page 39, line 33, leave out sub-paragraph (c).
What we are doing is to leave out sub-paragraph (c) in page 39, line 33, and to bring it forward so that there is no possibility of its conflicting with the provisions of paragraph 6, which deals with the determination of standard rents. The object of the Amendment is to ensure that rents under certain leases are not reduced twice in consequence of the Bill. As it stands, there are certain cases in which it might be argued that the rent should come down twice instead of once. The Amendment will also bring changes in rent as a consequence of a court decision—for example, a farm arbitration or the like—within the scope of the paragraph.
I beg to move, in page 37, line 36, after "paragraph (a)", to insert:
or paragraph (c) or paragraph (d)".
The reason for the Amendment is to make it clear that when the Bill comes into operation in cases where the recoverable rent of a controlled house includes increases permitted under paragraphs (c) or (d) of Section 2 (1) of the Rent Restrictions Act, 1920, those increases will be appropriately abated. At the moment, only paragraph (a) is covered, and the Amendment makes sure that paragraph (c) and (d) deductions, together commonly known as the 1920 Act 40 per cent. deduction, are included also.
I beg to move, in page 38, line 45, to leave out from "shall" to the end of line 49 and insert:
send by registered post to the owner of the said dwelling-house notice in the prescribed form setting forth the effect of this Schedule on such maximum rent".
This is a matter which was raised by the Association of County Councils. The Association pointed out that as the Schedule stood, something like 7,000 notices would have to be recorded in the Register of Sasines. The Association was perturbed about having to do the work and whether it would be able to recover the cost from the owners, which it was thought would not be easy.
Registration in the Register has as its purpose the giving of notice that a house is subject to the improvement grant provisions. The question whether the rent is x or y is not material for practical purposes. Accordingly, for practical purposes, the method in the Amendment achieves just as good a result as registering in the Register. It is much less expensive and will give the county councils, and, indeed, the town councils, far less work.
I beg to move, in page 39, line 42, at the end, to insert:
(e) a landholder or a statutory small tenant within the meaning of the Small Landholders (Scotland) Acts, 1886 to 1931, who is occupying a holding immediately before the commencement of the relevant year, and a crofter within the meaning of the Crofters (Scotland) Act, 1955, who is occupying a croft immediately before such commencement, and the statutory successor of any such landholder, statutory small tenant or crofter, shall be deemed to be occupying the holding or croft, as the case may he, under a lease for a period of not more than twenty-one years.
This is a drafting Amendment, The Third Schedule provides for reductions in rent to he made where property is held under a lease. This Amendment is necessary, or, at any rate, desirable, to make certain that small landholders and crofters who do not hold their holdings or crofts under leases are brought within the provisions of the Schedule.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I should like to take this opportunity of thanking the House for the very helpful and co-operative attitude it has adopted during the proceedings today. I hope I shall not be out of order if I also express my gratitude to hon. and right hon. Members for their similar attitude when we were in Committee on the Bill. We have got through a great deal of work on the Bill today, and it was of very great importance to the Government that we should. I only hope that in the time remaining to us tonight we shall be able to get the Third Reading of the Bill.
The Bill has undoubtedly received a great deal of careful attention both in Parliament and outside Parliament, and certainly in the Scottish Grand Committee. If anybody chooses to examine the bound Report of our proceedings in the Standing Committee he will realise it is quite a work. I am not complaining of that in any way, for it is very right and proper that the Bill should have been carefully considered, since although much of the subject matter is very technical, it is of very great importance not only to local authorities throughout Scotland but to every ratepayer in Scotland. I am grateful to hon. Members on both sides of the House for a number of constructive and helpful suggestions which they have made to improve the Bill. They may have wished, some of them, that the Government had found it possible to accept more Amendments, but, at any rate, during the lengthy proceedings on the Bill, it has been improved.
The Third Reading provides an opportunity to refer to the main changes which have been made in the Bill since its introduction. I shall not revert to the Second Reading period because we know the history leading up to that point pretty well, I think, by now, but we must look to the future and consider what will have to be done if the Bill receives the Royal Assent, as I hope it will before the House rises for the Recess.
There have been two main alterations in the Bill since its introduction. First, the quinquennial revaluation combined with the annual publication of the valuation roll takes the place of the proposal in the Bill originally that revaluation should be spread over a period of five years, one section being settled in each year. This change, as hon. Members who were Members of the Standing Committee will be aware, is in the new Clause 9, which was moved into the Bill in Committee. I think this proposal has two advantages in particular over the original proposal in the Bill. It gives the assessor an opportunity to see the picture as a whole in his valuation area before his valuations are made public. It also avoids the possibility of anomalies arising through the introduction of a revalued section of the roll each year.
The second point is that a new timetable has been introduced for the issue of notices by the assessor and the lodging and hearing of appeals before the local valuation appeal committee. This was done by amending the Second Schedule. I think that it is generally agreed that this is a change for the better. The volume of appeals in the years of revaluation, that is 1961–62, 1966–67, and so on thereafter quinquennially, may be substantial, and the new timetable, among its other advantages, extends the period during which the valuation appeal committee may sit.
