§ Order for Second Heading read.
§ Sir K. WOOD
Before the right hon. Gentleman begins, might I make an appeal. Surely it is not intended, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to take a Bill of this character now?
§ Sir K. WOOD
I shall move to report Progress for that purpose, because this is a Bill which contains 23 Clauses.
Commander Sir BOLTON EYRES MONSELL
It is perfectly disgraceful. It is a scandal taking the Bill at this hour.
§ Mr. J. JONES
On a point of Order. Is it not a fact that the right hon. Gentleman (Sir K. Wood) himself wasted the time of the House by his obstruction?
§ Mr. ERNEST BROWN
May I move that the consideration of the Second Reading of this Bill be deferred? I cannot be charged with obstruction, because I have not spoken in the Debate, and I have some claim to move this Motion because on the Motion to suspend the Eleven o'Clock rule I called the attention of the Prime Minister to the Bill, and I am quite sure that it was not his intention to take it at this time of the morning. I can only speak for myself, however, and on this occasion I am bound to make this Motion. I do not suppose there are three hon. Members who have read the Bill. It was only printed on the 11th of this month, and was only available on Friday last. The Bill effects
§ a revolution in the method of valuation of railways in Great Britain; that is to say, it affects rating and valuation also. The last figure which I read in the OFFICIAL REPORT of the amount involved was £16,000,000 a year. It is a Bill that is important, highly technical and difficult.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I understand there is no Question before the House. The only Motion which the hon. Member can move is, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ Motion made, and Question put, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. E. Brown.]
§ The House divided: Ayes, 60; Noes, 132.1099
|Division No. 169.]||AYES.||[1.20 a.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut. Colonel.||Greene, W. P. Crawford||Pybus, Percy John|
|Aske, Sir Robert||Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro' W.)||Ramsay, T. B. Wilson|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Gunston, Captain D. W.||Remer, John R.|
|Beaumont, M. W.||Hardie, George D.||Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)|
|Bird, Ernest Roy||Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxf'd, Henley)||Rodd, Rt. Hon. Sir James Rennell|
|Boyce, H. L.||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.||Sandeman, Sir N. Stewart|
|Bracken, B.||Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.||Shepperson, Sir Ernest Whittome|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Southby, Commander A. R. J.|
|Burgin, Dr. E. L.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Stanley, Maj. Hon. O. (W'morland)|
|Cazalet, Captain Victor A.||Llewellin, Major J. J.||Steel-Maitland, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur|
|Colville, Major D. J.||Margesson, Captain H. D.||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Courtauld, Major J. S.||Morriman, Sir F. Boyd||Vaughan-Morgan, Sir Kenyon|
|Courthope, Colonel Sir G. L.||Mond, Hon. Henry||Wallace, Capt. D. E. (Hornsey)|
|Culverwell, C. T. (Bristol, West)||Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. Sir B.||Warrender, Sir Victor|
|Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. (Hertford)||Moore, Sir Newton J. (Richmond)||Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Morrison, W. S. (Glos., Cirencester)||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Duckworth, G. A. V.||Muirhead, A. J.||Womersley, W. J.|
|Elmley, Viscount||Nathan, Major H. L.||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley|
|Ford, Sir P. J.||Oliver, P. M. (Man., Blackley)|
|Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Owen, H. F. (Hereford)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Glassey, A. E.||Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)||Sir Frederick Thomson and Sir George Penny.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West)||Egan, W. H.||Lewis, T. (Southampton)|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton;||Lloyd, C. Ellis|
|Aitchison, Rt. Hon. Cralgie M.||Gibbins, Joseph||Logan, David Gilbert|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (Hillsbro')||Gibson, H. M. (Lanes. Mossley)||Longbottom, A. W.|
|Alpass, J. H.||Gill, T. H.||Longden, F.|
|Arnott, John||Gossling, A. G.||Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)|
|Baldwin, Oliver (Dudley)||Gould, F.||MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw)|
|Barnes, Alfred John||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Coine).||McElwee, A.|
|Beckett, John (Camberwell, Peckham)||Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||McEntee, V. L.|
|Bennett, William (Battertsea, South)||Hardie, George D.||McShane, John James|
|Benson, G.||Haycock, A. W.||Malone, C. L'Estrange (N'thampton)|
|Bentham, Dr. Ethel||Hayes, John Henry||Marcus, M.|
|Brockway, A. Fenner||Henderson, Arthur, Junr. (Cardiff, S.)||Markham, S. F.|
|Brooke, W.||Henderson, W. W. (Middx., Enfield)||Marley, J.|
|Brothers, M.||Herriotts, J.||Marshall, Fred|
|Brown, James (Ayr and Bute)||Hoffman, P. C.||Mathers, George|
