HC Deb 27 June 1955 vol 543 cc101-25
Mr. Lindgren

I beg to move, in page 3, line 28, at the beginning to insert: (1) In section forty of the Act of 1948 (which enables proposals to be made for the alteration of valuation lists) the following subsection shall be inserted after subsection (2):— (2A) Without prejudice to any right exercisable by rating authorities by virtue of subsection (1) of this section, where—

  1. (a) it appears to a rating authority that a hereditament in their area, which is not included in the list, ought to be included therein, and
  2. (b) the valuation officer gives notice in writing to the rating authority that he does not intend to make a proposal for inserting that hereditament in the list,
the rating authority, at any time within twenty-eight days after the date on which that notice was given, may make a proposal for the alteration of the list by the insertion of that hereditament therein": Provided that this subsection shall not apply for the purpose of altering any valuation list in force at the passing of this Act. I hope that the Minister will accept this Amendment. It is not often that the occasion arises for such an Amendment. If, for some reason, the Inland Revenue officer declines to put a property into the draft valuation list—and such occasions do sometimes arise—there is no power for the local authority to make a proposition that the property should be included. In this Amendment there is authority for the local authority's rating officer to make such a proposal within twenty-eight days. That gives an opportunity for testing the difference of opinion which may exist between the Inland Revenue officer who has declined to include a property and the rating authority which desires that property to be put in and valued in the normal way.

That is the simple point covered by this Amendment, the inclusion of which local authorities desire. I am fairly certain that the local authorities will have made their desire known to the Minister, and I hope that he will be able to accept the Amendment.

Mr. Gibson

I wish to emphasise, in connection with the final point made by my hon. Friend, that local authorities in London desire the acceptance of this Amendment.

I do not think that the Minister can adopt the attitude that an Inland Revenue officer is an extremely wise person whose opinion may not be disputed. There are bound to be occasions where local authorities will possess special knowledge about properties which the Inland Revenue might desire to leave out of the lists. We consider that local authorities should have an opportunity to put their views.

Mr. Sandys

After what happened in regard to Clause 1, I hesitate to accept any Amendment. It seems to me, however, that this is a reasonable proposal, which I trust will not receive treatment from the Opposition similar to that accorded to my acceptance of an earlier Amendment. I recommend the Committee to accept the Amendment.

Mr. Lindgren

I should like to express my appreciation of the Minister's acceptance of the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)

I beg to move, in page 3, line 36, at the end to insert: (2) The proviso to subsection (2) of the said section forty-one (under which in certain cases a copy of a proposal need not be served on the occupier) shall cease to have effect. In Clause 1 (8), it is provided that in certain circumstances where a proposal is made, the rates levied in respect of the hereditament to which the proposal relates shall remain at their old level until the proposal is finally determined. Therefore, the occupier of that hereditament, who is liable for the rates, is clearly very interested in the fact that such a proposal has been made.

Under Section 41 of the Local Government Act, 1948, however, the circumstance can arise that an occupier of a property is not informed that a proposal has been made, namely, where the proposal is not made by the valuation officer and where the proposal is for a reduction in the valuation. Thus, in just the type of case where the occupier is particularly interested to know that, for the time being at any rate, he will be rated on the old basis, he may well not learn that a proposal relating to his premises has been made which entitles him to that advantage.

That applies not only to the occupier, but, in certain circumstances, to the owner as well; for where the owner collects the rates from the tenant and pays them over to the local authority, he is treated for the purposes of Section 41 of the 1948 Act as being in the position of the occupier. Thus the two persons who in the case of such a property are most interested in the fact that a proposal has been made, namely, the occupier and the owner who collects the rates, may remain in ignorance of such a proposal being in existence. The object of this Amendment is to prevent that occurring by providing for the automatic notification to both those parties of the existence of a proposal.