I believe that the Bill, as it has been amended, will result in a fairer and certainly a much more easily understood valuation and rating system in Scotland. In five years' time from the Bill becoming law we should have rateable values which ensure that the occupiers of comparable properties make comparable contributions to local revenues. Anomalies which exist today should be ironed out through the machinery of the Bill. The complications introduced into the relationship of owners and occupiers should disappear, and the true burden of the rates will be apparent to those who impose the burden and those who have to bear it.
Much will have to be done immediately after the Bill receives the Royal Assent. Valuation authorities will have to consider, among other things, the possibilities of combination, the appointment of qualified assessors and adequate staffs and the preparation of administrative schemes. This will necessitate intensive work if the Bill is to come into operation next May, as the Government hope and wish. We are confident that the co-operation of the local authorities, which throughout the consideration of the Bill has been so readily forthcoming, will extend to the necessary work of preparation for bringing the Measure into force.
On the point of combining valuation authorities, I am glad to say that we have heard that a very commendable initiative in discussing this question has already been taken by some local authorities in Scotland. We earnestly hope that this admirable example will be followed in all areas where combination would facilitate the employment of fully-qualified staff. This is especially necessary in areas whore qualified assessors are not now employed.
I should like to stress that the provisions in the Bill dealing with the Exchequer equalisation grant have found support in all quarters, but there has been some suspicion, or "suggestion" would perhaps be the better word, for nobody could be suspicious of the present Government, that, since the Bill was not enacted by 15th May this year, local authorities will not receive the grant on the new and more generous basis provided under the Bill until next year. I should like to set minds at rest, because this is not the case. I emphasise that the date on which the Bill becomes an Act does not affect the provision under which grant calculated on the new formula will be available in Scotland from the financial year which began last month.
I think the House will agree that it is unnecessary for me to recapitulate the arguments as to the main principles of the Bill, which have already been so fully argued and disputed previous to this Third Reading stage. The Government remain firmly of the opinion that the present valuation and rating system in Scotland is outmoded and that the far reaching changes provided for in the Bill are necessary.
The Bill is based on the unanimous report of a committee which included members of all shades of political opinion. I hesitate to repeat the name "Sorn" so I will refer to the Report of that Committee. It studied the matter in detail and provided us with a plan for introducing what the Government believe to be an improved system of valuation and rating. I believe that this Bill constitutes a valuable reform which has been overdue in Scotland for many years. I admit its great importance, and I only hope that it will stand the test of time.
I have to inform the Secretary of State for Scotland that my hon. Friends and myself cannot enthuse, as he nearly did, about reaching the final stages of this Bill. We have done our best to improve the Bill in case it passed into legislation, because we could not assume, with a Government majority, that there was any hope of our preventing it from becoming law, and therefore it was our duty to try to improve it in Committee. We put forward a large number of well thought out and constructive Amendments, of which only a very small number registered with the Government. We were not sure as to the reason for this obstinacy until the Joint Under-Secretary tonight explained that he was continually leaning over backwards. We gathered that was the reason he was not so forthcoming as we should have liked him to be.
There is one curious result of this Bill which the Secretary of State has perhaps not realised. We have been talking about relative fractions in the last minute or two. A little earlier we were talking about constant factors. Some of my Glasgow colleagues will conclude that I am talking about Mr. Murray MacGregor, It is true that shades of Mr. Murray MacGregor have been with us, although he has not been present, and if there are any orders of merit within his command I am sure that the Secretary of State will be an early recipient of one of his decorations.
We are likely to get rid of another constant factor. I can remember all my lifetime a constant procession of housing factors going on to county councils in all parts of Scotland on behalf of the Tory Party. I say "Tory Party" because, contrary to what the hon. Gentleman has been saying, the Scottish Tories resent very much the suggestion that they might be called Conservatives—
Yes, but the hon. Gentleman was nearly put out of the party for thinking himself a Conservative. The Scottish Conference protested violently against the suggestion that they should be called Conservatives. They want to be called Unionists. Of course other people have other names for them. This procession of factors who have gone on to town councils have boasted that they have prevented town and county councils from doing their job of developing municipal enterprise because they have boasted that they were keeping down the rates. That was an entirely negative point of view, which has hindered the development of Scottish county and town councils for generations.
I know one town where the streets were in holes, and yet the person responsible was glorified by the Conservatives as being one of the great custodians of our finances. If someone had broken his neck in one of those holes, he would not have been so enthusiastic about the saving.
If we get rid of this constant factor, it will be a great blessing for local authorities throughout Scotland. A great many men have become members of councils for the purpose of keeping down the rates and who have remained to do something quite different. In the county from which the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. George) came, I remember a farmer who went on to the council to keep down the "extravagances" of Joe Westwood in respect of the money which he was spending on education. The farmer was not very long on the council before he realised that Joe Westwood was a person of sound common sense and good wisdom for the county, and the Conservatives nearly put him off the council for becoming a disciple of Joe Westwood.
I propose to be very brief in what I have to say on Third Reading. We have not seen anything happen during the Committee stage of the Bill which has changed our opinion as voiced on its Second Reading. The Secretary of State has still failed to have regard to the fundamental condition laid down by the Sorn Committee that the system of rating should not be overloaded. The Bill has also failed to deal with derating, although we suggested that. It limits the rating burden to tenants and owner occupiers, and it does not deal in any comprehensive way with the financial problems of the local authorities of Scotland.