|Carter, W. (St. Pancras, S. W.)||Hopkin, Daniel||Matters, L. W.|
|Charleton, H. C.||Horrabin, J. F.||Messer, Fred|
|Chater, Daniel||Hudson, James H. (Huddersfield)||Milner, J.|
|Compton, Joseph||Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Morgan, Dr. H. B.|
|Daggar, George||Kelly, W. T.||Morley, Ralph|
|Dallas, George||Kennedy, Thomas||Mort, D. L.|
|Dalton, Hugh||Kinley, J.||Mosley, Sir Oswald (Smethwick)|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Lang, Gordon||Noel Baker, P. J.|
|Dukes, C.||Lathan, G.||Oldfield, J. R.|
|Duncan, Charles||Law, A. (Rosendale)||Palin, John Henry.|
|Ede, James Chuter||Lawrence, Susan||Paling, Wilfrid|
|Edmunds, J. E.||Lawther, W. (Barnard Castle)||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)|
|Edwards, E. (Morpeth)||Leach, W.||Perry, S. F.|
|Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.||Shillaker, J. F.||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)|
|Potts, John S.||Simmons, C. J.||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Price, M. P.||Sinkinson, George||Welsh, James (Paisley)|
|Quibell, D. J. K.||Smith, Alfred (Sunderland)||Welsh, James C. (Coatbridge)|
|Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)||Westwood, Joseph|
|Ritson, J.||Smith, Frank (Nuneaton)||Whiteley, Wilfrid (Birm., Ladywood)|
|Romeril, H. G.||Smith, Rennie (Penistone)||Whiteley, William (Blaydon)|
|Rosbotham, D. S. T.||Smith, Tom (Pontefract)||Wilkinson, Ellen C.|
|Rowson, Guy||Sorensen, R.||Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)|
|Salter, Dr. Alfred||Sullivan, J.||Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)|
|Sanders, W. S.||Taylor, W. B. (Norfolk, S. W.)||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Sandham, E.||Thurtle, Ernest||Winterton, G. E. (Leicester Loughb'gh)|
|Sawyer, G. F.||Tinker, John Joseph||Young, R. S. (Islington, North)|
|Shepherd, Arthur Lewis||Townend, A. E.|
|Sherwood, G. H.||Vaughan, D. J.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Shield, George William||Wallace, H. W.||Mr. Charles Edwards and Mr. Thomas Henderson.|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I beg to move, "That the Bill he now read a Second time."
Perhaps hon. Members will now let me speak. No one in this House deplores more than I do the fact that we are here to-night. We are here at this moment very largely by the wishes of hon. Members opposite. When last Thursday the business was announced, it was a fair day's work. It is clear to me that on a Bill on which there was no division we could have arrived at agreement much earlier than we have done. This is not a Bill of a highly controversial character.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
Sincerity in politics! The principle of this Bill is simple, and, as a principle, it was accepted by the late Government. Hon. Members know it. It is a Bill, the substance of which was before the House in part of the Eating and Valuation Bill in 1925. Since then, as a result of negotiations, it has been possible to arrive at a measure of common agreement between the various interests affected, and, if the House agrees on the principle on which the agreement has been based, the minor questions of adjustment are for Committee consideration. I want to put to the House that it is impossible to reject the principle of the Bill which is now before us. The principle is a simple one. It is a principle which has been in operation in Scotland for over half-a-century. It is a principle which one Commission after another has recommended for adoption in England and Wales, and 1100 it is this, that in future railway undertakings should be valued as a whole instead of in small parochial sections. This is a principle to which clearly no objection can be taken by the House even if there may be criticisms to be made as to the details in which this principle is to be applied.
Since the general principle was enunciated in 1925 by those who are now offering to oppose it, there have been prolonged negotiations between the representatives of the local authorities and of the railway companies with a view to the detailed application of it. On the one hand, we have had the five big railway companies, and, on the other hand, the County Councils Association, the Association of Municipal Corporations, the National Conference of Assessment Committees, the London County Council, the Metropolitan Boroughs Joint Standing Committee, bodies all of them acting through representatives with a wide experience of assessment problems, and, more latterly, we have had in these negotiations the Central Valuation Committee which was constituted under the Act passed by the late Government in 1925. Now all those bodies, representative as they are of the local authorities of the country, and all the railway companies, agree that valuation on the old parochial basis is utterly fantastic and unfair. We are trying to carry on with an outworn system of assessment and valuation which has broken down. We have tried to carry on by patching up outworn assessments in many cases made before the War, and it is quite clear, more especially in view of the Local Government Act of the late Government, that the serious situation in which the local authorities find themselves should be dealt with at a very early stage.
