HC Deb 18 February 1948 vol 447 cc1253-60

Where the right to use any land (including any hoarding, frame, post, wall or structure erected or to be erected on the land, and including also any wall or other part of a building) for the purpose of exhibiting advertisements is let out or reserved to any person other than the occupier of the land, or, when the land is not occupied for any other purpose, to any person other than the owner of the land, that right shall be deemed for rating purposes to be a separate hereditament in the occupation of the person for the time being entitled to the right, and shall be included in the valuation list as a separate hereditament accordingly, and, notwithstanding anything In Section three or Section four of the Advertising Stations (Rating) Act, 1889, in estimating the value of the land for rating purposes no account shall be taken of any value or, as the case may be, of any increased value arising from the use of the land for the purpose of exhibiting advertisements in accordance with that right.—[Mr. Bevan.]

Brought up, and read a First time.

8.0 p.m.

Mr. Bevan

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

This Clause is in order to give effect to a promise made in Committee. There were a number of Members on both sides of the Committee who were apprehensive lest it would not be possible for a local authority to rate certain hereditaments at all on account of the fact that they might be on the premises of various services taken over by the State from the local authorities. I think the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Binns) had an interest in this matter. This is to make it quite clear that, where a piece of property is let out by a railway company or an electricity undertaking for the purpose stated in the Clause, for advertising, it shall be possible to rate it as a separate hereditament. Local authorities were naturally anxious at the fact that these undertakings did not now appear on the local rating roll, and would be part of the cumulo of both electricity and transport and, therefore, would only make an indirect contribution to the local revenues. We should not deny to the local authority the possibility of rating those hereditaments which could not be regarded as inseparable. The language of this Clause is very clear, and I think it meets the wishes of the Committee, and I trust it will have a happy passage.

Mr. Boothby (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Eastern)

Before I make my few remarks, I have to declare to this House a personal interest in this matter. I have to tell hon. Members that I am a director of a billposting company. I hasten to add, that my modest remuneration will be in no way affected by the acceptance or rejection of this Clause, or by any modifications the Minister may think fit to make. I want to make one or two observations because, as the Minister will agree, this was introduced at a very late stage in the Bill, and I think, perhaps, it would have been better if the Minister, or the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Binns), had thought of it earlier and had had an opportunity of discussing the matter in some detail with some of the interests affected. The present position is governed by the Act of 1889, which has never been substantially changed, as regards the rating of these particular hereditaments. Under that Act, there were two cases. The first was where land is used for exhibition of advertisements, but not otherwise occupied, and the person who permits the use of the land is the person under that Act who is very properly rated. Secondly, there is the land occupied for other purposes, but also used for advertisements, and in that case, under the Act of 1889, it is the occupier who is again properly rated and the value of the land is increased under that Act by the additional value it may acquire as a result of the advertising.

Under this Clause the Minister intends to add a third class and, therefore, unnecessarily to complicate the business. This third case—and I will use his own words, is: Where the right to use any land … for the purpose of exhibiting advertisements is let out or reserved to any person other than the occupier of the land"— for example, a contractor. In that case, under this Clause, it is the "person … entitled to the right"—in other words, the contractor—who is rated. Two questions will arise as a result of this which may cause very considerable difficulties. It has to be decided, first of all, is the right let out or is it reserved? This business of advertisements is a complicated business, and there is no easy answer. Secondly, when that decision has been taken, who is the person "for the time being entitled to the right"? I would like to explain to the Minister that, in many cases, contracts are let out to various firms for quite short periods—say, a month at a time—and it does not necessarily go to a billposting firm, as such. These two questions will have to be answered: who is the actual contractor, and is the right let out or is it reserved?

I am sure there are a great many existing contractual relations between landlords and advertisers which have lasted for a long time, but which will be upset by the Clause, and which will, in consequence, require revision. Perhaps the most difficult feature of this Clause is the situation which will arise with regard to the railway companies—or, as it is now, the British State Railway. In the past—and presumably the national railways will do so in the future—railway companies have conducted an increasing billposting business in competition with private bill-posting companies. What will be the effect of this Clause on stations let by the railways direct to advertisers? Who is the advertiser? Returning to the point I made just now, in some cases the advertisement is let out, for example to "Bovril" or any other firm, who may take it for a month, and then another firm takes it for a month. At what point, and at what period in connection with these railway sites, do any particular advertisers become liable, as contractors, to the payment of rates? If they do not, the advertisement will remain a railway hereditament within the general cumulo of the railway undertaking. If we do not give any particular contractor the responsibility of paying this rate, the hereditament will remain within the general cumulo of the railway, and I submit, most seriously, that it is a little unfair to the billposting industry, with which the railways are in direct competition, if we allow the railway advertisement to come within the general cumulo of the British State Railway so that it is not subject to any special rating and, at the same time, impose this additional burden upon the contractors.

Mr. Bevan

The hon. Member is mistaken entirely as to the purpose of the Clause. The purpose of the Clause is to restrict the advantages which the railway companies possess in the absence of the Clause. Without this Clause, that property would not be rated for local purposes and the Clause is moved in order to make it rated. So far from adding to the hardship about which the hon. Member complains, the hardship is mitigated by this Clause. There is nothing in this Bill, however, and nothing that can be done under this Bill, which would remove altogether from the British State Railway power over the rest of their property.

Mr. Boothby

According to my reading of the Clause, and to the technicians who advised me in this matter, it definitely entitled the railway companies to put their own property into the general cumulo and not to pay additional rates on it. If I am wrong, I shall be delighted to hear so.

