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The Government's proposal embodied in the Bill to postpone revaluation until 1973 is based on the general shortage of valuers in the Valuation Department of the Board of Inland Revenue. Ever since responsibility for valuation for rating was transferred by the Local Government Act, 1948, from local authorities to the Inland Revenue there have admittedly been delays and postponements of each valuation. Under the Local Government Act, 1948, the first new valuation list was to come into force on 1st April, 1952, with power for the Minister by Order to postpone the date until 1st April, 1953. In fact, the new list came into force on 1st April, 1956.
The second list was supposed to come into force on 1st April, 1961. That date had to be changed to 1st April, 1963. The postponement on that occasion was half the previous one so there was a hope that the position was improving and that the new list, due in 1968, would be ready on time, but now we are faced in this Bill with a proposal for a new postponement, not for two years as in 1961, not even for four years as in 1962, but for five years. What should be a quinquennial revaluation is thus now becoming a decennial one. I dread to think what might happen in future if things were to go on like that.
In 1952, there were very valid reasons for postponement. First, the Valuation Department had not got into its stride with the new task which had been given to it. Secondly, that task was of formidable proportions seeing that there had been no revaluation since the mid-19308. The reason for that is well known to all of us in the House: 1939 was considered to be the latest date at which a free market value in houses existed.
The third reason was that the Department was being called upon to work on the basis of a formula which proved impracticable and had to be radically changed. In 1961, there was the valid reason that the appeals against the 1956 lists had taken longer than had been expected in being brought to a final decision.
This time the reasons given for postponement are the general shortage of valuers and the need of the Department to clear up appeals against the 1963 lists. One would accept that, but there is a final reason and I consider it to be the main reason. It might not be altogether palatable to the Minister. It is not admitted by the Government, but we believe that it is their preoccupation with the valuation commitments which arise out of their legislation which is the main cause of this postponement.
I do not wish to get out of order, but I mention in passing the Capital Gains Tax legislation and the even more notorious Land Commission Bill, which is at present going through its final stages. These have undoubtedly added to an already grave shortage of qualified valuers. I do not deny that there is this shortage. There is a heavy backlog of work to cope with, but an immediate postponement for five years is, in our opinion, a failure on the part of the Government from the very start.
I suggest that every effort should be made to get the work done quickly. Whether Ministers like or dislike the rating system as a means of raising revenue, it is the only means at present available to local authorities which is under their own control. The rating system has been described as a blunt instrument, but the longer the valuation lists on which it is based are allowed to become out of date the more unfair it will become to ratepayers and to local authorities which are forced to rely on it for the major part of their local revenues. Particularly is it unfair to ratepayers.
I know about the problems which have arisen in my own constituency in the past because of a postponement of revaluation. I know what difficulties arose after the last revaluation. One appreciates that there are grave anomalies between the rating of various types of flats. I know that there are inequalities in rating as between new flats and older flats and as between flats and bungalows, on the one hand, and two-storey houses, on the other. All this makes me realise that as time passes this will become a very much more serious problem.
If we are to be faced with a virtual 10-year standstill when revaluation eventually takes place, there will be considerable hardship on all sides. We are concerned about the ratepayers. One Measure that might have been attempted—and one would commend it to the right hon. Gentleman—is to employ private valuers on a contract basis in an attempt to overcome this problem. That should afford some relief. No doubt the Minister has thought of this, and possibly his Department have done something about it, or I sincerely hope that it has.
It might be that this pessimistic approach underlying the Clause is fully justified and that, if the postponement were not for the full five years, nothing could be done. However, it might just be possible for the lists to be completed quicker, and the Amendment gives an opportunity for that to be done. It provides for an initial postponement of two years—a period which proved sufficient on the last occasion; but, in case it finally turns out that it is insufficient, power is reserved for the Minister, with the approval of Parliament, to postpone the date for a further period of one, two or three years.
We on this side of the House feel that that Government are adopting a defeatist attitude. The valuation department of the Inland Revenue may well lose the sense of urgency which it needs to maintain if the present difficulties are to be overcome. To this extent, public spirited though those officers will be, they will be protected by the Clause and lulled into a sense of security. Let the Government take up the challenge of accepting this Amendment. They owe it to the hard-pressed ratepayers whom I and my right hon. and hon. Friends have as our first concern, as also have the Government, I am sure.
The Parliamentary Secretary, who has left us for a short while, admitted in Committee that the postponement was forced upon the Government by the situation. The Government have undoubtedly caused that situation and they owe it to the ratepayers and local authorities to make every effort to mitigate the serious effects of a revaluation which will be ten years overdue if the Government do not accept the Amendment.