Mr. Sandys

I recommend to the Committee the acceptance of this Amendment which seems to fill a gap that it is necessary to fill.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 3, line 37, leave out "preceding subsection" and insert "two last preceding subsections".—[Mr. Powell.]

Mr. Walker-Smith

I beg to move, in page 4, line 1, to leave out subsection (4).

The Temporary Chairman

It might be for the convenience of the Committee if we discussed this Amendment together with the following two Amendments: In page 4, line 35, at end insert: (6) On the institution of any valuation proceedings (as defined in subsection (2) of this section) the rating authority shall be entitled to inspect any relevant documents in the possession or control of the valuation officer, including (but without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing) any return made under section fifty-eight of the Act of 1948 in relation to any hereditament which is the subject of those valuation proceedings. and in page 4, line 35, at end insert: (6) Section sixty of the Rating and Valuation Act, 1925, as amended by section sixty-one of the Local Government Act, 1948 (which relates to inspection of documents by ratepayers and valuation officers) shall apply in relation to any return or document made admissible as evidence in valuation proceedings by subsections (4) and (5) of this section.

Mr. Walker-Smith

My purpose in putting down this Amendment was to draw attention to an innovation in the law relating to the evidence in regard to valuation proceedings which may have very considerable consequences for ratepayers as a whole.

Under the existing law, the valuation officer can demand from owners and occupiers of premises returns containing such particulars as may be reasonably required for the purpose of enabling him accurately to compile the list. That is the provision of Section 58 of the Local Government Act, 1948, which was, in fact, a re-enactment of provisions previously contained in the Rating and Valuation Act, 1925.

It is obvious that those words give very wide powers. The definition of "particulars" is very wide and would, or might, normally include returns relating to trade figures, profits, and so on. On the assumption that this Clause was not translated into law, the present position is that these returns are private documents as between the valuation officer and the ratepayer. That being so, there is, of course, no power in other persons to inspect those returns. Indeed, there is no reason why there should be, because in any event as the law stands those returns could not be used in evidence in proceedings relating to other premises on the ordinary principle that what is done between other persons is not admissible in evidence in such a transaction as this. Therefore, these returns are not included under the present law in the category of documents which a ratepayer has the right to inspect under Section 60 of the Rating and Valuation Act, 1925.

7.15 p.m.

That is the present position which this subsection, which has caused a good deal of concern, seeks to vary. Some hon. Members may have seen the letter to "The Times" on this subject by Mr. Scott Henderson, Q.C. on the day when the House debated the Second Reading of the Bill. Subsection (4) makes these returns admissible on the initiative of the valuation officer in proceedings relating to other premises without the necessity of calling the person who made the return as a witness.

In practice, as the Committee will appreciate, only the valuation officer can produce the returns to support his case in any given proceedings, because only he has any knowledge of them. Under this subsection the valuation officer would, of course, be able to make his own selection of the returns, and if necessary, or if he were so disposed, be able to choose and put forward only those returns which seemed to support his own case. The ratepayer, on the other hand, has no power to inspect the other returns, that is to say, those not put in as evidence by the valuation officer, to see if they might perhaps assist his case in rebuttal.

It seems to me, as it seemed to Mr. Scott Henderson in the letter which he wrote to "The Times," that, on the face of it, this provision is out of keeping not only with our traditional rules of evidence, but with accepted notions of fair play, in that it gives a clear advantage to one party to the proceedings, the valuation officer, who is able to select the documents which he will put forward, and denies to the other party any right of inspection of these returns so as to be able to pray them in aid in rebuttal.

It appears, therefore, that one of two courses of action are appropriate in these circumstances. This Amendment and the third of the three Amendments which are being taken together, that is to say, the Amendment in the name of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Marlowe) and myself, are, of course, alternative Amendments, each directed to one of the two possible solutions. This Amendment seeks to omit subsection (4) altogether, to leave the position as it was, and to deny to valuation officer and to ratepayer alike the right of inspection of these returns for purposes of litigation between each other.

