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The hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Murton) and the hon. Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones) have deployed their case with such reason and persuasiveness that I should like nothing more than to be able to oblige them. The case had a certain superficial attractiveness and if we were looking for the easy way out we would accept the Amendment and wait for the pigeons to come home to roost in three or four years. But that would not be the honest and open way of dealing with the problem.
As I understand the Amendments, they seek to avoid the postponement to 1973 of the next general revaluation for rating. Amendment No. 23 would advance the revaluation to 1970 unless it has previously been postponed by order of the Minister to a later year, not being later than 1973. Amendment No. 24 accepts 1973 as the year which is prima facie appropriate for revaluation, but would confer on me the power to order that it should take place in an earlier year.
There is a superficial attraction in leaving open the final decision on whether the revaluation need be postponed for as long as the period proposed, that is, until 1973.
There would be many attractions in adopting that suggestion. But it is only right to tell the House that we have consulted the Inland Revenue about this, and the Department is absolutely positive that, having regard to its work commitments and its staffing position, it is out of the question to contemplate that the revaluation could take place before 1973.
To leave the date open, as hon. Members opposite propose, would only raise false hopes which, unquestionably, are incapable of fulfilment. I should mislead the House and the public if I said anything else.
The hon. Member for Poole very fairly referred to the difficulties of the Valuation Office, and I emphasise how short that department is already in meeting its staffing needs. During the current year, recruitment of valuers has just kept pace with losses through resignation or retirement. The hon. Gentleman suggested that we might consider recruiting valuers from outside the public service, but there is already a serious shortage of valuers outside the Valuation Office as well as inside, and I am informed that the profession as a whole will be hard put to it to meet the demands already placed upon it. If we were to add to the burden, it would, I think, be likely to produce a collapse of the valuation service.
In view of the references which we have made to the profession, it is only right to remind the House of the answer which the Chief Secretary gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey) on 14th December last. He said that the Inland Revenue would continue to recruit suitable trainees. The primary object of introducing this grade is to recruit school leavers at the age of 18 who have at least two G.C.E. A level passes. They are given a four-year training course, after which they can qualify as valuers. During the whole of this course, they will serve in one of the local offices and receive practical training under valuers in the office. In the first open competition, which was held in April, 51 candidates were declared successful, which is considered to be a promising start. In addition, the new grade provides an opportunity for clerical staff in the Valuation Office to receive professional training. Existing clerical trainees have been assimilated in the cadet valuer grade, whose total strength is now 127.
There is no doubt that everything possible has been done to increase the supply of qualified valuers, but the work which is now being done will not be sufficient to make up the full requirement which would be necessary if we were to accept the Amendments.
I must, therefore, ask the House to resist this Amendment.