HC Deb 02 June 1954 vol 528 cc1359-67
The Lord Advocate

I beg to move, in page 27, line 39, to leave out line 39, and to insert: ending on the fifteenth day of May, nineteen hundred and fifty-four, or in the case of a local authority with respect to which special provision is made in a local Act, for the corresponding financial year. This Amendment gives effect to an agreement with the local authority associations that the ceiling for owner's rates for the purposes of the Clauses should be fixed at the amount of the rate which the county or burgh levied in the year 1953–54, the rates in force when the Bill was introduced. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State said in Committee that the Government would put this Amendment down.

Mr. D. Johnston

The Lord Advocate has said that this Amendment has been put down as a result of an agreement with the local authorities. My understanding is that all three local authority associations have objected to this Clause in its entirety because the Clause sets out to limit the owner's rates on controlled houses. As far as I understand it, the only agreement to which they have come is this: if this Clause is passed, they would prefer that a definite date should be inserted, as is done by the Amendment, rather than that the matter should be left in the form set out in the unamended Clause.

This Clause is bad for a variety of reasons, most of which I mentioned in Committee. It is bad because the Sorn Committee on valuation and rating is sitting in Scotland at the moment. It is bad because it seeks to impose a greater liability on tenants than on owner-occupiers. This Amendment is an additional reason for thinking it bad, because it is retrospective legislation. The responsibility of the landlord of a rent-controlled dwelling is now to be limited to the poundage of rates imposed upon him in 1953–54. In most local authority areas in Scotland the rate poundage is rising, and if the words of the Bill were unamended the landlord would clearly be required to pay a greater poundage than will be the case under the Amendment.

I well remember that when the present Opposition were in power there were howls of protest from the Conservative Party when retrospective legislation of a financial character was proposed. It was often forgotten that retrospective financial legislation was introduced by the Conservative Party when in power in 1940.

What is the justification for introducing this provision? Why should the Clause be amended so that the landlord gets the benefit of the lower poundage of the 1953–54 rate instead of paying the higher poundage of 1954–55? Secondly, how will this work when local authorities are making up their budget? I should have thought that it would be most inconvenient for local authorities in making up their budgets. They must already have made them up for the year.

Thirdly, the benefit which is conferred upon a landlord is passed as an increased burden to tenants and owner-occupiers, with the result that their burden, which they presumably assessed at £x per annum, is now to be increased by £y, £y being the difference between the 1953–54 rate and the 1954–55 rate.

This is a most objectionable Amendment, and we shall require some further explanation of it than that with which the Lord Advocate started—his explanation that this step had been taken with the full agreement of the local authorities.

Mr. McInnes

I should like to support the arguments of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. D. Johnston). It was rather slick of the Lord Advocate to imply in his opening remarks that the Clause was accepted by local authorities. In fact, they have made very strong and vigorous objections to the Clause.

I do not know what private arrangements were made between the Secretary of State and the local authorities about the year in which the financial operations were to commence, but I direct the right hon. Gentleman's attention to this aspect: the financial year up to 15th May, 1954 has been completed, all assessments have been paid until the end of the financial year and local authorities have now embarked upon another financial year. Yet the Tory Party, in order to keep faith with their friends, desire to introduce this limitation of owner's rates.

I have previously accused the Lord Advocate of being discourteous to the House, and even at this stage he does not seem to have learned his lesson. I tell him quite candidly that he must treat the House with the knowledge that we on this side understand the Bill just as well as he does and, in addition, that we are conversant with many of the conversations which have taken place. We know that at no time have the local authorities agreed to this Clause.

If the Amendment is made and the financial year ended 15th May, 1954, is inserted in the Bill, precisely what extra work will be thrown upon local authorities in making the necessary adjustments in view of the fact that they have now embarked upon a new financial year, commencing 16th May, 1954? In my opinion, local authorities will be placed in a most awkward position and will be involved in a tremendous amount of additional work. I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to let us know precisely what took place at these conversations. I put it to him categorically: did he insert 15th May, 1954, at the specific request of the local authorities?

7.30 p.m.

Mr. Manuel

I also wish to register my protest on behalf of the Scottish local authorities against this provision. Those of us who have been active in local authority work know that 15th May, so far as Scotland is concerned, involves a great deal of work for the chamberlain's departments. The necessary assessment notices have been sent out and a new financial year starts on 16th May each year. The assessments have gone out and the rates have now been paid.

Is it the intention that because of this date in the Secretary of State's Amendment the local authorities will now have to turn round and assess overpayment of owner's rates so far as the rate of poundage is concerned in each local authority area in Scotland, and make an adjustment in the owner's rates?

The Lord Advocate

indicated dissent.

Mr. Manuel

The Lord Advocate shakes his head. Will he tell us how this is going to be done?

This date ought to be 1955 and not 1954. I appeal to the right hon. and learned Gentleman to recognise that, so far as our information goes, if the local authorities and the local authority asso- ciations abhor one thing more than another in this Bill, it is the freezing of owner's rates. We shall have all the repercussions from that. The Government having got the principle through, having steam-rollered it through, are now going to scrape the barrel to the bottom to get a little extra. I hope that the Lord Advocate can explain what agreement he had with the local authorities.