Mr. Bevan

This Clause does not permit that. The general Act and the Railways (Valuation for Rating) Act do that; this Clause says that certain things shall not be in the cumulo and shall be rated locally.

Mr. Boothby

In that case, I am very much more satisfied on the point, because the only point I was asked to put in connection with this question is that sites let to the billposting companies by the railways, and those let direct to advertisers should be assessed on the same basis. We want a fair assessment as between the railways and the private billposting companies. If the Minister says that is the effect, and that is the intention, of this Clause, I must say that is not the interpretation put upon it by the legal advisers of the billposting companies. I simply say, Sir, that all sites on railway property should either be within the general assessments of the railways or should be outside it, and if we have—as I thought, hitherto—a half-and-half business, with some sites outside the cumulo and some inside the cumulo, it would give an unfair advantage to the railways over the private billposting companies.

Mr. Bevan

It is not this Clause which puts certain sites inside and certain sites outside. Were it not for this Clause, all sites would be inside. This Clause is described as: Advertising stations to be separate hereditaments in certain cases. In other words, we are alienating from the railway cumulo certain advertising stations. We are saying that where they are let out and contracted for as advertising stations, they shall be liable to local rates. The purpose of the Clause is a mitigation of what the hon. Gentleman considers to be an evil. The evil is not produced by this Bill, but is produced by another statute, which is the Statute nationalising the railway system. The answer to what he said about it not being possible always to determine whether a certain person has been in possession of this entitlement long enough, is that valuation officers must settle every case on its merits. Where it has not been long enough, it will remain part of the cumulo. In other words, it must be alienated from the general purposes of the railways in order to be separately rated.

Mr. Boothby

In that case, and in view of the fact that those who advise me on this matter tell me that if they could meet the officials of the Minister they could draft a Clause which would meet his requirements rather more simply, can he arrange for a meeting to take place?

Mr. Bevan

The hon. Member is a most seductive speaker. I cannot possibly agree that my officials should meet representatives of an outside interest for the purpose of drafting a Clause for this House. I am satisfied that this Clause meets the purposes we have in mind, and that it fulfils the promise made in Committee.

Mr. Binns

Perhaps I may be able to mollify the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) even further. I admit that I know nothing about advertising; nor do I have any interest in it. What has happened for a long time is that it has not been possible to adhere to the 1889 Act. From my experience the Act has been ignored, because strict adherence to it would have made the whole thing unworkable. It is merely because the rating authorities thought it advisable that there should he a legal background, that this has been incorporated in the Bill. In other words, this legally gives the same advantages which these people have enjoyed in the past--that is, objections to rateable valuation lists and so on. I am sure that the interests for whom the hon. Member speaks can be reasonably well satisfied that this Clause is not directed against them, but is merely an attempt on the part of local authorities, through the Minister, to put the matter into legal form.

8.15 p.m.

Mr. Walker-Smith

It seems to me that the Minister in commending this Clause addressed himself more particularly to the circumstances arising in the case of the railways. Though that may be the historic origin of this Clause in Standing Committee, Members who now see it for the first time will realise that it is not so confined, but that it is of considerable general importance in regard to the rating of advertising structures. So far as the point about the railways is concerned, I think that what the Minister said was quite convincing. I think that it commended itself to my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby). I agree with the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Binns) that this part of the machinery has stood unchanged on the Statute Book far longer than most of the rating machinery with which we come into contact. Having an open mind on this matter, I should like to feel that the Minister has considered this fully from the general point of view, as well as from the railway point of view to which he principally addressed himself. I do not think that there is very much the matter with the procedure proposed in this Clause. Under it, the right to use land becomes rateable. It is presumably analogous to the rating of sporting rights, for example, coming under the general heading of "incorporeal hereditaments." That seems to me to be a reasonable way of dealing with rating of advertising structures.

I appreciate that there may be a difficulty in regard to the specific point raised by my hon. Friend. Although I do not know the professional workings of the advertising industry, I appreciate that there may be a difficulty as to the identification if the contracts are of such a short term. As to whether the land is let out or reserved, it would appear that it is not material to determine whether land is let out or reserved, because the same considerations would appear to apply in either case. Therefore, that apprehension may not be so well founded as my hon. Friend thought. I feel sympathetic towards this Clause from the practical point of view, but I should like the Minister to assure the House that general consideration was given to it, as well as consideration to the specific requirements in regard to advertising on property of the railway undertakings which was the immediate reason for bringing it forward.

Mr. C. Williams

The Minister was complaining bitterly because a Member with none of the advantages of the Minister gave very little time to considering a comparatively simple new Clause. Here we have a new Clause introduced by the Minister which is undoubtedly more complicated. It has not been made less complicated by the speech of the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Binns), because he insisted on referring only to the railways.

Mr. Binns

I did not mention the railways; I was dealing with the generality of the matter. It was my right hon. Friend who made the reference to the railways.

Mr. Williams

Well, then, I will not carry that any further, although I did think that the hon. Gentleman's speech contained some generalities. If we accept this Clause we are opening wide the door for the future. In the first line it states: … including any hoarding frame, post, wall … Supposing the Post Office suddenly greatly increases its advertisements. Every telegraph pole might become a small hoarding. Indeed, in view of the patent desire of the Leader of the House for advertisement that might happen at any time now. Under this Clause I am not certain where the local authority's chance of new rates might come in. I was more convinced by the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) than by the Minister's knowledge, but what was clear from the right hon. Gentleman's statement, and his state of mind, is that we ought to have had a Law Officer to put the case clearly and quickly. But they are never here, and we have not had any clear explanation of it. I suppose this Clause will go through and, like so many other Clauses of this Bill, and from this Government, will be rectified in another place.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.