We know no more now than we did when the Second Reading took place of the possible tragedy for tenants of which this Bill is but the prelude. There is a suspicion that this is simply the introductory chapter to a new landlords' charter. The Government have insisted on forcing the Bill through in a form which has not the improvement which would have resulted from the deletion of the powers to abolish owners' rates and the power to continue derating. The Bill fails to establish justice as between one citizen and another. It fails to ensure the necessary protection against a future soulless exploitation of tenants by the worst type of landlord.
The Bill, in its Committee stage, had a curious progression. Dr. Bannister in his racing was always credited with having the ability at the last minute to put on a spurt which enabled him to finish just in time. This Bill started as a marathon. It is finishing as a sprint. We have been a little too generous, I think, in the arrangements made through the usual channels to conclude the Bill in the short time available to us this evening. We have one consolation. The Secretary of State started these proceedings in fearful anticipation that they would be the end of him. So, in a way, by proceeding so rapidly with this Bill, in spite of its slow start, we have really saved his life, and we have no fear now that at a future date there will be inscribed on a piece of stone:
Poor Jimmy. His heart was torn by a miserable Bill based on Sorn
I should like to make one or two remarks, before the Bill receives its Third Reading, in the very agreeable atmosphere created by the closing words of the right hon. Member for East Stirling-shire (Mr. Woodburn). On Second Reading—it seems a long time ago to most of us—I said that I was in favour of the Bill, and that is true today, subject to a reservation on one point to which I shall refer in a moment.
I am glad that the Secretary of State stood firm about Clause 5, which deals with the composition and functions of the valuation appeal committees. That is a sound and wise decision. I know most definitely that it is one which appeals to my constituents.
I am also very pleased that during our proceedings Clause 9 was completely redrafted so that in future we shall have a complete revaluation carried out during each quinquennial period and a single new valuation roll brought into operation at the end of every fifth year. On Second Reading I urged that course very strongly. Hon. Members on all sides agree that it is a great improvement to have a complete revaluation every five years. It will certainly avoid in the future those difficulties which have arisen in East Dunbartonshire, West Edinburgh and other places where partial revaluations have taken place, resulting in most unfortunate effects, with the assessments of a number of householders being frozen at high levels.
That brings me to my last point, the position in relation to Clause 15 under which existing assessments are to be frozen until the new roll, compiled under the Bill, is brought into operation in 1961–62. I would recall to my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary what he said on the first day of our proceedings in the Scottish Standing Committee, in c. 42.
It seems a very long time ago, but it was this year. The date was 23rd February. My hon. Friend said:
The Government have a passion for justice as between one ratepayer and another …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Scottish Standing Committee, 23rd February, 1956; c. 42.]
Frankly, I do not consider that the arrangements under Clause 15 operate fairly as between different ratepayers. I know that a great deal of thought has been given to this matter by the Government and their advisers, and by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I and other hon. Members have tried to draft suitable Amendments. Unfortunately, they have not proved acceptable. I still feel that it should be possible to provide some sort of appeal for householders who will have frozen, for the next five years, their present assessments, which are much higher than those of householders in comparable houses in the same valuation area.
The very last time we met in the Standing Committee, when this matter was raised, the Solicitor-General for Scotland said:
It really comes to this: could we devise some sort of appeals system, possibly based on a material change of circumstances including a recent change in valuation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Scottish Standing Committee, 15th May, 1956; c. 1060.]
Most of us would agree that that is what we were aiming at. I admit that later on the Solicitor-General said he was not very hopeful of finding a solution to the problem. However, I am not a defeatist, and, although the Bill will receive a
Third Reading tonight without an Amendment having been made to Clause 15, I hope that some wise and learned person in another place will be able to remedy this blot.
I certainly urge the Secretary of State and the Joint Under-Secretary to do what they can to alter the Clause to provide some right of appeal for householders whose assessments are being frozen at a higher level than those of their neighbours. This is a flaw in a Measure which is otherwise well worthy of support. In wishing the Bill well, I trust that the Government will still endeavour in another place to remedy this defect.
The outstanding aspect of the Bill, as it will be regarded by local authorities, particularly those of large burghs, is that the stripping of their powers has left local authorities with practically nothing to do in respect of valuation and rating, but they have certainly a great deal to do in paying for the valuation system. The financial burdens have increased and the powers have diminished. There is no doubt that the party opposite will have to stand before the political bar in Scotland to answer for this sharp attack on local democracy.
It was once said by a former Prime Minister, the late Stanley Baldwin, that the exercise of power without responsibility was the prerogative of the harlot. It would appear in this case that we have responsibility without power. The exercise of responsibility without power is now the burden of the eunuch. It appears that this is certainly the case in regard to this Bill.
I think we can fairly claim that the large burghs in Scotland have been very badly let down by the Secretary of State. On 6th March we asked the right hon. Gentleman if he would consider not imposing the financial burden contained in the Bill on the shoulders of the local authorities. We asked him if he would reconsider his decision, and very quickly several agencies in Scotland acted. For example, on 9th March in the Convention of Royal Burghs there was read out a minute of the Large Burghs Committee. It said that as it appeared that the large burghs were not to be concerned in valuation, they should not be asked to contribute to the cost.
