HC Deb 01 March 1938 vol 332 cc923-4
Captain Ramsay

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Lands Valuation (Scotland) Act, 1854. In asking the House to give sympathetic consideration to this Bill, may I make two general remarks? Firstly, although the object of the Bill may appear to be insignificant, the number of persons which it concerns is by no means insignificant. Large numbers of the best elements of the working classes throughout this country are personally interested day in and day out in the subject of the Bill. Secondly, it is of national interest in relation to the organisation of the leisure of the working classes, which will become more and more of a problem as time goes on. The Bill itself entails no new legislation; it is in reality an amendment or interpretation of a Section of the Act of 1854 which bears little or no relation in this regard to the circumstances of to-day.

In effect, the Bill provides for the exemption from rating of any shed or greenhouse of a superficial area of less than 100 square feet, provided that such shed or greenhouse is kept solely for the purposes of a hobby, such as the keeping and flying of pigeons, the growing of plants, or the keeping of animals. The question may be asked, how is it possible to tell whether it is a hobby or not? In any given district it is comparatively easy to tell whether any individual is growing plants or flying pigeons as a hobby, and, where there was any difference of opinion, it would be quite easy to obtain a certificate from one of the many societies which cover these occupations. In my opinion, and in that of many of my hon. Friends, it is becoming increasingly important, in view of these times of mechanisation and the loss of individuality that is inseparable from the occupations of to-day, to give every man, or as many men as possible, the opportunity of some individual creative effort and interest which shall afford rest, not only of body, but of mind, when the day's work is done; and it is my contention that, in these hobbies which exist all over the country, you have such an interest and such an individual creative enterprise.

The country is spending large sums of money in organising the leisure of the working classes, and I believe that by this Measure, with practically no expenditure, we could do a great deal to enable people to follow the occupations which they themselves have chosen for their spare time, and of which the framework and structure are already in existence. At the present moment, as a result of, in my opinion, vexatious and erratic interpretations of the existing Act, these little sheds are rated on quite different scales. In some areas they are rated at one level, in others at another level, and in still others not at all. The Bill would equalise and regularise that discrepancy. Moreover it would remove a constant source of irritation rather like that which, as many of us are aware, has recently been removed in the tax that used to be paid in respect of the employment of keepers, gardeners, butlers, and male servants of any kind. This is another vexatious tax from which there is little or no return, and which creates a sense of irritation, possibly deterring people from going in for these occupations which are so good for them. On these grounds I would beg the House seriously to consider this very short amending Bill.

It does not involve any new principle. In the case of Income Tax it is admitted that there shall be a level below which a man shall not pay tax, and by many authorities it is admitted, even in this particular form of rating, that there shall be a level below which a man shall not be called upon to pay. Many local assessors exclude any area below 60 square feet or 70 square feet—the figure varies. Therefore, in submitting the Bill to the House, I would sum up by saying in brief that it is a Measure that involves no new principle, that involves no fresh legislation, that works along the line that everyone has at heart, of providing for the working classes on the easiest terms, a method and an encouragement in the advantageous spending of their spare time.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Captain Ramsay, Sir Arnold Wilson, Captain McEwen, Mr. Mitchell, Mr. Hunter, and Miss Horsbrugh.