HC Deb 12 May 1953 vol 515 cc1058-60

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

59. Lieut.-Commander Clark Hutchison

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland, whether he is aware of the difficulties to which the system of rating and valuation in Scotland is giving rise; and what action he proposes to take.

At the end of Questions—

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. James Stuart)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I will answer Question No. 59.

Yes, Sir. I have decided to appoint a Committee with the following terms of reference: To review the present system of valuation and rating (other than the derating of agricultural, industrial and freight transport, lands and heritages) in Scotland; to consider whether any and, if so, what changes should be made in the system, and what other action would in consequence of any such changes be required: and to report. I am glad to say that Lord Sorn has agreed to serve as Chairman of the Committee and that the other members will be:

Mr. J. G. Banks, Mr. J. T. Byrne, Lord Greenhill, Sir Hugh Mackenzie, Mr. Duncan McNiven and Sir Ronald Thomson.

Lieut-Commander Hutchison

In thanking my right hon. Friend for that answer, may I ask him if, in view of the urgency and importance of this question, he will request the Committee to start work at the earliest possible moment?

Mr. Stuart

Yes, Sir. I will ask them to do their best.

Mr. Woodburn

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Scotland will hear this announcement with great interest, but with a real doubt as to whether this partial approach to the global problem of the local authorities will be sufficient to satisfy their aspirations and needs? Is he further aware that there will be a certain amount of disappointment—I think keen disappointment in some directions—that the right hon. Gentleman has excluded the derating of agriculture and industry, since it is difficult to see how any solution of the problem in the Highlands and the rural areas can be arrived at without that matter being brought in? I do not think it would be possible to get a reply today, but I should inform the right hon. Gentleman that we propose to discuss, through the usual channels, the question of having a day, or some time, for a debate on this problem. I think the right hon. Gentleman will be aware that there are many hon. Members who would like to put points for consideration before the terms of reference of the Committee are finally settled and before the Committee itself is appointed.

Mr. Stuart

The terms are very wide. The question of the derating of agriculture and industry, to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred, would necessitate legislation, and is a matter of Government policy, and not, therefore, a matter which it was thought appropriate to refer to this inquiry.

Lieut-Colonel Elliot

While congratulating my right hon. Friend on the wide scope of the members of the Committee whose services he has been able to secure, may I stress the importance of the Committee getting to work as soon as possible, and, above all, of not carrying into its terms of reference the consideration of the increased rating of agricultural or industrial hereditaments in the Highlands, both of which need much more encouragement rather than the discouragement of new and heavy local taxation being placed upon them?

Mr. T. Fraser

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, if this Committee is to bring forward any recommendations that will be of the slightest use to local authorities in Scotland, legislation will most definitely be necessary, and, in the circumstances, will he reconsider the proposal to exclude consideration of the derating of agricultural land and industrial concerns?

Mr. Stuart

The point is that this derating is an act of Government policy, and it was not thought appropriate to bring it to the attention of this Committee. It is a matter for Parliament to decide whether derating should be continued or discontinued.