1101 The railway companies, on the one hand, and the local authorities on the other, have arrived at agreement. This is an agreement between two sets of bodies whose interests are not identical. The railway companies quite naturally wish to reduce to the minimum what they will be called upon to pay to the local authorities in the way of rates. The local authorities, on the other hand, quite naturally wish to extract as much as they can from them in the way of rates. The fact, therefore, that the local authorities and the railway companies have agreed to the machinery whereby this valuation is to be determined seems to me to justify the view that the machinery is the right kind of machinery and adequate to its purpose. Unless we are to have a breakdown of our valuation machinery in many areas, it is necessary to get the Royal Assent for this Bill at a very early stage. I do not therefore propose to go in detail over the Clauses of the Bill. I am trying to free myself from the complaint which has been made against me that I have spoken too long.
The bulk of this Bill consists of detailed machinery provisions which are designed to carry into effect this general valuation of the railways and the apportionment of resources to the various local authorities in the country. Railway undertakings have, of course, to be defined. That is not an easy problem as was found in the legislation in the first year. Certain categories of railway property, dwelling houses, refreshment rooms, which can be separately assessed from the railway undertaking itself, will continue to be separately assessed, but the railway-owned canals and docks and subsidiary undertakings attached to the railways will form part of the general scheme. Now, in order that the valuation shall be fair, it is quite clear that it must be made by a national assessment authority for England and Wales, and the Bill provides for the establishment of such a body with a paid chairman possessing legal qualifications and appointed by the Lord Chancellor, and nine members appointed by the Minister of Health, six of them on the recommendation of the local authorities of the country, including the London County Council, and three of them at the discretion of the Minister.
1102 But, as certain of our railway companies run through England and Scotland, it will be necessary to have a joint body which represents both England and Scotland, because of the need for the valuation of railways extending into both of them. The Bill, therefore, provides for the setting up of a joint authority for the two countries, consisting of the Chairman of the English authority and one other member appointed by the English authority and the Scottish Assessor of Railways and Canals. This body will be concerned with the determination of the assessment of railway hereditaments and the preparation of a great railway valuation roll. When the valuation has been determined, it will then be necessary to apportion that among the individual hereditaments and calculate the value of each of them from the valuations which have been apportioned. The valuation has to be based on the average net receipts of the railways over a period of years. Special arrangements have to be made in the case of the London Midland & Scottish Railway and the London & North Eastern Railway, because of the fact that they run between the two countries, and provision clearly must be made for appeals. It is obvious that local authorities, on the one hand and the railway companies on the other, will not always see eye to eye. In the case of appeals, they are to lie with the Railway and Canal Commissioners. In order to consult further the interests of both the authorities and the railway companies, there is a further appeal from the Railway and Canal Commissioners to the House of Lords, the House of Lords being suggested as the only superior court that has jurisdiction in England and Scotland.
I do not think that any Member of the House can take objection to the proposals in the Bill. It is true that agreement had not been reached when the proposal was originally made in this House from the opposite benches, and quite clearly therefore they cannot object to the Second Reading of this Bill. We all object to it being two o'clock in the morning, but I am sure the House is anxious that the Bill, which is one of urgency and which is really necessary to our local authorities—unless there is to be a revolt among them against the present method—should be passed into law as quickly as possible. I have tried to make it clear to the House that there can be 1103 no objection to the principle of the Bill, and, if there are criticisms in detail as to the machinery of the Bill, those are questions which can be appropriately settled in the Committee stage. "With reasonableness that ought to come to people at this hour of the night, I feel that the Bill is one which we ought to get and one to which exception in principle cannot be taken in any quarter of the House.
§ Sir K. WOOD
The right hon. Gentleman, in introducing the Second Reading of this Bill, occupied a considerable amount of time in criticising the Opposition on the attitude that they have taken up, not to this Bill, but to the proceedings in taking the Bill at this hour of the night.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I do not hesitate to say that this is a disgraceful way of conducting the business of the House, and I shall take my time. The right hon. Gentleman has been treated with every consideration by the Opposition to-day. He introduced, at the beginning of our proceedings a very important Measure which—and no one, I think, will question me—would naturally occupy a day of our proceedings. In fact, the day's proceedings was interfered with by Private Business from half-past seven until ten o'clock, and we were in consequence unable to continue the discussion on the Bill. We endeavoured to meet the right hon. Gentleman, and he secured, not only the Second Reading of that Bill, but also the Financial Resolution. No one can say that he has been treated unfairly. I think he is making a great mistake in forcing the Second Reading of this Bill to-night. If he had been a wise man, he would not have moved it. The fact of the matter is that the Government have so grossly mismanaged their business that they are bound at a quarter to two in the morning to move the Second Reading of a Measure which is of very considerable importance and extent.