The third of this set of Amendments, to which I referred a moment ago, would take the other alternative solution on the assumption, if it were proved, that it is necessary or proper that these returns should be in evidence in valuation proceedings. If that assumption were accepted—and at the moment I am not minded to accept it until we have heard why it has been considered necessary to vary the old procedure—then this Amendment is intended to put the two parties to the litigation on an equal footing. It would give a right of access to the documents to other ratepayers as well as to the valuation officer.

Though these Amendments are being taken together, it seems to me that on the balance of advantage it would probably be better if the first simple solution of dropping this new power altogether could be followed because of the difficulties which it creates not only on the question of putting one of the parties to litigation at a disadvantage as compared with the other, but also because of the position of those persons who have made the returns which would become admissible in evidence in proceedings to which they themselves are not parties.

One is forced to wonder where that would end. At the moment a ratepayer can put in returns relating to the trade figures of his undertaking which are private documents as between himself and the Inland Revenue, but if those are to be made public documents, canvassed in proceedings to which the person making these returns is not a party, a new principle and some rather alarming possibilities are created, because it would not seem to be a very long step from there to the principle that a person's Income Tax return might be disclosed, in certain circumstances, in order to assist the Commissioners of Inland Revenue to arrive at assessments in regard to other persons.

It therefore seems that some very powerful reasons will have to be adduced for the granting of these powers. If those reasons are adduced, and the Committee and my right hon. Friend are satisfied that some further power is necessary, they should turn sympathetically to the third of the Amendments which we are now discussing together. That Amendment would at any rate put the parties upon an equal footing and remove the possibility of inequality of treatment between parties in litigation, in contradiction to the general practice of British law.

Mr. Granville West (Pontypool)

I understand that three Amendments are now being discussed together. I propose to move the Amendment standing in the names of my hon. Friends and myself——

The Chairman

That Amendment cannot be moved; we can deal with only one at a time. The hon. Member's Amendment can be discussed now, but it will not be called.

Mr. West

I do not wish to move it now, but I propose to do so later on.

The Chairman

I do not know what arrangement was arrived at in this case, because I was not in the Chair at the time. I understand that three Amendments are being discussed together, and that if the one which has been moved is negatived the other two will not be further discussed.

Mr. West

That does not follow. Although my Amendment deals with some of the points to which the hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Mr. Walker-Smith) has referred, it is directed to a rather different point. I do not want to move my Amendment now, but I hope that I shall be at liberty to put forward the views which my hon. Friends and I hold with regard to it.

The Chairman

Certainly. I was merely saying that that Amendment will not be called.

Mr. Mitchison

On a point of order. I do not know whether this is a case of selection, but my hon. Friend's Amendment raises quite a different point from that covered by the other two Amendments.

The Chairman

If there is any confusion, I shall allow Divisions to take place on the other two Amendments. What I, personally, arranged—and the arrangement has apparently been altered—was to call, by itself, the Amendment which has been moved, and the two following ones together. I understand that that arrangement has been altered and that the three Amendments are being discused together. In that case there can be a Division upon the one which has been moved and also upon the other two, but there can be no separate discussion of them.

Mr. West

The Amendment to which I have referred deals with a rather more limited point than that covered by the other two Amendments. The hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East has a case of great substance, and we shall be very interested to hear what the Minister has to say about it.

As the hon. and learned Gentleman stated, under the Rating and Valuation Act, 1925, provision was made for the inspection of documents by any rate payer. That inspection of documents extended to valuation lists, notices of appeal, records of totals, valuations made by valuers appointed by assessment committees, and minutes of the proceedings under the Act of any such committee or rating authority. The powers of inspection were very wide.

I suggest that rating authorities have been deprived of their powers by reason of the 1948 Act but that, nevertheless, they have many obligations, and many duties to perform. They have the right to make proposals for the alteration of current lists; the right to receive copies of proposals where they are not the proposers; the right to object to proposals; the right to appeal against objections to proposals and to receive notices of appeal. A rating authority is entitled to appear and be heard at any appeal before a valuation court, and to appeal to the Lands Tribunal from a decision of that court.