That was on 9th March, three days after the Secretary of State spoke in the Committee. In my own constituency, the corporation, which comprises men of many different political creeds, unanimously agreed to approve the following resolution and to send it to the Secretary of State. The resolution said that representations should be made to the Government that the preparation of valuations for local rating purposes should become the responsibility of the Inland Revenue, and that local authorities should cease to have any financial liability in regard to valuation.
This was sent to the Secretary of State on 23rd March. I think that my burgh acted with alacrity, and the Convention of Royal Burghs went on record three days after the Secretary of State made his solemn declaration in Committee. He said:
If the local authorities express to me views different from those which I have already received from them, I will consider later whether there is anything which can be done."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Scottish Standing Committee, 6th March, 1956; c. 184.]
Nothing has been done. We had no opportunity at all today to hear the case put forward, and the result is that with the passage of the Bill we are leaving Scotland in an entirely different position from England. With an immense financial burden placed on the shoulders of local authorities, they have been insulted in almost every Clause of the Bill by having power after power, privilege after privilege taken away from them, and with growing obligations.
I know that hon. Members opposite who have a deep regard for local democracy in Scotland must be shocked to know that they are playing such a dreadful part in the march of history tonight. It is my own feeling that we are bound, some time or other in the near future, with the heart-burning of local authorities, to recognise that we shall have to take further steps for the reform of the valuation system in Scotland. I fear that the Joint Under-Secretary of State will be disappointed, if he does live for a hundred years, because this valuation Measure will certainly not last that length of time. We shall have to amend it in the near future if we are to place the position in Scotland on a fair basis.
With the crisis in local government swelling up as the years go on, with the financial position of local councils becoming more and more difficult, this additional burden will become a great challenge, and we will have to face it some day.
There is another matter which we deeply regret, the power of combination without the knowledge of what the combinations might be. In Committee on 13th March, the Joint Under-Secretary of State, referring to the combinations in Scotland, said that he had
… no reason to hold back any information about this."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Scottish Standing Committee, 13th March, 1956; c. 269.]
We have had no indication in later stages of the Bill what the suggested combinations which might take place in Scotland might be.
It is a fact of valuation gossip that great empire building is going on here and that we shall see in Scotland the merging of many counties. So far from my own constituency seeing its valuation authority moved from its own headquarters to the county capital, it will see it move much further than that. More and more remote will become the valuation system from where it has operated among ordinary people. We understand that the merging will take a very substantial form, and it may well be that Scotland will be divided into four, five or six major regions of valuation instead of the present pattern of counties at present envisaged in the Bill.
It is with all those qualms and doubts, which are not of a partisan nature but of the nature of good government, which is devoid of the partisanship of political philosophy, that it seems to me that hon. Members opposite should be concerned that they should welcome the Third Reading of the Bill and wish to see it on the Statute Book. Speaking for the people I represent, I view with abhorrence the abolition of owners' rates in the present context of Scotland's housing position, which is so substantially different from that of England. I cannot see how it is possible for hon. Members to claim that that provision will help the position in Scotland, and I regard it as complete hypocrisy to claim that it will be an impetus to house building in Scotland.
I am glad to have this opportunity of speaking on this Bill. I know that it is not customary for English Members to interfere in Scottish business, but I hope that by the time I have finished speaking I can be commended not only for my brevity but for my bravery. The only issue I wish to raise is connected with Clause 1, which in subsection (2) says that—
… any assessor … holding office immediately before the sixteenth day of May, nineteen hundred and fifty-seven, … shall cease to hold office on that date.
Subsection (5) of that Clause says that the Secretary of State shall make regulations prescribing the qualifications which assessors in future must have, if they are to be appointed to this particular office, and similar regulations will govern the appointment of deputy assessors.
That means that all those assessors and deputy assessors who presently hold their appointments are, on the passing of the Bill, automatically discharged from those appointments. The Bill does not make clear whether they will be appointed again. That seems to depend on regulations to be made in the future and at the moment, and none of us knows the contents of those regulations. This has caused a good deal of consternation among the officers concerned, who are very anxious to have an assurance from the Secretary of State that not only will their jobs be given a certain amount of consideration in the future, but that they will be given priority in that, after the Bill is passed and the regulations are made, should two persons apply for one job, one of them having held an appointment as assessor previously and one not, if both are qualified under the regulations, the person who held the job previously will get some priority over the other.
I ask the Secretary of State carefully to consider the employment of people who have given very long and faithful service to local government authorities in Scotland. I have been asked to put forward this case on behalf of the National Association of Local Government Officers. The Association's claims are entirely reasonable in this case. I ask the Secretary of State also to give careful consideration when he comes to draft the regulations and to give some recognition to long service, although the persons concerned have not, in fact, been technically qualified and are not technically qualified in future. I shall be very happy to have from him the assurance that when the regulations are made, very careful thought will be given to those points.
I can quite understand the feeling the Secretary of State has expressed in bidding farewell to this Bill, but I think he should have shown a little more gratitude to the people who have helped him to get the Bill through—I mean his absent friends from the south of England who did not understand the Bill when he introduced it, were not present in the Committee and did not understand it then, and do not yet understand it.