The right hon. Gentleman said quite rightly that this measure had been subject to considerable discussion for a long period. It was a. case of great complexity and difficulty, and the right hob Gentleman tells us that agreement was only 1104 reached on Thursday last, and yet we are asked, having only received the Bill on Thursday, on Monday at a quarter to two in the morning to proceed with the Second Reading. I say that is an abuse of the position of the Government and the right hon. Gentleman. [Interruption.] There is no one here to guide; where is the Leader of the House? I do feel that, if the Leader, or the Deputy-Leader of the House, had been here, this course would not have been taken, and I regret very much that the right hon. Gentleman has seen fit to take this Bill. It is absolutely impossible now to go into a difficult Bill of this nature, involving very considerable and important points of principle. As far as I am concerned, the Minister must take the responsibility, and on the rest of the Bill he must not resent opposition.
§ Mr. E. BROWN
We were justified in asking for this Bill to be deferred. A Bill of this type does not discuss a single principle when you are dealing with the complex question of rating and valuation. It raises a multitude of complexities. Therefore, on the Second Reading of a Bill of this kind, the House is entitled to have an authoritative explanation of the main meaning and the main machinery. I propose for a moment or two to address my mind to that problem. I am without expert advice to give an accurate explanation of what the Bill means, but I can, and I think it is my duty to, call the attention of the House to certain outstanding things which the Bill proposes, because I am not by any means sure that when the country examines the Bill there will be the same unanimous agreement that the fundamental principle of the Bill is as outlined by the right hon. Gentleman.
The more I look at this Bill the less I like the machinery set up in it. It is perfectly true that the main suggestion of the Bill is incorporated in the Rating and Valuation Bill of 1925 which had eleven Clauses with the horrible title of Anglo-Scottish Clauses. There is one original thing in the Bill which I do not think I have ever seen before. Apparently, England also means Wales, for there is no mention of Wales. I presume the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) will have something to say about that later on. It is a small point, but, apart from the Anglo-Scottish Sec- 1105 tion of this Bill which was incorporated in 1923, there were 11 Clauses—36 to 46—which were withdrawn in Committee. Let me give the statement of the right hon. Gentleman in charge of that Bill:The Government have decided, in view of the shortness of time that is available, not to proceed with that part of the Bill which deals with the valuation of railways and special properties. That does not mean that these Clauses are abandoned. They are only postponed and will have to reappear in the form of another Bill which will be reintroduced "—I ask the House to mark this,in the early part of next year.It was therefore the expectation of those who drafted the scheme in the Bill that early criticism upon the principle of the thing would be secured. That was in 1925. There was no Bill in 1926 or 1927, and now, in 1930, the Minister has only just concluded negotiations between the two parties concerned. I think we have had altogether too much railways in this House in the last seven months. We are told that the railways are agreed with the representative associations of local authorities in this matter. But we have heard no mention of another great body of people—the ratepayers. If the Parliamentary Secretary replies before the debate is over, will she tell us whether efforts have been made to take into consideration the effect of this Bill on other ratepayers.
It is an important and highly technical Bill; it is an obscure Bill, it is a Bill of 23 Clauses and Schedules, and it will take hon. Members all next month, workday and night, to understand them without the help of the Ministry of Health. The Bill affects not merely every parish through which a railway undertaking runs, whether in Wales or Scotland or England, but it also affects the ratepayers in these parishes if it so happens that the apportionment under the Bill when the railway happens to have a portion less rates than it now possesses. In that case, the ratepayers will have to make good the deficiency. I think it will be agreed that in the circumstances it is an important matter of principle that is involved in the Bill. Let me put this thing in a concrete form. My excuse, apart from that of being an ordinary Member of this House, for bringing this to the notice of the Prime Minister at Question Time is 1106 that rating and valuation always involves docks and harbours, and I feel it my duty to my constituents to examine any such Bill. Clause 1 of the Bill lays down the procedure for valuing hereditaments in England and in the course of that it defines a railway. Let me read the definition:For the purposes of this Act—'Railway Company' means a railway company to which this Act for the time being applies;'Undertaking' in relation to a railway company includes, in addition to the principal undertaking of the company,—(a) any canal, dock or harbour undertaking carried on by the company.Now there is all round the coast of Great Britain the most intense competition for freights between one port and another and between dock undertakings owned by municipalities or by trustees and those owned by railway companies. Railway companies do not scruple to make it easy for railway dock undertakings to compete with other dock undertakings in the matter of charges. The Secretary of State for Scotland knows there is the keenest competition between the two ports on the Firth of Forth.