Section 59 (2) of the 1948 Act imposes a duty upon a local authority to transmit information to the valuation officer in the event of such information affecting the valuation list. The duties of a rating authority are clearly set out, but under the present law it has no power to call upon the valuation officer to produce all the documents in his possession so that it can exercise those duties. As a local authority is a democratically elected body, the duty of which is to see that the ratepayers in its area are being fairly and equitably treated, it should have the right to inspect all the documents in the possession of the valuation officer in the event of an appeal to appeal tribunals.

This is a very modest request. The local authority is not asking for the right to inspect property; but it should have the right to require a valuation officer to give it the information which is necessary to enable it to see that its ratepayers are being dealt with fairly as between one another.

The Amendment would not have any serious effect upon the present situation, because I am given to understand that in some districts valuation officers already supply as much information as a rating authority would reasonably require. In other districts the valuation officers refuse to give such information. As the basis of the reform of the rating law is the need to create uniformity throughout the country, there should certainly be uniformity of treatment of rating authorities by valuation officers. We suggest that a rating authority should be statutorily empowered to require such information and to inspect such documents in the hands of the valuation officer, and I hope that the Minister will be able to accept the Amendment.

7.30 p.m.

Mr. M. Turner-Samuels (Gloucester)

I should have thought that, prima facie, this was a matter which would not cause the Minister any trouble at all. Indeed, he should be rather in haste to put right what, on the face of it, appears to be very wrong.

This matter, which was dealt with by the hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Mr. Walker-Smith), is fundamental, because it deals with proceedings that are intended to arrive at a just decision as to what the valuation of a particular property should be for the purposes of rating. I emphasise the word "proceedings," because involved in the matter is an element of justice. It is not right that the persons involved should merely be told that justice is being done; it is absolutely essential that it should appear that justice is being done.

It is very difficult to understand how it is going to appear that justice is being done if relevant and vital documents and data are covered up. If there is no access by one of the primary parties to the proceedings either by way of inspection or discovery in order to determine what is being put forward—probably to his detriment and certainly to his cost because he will have to bear whatever the valuation is—at least he should be able to peruse, to examine, understand, see and be told what the document or return is.

He is, however, told by subsection (4), quite summarily and arbitrarily, "You are not entitled to see the document." That document may be the lynch-pin of the result which he is to be under an obligation to meet. Yet he is told he is not entitled to see the document but has to take the word of an interested party on the other side—a party seeking to impose upon him a figure with which he may not agree and which certainly he is entitled to challenge and, if necessary, to seek to have altered into a more favourable position for himself. I should have thought that, prima facie, that would have been a very simple matter for the Minister to resolve.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. West), who has spoken on a more humble and modest Amendment than the one put forward by the hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East, has advanced another suggestion, that of inspection. He did not put that on any general grounds but called in aid a statutory provision already existing. I cannot see why this discrimination between that and subsection (4) should be made in a very delicate matter where the rights of the subject are concerned.

I ask the Minister, or the Parliamentary Secretary if he is to reply, to bear in mind that this impinges on a very well known practice in our procedure in the courts. There never is a proceeding or litigation of any kind in which a party is not entitled to proper discovery. If there is a material document of any kind it would outrage the judicial sense completely to be told that one of the parties cannot see what may be a very important document. It does not matter whether it is an important document or not; the fact that it is a document is sufficient and the parties are entitled to see it. The judge of whether it is important or not is the party affected by it, not the court, unless it happens to be a very private or irrelevant document or one which affects the State and about which great care has to be exercised whether discovery should be allowed.

