HC Deb 05 May 1930 vol 238 cc659-66

I beg to move, in page 20, line 39, after the word "or," to insert the words "on or from any rating area in the Metropolitan Police District."

I have another Amendment which is more or less consequential on this proposal—in the same line of the Clause to leave out the words "the Metropolitan Police" and insert the word "that." This is a somewhat technical Amendment, but it seeks to carry out what, I think, is the obvious intention of the Government in this Clause. The Clause provides that where an assessment committee makes any amendment of a valuation list, they shall make any necessary amendment in the totals of values shown in that list, and in the case of a rating area in London it is provided that: where any such amendment in a total of values affects the amount of any sum already assessed on or any contribution already required from that area, by the London County Council, or by the Receiver for the Metropolitan Police District, the difference shall be paid, or as the case may be, repaid or allowed. We are rather nervous that those words might not apply to the whole of the Metropolitan Police area because the words "that area" might be taken as applying only to the London County Council area. The Metropolitan Police area contains many extra-London areas not in the London County Council area, and the object of the Amendment is to make it quite clear that the provision covers the whole area. We are rather nervous that in the event of assessments being reduced, it might not be made good over the whole area, and that therefore extra-London areas would have to make good the deficiency. Of course it may be argued that in the event of assessments being reduced outside the London County Council area, but inside the Metropolitan Police area, that would have to be made good by the London County Council, and so what you would lose upon the swings you would get back on the roundabouts. I believe that argument is fortified by the belief that the receiver for the Metropolitan Police district has wider powers in the Metropolitan Police area than inside the London County Council area. This is more or less a drafting Amendment, and I move it in the hope of clarifying the Bill and putting into it what the Government really intend. I hope the Government will accept the Amendment.


I beg to second the Amendment.

The MINISTER OF HEALTH (Mr. Arthur Greenwood)

This Amendment and the consequential Amendment on the Order Paper—in line 39, to leave out the words "the Metropolitan Police," and to insert instead thereof the word "that"—were put down on the Committee stage of the Bill, I understand, at the instance of the Association of Municipal Corporations, which had been moved to take this action by one of the areas in London, the Acton Borough Council, which, as hon. Members know, is in the Metropolitan Police area. Since the time when the Amendment was first submitted, the Receiver of the Metropolitan Police has circulated a statement showing what he proposes to do in the way of setting out a basis for the allocation of police charges in the future. When that circular was issued, a representative of the Receiver and a representative of the Association of Municipal Corporations, in the person of the Borough Treasurer of Acton, considered the question, and Acton, which is the only local authority that raised the question, is now quite satisfied and does not wish to proceed with the Amendment, and I understand that the Association of Municipal Corporations see no necessity for going any further with it. The Bill is a highly technical Bill, and having regard to the fact that the people who inspired the Amendment originally are perfectly satisfied now, I hope it will not be pressed.


Had the right hon. Gentleman not better give a short explanation to the House of the point raised by my hon. and gallant Friend? It is not sufficient, when a matter is raised in this House, to say that certain people who originally brought it up are satisfied, and I think it is due to the House that we should have a short explanation of the position from the Minister.


If the right hon. Gentleman wants the information, I will give it. Hon. Members who have followed this Bill will know that the Clause now under discussion, Clause 12, deals with the machinery for bringing the local valuation lists into accord with the railway valuation roll, and the Subsection to which the Amendment refers deals with the effect on the totals of rateable value in rating areas. The totals of rateable value are the basis on which the precepts in respect of the common charges of the London County Council, so far as the London county area is concerned, and the Metropolitan Police, so far as the Metropolitan Police area is concerned, are issued. Under an Act of 1869, the Valuation (Metropolis) Act, alterations in the value of the hereditaments and the addition of any new hereditaments inside the county do not affect the total for precept purposes until the year after that in which they take place. Outside the London County Council area, but within the Metropolitan Police area, there is no similar statutory provision governing the effect of alterations and additions, and consequently there is at present a difference in regard to the basis of contribution to Metropolitan Police precepts between the authorities inside and those outside the London County Council area. That difference, which may be unfortunate, though not likely to give rise to serious difficulties, will only be removed by an amendment of the general rating law applicable to London, because it will affect all kinds of hereditaments, and it would not be possible, clearly, in a Bill which relates only to railway hereditaments, to undertake a general amendment of the rating law for the London area.