§ Mr. BROWN
I know my right hon. Friend too well to imagine that he is asleep at this moment. If this apportionment is made, I do not know how it will work out. It may be made with regard to what I may call live undertakings, that is, the running part of the undertaking, or it may be with regard to what I may call the dead part of the undertaking, that is, fixtures, docks, and harbours. There may be a greatly diminished apportionment to a railway company, dock, or harbour in Fife, so that they would be able, because they pay less in rates, to lower their charges. This would be bound to affect the Trust's dock. That is one illustration. When I went through the Bill, I got in touch with the Dock and Harbour Association. Let me read what they say about it:It provides for the constitution of a Railway Assessment Authority whose duty it will be to determine the net annual value of a railway company's undertaking as a whole and apportion that value among all the railway hereditaments occupied by the company in accordance with an apportionment scheme made by the authority.1107A railway company's undertaking by Clause 1 (3, a) includes any canal dock or harbour undertaking carried on by the company.The independent dock authorities are naturally vitally interested in seeing that railway-owned docks are not more favourably treated in regard to local rates than their competitors, and they feel that the Bill should contain proper safeguards on this point and give also the independent docks the opportunity of being heard in opposition to any scheme of apportionment framed under the Bill.2.0 a.m.
If this is true of canals and docks it may be true of thousands of other undertakings competing with railway companies. The Bill mentions:I think we are entitled to have an explanation of that—
- (a) any canal, dock or harbour undertaking carried on by the company;
- (b) any subsidiary or ancillary undertaking carried on by the company, not being a road transport, sea-transport or air-transport undertaking;—
and(c) the share of the company in any joint railway undertaking carried on by, or on behalf of, two or more railway companies; but save as aforesaid, does not include the share of the company in any joint under taking;One set of railway hereditaments—I prefer the Scottish word "heritages"—is omitted from the definition of "undertaking" and the hon. Member for Silver-town (Mr. J. Jones) will probably agree. The Clause says:Provided that no premises occupied as a dwelling-house, hotel or place of public refreshment, or so let out as to be capable of separate assessment, 6hall be deemed to be, or to form part of, a railway hereditament.
§ Mr. BROWN
No, it is not a joke. It is a serious statement in the Government Bill. I think the House is entitled to more information than it has had about this procedure and this definition. Let me take another point, the question of the procedure to be followed. The whole House and the country will agree that the present practice of valuing railways is a complicated one. They are situated in many parishes, but the valuation is a parochial one. Valuers have to try to ascertain what is the rent a hypothetical lessee in a particular parish would pay for that plot of land. It is an absurd and impossible method, as the Minister said, 1108 and it has been made more difficult by amalgamations. What does the Bill propose to do? It proposes to set up a central valuation authority. I call the attention of the House to the fact that under the original proposals the authority was to consist of seven persons. It now consists of ten. We have the chairman and we have three persons to be appointed by the Minister—these are three additional members. There are other persons to be appointed under the Bill by the London County Council, the County Councils Association, the Association of Municipal Corporations, the Metropolitan Boroughs Standing Joint Committee, the Urban District Councils Association, and the Rural District Councils Association. Now we return to Scotland. Have the local authorities there equal consultation? What do we find? We find an alteration of the Scottish system, because there is now to be a joint authority to deal with valuation and apportionment of the valuation of that part of the valuation which affects companies running jointly in England and Scotland. There are three persons on that Committee. One is the Chairman of the Railway Assessment Authority. The Chairman of one is to be the Chairman of the other. There is to be a second member appointed by the English Committee. On the Committee dealing with the joint affairs of Scotland there is to be only one person cognizant and having a direct knowledge of the Scottish position, the Assessor of Railways and Canals for Scotland.
If the English people are entitled to make their valuation and apportionment, and draw up their scheme, surely the Scottish local authorities ought to have one or two extra members on the Joint Authority. If the valuation is badly done; if the scheme of apportionment is badly made, it is true that under the Bill interested bodies., such as local authorities, may make representations, but there is no right of appeal under the Bill for persons other than local authorities. If the Minister is to have an easy passage for the Bill, he should make sure that any body of aggrieved persons may have a right to appeal against an unfair assessment.
