HC Deb 25 October 1909 vol 12 cc771-4

(1) Every person who pays rent in respect of any land, and every person who as agent for another person receives any rent in respect of any land, shall, on being required by the Commissioners, furnish to them within thirty days the name and address of the person to whom he pays rent or on behalf of whom he receives rent, as the case may be.

(2) For the purpose of the exercise of their powers or the performance of their duties under this Part of this Act in reference to the valuation of land, the Commissioners may authorise any person to inspect any land and report to them the value thereof, and the person having the custody or possession of that land shall permit the person so authorised, on production of the authority of the Commissioners in that behalf, to inspect it at such reasonable times as the Commissioners consider necessary.

(3) If any person fails to comply with the provisions of this Section he shall be liable to a penalty under Section fifty-five of the Income Tax Act, 1842, and that Section shall apply accordingly, but the penalty shall only be recoverable in the High Court.

Drafting Amendment made.

Further Amendments made: In Sub-section (3), after the word "person" ["if any person fails"], to insert the word "wilfully."

To leave out the words "under Section fifty-five of the Income Tax Act, 1842, and that Section shall apply accordingly, but the penalty shall only," and insert instead thereof the words "not exceeding fifty pounds, to."—[Sir W. Robson.]

Sir W. ROBSON moved to add, at the end of the Clause: (4) Any notice requiring a return for the purpose of valuation, any copy of a provisional valuation, and any other notice or document which is required to be given or sent to an owner or a person interested in land under this Part of this Act by the Commissioners shall be sufficiently given or sent if sent by post to the address of the owner or person interested furnished to the Commissioners under the powers given by this Section or, if the address cannot be so ascertained, by leaving the notice or a copy of the document addressed to the owner or person interested with some occupier of the land or, if there is no occupier, by causing it to be put up in some conspicuous place on the land.


Does not this place the owner in a rather awkward position? If the occupier does not send a notice to him, the owner is to be liable to a penalty of £50. To trust to the occupier sending it will create great uncertainty. I think it is usual in such cases to insert something about delivery by registered post to the last known address.


We are only putting the Clause here instead of where it was originally placed. Formerly the words only applied to the original site value for the purposes of Increment Value Duty. Now we are making them apply to all.


I agree that this is only a transposition of the Clause, but the objection of my hon. Friend would be equally applicable wherever the provision appeared. I wish the Attorney-General would consider whether quite such wide words are necessary. It is rather a strong order to say that it shall be a sufficient service of notice on an owner unknown if that notice is left with any occupier of the land. There is no obligation on the occupier to transmit the notice or to do anything with it. He may put it into the fire or into the waste-paper basket, or forget all about it, and yet that is to be taken as sufficient notice to the owner. In view of what the Government proposals are, I am not sure that any such words are necessary at all. Surely they will not be without knowledge of the owner. It is necessary for their valuation that they should find out the owner. They will have to pursue the matter, not simply by leaving a notice with the occupier or by posting a notice on the land, but until they find the owner, as he is the person from whom they are going to collect the tax. It being absolutely necessary for them for their own purposes to find the owner, can they not be satisfied without this provision making the service of the notice on the occupier sufficient warning to the owner.


This provision is to meet a difficulty which arises in all cases where you wish to give a great number of notices. In ordinary litigation, where it is difficult to find the owner of a ship, for instance, we are obliged in practice to have recourse to the expedient of nailing the writ to the mast. So that the proposal we adopt here is not unusual. The address is furnished to the Commissioners. That is the address with which we deal. Someone must furnish it, and then the Commissioners deal with that address. Where they are dealing with an enormous number they could scarcely adopt the plan of setting out unaided upon that inquiry, which might involve questions of title. We have considered the matter, and think it is the right conclusion to have arrived at—that it is the owner's interest to appear. There is the highest degree of probability—we cannot say for a certainty—that the matter will come to the owner's attention. That is really the motive of our procedure. We cannot pretend that our procedure will be adequate in every case, but it will be in the vast majority of cases, and will bring the owner to light if he is ascertainable at all. I am disposed to think that we will find our suggestion the most practicable way out of the difficulty.


May I ask leave of the House to make a suggestion? This alternative, these later words, only apply where the Commissioners have discovered no address for the owner. I agree that it is extremely difficult to find any alternative to the course which the Government have chosen. But I think the Attorney-General will agree that it is a strong course, and might conceivably work harshly. Would it be possible for him to put in words to the effect that no owner shall be damnified if he can show that he has taken such action as soon as the matter came to his notice, and it is clear that he has acted bonâ fide in the transaction?


I do not think it would be sufficient to put in words saying that the owner shall not be damnified. They might cover a great many cases of wilful neglect. I think we have done all we can with the owner. Under the Bill as it left the Committee the Commissioners had to adopt a certain procedure, and then they could make no further Amendment. On the Motion of the hon. Gentleman opposite we have adopted words which leave the Commissioners at liberty to make Amendments at any time. Supposing an owner turns up who has not received a notice? I do not think it is likely that the Commissioners will not show the good taste to say that they will consider that situation.


They are usually the very small people who are affected.


Yes, that is so. There is no difficulty at all with the large people. The difficulty is with the small people, and I think myself that the Commissioners are likely to act in accordance with the justice of the case. If not, we must consider, not at a later stage of the Bill but subsequently, as to whether some different provisions should not be adopted. For my own part, the moment I think you begin to use words of the kind suggested you open a wide gate.

Amendment made.