In all those circumstances, it seems that to say that a return or relevant document is to be admissible in evidence arbitrarily, willy-nilly, without giving the other party a chance of challenging it, seeing it, or doing anything about it, must be wrong. I do not think that is arguable; it speaks for itself. In those circumstances, I cannot imagine that the Minister will not be prepared hastily to do what is right and to follow the conjoint advice given him from his own benches and benches on this side of the Committee.

Mr. John Hay (Henley)

I intervene to support the Amendment moved by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Mr. Walker-Smith). When I first saw subsection (4), I thought it much too widely drafted. It occurred to me that it may have been so drafted for administrative convenience. There is a horrible technique in use in rating for trying to obtain an assessment value for a property by having what is known as "the tone of the list." That involves the examination of rateable and gross values of other comparable properties. In looking at the subsection which my hon. and learned Friend wishes to be left out, it occurred to me that the Revenue might have thought it desirable to have the opportunity of investigating returns made in respect of other comparable properties and thereby avoiding a lot of expensive evidence in regard to other properties in the list.

I strongly urge my right hon. Friend to reconsider this subsection. I do not think it is one which we ought to pass without very serious objection. As has been said from both sides of the Committee, it involves people having their private affairs—which may have been decided upon in other proceedings—dragged out and used when dealing with other people's affairs. I hope my right hon. Friend will not thrust this matter aside and feel that it is of no importance. If he cannot accept this Amendment now, I hope he will look carefully at what has been said and, in the light of that, that he will amend the Clause at a future opportunity.

Mr. Harold Finch (Bedwellty)

I desire to support the observations made by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. West) in connection with the Amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) and other hon. Members. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool put a very strong case for that reasonable Amendment.

All that Amendment seeks to do is to allow the local rating authority to inspect documents or obtain necessary information in the possession of the valuation officer so that the officer himself may be properly equipped to consider and deal with an appeal which goes before the valuation court in connection with the valuation of a property. That is the short point we are trying to establish by the Amendment, and I think it a very reasonable proposition. It has to be borne in mind that, under Section 41 of the Local Government Act, 1948, the right is given to the local rating authority to be heard in connection with any valuation that appears before the valuation court. If the local rating authority has a right to be heard, surely it has the right also to have all the necessary information to enable it to put forward its case according to how it thinks fit in the circumstances.

Very often at one of the valuation courts the chairman invariably asks the rating authority officer for his observations. He asks for his opinion about the property that is being considered. If the rating officer has no detailed information and is not in possession of essential details of measurements and structure, and, very often, the rent, he is not in an adequate position to give the necessary information or to make his decision and give evidence before the court. In these circumstances, all that we are asking is that the rating authority should be allowed to inspect the documents which are in the possession of the valuation officer.

Let me give an illustration. A case is now coming before the tribunal in my constituency of Bedwellty. The valuation officer seeks to increase the rateable value of a scrap yard because there have been certain structural alterations. The rateable value is sought to be increased from £6 to £90 because of the alterations in connection with the yard.

The rating authority is interested in the property, but all the information that will be given is as follows. The valuation officer states "that structural alterations have been made and that the existing assessment is incorrect." The ratepayer states, "That expense incurred in improving the property has been very heavy. The condition of the ground is very boggy and useless for other purposes. There is no cover and it is exposed to all weathers. Therefore, I consider the proposal excessive." That is all the information. The rating authority, which may know something about the structural alterations, has no knowledge of the details and the rating officer does not have sufficient information to be able to give his views to the chairman of the tribunal when the case is heard. In these circumstances, it is surely reasonable that this information should be available to the rating officer.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool has pointed out, an endeavour is made to work in co-operation with the Inland Revenue in this matter. Section 59 (2) of the Rating and Valuation Act imposes certain functions upon the rating authority, but if the rating authority has insufficient knowledge of structural alterations which have been made in the district, it is unable to bring the facts to the attention of the Inland Revenue Department. For these reasons, we on this side say that the rating authority should be allowed to see the documents and should have the relevant information to deal with appeals of this kind which may come before the valuation court.