I would like to draw the attention of the House to the preparation of the schemes. I am sorry the Minister did not say more about that as it is the crux 1109 of the Bill. We begin with a common valuation for the whole of the country with regard to railways. The apportionment is made between the railway companies and each parish in which they run. In Scotland, it is not quite so simple. You have first to have an apportionment covering the whole of Great Britain—the whole of England and Scotland and then, when you have done that, you have to have a Scottish apportionment from the joint appointment, and then you have to sub-divide the apportionment among the local authorities in Scotland. It is important that the House should try to address itself to the extraordinary implications if the scheme is badly drawn up. I see the Bill has two appointed days, and there are certain temporary arrangements if the Bill is not ready and the schemes are not ready by the appointed day, so why this hurry by the Government. Let us look at the procedure. They are to lay down first before they apportion the values:
- "(a) The principles in accordance with which in the case of every railway company the net annual value of the company's undertaking as a whole, or the net annual value of the company's undertaking as a whole in so far as it is not carried on in England, as the case may be, is to be apportioned by the Authority between the railway hereditaments in England occupied by the company; and
- (b) the basis on which the expenses of the Authority are to be apportioned among the councils of the several counties and county boroughs in England.(2) The principles laid down in any scheme made under this Section shall be such as to secure that the Authority in apportioning the net annual value of a railway undertaking as a whole, or the net annual value of the undertaking as a whole in so far as it is carried on in England, shall—That is what I ventured to describe some moments ago as the live part of the undertaking—
- (i) in the case of hereditaments consisting of land used only as a railway made under the powers of any Act of Parliament for public conveyance, have regard, amongst other material considerations', to an estimate of the traffic conveyed over the hereditament; and—That is what I meant by the dead part of the undertaking. It is to me obscure whether or no, over the whole process, 1110 you are to take either or both. Such authorities as I am interested in, like the dock and harbour authorities, are vitally interested to know what is in the minds of the Ministry when they talked about schemes of this kind and the apportionment of the values made under these schemes. The least the Ministry can give us on Second Beading is an assurance that, before this Bill goes to Committee, if there are dock and harbour authorities that wish, after having had technical advice on the matter, to be heard, those authorities will have an opportunity of putting their case. It may be that it may turn out to be in their favour and that they will not wish to do so, but I suspect that the railway company's advisers will be shrewd enough to see that their own docks are not unfavourably placed in comparison with the docks of their own undertakings. There are many other points in the Bill to which the House might address itself on Second Reading, and I do not make any apology for having so long detained the House.
- "(ii) in the case of other hereditaments, have regard … to the value for the purposes of a railway undertaking of the land and structures comprised in the hereditament."
§ Captain CAZALET
I should like to join in the protest made by the last speaker at the manner in which this Bill has been introduced at this very late hour. I and many other Members who tried to study the complications of the Rating and Valuation Act and the Derating Act were constantly brought up against the difficulties of the question of the railways and of the rates they paid. The House owes a debt of gratitude to the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown) who appeared to be far better informed about the Bill than did the Minister. He has helped us to understand it. He has put before us some very sensible objections to various parts of the Bill to which it is doubtful if we shall now ever get any reply from the Ministers who are responsible. If the Ministers of the Crown are going now to abandon all the traditions of courtesy towards this House in the introduction of a Bill, that is no reason why we on these benches should abrogate our rights as an Opposition.
This is a Bill of some 23 Clauses. The Minister has dismissed it in a few sentences, most of which were directed against the tactics of the Opposition. He evidently foresaw that we were not quite so simple as to allow a complicated 1111 Measure of this kind, which affects every constituency in the country and which affects every ratepayer in every constituency, to get its Second Reading without wanting to know the why and the wherefore of it. He thought at one time that we were so simple and took so little interest that we would allow a Bill of this character to get a Second Reading in a few minutes. I protest most strongly against these tactics. I would be perfectly prepared even at this late hour to sit and listen to a reasoned statement from the Minister. The attitude he has adopted has, however, compelled me to rise and make this protest.
§ Commander SOUTHBY
I have no desire to detain the House at this late hour, but I should like to join in making a protest against the way in which the Minister has behaved over this Bill. I had hoped, when the Minister said he would insist on taking the Bill to-night, that he would do us the favour of giving us some clear explanation of the Bill. He talked to us a great deal about the principles of the Bill. We waited and waited to hear what they were, but we did not hear one of them.
§ Sir ARTHUR STEEL-MAITLAND
On a point of Order. Is it in order for one hon. Member of this House to say, with reference to the statement of another, that it is simply not true.
