§ (1) Rule 8 of the Rules No. VII of Schedule A shall have effect as though the proviso thereto were omitted.
§ (2) Paragraph (3) of Rule 9 of the Rules No. VII of Schedule A shall have effect as though all the words after the word "recoverable" were omitted.—[Mr. Thorne.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ Mr. THORNE
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
Rule VII, which is referred to in the proposed Clause, says:Save as this Act provides in any particular case, tax under this Schedule shall be charged on and paid by the occupier for the time being.There is another rule which gives the Inland Revenue Commissioners the right to make an agreement with the property owners who desire to pay Property Tax under Schedule A direct. There is a proviso which makes it imperative that if the landlord refuses to pay the Property Tax under Schedule A the occupier is called upon to pay the amount in question. This matter affects every tenement occupier in the country. I was under the impression until a short time ago that the landlord is responsible for the Property Tax under Schedule A, and that, if he refuses to pay 917 the tax, the Inland Revenue Commissioners were entitled to take out a summons against the landlord and make him pay. To my surprise, I now find that if the landlord refuses to pay the tax the Inland Revenue can call upon the occupiers of the tenements to pay the tax. I know that it all depends on the amount in question. It may mean that in some cases the Property Tax will amount to only £2 or £3, but, although that amount seems small, the occupiers of some of these houses, such as dockers and many of the people whom I represent, could not find the money. There are other rules which give the right to the tenant to pay the Property Tax week by week in accordance with the amount of the rent and to continue paying until the tax has been fully met; and he can then refuse to pay the landlord the rent to which he is entitled until he has wiped out the amount that he has been paying to the Inland Revenue. I consider that the property owner should be compelled to pay and not fall back upon the occupier.
This question was brought to my notice three weeks ago when I was holding a melting in my division. A man told me that because his landlord refused to pay the Property Tax the Inland Revenue Commissioners had put the bailiffs in his house after they had served the landlord with the usual notices. This is a serious question for the occupiers, and I hope that the Chancellor will give the matter serious consideration. It will not cost the State a farthing. I am after the bad landlords and the owners of slum property, because all the good landlords pay their Property Tax without any trouble. There are a number of slum landlords and people who buy all kinds of slum property—there are one or two in the borough of West Ham—from whom it is difficult to get the Property Tax. The same thing applies to rates, and it is a great hardship on the occupiers. Imagine the case of a woman who is the occupier of a four or six-roomed house who, because the landlord refuses to pay his Property Tax, finds the bailiffs put in. This practice affects thousands of tenement occupiers, and I hope that the Financial Secretary will take the responsibility on his own shoulders to accept the proposed Clause so that landlords will not be able to play about with their tenants, as they have been doing up to the present time.
§ 9.14 p.m.
§ Mr. COOPER
The hon. Member has stated the law quite correctly. At first it does seem rather strange that the State should have the right to exact from the tenant Income Tax due from the landlord. I am sure, however, that the hon. Member, when he reflects, will be satisfied that in fact, if not in theory, no injustice is done. The fact that he, with his long experience of his constituents, should have had this matter brought to his notice only within the last few months shows that this is not a very wide or popular grievance. I think that if he inquires further he will find that there is no real grievance at all. I doubt whether he will succeed in finding a single instance where the State has exercised this power of levying distraint upon an occupier and taking furniture or inflicting any hardship whatever. After all, the landlord should pay, and the State should make him pay. That is a perfectly sound principle. But how is the State going to make a man pay when he refuses?
§ Mr. COOPER
That is exactly what the State is empowered to do, but his property is in the occupation of other people who are paying him a rent for it, and yet the hon. Member says that is just what he does not want the State to do. What the State can do under the existing law is to go to the tenants of the property and say to them, "You owe so much rent to your landlord. You need not pay that rent to the landlord. You will pay that rent to the State instead." It is said that circumstances might arise in which some poor widow suddenly finds that the State has put the bailiffs into occupation. In that case the poor widow would be in the hands of the State instead of being in the hands of a very bad landlord, as he must be if he does not pay his debts; and I am sure that my hon. Friend, who is a good Socialist, knows that the State looks after people far better than landlords do. He would prefer them to be at the mercy of the State rather than of the landlord, and that, as a matter of fact, is how the case does work out. The authorities go to the tenants and explain the situation, and the tenants pay to the State the rent they would otherwise have paid to the landlord. They cannot possibly be any worse off. If they are 919 unable to pay their rent a situation might arise which would equally have arisen had the landlord remained. The only difference would be that the landlord would have put in the bailiffs and not the State.
I can assure the hon. Member—and his own experience bears out my words—that no hardship is inflicted under this provision of the law, and that the State, when it does have to exercise these particular rights, and the occasions are very rare, exercises them with the greatest forbearance and sympathy with the people concerned. Therefore, I really do not think that there is any need to change the law, because as it works it works to the benefit of all. The tenant is no worse off and the State gets the money due. Therefore, I hope the hon. Member will not press his new Clause.
§ Mr. THORNE
I knew when I started that I had a very big job in hand. In consequence of the statement made by the Financial Secretary, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
§ First and Second Schedules agreed to.
§ Bill reported; as amended, to be considered upon Thursday, and to be printed. [Bill 85.]