HC Deb 06 July 1955 vol 543 cc1202-6

(1) This section applies to the following returns, that is to say,—

  1. (a) any return made under section fifty-eight of the Act of 1948. or under section forty or forty-one of the Rating and Valuation Act, 1925 (in this Act referred to as "the Act of 1925"), or under any of sections fifty-five to fifty-seven of the Valuation (Metropolis) Act, 1869 (which sections confer powers for obtaining information for the purpose of preparing valuation lists), and
  2. (b) any return made (whether before or after the passing of this Act) in compliance with a request of the valuation officer, where the request was made before the passing of the Valuation for Rating Act, 1953, and was a request for information which would have been reasonably required by the valuation officer for the purpose of preparing a valuation list if the said Act of 1953 had been in operation when the request was made.

(2) Subject to the following provisions of this section, any return to which this section applies shall in any valuation proceedings be admissible as evidence of the facts stated in the return; and any document purporting to be a return to which this section applies shall, in any valuation proceedings, be presumed, unless the contrary is shown,—

  1. (a) to be such a return;
  2. (b) to have been made by the person by whom it purports to have been made; and
  3. (c) if it purports to have been made by that person as occupier, owner or lessee of a hereditament, or in any other capacity specified in the document, to have been made by him as such occupier, owner or lessee, or in that other capacity, as the case may be.

(3) Returns to which this section applies shall not be used by or on behalf of the valuation officer as evidence in any valuation proceedings unless—

  1. (a) not less than fourteen days' notice, specifying the returns to be so used and the hereditaments to which they relate, has previously been given to the person who made the proposal to which the proceedings relate (where the proposal was not made by the valuation officer) and to every person who 1203 has served, and has not unconditionally withdrawn, a notice of objection to the proposal, and
  2. (b) the valuation officer has permitted any such person, who has given not less than twenty-four hours' notice of his desire to do so, to inspect at any reasonable time, and to take extracts from, any of the returns specified in the notice under the preceding paragraph.

(4) The two last preceding subsections shall not apply to any proceedings relating to the ascertainment of the net annual value of a hereditament by reference to the accounts, receipts or profits of an undertaking: Provided that this subsection shall not be construed as preventing the use of any return in any such proceedings in circumstances where the return could be so used apart from this section.

(5) Any person to whom notice relating to any hereditaments has been given under paragraph (a) of subsection (3) of this section for the purposes of any valuation proceedings may give notice to the valuation officer, specifying one or more other hereditaments, as being hereditaments which are comparable in character or are otherwise relevant to the said person's case, and requiring the valuation officer—

  1. (a) to permit him at any reasonable time specified in the notice under this subsection to inspect, and (if he so desires) to take extracts from, all returns (if any) to which this section applies, which relate to those other hereditaments and are in the possession of the valuation officer, and
  2. (b) to produce to him at the hearing such of those returns as before the hearing he has informed the valuation officer that he requires:

Provided that the number of hereditaments specified in a notice under this subsection shall not exceed the number of hereditaments specified in accordance with paragraph (a) of subsection (3) of this section in the notice given by the valuation officer under that paragraph.

(6) Where a notice has been given to the valuation officer under the last preceding subsection, and the valuation officer refuses or fails to comply with the notice, the person who gave the notice may apply to the court or tribunal before which the valuation proceedings in question are to be brought; and if on any such application the court or tribunal is satisfied that it is reasonable to do so, the court or tribunal may by order direct the valuation officer to comply with the notice, either with respect to all the hereditaments specified therein or with respect to such one or more of those hereditaments as the court or tribunal may determine.

(7) The last preceding subsection shall apply, with the necessary modifications, to proceedings on an arbitration as it applies to proceedings before a court.

(8) An appeal shall lie from the decision of a local valuation court on an application under subsection (6) of this section, as if it were a decision in the valuation proceedings to which the application relates.

(9) Section sixty-three of the Act of 1948 (which relates to the service of notices and other documents) shall apply in relation to any notice authorised or required of be given for the purposes of this section as it applies in relation to the notices referred to in that section.

(10) In this section "valuation proceedings" means any of the following, that is to say, any proceedings on or in consequence of an appeal to a local valuation court, and any proceedings on or in consequence of a reference to arbitration under section fifty of the Act of 1948.—[Mr. Sandys.]