§ Commander SOUTHBY
I will not trouble to ask the hon. Lady to withdraw. We are much indebted to the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown), who took the trouble to give us some technical points about the Bill. It was not fair of the Minister to have accused us of having delayed the business of the House. I cannot be accused of that, because I was interested in a Bill which was before the House at half-past seven, and I did not speak on it, because it was obvious that the House was anxious to divide and get on with the work. I was also anxious to speak on the Bill before this one, but I did not speak. It is, therefore, not fair of the 1112 Minister to accuse us of having delayed the business. I ask the hon. Lady now whether she will not even at this stage reconsider the decision and allow time for discussion of this Bill at a better hour than the present, and thus allow us to go properly into a very complicated Measure which, as my hon. Friend has just said, affects every single constituency and every ratepayer. We have a right on such a Bill to a more lucid explanation from those in charge of it. It is a complicated Bill, and the House is entitled to discuss it in a quiet and reasonable atmosphere. I would again ask the hon. Lady to reconsider the decision and give the House an opportunity of discussing the Bill in a quiet atmosphere when we can know something about it.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
I would like the Government to give us some indication of how they propose to apportion the amounts, which the railways are going to contribute to the rates, to the rural areas through which the railways run. There is no mention in the Bill about any division which is likely to be fair to the rural areas. As the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown) has said so well, the railway valuation is divided into two parts, a live part and a dead part. The actual amount of the value of the railway which passes through the country districts is considerable, and, if there be any uncertainty at all about the country districts, it is entirely due to the Minister not having given us the benefit of his knowledge. We are entirely in the dark as to whether there is or is not any apportionment at all to the rural areas. I am very glad that the hon. Lady is so interested that she is actually taking a note of it. If she is not interested, I should feel it my duty to elaborate the point. There is an extraordinary Clause—Clause 17—which has not been dealt with. Apparently, a railway company's valuation roll is not to be rendered invalid by delay in completion. That is a tremendous safeguard to the railway. I should like to know whether that is the usual practice. I should like to know why they are put in this privileged position. We have a right to have some answer. I just want to emphasise one other thing even at this late hour, I should like to remind the Government that their members have had more than their share of the Debate in this House, 1113 and I maintain that we have a perfect right to keep the Government up for this Bill.
§ Dr. BURGIN
As one who has had considerable experience in matters of rating and valuation, I must confess not to understand clearly the principle which is said to underlie this Bill. I feel that the House would like a little explanation from the Minister introducing this Bill on the Second Reading even at this hour of the morning, having had a very imperfect explanation. In the constituency of Bedfordshire, which I represent, both the London, Midland and Scottish and the London and North Eastern Railways pass through, and there is branch line from the one to the other. I was very much impressed by the arguments used by the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown), which were matters of enormous consequence. I must not, however, be taken to be applauding the method of valuing railways for existing purposes. That there is need for a change is admitted. This House requires to be convinced that the principle underlying the Bill now introduced by the Government is the right principle for the change which is proposed—to have a national assessment of the railway undertakings. I want to know a little more, and I ask entirely for information and not in a spirit of criticism. Does this new scheme mean that the valuation is to take place twice? This is a real question, and not an obstruction query. We want some lucid information for the purpose and benefit of local assessment committees, and I trust I may have an answer on that question and the method a local assenment committee has to adopt with regard to this question of assessment.
There is one other matter to which I desire to call attention at this moment, and that is the question of appeals under Clause 9. Is the appeal against the method of arriving at the total figure or against the difference referred to the Railway and Canal Commissioners? The Railway and Canal Commissioners is a most distinguished body, but no one would say that at present it is overworked. It is one of those rare bodies that have comparatively little business to do of an extremely select intricate and technical character, That appeal tribunal became a tribunal to deal with assessments from any one 1114 of the parishes or from any person aggrieved. The Bill is one which to a lawyer practising before the Railway and Canal Commission carries with it certain feelings of joy, because business will be enormously increased, but also certain feelings of consideration as a member of the public. I should like to ask the hon. Lady this question: Has any thought been given at all to the possibility of extreme congestion in the Railway and Canal Commission by the possibility of appeals on a large scale in connection with the assessment of the railways?