We all know that when the Secretary of State came with his incantation and slogan that this was the Sorn Committee and that was that, the gentleman from the south of England trooped in and decided the fate of Scotland for the next 100 years. The right hon. Gentleman might have expressed a few words of gratitude to those who helped him inflict this Measure on Scotland. I am not forgetting the Northern Ireland people, and I suppose if there had been Members for Malta they also would have helped. The Secretary of State went through the proceedings with all the keenness of a Weary Willie and all the energy of a Tired Tim. The result is very complicated piece of machinery on the Statute Book, the full effects of which will not be felt by the people of Scotland until about 1961, when the right hon. Gentleman will probably be forgotten.
It is a piece of legislation which will inflict heavy burdens on the great majority of working people throughout Scotland at a time when local government will be rendered almost impossible because of the financial policy of this Government. It will be the poor county councillors and town councillors in 1961 who will have to face a barrage of criticism which will be the inevitable result of this legislation coming into operation. They will have to bear the brunt of public criticism which inevitably will come as a result of the implications of this Measure. In future, the democratic rights of local authorities will be taken away and great power placed in the hands of gentlemen known as the sheriffs.
Burdens will be placed on all sorts of people with very small incomes. This Bill will not help to solve a single one of the complicated problems coming upon us in 1961. We shall have the burden of injustice of this Measure which will have been put on the Statute Book with the co-operation and help of people who have not been here to hear what it is all about.
At this stage of a Bill, it is customary for whoever is winding up for the Opposition to try to say something kind about the way in which the Bill has been conducted by Her Majesty's Government and also something kind about the Bill itself.
As to the conduct of the Bill, the only kind thing I feel I can say about Her Majesty's Government is that the Secretary of State says "No" as kindly as anyone. As to the Bill, the only good thing which can be said is that it embodies the new principle of quinquennial valuation for which there has been much agitation in Scotland for many years. The enthusiasm with which I greet that proposition is somewhat tempered by two facts. The first is that I wrote the paper submitted by the Barnton Association to the Sorn Committee some five years ago. Unfortunately, my modesty forbids me commending it too much. Secondly, the quinquennial valuation has resulted in the anomalies which have been so forcefully spoken about by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Sir I. Clarke Hutchison). As a result of the quinquennial valuation those anomalies must continue until 1961–62.
The second plum or good thing about the Bill will be thought to be good by a more limited class. That is the legal profession in Scotland. The method of valuation which has been proposed is to abolish the old method and substitute the method of valuation which depends for its success on the assumption of about six negative hypothesi. How it is to be done I do not quite know, but I do know that everyone who is skilled in valuation to whom I have spoken—and I know a little about the subject myself—has come to the conclusion that in 1961–62 there will be a mass of litigation akin to that which resulted from the industrial derating Act of 1929.
As I said earlier in Committee today, the provisions for the rating of unoccupied property will also give rise to litigation. I should have thought that that itself was enough to condemn the Bill, but there are other features. The central feature, indeed the major fault of the Bill, is the concentration of the Secretary of State upon Clause 16, which transfers the liability of rates wholly on to the shoulders of tenants. I have never been in favour of owners' rates; I would have had them abolished a long time ago, and would have supported their abolition in this Bill subject to one proviso, which is that the tenants' rates had been abolished at the same time.
There is no doubt whatsoever that if local government is to succeed in Scotland, if it is not to become the mere agency of central Government, it is imperative that it should live on its own, and it can live on its own only if it is given an adequate field of finance for which it is itself responsible and in no way dependent upon central Government. I know that the minds of those who are concerned with local government in England, particularly the two great associations in England, are very conscious of that, and that their minds are moving towards a method of evolving such a system.
It is unfortunate, I think, that the minds of local associations in Scotland move so much more slowly, and it is unlikely that they will have any movement until the rate burden imposed upon the ratepayers in Scotland becomes intolerable, as it very quickly is becoming. I know the Secretary of State will say that he has got the justification of the Sorn Committee for his Clause 16, but, as my right hon. Friend has said, he has omitted to notice the qualification which comes in paragraph after paragraph of the report upon which this Bill is said to be founded, namely, that the ratepayers may not be overloaded.
Of course, there are other matters which are wrong with the Bill. Clause 1, which is such a monstrous Clause, results from a disregard of the Sorn Committee Report, and gives the local authority the power, or apparent power, to appoint an assessor and then places the whole burden of paying for assessments upon the local authority. It is a very empty power, and I blame the Secretary of State, not so much for the Clause as for the maladroit way in which the local authorities played their hand. They tried to seize two things and got neither.
As a result, a city like Edinburgh will probably have to pay £100,000 for the right to appoint an assessor once in a person's lifetime; an assessor who has to be selected with qualifications required by the Secretary of State, to whom they can give no instructions and whom they cannot dismiss without the consent of the Secretary of State. I have little sympathy with the local authorities on this matter, and I think it is largely their own fault. Nevertheless, I think the Secretary of State might have been less grasping and a little more helpful to them.
In many ways, the Advisory Council is a good thing. It is unfortunate that it will have no power to do anything to co-ordinate valuations in Scotland. I welcome the news which the Secretary of State gave a few moments ago that there are to be a number of combinations of local authorities in Scotland, because while that is to be deprecated in many ways and while I agree with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Dr. Mabon), in the absence of a strong central advisory council with power to do something to co-ordinate the valuations in Scotland, it is the only way in which it can be done.
