HC Deb 18 February 1948 vol 447 cc1269-72

(1) Notwithstanding the provisions of Part III of this Act, a local authority may, if they think fit, employ, either whole time or part time, a competent person to give advice or assistance in regard to the value ascribed in a valuation list to any hereditament or in regard to any other of the matters specified in Subsection (1) of Section thirty-five of this Act, and the person so employed shall have power, at all reasonable times and after giving due notice, and on production if so required, of authorisation in writing in that behalf from the local authority to enter on and survey any hereditament in the area of that authority which the authority may direct him to survey.

(2) If any person wilfully delays or obstructs any person in the exercise of any of his powers under this Section he shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding five pounds—[Lieut.-Colonel Elliot.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

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

This new Clause is self-explanatory. I do not know whether the Minister will find it possible to accept it, but those of us who were discussing this matter on Committee will remember that the point was raised and we had some uneasiness whether local authorities themselves would be able to have the services of valuers. It is true, of course, that a great deal of work will have to be gone through under the proposals of the Minister, but we feel that certain duties and responsibilities might still fall on the local authorities. We wish to be quite sure that they would not be stopped from availing themselves of the services of valuers by reason of the fact that valuation in general had been transferred to the central authority.

Mr. Bevan

On reflection perhaps the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will not persist in the proposal which he makes. He will recollect that one of the arguments advanced against the new machinery of valuation by him, and by some of his hon. Friends, was that this would throw so great a burden upon a piece of new machinery at the time when there was a great scarcity of valuers, that it would be almost impossible for us to get the valuations done by the stated dates. I myself confess that this comparatively small body of highly trained experienced people will have very many calls made upon their resources. There is the Land Board and the work to be done under the Town and Country Planning Act as well as various other work. The Inland Revenue Department will certainly find it difficult to get enough valuers to carry out this very important work.

On the Committee stage I gave an assurance that we would avail ourselves of the very considerable pool of private valuers that lie outside the local authority sphere. To add to that a further call upon the same body of people by making the local authorities, not now having any valuation functions at all, able to employ valuers will, in our view, be quite impracticable and make the operation of this part of the Act difficult, if not impossible. It would be rather inappropriate for the local authorities to be paying out local rates for valuation officers merely to watch the valuation officers of the Inland Revenue Department. That would be a waste of public money and would not streamline the valuation, as we hope to do. For those reasons, I hope the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will not press his new Clause.

8.45 p.m.

Mr. Walker-Smith

Of course, the Minister's argument is cogent, and any argument in regard to the general sphere of valuation, which bases itself upon the shortage of trained valuers which is likely to arise in regard to the multiple and manifold demands made upon them, notably by the Town and Country Planning Act and by this Act, has considerable force. But it would have more force if this proposed Clause, instead of being permissive, were mandatory, and instead of reading "whole time or part time" simply referred to "whole time officials."

The argument against the possible employment of valuation officers by local authorities does not come nearly so strongly when one takes account only of part-time officials, because it is probable that if this Clause confines itself to the possibility of part-time officials, they would not necessarily be drawn solely from the general resources of valuers available, because in that case any part-time valuers advising local authorities would, of course, be doing other useful functions by way of valuation as well. The Minister has now agreed and is proposing to embody in the Bill a provision for third party appeals by local authorities, and that will, in the case at any rate of some of the larger authorities, constitute a good reason for the retention of the part-time services of planned valuers. I suggest to the Committee that the Minister's condemnation of this Clause would be a good deal less strong if it is put on a part-time basis, as no doubt would almost invariably be the case if this permissive power were allowed to local authorities.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

I must confess I was a little disappointed at the Minister's words. In fact, I was a little perturbed, because I was merely reserving a right which perhaps inadvertently was being removed from the local authorities, but the Minister is very strongly arguing that the local authorities will have no use for the services of valuers at all, and, in any case, the appeal is so small that it will be impossible for them to avail themselves of it. I have great sympathy with him in his second argument. The scarcity of a highly skilled technical staff is one of the greatest difficulty for bringing this complex Measure into operation. I should have thought that a part-time provision, and the fact that it was not mandatory would have mitigated against anything like a fall-down due to the impossibility of getting staff.

A great many local authorities will look at it hardly if they are to be statutorily debarred from employing the services of valuers in the many problems which come before them. The Minister will find that the local authorities will look with a great deal of uneasiness upon the short discussions we have had upon this subject tonight. I do not propose to press the matter to a Division, but the Minister will be well advised to give it a little further consideration. The great local authorities have for generations worked very closely with whole-time and part-time officers, and they will find it extremely difficult to carry out some of this routine business if suddenly a guillotine is brought down between them and the services of those technical staffs. In the circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.