HC Deb 04 July 1928 vol 219 cc1523-7

I beg to move, in page 7, to leave out from the word "used," in line 21, to the end of the Subsection.

The Sub-section will read, if these words are omitted: In every valuation list every freight-transport hereditament, which is occupied and used wholly for transport purposes shall be shown as being so occupied and used. The reasons underlying the Amendment are these. As the Clause stands, the valuation list has to show, first the freight-transport premises that are wholly occupied and used for freight-transport purposes, and then it has to differentiate the portions that are used for other purposes. The valuation list has further to differentiate what portion of the annual value ought to be attributable if it were used for one, two or three transport purposes, such as docks, railways or whatever they may be. My submission is that this is a wholly unworkable suggestion. When the surveyor has looked at a freight-transport hereditament, he can certainly put an annual value upon it, but he is asked to go further, and say how far it is used for freight-transport purposes, and how far it is used for other purposes. Then he has to go further still, and that portion of the annual value which he attributes to freight-transport purposes he has further to divide into so much for one freight-transport purpose, say docks, so much for railway purposes, and so on. It is perfectly impossible to differentiate and put into sections the annual value that it attributable to any of these purposes, because nobody can say how much is attributable to one purpose and how much to another purpose; but the draftsman, seeing that, thought to make it clear, and he says, "You shall treat as being attributable to freight-transport purposes a certain area of the premises, and treat as being attributable to other purposes another area of the premises."

According to the Bill, when the surveyor has to ask himself what portion of the hereditament he is going to mark out as being attributable to other than freight-transport purposes, he has to say, for the purposes of this Clause, where he finds any portion of it as a dwelling house, or a hotel, or a place of public refreshment, or a, place for providing warehouse accommodation for merchandise not in the course of transport, that these things are not attributable to freight-transport purposes. You are to value them independently. Take the case of a counting house in connection with a dock, the thinking department of the dock. We are told that this is to be valued independently, that it is not included in the meaning which is given to "freight-transport purposes." How is it to be valued? The surveyor, in making his valuation, has still to have regard to the old formula, "The annual value of this place is how much a hypothetical tenant would give for it." What would a hypothetical tenant offer for a counting house apart from the thing of which it was the counting house? Also, he will have to consider what a hypothetical tenant would give for the undertaking apart from the counting house which is the brain of it. I should say, if I were a surveyor, "Why should you ask me to value that counting house apart from the material works of which it is the brains? I say that apart from that and situated as it is it is worth nothing of itself. Its only value is that it is a counting house connected with the material works. If you ask me to value it disconnected from the material works, I am then bound to say it is worth nothing."

On the other hand, he is to be asked to value the material works, and he says "What value am I to put upon those material works if I am to cut away the brains of the works? They are worth nothing." You might say to a navvy "I hire you for your brawn, your muscles. What are your muscles worth?" They are worth a certain amount if they are part of a living navvy. But if you are asked to say "What are your muscles worth if your head is cut off?" the answer would be "They are worth nothing." If you were asked to say "What is the head worth if you cut off the muscles?" again the answer would be "Nothing." Therefore the whole scheme of this Bill throw upon surveyors an impossible task.

Let any Member of this Committee imagine for a moment that he is a surveyor. He looks at a dock, and he says "My first duty is to see what is the annual value of that dock, what will a hypothetical tenant give for it." He makes a calculation and says "A hypothetical tenant would give £20,000 a year for that. I am to cut up my £20,000 a year in two ways. First I am to say how-much of the £20,000 is attributable to the cost of the place where the physical work is done, and how much is attributable to the part where the thinking is done, and I am to value them independently." What does he do? What would any hon. Member do? I ask the question, and I want an answer. He will say "The counting house it is a very beautiful place, it would be a charming place for a restaurant, or for a bedroom, or for a smoke room, but, unfortunately, it is a counting house for this business, and I am asked to value it as a counting house. What are the tests by which I am to work out what portion of the whole total annual value I am to attribute to it as a counting house standing alone?" I daresay this Bill will go through, and the valuers will then come together and say "The British Parliament has put before us a task that is beyond the wit of man. We all have to make fees out of it. Let us make some arrangement—toss up, and fix it in that way."

The task does not stop there, because if you assume that they have divided the £20,000 of which I am speaking into £12,000 for the working part of it and £8,000 for the thinking part of it, they will have to came back to the £12,000 and cut that up again. We have to see about a dock. A dock would have railways connected with it, and there would be railways unconnected with the dock also. The valuer has to say with reference to the railways connected with the dock that these are attributable to the dock section of the freight undertaking, and that the railways which are not part of the dock are attributable to the railway portion of the undertaking. You have to divide the two and to take the £12,000 annual value and say how much of that amount should be put in reference to one railway that is attributable to the dock definition, and how much to the other railway that is not attributable to the dock definition. Really, I never pretend to be a very ignorant man, but it does certainly occur to me that, however acute may be the mind that you apply to the task, it is impossible for the valuer to find a scientific basis that will enable him to sever the total value that he puts on the whole hereditament into the divisions which this Bill will call upon him to make. Therefore, what this Amendment does is this. You will leave out all the words that have to do with that severance, you will look at a dock undertaking and at a railway undertaking and say, "The value that I put on this is so-and-so, and let there be de-rating in respect of that," and you will drop entirely these fantastic and metaphysical divisions which are part and parcel of the work which has to be done.


The Amendment and the Clause under consideration show how very unfortunate it was to place this Bill on the Floor of the House. The Clause we have just passed and the Clause we are now discussing could no doubt have been considerably improved because here, for the first time, the Minister has been forced to look at the Clause and really consider what this laborious business of mixed hereditaments means. He is prepared to look at it on this occasion, because the interests concerned are very powerful and command a considerable number of Members of the House and, above all, these are undertakings which are so well organised that they can quickly get their points put before the Members who represent them. After all, the difficulties of having mixed valuations in transport hereditaments are not so great as some of those we have been dealing with. This Clause has been so dotted and patched all over with Amendments that it is almost like Joseph's coat, and that has increased the difficulties which the valuers have to overcome. Now in connection with the most intricate interests of all we are running on a distinction between railways, dockyards, and canals. Valuations have been for a long time the profession of a highly specialised class of persons, and difficult questions frequently arise when railways, docks and canals join one another. [Interruption.] If you read the reports of the surveyors of taxes, you will find that many apprehensions are expressed with the utmost possible strength by many learned authorities. It seems to me that the more we go on with what is called simplification the move we find that each complication we remove discloses another underlying complication, but we keep going on with the Bill.

I wish, even at the eleventh hour, we could persuade the Minister of Health to postpone this discussion and find some opportunity of talking over the matter with persons who understand it. I suggested on the Second Reading of this Bill that the Minister of Health should consult the dock authorities, and I find that they have now been consulted. I think this question should be properly discussed, because the difficulties involved are not light matters. The proposals in this Clause will lead to a very great waste of time and money, and as I have frequently pointed out, they will lead to a good deal of litigation. I am sure we could spend a profitable three weeks upstairs on Committee discussing the proposals in this Bill. At the present time the principle of the Bill is past praying for—

It being Eleven of the Clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his report to the House.

Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.