A matter which troubles me very much, as a practitioner with a good deal of experience at one time in the valuations court, is the new valuation committee. It is to be selected by a person who does not want to select if from a number of persons whom he does not know and none of whom he will be able to tell how long the committee will be required to sit in any one year. For myself, I think there will be a very large number of valuation appeals in the first year, namely, 1961–62, and it may well be that the Secretary of State of that day will be faced with many problems. It may be the present Secretary of State. I know that he shakes his hand and his head at the suggestion and that he gives the impression that, like Cincinnatus, he desires to return to his farm, but he has held office for a long time and may continue to do so. After all, he might be drafted, willy-nilly, like the President of the United States.
I hope that he is Secretary of State, because I am sure that in 1961–62 the Bill, then an Act, will give rise to an enormous number of complications, not least of them being the complications which will arise under the appeal provisions. I know from talks which I have had with other members of the Bar that they are not looking forward to the congestion of the courts when the appeals ultimately land there.
This seems a catalogue of defects, but there are many other defects in the Bill and very little good to be said about it. In conclusion, I should like to say something about what I regard as a major defect, that resulting from Clause 16. I know the Secretary of State is sincere in his belief that as a result of Clause 16 and certain other provisions there will be a major outbreak of building by private enterprise in Scotland of houses to let. The Secretary of State said that in his Second Reading speech and he said it again in Committee.
I hope that I am wrong in my belief that there will be no such resurgence of house building. I gave my reasons for my belief on Second Reading and I will not repeat them now, but I ask the Secretary of State, when the first house is built to let as a result of the Bill, to open it with some due state and to invite some of my right hon. Friends and myself to the opening. We, on our part, will entertain him as well as we can and will confess that we were wrong in our estimates.
Surely it will be difficult to say exactly which is the first house built as a result of the Bill. I did not say that there would be a spate of building. I said that the Bill would be a help. In return for the hon. and learned Gentleman's suggestion, perhaps I may ask him to invite me to Parliament House or elsewhere to celebrate the first case which he gets.
That is very fair. I certainly give the right hon. Gentleman the invitation now. I think there should be no difficulty in deciding which is the first house built. My own belief is that there will not be a single house built to let in Scotland as a result of the Bill within the next five years. When I say "let," I means freely and unrestricted. I may be wrong, and I hope I am. However, I accept the invitation of the Secretary of State, and I hope he will accept mine.
Much can be said about this melancholy Bill. I regret it mostly, I think, as a lost opportunity, because it would have been possible to do so much in the time available with a really good Bill—so much to infuse new life into local authorities. The Secretary of State has been misled, particularly by those who advised him who are members of the various land owners and factors associations. I hope that one result of the Bill will be that they will cease to trouble him.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On 6th March in Committee on this Bill my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) and I were given certain assurances by the Secretary of State himself. The Secretary of State said:
If the local authorities express to me views different from those which I have already received from them, I will consider later whether there is anything which can be done."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Scottish Standing Committee, 6th March, 1956; c. 184.]
That assurance was repeated on 8th March in column 194, and it was on the basis of that assurance that I and my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East withdrew a series of Amendments.
Is it the case that we cannot raise this matter, and that we are not now permitted to discuss this question?
I am afraid that is not a point of order for me. Bills go through various stages of discussion, and lots of things are said, and other things are not said which should be said. But I am afraid it has got nothing to do with me.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. On the basis of those assurances we withdrew our Amendments, and we then put down a series of other Amendments, and yet they have not been called. Surely there is some misunderstanding?
I do not know anything about that. Mr. Nixon Browne.
I must thank the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. D. Johnston) for the way in which he wound up for his side on this long and complicated Bill, and I will do the best I can in the time available to answer some of the points raised.
The hon. and learned Gentleman spoke of the mass of litigation in 1961–62. The Government appreciate, and I think the House as a whole appreciates, that with a major Bill of this nature and with a complete turnover of policy of this nature we must accept that, to begin with in any case, there will be a mass of litigation. We feel that the new time table that has been added to the Bill in Committee will help considerably to get over what will be only a temporary difficulty.
This Bill, and the fact that we have brought it in at all, is evidence of the intention of the Government to do what is right for Scotland. To do this, we have had by this Measure to start revising Scottish rating and valuation from the very foundations.
The hon. and learned Member for Paisley (Mr. D. Johnston) and others said that the Bill would not of itself build houses. I agree. It is a basic Bill, but I maintain that the Bill, though not itself a solution to Scotland's housing problems, is for the first time a fair and sound foundation upon which a permanent structure can be built and a start can be made to solve Scotland's housing problems which, as we all know, are so much greater than those in England.
The right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn), I think, proposed to recommend that the House should divide on this Measure. His ground was that the Bill contained only fundamental provisions affecting the basis of valuation and rating. That, of course, is the Bill's only purpose. The right hon. Member complained that it did not include provisions for re-rating. This Bill is not the right place, and I know that the right hon. Member realises it, for re-rating and many of the other things that perhaps some of us would have liked to have seen done.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Sir I. Clark Hutchison) referred twice—once in Committee and once again today—to my passion for justice. The Measure gives permanent justice where today there is so much injustice. I must agree with my hon. Friend that he is perhaps right in taxing me about temporary injustice. I would not attempt to repeat the admirable speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General for Scotland when he spoke of what we know as the Barnton problem.