It is quite apparent to me that the Bill has a very large number of points arising which are not Committee points at all and which are proper Second Reading points. I go with the Government to the extent of saying that the present method of assessing railways is wrong and that a national way is better and that once you have a national assessment there must be apportionment, but the machinery by which a national assessment and apportionment is dovetailed into the parochial machinery is not clear, and the system of appeals seems to me to take them to that tribunal which I think is ill-suited for this increased volume of work which is bound to follow from a Measure of this kind.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I will deal seriatim with the questions that hon. Members have asked. The hon. Member for Luton (Dr. Burgin) said the idea was attractive, but he had serious doubts as to whether it would work. I want to point out to him that this Measure has been in force in Scotland for a great number of years, and that railways are assessed as a whole in that country. The system has worked very well in Scotland, and the Scots would shudder at the thought of abolishing that system and carrying out the valuation of railways parish by parish. In England they have a scheme of temporary agreements. Some of our railways have not been re-assessed since the War. Further, the operation of the Valuation Act, 1929, makes it urgent that we should have the present Bill. Assessment on these lines is in force in Scotland; the railway companies and the local authorities have agreed to it; and it has been recommended by a whole series of Royal Commissions.
1115 Let me run through the Bill and mention the chief points as they come to my recollection. The hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown) fell foul of the term "England." The conquest of Wales was made by the right hon. Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain), the previous Minister of Health, in the Local Government Act of 1929, which has a little Section which says that for all purposes Wales shall be included in England. The hon. Member for Leith asked what railway property meant. It means everything used for the purposes of the railway except two or three things excluded in Clause 1. There is no particular reason in valuing a hotel by a national authority when the local committee can deal with it better than a national authority. Then there was a good deal of misunderstanding with regard to what happens to the Scottish railways, and I will repeat that the Scottish railways are valued in accordance with the principles of this Bill. With regard to another question, I may say that on the first page of the Bill, it is stated that the Act applies to theseveral amalgamated companies constituted under the Railways Act, 1921, and the Metropolitan Railway Company, and any other railway company to which it is applied by a scheme submitted and approved in accordance with the provisions contained in the First Schedule to this Act.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
Surely, the Bill has only been in possession of hon. Members since Friday. How could we, in view of the business the Government have given us to do, make a study of it?
§ Miss LAWRENCE
Hon. Members have had a splendid opportunity of informing themselves of the rating system in Scotland during the past years.
§ Mr. E. BROWN
The hon. Lady has given a very good excuse, but she knows that there are many other differences still and that if the Bill had been in the hands of hon. Members a number of days she would not have got away with that.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I really did think the hon. Member for Leith knew everything that there was to be known about rating. The question was raised by him that the ratepayers would be affected. Their interests are represented by their councils.
§ Mr. BROWN
The hon. Lady will agree that for many purposes local councils represent ratepayers, but there are many cases in which the railways and the ratepayers are deadly enemies. The assessment of one is the death of the other. It is by no means the case that the interests of the ratepayers and the council are the same.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
Any representative of the ratepayers will be certain to get as much out of the railways as possible. The more you put the railway assessments up, the more you get without offending any elector. Any local authority which sees a potential gold mine will exploit it as much as possible. Six members of the assessment authority are to be appointed by the London County Council, the County Councils Association, the Association of Municipal Corporations, the Metropolitan Standing Joint Committee, the Urban District Councils Association, and the Rural Districts Association.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
That is another point. I will take it in a moment. We are taking the chairman of the Railway Assessment Committee in England. He is an experienced lawyer appointed by the Lord Chancellor. He is a perfectly independent person, a person whose ability will allow him to discharge this task.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
Not necessarily. There are a great many Scottish people in English offices. He will be appointed as an expert. One of the other members will be appointed by Scotland and one by England.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
He has been appointed an assessor, and he has to take on this new duty, and the chairman has been appointed in England as an impartial person. These are small points. I now come to the question of docks and canals. Under Clause 13, any person, and it includes a company, may make an 1117 appeal to the Minister. The appeal can be made Just as well by a dock or harbour authority as by any local authority. In lines 25 to 40, on page 22, you will see provisions for appeal to the Minister, and I am assured, and I have taken advice, that "persons" does mean "companies." In the Bill there are many interesting points, but I do want to remind Members that this business was adopted in principle in Scotland 40 years ago and was adopted in principle by the Conservative Government nearly five years ago. Here is a subject of protracted negotiations between the persons concerned. I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ Rear-Admiral BEAMISH
Railways are getting very special treatment in this Bill. Is there any safeguard to make sure that anachronisms such as crossings which are so badly lit are looked after?
§ Miss LAWRENCE
This is an assessment Bill. You cannot deal in it with regulation of the railways. I said that 1118 the Bill commended itself to all those qualified to form an opinion who have discussed it outside Parliament. I hope the House will give it a Second Reading.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
I understand the Minister has not dealt with the apportionment to rural areas.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
After the valuation is made, it is to be apportioned among the parishes. Parishes cover urban and rural districts.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ It being after half-past Eleven of the clock upon Monday evening, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
§ Adjourned at Twelve minutes before Three o'clock a.m.