Brought up and read the First time.

Mr. Sandys

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

The Clause has been drafted in this form in order to meet, as far as possible, points which were made in the earlier debate, when three Amendments were discussed. One Amendment, which was put down by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Mr. Walker-Smith), asked that rent returns for the purposes of valuation should not be admissible as evidence. There were two other Amendments, one from each side of the Committee. One of them asked that rating authorities should have access to the returns and relevant papers in the hands of the Inland Revenue and the other asked for similar concessions to the ratepayers.

I have done my best to meet, as far as possible, these points in the spirit of the undertaking which I gave at the end of the previous debate. I then said that I would see whether we could draft a new Clause which would put the person who is objecting or is making a new proposal to the valuation court in much the same position as that of the valuation officer in the presentation of evidence based on returns.

I think this Clause goes a long way in that direction. We have provided that the interested parties, whether the ratepayers or the rating authorities—and a rating authority can make itself a party to any of these proceedings if it so desires—should have access to a reasonable amount of information in the hands of the valuation officer for the purpose of bringing evidence about comparable properties in order to argue their case. That goes as far as is reasonable. We are providing that the other interested parties shall be entitled to name a number of properties which in their opinion are comparable, the number not to exceed that which the valuation officer himself wishes to produce in court; that they shall have access to these returns before the case; and that the valuation officer shall produce the actual returns in court. By and large, that is the position.

I have considered further whether it would be possible to accede wholly to the proposal made in an Amendment put forward by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Mr. Walker-Smith), which would involve excluding altogether these returns as admissible evidence in these proceedings. In the first place, I should again make it clear that, so far as dwelling-houses are concerned, it would be quite impossible not to rely on this form of evidence, for the simple reason that the valuation of these houses is based on 1938–39 rents and the problem of producing witnesses really would be a quite impracticable one.

So far as others are concerned, I considered whether it would be possible to limit it to dwelling-houses and not admit returns for purposes of evidence of current values, but I came to the conclusion that that also was not practicable, for this reason. The only other way in which we could produce this evidence would be to produce the local estate agent or other people who would give evidence showing what, in their opinion, based on long experience of the neighbourhood, such property would be earning as rent. It seems to me rather absurd to have to rely on that kind of evidence when we have the actual facts in the files of the valuation officer in the form of returns which have been provided for by a decision of Parliament.

I assume that the House starts from the assumption that in these proceedings it is right that the best and most accurate information that is available should be made available to the court. If that is so, there are only two ways of producing that evidence. One is the method that is proposed, which is that these returns shall be admissible as evidence to the court, and the other one is to get the individual occupiers of other comparable premises to give evidence themselves that the return which has been produced is, in fact, a return signed by them, and to verify their own signatures to the court.

In the first place, these valuation courts have no power to subpoena witnesses to give evidence, and we could only do it if the witnesses are willing to come. I think that, even if they do, it would become extremely burdensome if people were being asked, maybe several times, to go to the court to give evidence about the rents of their houses merely to help somebody else to prove what the right valuation for his house was.

I feel that the proposal contained in this revised Clause, which does go a long way towards putting all concerned on a more or less equal footing, is the best way in the circumstances, and I therefore hope that the House will accept this compromise solution.

Mr. Mitchison

As far as my right hon. and hon. Friends and I are concerned, we would like to thank the Minister for having given careful consideration to the points raised in this discussion, and for having been duly and properly convinced by the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. West). We are satisfied with this Clause as it stands.

Mr. Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)

My right hon. Friend was good enough to refer to two Amendments with which I was concerned during the Committee stage, and I wish only to add this. I had two main apprehensions then. One was as to the disparity between the ratepayer and the rating authority under the provisions of the Bill as it then stood in regard to the admissibility of these returns, and the second apprehension was in regard to the position of the third parties whose returns would be canvassed in evidence in proceedings to which they were not a party.

My right hon. Friend has met the first of these apprehensions very handsomely in subsection (5) of the new Clause, and has met the second, at any rate to some extent, by subsection (4), which limits the danger which I apprehended, even though it may not entirely remove it. I thank him for the trouble he has taken to meet the points I raised in respect of this matter.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time and added to the Bill.