To summarise, the position is that if any provision modifying the "freeze" were adopted, the question would be whether it should apply to all property, to houses only, or simply to owner-occupied houses. If it were to apply to all property, the effect on total rateable value and therefore on rate poundages would be most alarming. Glasgow is a particular example of this. There would also be a considerable loss in rateable value if the valuations of local authority houses were reduced to a common denominator. Whilst there have been no widespread demands that concessions during the "freeze" should apply to local authority houses, it would be difficult to justify and operate concessions to owner-occupiers only.
It would be extremely difficult, and an innovation in valuation law, to use the ownership of property rather than property itself as a criterion in valuation. Any provision to "job back" to the 1945 valuation roll, or any other year, would remove present anomalies only at the cost of restoring old ones. To base "jobbing back" on the valuation of "comparable" property would lead to heavy losses of rateable value and it would be scarcely possible to job back as regards new property and property which has been altered by additions, by partial demolition, or by conversion into flats. All the proposed schemes for jobbing back would involve the assessor in so much extra work that the possibility of bringing in new valuations in 1961 would be gravely prejudiced.
The hon. Member for Greenock (Dr. Mabon) referred to the stripping of powers from local authorities. I would remind him that the retention by local authorities of the powers that they have over valuation was the almost unanimous choice of the local authorities—
—that it should remain a local responsibility—and they accepted with that the condition that if they called the tune they should pay the piper.
Valuation could have been done by the Treasury. After the offer of my right hon. Friend, to which the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) referred in a point of order, no representations were received. I and the Government can only presume that, as the offer made by my right hon. Friend at the very last moment was not accepted, the Scottish local authority associations are satisfied with the condition as it is.
Do I understand that the Secretary of State did not receive a letter dated 23rd March from the office of the town clerk of Greenock? Greenock was communicating the fact that it unanimously put forward its protest to the Secretary of State calling on him to place the responsibility on the shoulders of the Inland Revenue.
It was not representation as the Government have to accept representation. Wherever there is an association of local authorities, there may be members who differ from the findings and opinions of the majority. The Government cannot be swayed in these matters by the opinions, however genuinely and sincerely held, of individual authorities. They must look—local authorities in Scotland would expect them to do so—to the responsible associations to express their views.
Did the Secretary of State invite Scottish local authority associations to give him their views subsequent to what he said in the Scottish Standing Committee in March? If not, will he do so before the Bill is taken in another place? There is every reason to believe that both the Convention of Royal Burghs and the Association of County Councils take a different view from that which the hon. Gentleman attributes to them.
I also have that beside me. When he met the local authorities for the first time, my right hon. Friend gave them the opportunity to decide
which they wanted, and they later had an opportunity to reconsider their decision. He said, on 6th March, in the plainest possible words:
… I cannot accept these Amendments because they are not in a form which, even supposing we do hand valuation over to a central authority. I can accept at this stage. If the local authorities express to me views different from those which I have already received from them, I will consider later whether there is anything which can be done"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Scottish Standing Committee, 6th March, 1956; c. 184.]
The moment has arrived when "later" has finished, and between 6th March and today no representations have been received.
Has not the Joint Under-Secretary said that he has beside him a letter which shows that three days later the Convention of Royal Burghs resolved that it wanted the change which the Secretary of State said he would accept if it wanted it.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. When it is pointed out that a statement made to the House is incorrect, is it not customary, even for Scottish Ministers, to apologise to the House?
There are differences of opinion about what has happened. That is quite customary in this House.
Order. The hon. Member is not entitled to interrupt unless the Minister gives way, and he has not given way.
On a point of order. Is it not the case that the Minister referred specifically to a letter which I quoted and that, almost in the same breath, he said that no representations had been made. Is it not out of order to say two contradictory things in the same sentence and get away with it?
There have been no representations that the Inland Revenue should take over. That is exactly what the position is.
The hon. and learned Member for Paisley criticised the handling of this matter by local authorities. That was perhaps an unwise thing to do, because our experience of the matter is that the local authorities Associations have in all cases co-operated with us very well. We are very grateful to them for the help they have given us.
The hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Keegan), whose intervention we welcomed, asked an important question about the qualifications of assessors. The qualifications of assessors will be prescribed by regulations made after consulting the Valuation Advisory Council. No assurance can be given that any special preference will be shown to existing assessors. If, however, any existing assessor suffers loss he will have a right to compensation.
The hon. Member for Greenock asked a question about combinations. The position is that the Secretary of State understands that certain local authorities have begun exploratory discussions about the circumstances in which combinations would be advantageous, but my right hon. Friend intends meanwhile to leave proposals for specific combinations entirely to the local authorities.
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) gave me an opportunity to thank the silent Members—[HON. MEMBERS: "The absent Members."]—and the absent Members of the Committee. We are all very grateful to those hon. Members who watch us and help us in our deliberations and do nothing to hinder us. This gives me an opportunity also to thank both sides of the House for the co-operation they have shown to the Front Bench and for the courtesy with which our discussions have always been conducted.