The Amendment now under discussion was designed to secure, in what was thought to be the interest of the extra-Metropolitan areas outside the County Council area, that the inside authorities and the outside authorities should be put in the same position as regards the effect of inter-quinquennial alterations of the valuation of railway property. But apart from the fact that any such altera- tions are, as the local authorities are prepared to recognise, relatively to the total rateable value likely to be quite insignificant, I suggest that there is no case for assimilating the provisions applicable inside and outside the County of London area in the case of one particular class of hereditaments, while leaving the provisions relating to far more numerous and far more important alterations in the value of other properties unassimilated.

4.0 p.m.

The effect of Sub-section (4) of the Clause as it stands in the Bill is to preserve the general London law for London's railway hereditaments, except that certain alterations in value will have a retrospective effect on totals for precepting purposes as from April of the year in which they are made, because, under a previous Clause of the Bill, they are to have a similar retrospective effect for the purpose of determining the railway companies' liability to the Rating Authority. It may be admitted that this would be advantageous rather than the reverse to the outside authorities, because it is likely that the balance of alteration of value of railway hereditaments will, on the whole, trend upwards, including, of course, the addition of new railway hereditaments. Inside the county these increases, these additions, will be taken into account for precept purposes a year earlier than they would otherwise have been. The basis adopted by the Receiver of the Metropolitan Police area for his future precepts would appear—it may be that this has influenced the local authorities concerned—to be distinctly favourable to the outside authorities. The practice which he is laying down will go a very long way towards removing any grievance which might have arisen in the past owing to differences, in the larger Metropolitan Police area, between the London County Council authority and those on the fringe that are outside the London County Council area. The general effect of the Receiver's arrangements is that, as regards all classes of hereditaments, railway and otherwise, increases of value which outside the London County Council area operate retrospectively to 1st April for the purpose of determining the liability of the individual ratepayer to his rating authority, shall be disregarded for the purpose of computing the totals unless a refund is applied for; that is to say, unless on balance the decreases outweigh the increases, in which case a balance must be struck.

I am sure that, complicated though the arrangements are, different as they may be between the London County Council and the larger area, it would not be possible, in a limited Bill of this kind, which deals with only one kind of hereditament, to make any general and comprehensive alteration in the law, and as the extra-Metropolitan areas within the Metropolitan Police district are satisfied that their interests are not being sacrificed, I hope that the House will agree to allow the Clause to go through without the Amendment being pressed.


It is admittedly a very complicated and technical matter, but I think that the Minister's reply has raised two points which the House might consider. First of all the right hon. Gentleman said that the Amendment was originally recommended by a certain Association, that since then the Receiver had discussed with them a circular in which was outlined what he proposed to do, and that as a result of the basis on which that circular was drawn, they did not wish to press their objection. That may or may not be a good thing, but it is hardly sufficient argument in this House to say that a party saw the Receiver and liked his proposals, and that therefore it was not necessary for the House to clarify the law. Surely our job is to make the law perfectly watertight and clear? There will not always be the same Receiver or the same people on the local authorities, and the basis might conceivably change unless we make the Bill perfectly clear.

Then the Minister said that the new basis which the Receiver had discussed with these authorities was distinctly favourable to the outside authorities, and that that, perhaps, was why they had withdrawn such opposition as they had shown earlier. In fact, from his speech one would gather that the whole future policy on this question depended entirely on the attitude of the Receiver for the time being. If that is so it is surely administrative law with a vengeance. First of all we are not to make an Amendment if we think fit, because the authorities have compromised with the Receiver on his policy, and then because the Receiver's policy is apparently more favourable to them than they had anticipated we are to have no more say in the matter at all. I think that that is a fair statement of the case that has been put. If it is correct, other things being equal, it seems to me perfectly clear that we ought to put some words into the Clause to make sure that that does not happen.