Mr. Sandys

This is an important set of Amendments. It is not so much a question of any controversy as of trying to find the best way of dealing with a practical problem. On the first Amendment, moved by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Mr. Walker-Smith), I would say that up to now rent returns have been legally accepted by valuation courts and courts of quarter session, by agreement, as evidence of the amount of rent actually paid. Unless the statement on the return is disputed, the courts have hitherto not required witnesses to be called to verify signatures. That is the real point, and the purpose of the subsection is to give legal effect to that position.

7.45 p.m.

Mr. Turner-Samuels

The subsection goes far beyond that. Had it contained reference to agreement between the parties, obviously this point could not cause any controversy or objection. It is because that is not contained in the subsection that the objection arises.

Mr. Walker-Smith

Of course, there are interested in this matter not only the two parties to the litigation—the valuation officer and the aggrieved ratepayer—but there is also the position of the person making the return. These returns cannot possibly normally be admissible evidence in the proceedings between the valuation officer and another party altogether.

There are, therefore, two things to bear in mind. There is the position of the aggrieved ratepayer who is exposed to evidence that he does not have an opportunity to deal with, and there is the position of the person who has made the return and who finds his confidential information being canvassed about in proceedings to which he is not himself a party.

Mr. Sandys

That is the difficulty. I will be quite frank with the Committee. In this next year or so, we are going to have a difficult problem in the valuation of houses It is not so difficult in regard to shops and commercial premises, which are to be valued at current values. The difficulty will arise in the valuation of houses when it is necessary to refer back to ascertain the pre-war rents. There is no doubt that it will be extremely difficult and irksome to have to trace people, who, perhaps, have moved to a quite different part of the country, who signed particular returns, and to bring them forward as witnesses to verify their signatures on the returns.

It seems to me that we may find very great difficulty in practice in ascertaining what those rents were if in all cases it is necessary to trace witnesses and to bring them to verify their signatures. That is the problem with which we are faced.

Mr. Turner-Samuels

If there will be dubiety about a matter of that kind, surely there is all the more reason why the persons who are to be affected should be able to look at it and to raise that point if necessary.

Mr. Sandys

Look at what?

Mr. Turner-Samuels

To look at the return, about which, the right hon. Gentleman says, there may be difficulty or dubiety. That will be fastened on to somebody without him being able to challenge it in any way.

Mr. Sandys

That is not really the point. The problem is not the actual return which is brought in evidence before the court. On that, there should not be any difficulty about allowing the ratepayer concerned to see the evidence which is being brought before the court. The question arises when the evidence which has to be brought is about a rent which was payable in 1938 or 1939 and the individual concerned is no longer living in the house.

Whenever we do the kind of thing which has been done by the 1948 Act, which is to refer back—I do not say that it was avoidable—to a period long ago and try to work out assessments and calculations on a basis which is long out of date, we always encounter practical difficulties of this kind. I accept the fact, however, that in this instance there is a case to answer. The letter which was quoted from "The Times" and the arguments which have been put forward during the debate raise a problem, but they do not provide the solution.

We have to proceed with valuation on some basis, and we must be careful not to remove all the means by which these valuations can be established. I think we should have a complete breakdown in the machinery of the valuation courts if, in every case, it was insisted upon that the individual who made a return in 1938 must be produced, or that there must be some evidence that the signature was his, and so on. There is a very serious practical problem to solve.

I should like to consider that Amendment further between now and the Report stage. I have heard the views of hon. Members expressed in regard to it. They have shown me the difficulties of the proposal, though, as I have said, they have not indicated in any way how we can more efficiently and equitably solve the problem with which we are faced.

There are two other Amendments. First, that of the right hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards), which would permit the rating authorities to inspect documents in the hands of the valuation officers; the other, in the name of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Marlowe) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Mr. Walker-Smith), contains, as it were, the other half of the same proposal. That would give ratepayers the right to inspect rent returns at the offices of the Board of Inland Revenue.