There is one point I should like to make about the local authorities. It is useful to stress again the need for the continued co-operation of the local authorities in this matter if the machine is to be ready to operate next May. They will have a lot to do and we shall, of course, try to help them in whatever way we can. We have given them the machine, and they will make it work
|Division No. 244.]||AYES||[11.1 p.m.|
|Amory, Rt. Hn. Heathcoat (Tiverton)||Corfield, Capt. F. V.||Hall, John (Wycombe)|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major Sir William||Crouch, R. F.||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.)|
|Arbuthnot, John||Currie, G. B. H.||Harris, Reader (Heston)|
|Armstrong, C. W.||Dance, J. C. G.||Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon)|
|Ashton, H.||Davidson, Viscountess||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)|
|Atkins, H. E.||Digby, Simon Wingfield||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel|
|Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M.||Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.||Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Doughty, C. J. A.||Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton)|
|Balniel, Lord||Drayson, G. B.||Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)|
|Barlow, Sir John||du Cann, E. D. L.||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount|
|Barter, John||Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.||Hirst, Geoffrey|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley||Duthie, W. S.||Holland-Martin, C. J.|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West)||Hope, Lord John|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Hornby, R. P.|
|Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn||Horobin, Sir Ian|
|Bidgood, J. C.||Errington, Sir Eric||Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)|
|Biggs-Davison, J. A.||Finlay, Graeme||Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J.|
|Bishop, F. P.||Fisher, Nigel||Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'gh, W.)|
|Boothby, Sir Robert||Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F.||Hylton-Foster, Sir H. B. H.|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||George, J. C. (Pollok)||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)|
|Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry||Gibson-Watt, D.||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)|
|Brooman-White, R. C.||Gough, C. F. H.||Jennings, J. C. (Burton)|
|Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton)||Gower, H. R.||Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)|
|Bryan, P.||Grey, C. F.||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)|
|Campbell, Sir David||Grant, W. (Woodside)||Kaberry, D.|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich)||Keegan, D.|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Green, A.||Kerby, Capt. H. B.|
|Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Gresham Cooke, R.||Kerr, H. W.|
|Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.||Kimball, M.|
|Kirk, P. M.||Molson, Rt. Hon. Hugh||Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kens'gt'n, S.)|
|Lagden, G. W.||Moore, Sir Thomas||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)|
|Leavey, J. A.||Nabarro, C. D. N.||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Nairn, D. L. S.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)|
|Lindsay, Martin (Solihull)||Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'ch)||Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)|
|Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)||O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)||Thompson, LL.-Cdr.R. (Croydon, E.)|
|Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D.||Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.|
|Lucas, P. B. (Brentford & Chiswick)||Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Page, R. G.||Touche, Sir Gordon|
|Macdonald, Sir Peter||Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|McKibbin, A. J.||Partridge, E.||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)||Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.|
|McLaughlin, Mrs. P.||Pitt, Miss E. M.||Vosper, D. F.|
|Maclay, Rt. Hon. John||Profumo, J. D.||Walker-Smith, D. C.|
|McLean, Neil (Inverness)||Raikes, Sir Victor||Wall, Major Patrick|
|MacLeod, John (Ross & Cromarty)||Ramsden, J. E.||Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)|
|Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Redmayne, M.||Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.|
|Maddan, Martin||Ridsdale, J. E.||Whitelaw, W.S.I. (Penrith & Border)|
|Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark)||Rippon, A. G. F.||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Markham, Major Sir Frank||Robertson, Sir David||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Marples, A. E.||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)||Wills, G. (Bridgwater)|
|Mathew, R.||Roper, Sir Harold||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Maude, Angus||Sharples, R. C.|
|Mawby, R. L.||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R.||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)||Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith and|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Hayman, F. H.||Oswald, T.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Healey, Denis||Paget, R. T.|
|Awbery, S. S.||Herbison, Miss M.||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Hewitson, Capt. M.||Pearson, A.|
|Bence, C. R. (Dunbartonshire, E.)||Holmes, Horace||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Boardman, H.||Howell, Charles (Perry Barr)||Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Hoy, J. H.||Probert, A. R.|
|Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S.W.)||Hubbard, T. F.||Proctor, W. T.|
|Bowen, E. R. (Cardigan)||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Pryde, D. J.|
|Bowles, F. G.||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Randall, H. E.|
|Boyd, T. C.||Hunter, A. E.||Rankin, John|
|Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Redhead, E. C.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Janner, B.||Reid, William|
|Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Jeger, George (Goole)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Burke, W. A.||Johnston, Douglas (Paisley)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)||Short, E. W.|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)||Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)|
|Clunie, J.||Kenyon, C.||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)|
|Coldrick, W.||King, Dr. H. M.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead)||Lawson, G. M.||Sparks, J. A.|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)||Steele, T.|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Lindgren, G. S.||Stones, W. (Consett)|
|Deer, G.||Logan, D. G.||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Thornton, E.|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||MacColl, J. E.||Timmons, J.|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)||MoGhee, H. G.||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn|
|Fernyhough, E.||MoGovern, J.||Usborne, H. C.|
|Fienburgh, W.||Mcinnes, J.||Warbey, W. N.|
|Finch, H. J.||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Forman, J. C.||MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Mahon, Simon||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Gibson, C. W.||Mann, Mrs. Jean||Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Grey, C. F.||Mitchison, G. R.||Winterbottom, Richard|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Monslow, W.||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Grimond, J.||Moody, A. S.||Yates, V. (Ladywood)|
|Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Moyle, A.||Zilliacus, K.|
|Hamilton, W. W.||Neal, Harold (Bolsover)|
|Hannan, W.||Noel-Baker Francis (Swindon)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Harrison, J. (Nottingham, N.)||Oram, A. E.||Mr. Wilkins and Mr. John Taylor.|
Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.