The Lord Advocate

Perhaps I may be allowed to speak a second time on this Amendment.

Several hon. Members have asked whether there was an agreement, or what agreement there was, with the local authorities. Of course, the local authorities originally did not like the limitation on owner's rates.

Mr. McNeil

Originally?—wholly and exclusively.

The Lord Advocate

Provision to that effect is incorporated in the Bill. Negotiations took place with the local authorities in regard to the fixing of a year, in respect of which these calculations are to be made.

I say, as I said earlier, that an agreement was arrived at with them that the ceiling on owners' rates for the purpose of this Clause should be fixed at the amount of the county or burgh rate fixed in the year 1953–54. That is what I said originally, and that is the fact.

Mr. McInnes

Should I be correct in assuming that that agreement was come to in December of last year, in anticipation that this Bill would become an Act of Parliament on April of this year?

The Lord Advocate

I understand that is not so.

The next point made was that this was retrospective legislation. With the greatest respect, this is nothing of the kind. It is not retrospective legislation, it is fixing a date in the past in order to get a date line for calculations. I am asked by the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) to describe in detail the amount of extra work which this will involve on the local authorities. My answer is that it will involve absolutely no more work on them. Under the Clause as it originally stood, the calculations had to be made on a certain basis. We are merely altering the year to be used for the purpose of calculation.

Mr. Manuel

The Lord Advocate is quite wrong. Quite apart from the date, he is going to tell the local authorities that owner's rates will be frozen at the present figure. They have now to reassess a proportion of owner's rates and spread it over shopkeepers, owner-occupiers, municipal tenants and other occupiers, in the area. That means that another assessment will have to be made. That will require another column on their valuation roll.

The Lord Advocate

If the hon. Gentleman will look at Clause 33 he will see that that is not the result at all. Clause 33 (1) says: In the financial year first commencing after the passing of this Act and in every subsequent year the owner of any dwelling-house … shall be relieved of liability to pay … owner's rates, on a certain basis. All that we are doing is to change the year we use for the purpose of calculation. The calculation has to be made on the Clause as it stood originally, and the Amendment does not involve more work on the local authority. It merely means that they have to use a different year for the purpose of calculation.

Mr. McNeil

I hope that the Lord Advocate will bring more candour and knowledge to this discussion. It is quite regrettable that the House should have thought for a second that there was any agreement in principle existing on this subject. The Lord Advocate sprang to his feet with a cheerful smile, and said that this was agreed with the local authorities.

In fact, it was not agreed with the local authorities.

The Lord Advocate

All I said is, what I am still saying, that there was an agreement with the local authorities' associations as to the year which was to be adopted as the ceiling for the owner's rates.

Mr. McNeil

I would remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman of precisely what happened. The Government refused to listen to the local authorities' appeal against this appalling principle under which the owner's rates were to be frozen and the rest of the community were to carry the burden. But they would not listen to that, and the local authorities came to the Secretary of State and said, "If you are going to rob us of our bank books you might at least leave something in the blind man's tin, by adjustment of rate equalisation grant."

To prevent the local authorities losing any of the benefits that came to them from one calculation, the right hon. Gentleman then substituted this date. But it is a bad principle. The local authorities had opposed this principle. This amount to the extent of which they are to be robbed does not make it a good principle, and for that reason we propose to divide the House.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 186; Noes, 212.

Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Morley, R. Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S.)
Hynd, H. (Accrington) Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.) Sorensen, R. W
Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe) Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, S.) Sparks, J. A.
Irving, W. J. (Wood Green) Mort, D. L Steele, T.
Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Moyle, A. Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.
Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T Oliver, G. H Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.
Jeger, George (Goole) Orbach, M. Sylvester, G. O.
Jeger, Mrs. Lena Oswald, T. Thomas, George (Cardiff)
Jenkins, R. H. (Stechford) Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley) Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)
Johnson, James (Rugby) Paling Will T. (Dewsbury) Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)
Johnston, Douglas (Paisley) Palmer, A. M. F. Thornton E.
Jones, David (Hartlepool) Pannell, Charles Timmons, J.
Jcnes, T. W. (Merioneth) Pargiter, G. A. Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn
Keenan, W. Parker, J. Viant, S. P.
Kenyon, C. Pearson, A. Warbey, W. N.
Key, Rt. Hon C. W Popplewell, E Watkins, T. E.
King, Dr. H. M. Porter, G. Webb, Rt. Hon. M. (Bradford, C.)
Lawson, G. M. Price, J T. (Westhoughton) Weitzman, D.
Lee, Frederick (Newton) Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.) Wells, Percy (Faversham)
Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock) Proctor, W. T. Wells, William (Walsall)
Lever, Leslie (Ardwick) Pryde, D. J. Wheeldon, W. E.
Lindgren, G. S. Rankin, John White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)
Logan, D. G. Reeves, J. White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.)
MacColl, J. E Reid, William (Camlachie) Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
McInnes, J. Rhodes, H. Wilkins, W. A.
McKay, John (Wallsend) Robens, Rt. Hon. A. Willey, F. T.
McLeavy, F. Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon) Williams, Ronald (Wigan)
McNeil, Rt. Hon. H. Rogers, George (Kensington, N.) Williams, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Don V'll'y)
Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Ross, William Williams, W. R. (Droylsden)
Mann, Mrs. Jean Shackleton, E. A. A Willis, E. G.
Manuel, A. C. Short, E. W. Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)
Mason, Roy Shurmer, P. L. E. Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Mellish, R. J. Silverman, Julius (Erdington) Wyatt, W. L.
Messer, Sir F. Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill) Yates, V. F.
Mikardo, Ian Skeffington, A. M.
Monslow, W. Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke-on-Trent) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Morgan, Dr. H. B. W. Slater, J. (Durham, Sedgefield) Mr. Wallace and Mr. John Taylor.
Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.) Davidson, Viscountess Holland-Martin, C. J
Alport, C. J. M. Deedes, W. F. Hollis, M. C.
Amery, Julian (Preston, N.) Dodds-Parker, A. D. Holt, A. F.
Amory, Rt. Hon. Heathcoat (Tiverton) Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA. Hope, Lord John
Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J. Donner, Sir P. W. Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P
Arbuthnot, John Doughty, C. J. A. Horobin, I. M.
Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn, W.) Douglas-Hamilton, Lord Malcolm Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence
Baldwin, A. E. Drayson, G. B. Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)
Banks, Cot. C. Drewe, Sir C. Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)
Barlow, Sir John Dugdale, Rt. Hon. Sir T. (Richmond) Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'rgh, W.)
Beach, Maj. Hicks Duncan, Capt. J. A. L. Hyde, Lt.-Col. H. M.
Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.) Duthie, W. S. Hylton-Foster, H. B H.
Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.) Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West) Iremonger, T. L.
Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth) Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E. Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)
Birch, Nigel Finlay, Graeme Johnson, Eric (Blackley)
Bishop, F. P. Fisher, Nigel Joynson-Hicks, Hon L W
Black, C. W. Fleetwood-Hesketh,R. F Kerby, Capt. H. B.
Boothby, Sir R. J. G. Fletcher-Cooke, C. Kerr, H. W.
Bossom, Sir A. C. Fort, R. Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A H.
Bowen, E. R. Foster, John Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A. Fraser, Sir Ian (Morecambe & Lonsdale) Linstead, Sir H. N.
Boyle, Sir Edward Galbraith, Rt. Hon. T. D. (Po11ok) Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J C.
Braine, B. R. Galbraith, T G. D. (Hillhead) Longden, Gilbert
Brooke, Henry (Hampstead) Garner-Evans, E. H. Lucas, Sir locelyn (Portsmouth, S)
Brooman-White, R. C. George, Rt. Hon. Maj. G. Lloyd Lucas, P. B. (Brentford)
Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T. Glover, D. McAdden, S. J.
Bullard, D. G. Godber, J. B. Macdonald, Sir Peter
Bullus, Wing Commander E. E. Gomme-Duncan, Col. A McKibbin, A. J.
Burden, F F. A. Gough, C. F. H. Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)
Butcher, Sir Herbert Gower, H. R. Maclay, Rt. Hon. John
Campbell, Sir David Graham, Sir Fergus Macleod, Rt. Hon. lain (Enfield, W.)
Carr, Robert Grimond, J. MacLeod, John (Ross and Cromarty)
Channon, H. Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury) Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)
Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead) Hall, John (Wycombe) Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)
Clyde, Rt. Hon. J. L. Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.) Maitland, Comdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)
Cole, Norman Harris, Reader (Heston) Maitland, Patrick (Lanark)
Conant, Maj. R. J. E. Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye) Markham, Major Sir Frank
Cooper-Key, E. M. Harvie-Watt, Sir George Marples, A. E.
Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne) Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Marshall, Douglas (Bodmin)
Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C. Heath, Edward Maude, Angus
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Henderson, John (Cathcart) Maydon, Lt.-Comdr S. L. C.
Crouch, R. F. Hill, Dr. Charles (Luton) Mellor, Sir John
Crowder, Sir John (Finchley) Hinchingbrooke, Viscount Molson, A. H. E.
Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood) Hirst, Geoffrey Moore, Sir Thomas

Proposed words there be inserted in the Bill.

Further Amendment made: In page 27, line 41, leave out from first "in," to "entitled," and insert "that year."—[The Lord Advocate.]

The Lord Advocate

I beg to move, in page 28, line 14, to leave out from "dwelling-house," to the end of line 17, and to insert: in respect of which a repairs increase is recoverable under the foregoing provisions of this Part of this Act. This Amendment gives effect to an undertaking given in Committee that the Government would put down an Amendment at the Report stage to limit the effect of the Clause to houses in respect of which a repairs increase is payable. An Opposition Amendment designed towards this end was withdrawn in view of the undertaking which we gave.

Mr. Woodburn

I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

Amendment agreed to.