After all, this is legislation and not the outside agreement of various authorities. Everyone recognises that in this Bill the Ministry has to come to some arrangement, preferably a friendly arrangement, with the people most concerned, but I do not think that that absolves this House from its clear duty of putting into an Act of Parliament exactly what it means, and, if necessary, putting into so many words the agreements which are reached. There is no objection to agreements being reached by the Ministry and the local authorities, but when they are reached I do not see why we should not put the basis of them into a Bill. The right hon. Gentleman said that there was no sense in carrying out, in this comparatively small matter, some sort of assimilation, when far greater matters were not being assimilated. But if assimilation is a good thing we had better start with the smaller matters first, and the bigger ones can come along afterwards after we had had some experience of the advantages or the contrary of the assimilation between inside and outside authorities. The object of the Amendment was to try to put all authorities on the same basis. For the life of me I cannot see anything in what the right hon. Gentleman has said which does not make it necessary that we should deal with everyone on the same equal and fair basis. If they have come to some outside agreement let us put it into the Bill so that it may be enforceable, and we shall not have to depend on the perfectly genuine desire of a Receiver to do what is fair and proper and to get a compromise.


The House will agree that my hon. and gallant Friend who moved the Amendment has raised a substantial point. I do not think that anyone wants to hold up the Bill, because it has been the subject of consideration between the Ministry of Health and the authorities interested for a considerable time. I remember that when I was at the Ministry we were desirous of coming to some proper and reasonable arrangement. Now that some conclusion has been reached I am sure that no one would desire in any way to disturb it. Most of those who listened to the right hon. Gentleman's explanation will agree that he raised matters which certainly require consideration from the House. I remember very well the right hon. Gentleman complaining about the difficulties of Bills introduced by the Ministry of Health during the last Government. He used to say how difficult it was to understand what was put forward, especially certain formulas. Anyone who listened to his speech this afternoon must have come to the conclusion that he has not been backward in so far as the introduction of matters of difficulty and complexity are concerned. We can congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on having produced a Bill which it is somewhat difficult even for him, I shall not say to understand, but to explain.

This matter has been raised by an important association of local authorities, and it affects an important district of London. I am glad to hear that the particular district concerned is satisfied with the explanation that the right hon. Gentleman has given. Certainly it was a very curious explanation. The right hon. Gentleman relied a great deal, first, on the fact that if we were going to make an alteration of this kind it would involve a general alteration of the law altogether, and that, therefore, the minor alteration must not now be made. I cannot assent to that view. If the right hon. Gentleman had said, "Well, in the present circumstances and in order to get this Measure through, do not let us raise any difficulty with regard to the Measure on this particular point," I could understand the proposal, but I cannot accept the argument that because a general alteration of the law ought to be made we should not attempt to make some minor alteration. Secondly, I was rather surprised at the right hon. Gentleman's argument that this alteration would bring certain advantages to areas outside London. That provoked the question, Who is going to suffer on account of these advantages being given to areas in outer London? The right hon. Gentleman openly stated that there would be some advantage to particular areas. If that is the case some other areas and local authorities must suffer.

I suggest to my hon. and gallant Friend that, while not accepting the arguments advanced by the Minister, he should not press the Amendment. Most of us are anxious that the Bill should find its way to the Statute Book. It is true that there is a substantial point which my hon. and gallant Friend has put forward, and the House is indebted to him for having done so, but I urge him not to press the Amendment, in the general interest of the Bill. It is not a party Bill in any sense. A great deal of work in connection with it was done by the last Government. Personally I am very glad that an arrangement has at last been concluded.

Amendment negatived.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.