So far as the first of those two proposals is concerned—to give the rating authorities the right to inspect documents in the hands of the valuation officers—I must say that I am not attracted by it. I think there is serious danger, if it were done, that some—not all—rating authorities would begin gradually to set themselves up as alternative boards of inland revenue, and, at the cost of a considerable amount of public money and of much annoyance all round, would begin to duplicate the work which Parliament has decided should be done by the Board of Inland Revenue.

Mr. West

I think that the right hon. Gentleman has not read that Amendment, because it is restricted to a right of inspection when there are valuation proceedings. Therefore, it could deal only with a case being heard on appeal. Only then would the rating authority have the right of inspection. How, then, can it be said that the rating authority would be taking over the functions of valuation officers?

Mr. Sandys

It is a question of degree, of course. The rating authority can itself be a party to the proceedings. It would be a questionable practice to give the rating authorities the run of the offices of the Board of Inland Revenue.

Mr. Finch

After an appeal has been made.

Mr. Sandys

There is no limit proposed here on what they could ask, or upon any inquiries they could make.

This proposal is to some extent linked with that of the other Amendment dealing with the other part of the problem—the question of the ratepayers having access to the documents. I will deal now with the position of the ratepayers. It can be said, of course, that the valuation officer is able to use the rent returns of comparable properties as evidence to support his assessment and, that being so, the ratepayer ought similarly to have access to the same information to support his case for a revision of his assessment. That is the case for the Amendment, as I understand it.

The procedure proposed by the Amendment would result in the general disclosure of people's rents to anybody who liked to visit the offices of the Board of Inland Revenue. This right would, I think, be liable to abuse by people whose interest was merely curiosity, or by people who wanted the information for professional purposes unconnected with the valuation.

Again we are faced with the problem of seeing that the ratepayer—and in the case of the other Amendment, the local authority—is not put in a position of serious disadvantage in arguing his case before the valuation court. That is the problem. I could not accept in their present form these two Amendments for the reasons I have given, but I would suggest to the Committee that we explore a solution on these lines as an alternative to the proposal which is contained in these last two Amendments, namely, that the ratepayer and the local authority should have access to the files of the Board of Inland Revenue.

It may be possible to give to the ratepayer or to the local authority in some way the right to call upon the Board of Inland Revenue to produce in court rent returns of comparable properties. Exactly how we should limit the number of comparable properties the rent returns of which might be asked for is a matter to be considered. I know that in a case the other day the representatives of the ratepayers named 1,200 comparable properties which, they said, they would like to have taken into account as samples by which to judge the tone of the list. That sort of thing obviously would cause the whole of the machinery to break down. It is the sort of practical problem to which I referred just now.

However, if the Committee thought it offered some hope of a useful solution, I should like, instead of giving the local authorities and the ratepayers the run of the offices and the files of the Board of Inland Revenue, to explore the possibility of finding some way in which they could, within reasonable limits, require that information about comparable properties—not just ones selected by the Board of Inland Revenue—should be produced in court to assist them in making their cases. I would suggest that to the Committee. In any case, I will undertake to consider the problem raised by these three Amendments between now and the Report stage.

Mr. Walker-Smith

I should like to express appreciation to my right hon. Friend for what he has said, and add just this. He said that we did not suggest a solution. It is a little difficult to suggest a solution until the problem has been defined. Now that my right hon. Friend has defined the problem, it appears that he is concerned mainly with those 1939 rentals in respect of the basis of the tone of the list in regard to the valuation of dwelling-houses.

If that is what concerns him, I would suggest that subsection (4) is far too widely drafted, because it gives power to call for returns far beyond that. If that is all my right hon. Friend wants, I respectfully suggest that he should consult with his advisers and draftsmen before Report, for it may be that that would result in a form of words which would not give rise to the apprehensions which are certainly felt about subsection (4) as it is.

8.0 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Marlowe (Hove)

I do not wish to prolong the discussion in view of what my right hon. Friend has said. He has shown willingness to consider the problem, but he did less than justice to the Amendment in my name, which would add a new subsection (6), when he said that it did not suggest any constructive alternative. It may well be that the complete deletion of subsection (4) might raise the difficulty to which my right hon. Friend referred, but I do not think it is a satisfactory way of dealing with a matter which amounts to a judicial inquiry to say that we cannot really meet the problem because it would lead to administrative inconvenience. That is what my right hon. Friend was saying. In matters of this kind justice must come before administrative inconvenience. My Amendment suggests a constructive alternative in the sense that it suggests that if we must have these documents capable of production on behalf of the valuation officer we must give the same right to the aggrieved party.

I have in mind a case in which this difficulty has arisen. As my right hon. Friend said, these things are sometimes dealt with by agreements between the parties, but there was a case in Sussex of the rating of caravan sites. It was sought to produce a return which showed the rents which occupiers of the caravan sites were willing to pay in respect of one particular site, and it was sought to make that one a comparable case for the valuation of all the other sites in question.

Counsel who appeared on behalf of one of the parties tells me that he insisted upon the production of all documents relating to the matter and it transpired that the one return which was being produced related to a caravan site which was owned by the manufacturers of caravans, and they were willing to let the site to anybody who bought one of their caravans. That had a material effect on the rents which people were willing to pay for sites on that ground, but it had no relation to other sites, and yet it was sought to say by production of that document that it was a comparable case. That shows the type of danger which arises. If my right hon. Friend finds it necessary to have power to have a return produced in that way, it is only just that the other party should have no less a right.

Mr. Mitchison

It seems to me that we are dealing with two sets of matters in these Amendments. One deals with what can be inspected and the other with what can be admitted in evidence as proof of the statements in it. I have no particular wish to enter into any controversy that there may be about the first and third of the Amendments. I would simply say that we must all appreciate the practical difficulty which the Minister has pointed out in connection with matters of 16 years ago, and possibly it is a case where mere horse-sense may be required in preference to too much insistence on forms which in other circumstances are very dear to us.

I would have preferred the second of the two Amendments in the name of the hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Mr. Walker-Smith), to insert a new subsection (6), to the first to delete subsection (4), but I should like to say a few words in support of the second of this series of Amendments in the names of my hon. and right hon. Friends. That Amendment to insert a new subsection (6) has had its merits somewhat overlooked because of the other two Amendments which we are discussing with it.

It is really a very reasonable proposition. The present position is that the rating authority which will be actually concerned in the appeal, and is anyhow concerned as the rating authority for the area, has no right to inspect and look at the return which has been made by the ratepayer to the valuation officer. Surely that is rather nonsensical. I see no possible ground for objecting to the rating authority having the right to see that document, and it is the rating return in relation to the particular hereditament which is the subject of the proceedings.

The only addition to that provision, in the Amendment in the names of my hon. and right hon. Friends, is "relevant documents." That is a thing to which one is accustomed, and I should have thought that if it was sought to enforce a right by the rating authority, not by the ratepayer, to have a look at 1,200 other documents, the question might arise as to whether all that was relevant. One must remember, however, that one is dealing with a responsible authority and, however much a peeved ratepayer might desire the rating officer to be snowed under by pink and blue and other coloured returns, a responsible rating authority is not likely to abuse the provision in that way.

This matter concerns the rights of responsible local authorities, and they should not be prejudiced by the fact that the business of valuation has been taken out of their hands and put in the hands of Inland Revenue officials. The local authorities have their duties to perform and can he relied upon not to abuse their powers in this matter. If they are to discharge their duties, both in the question at issue at the moment and as a rating authority for the area, they surely must have a right to see the return rendered in the matter and other "relevant documents."

I beg the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider his attitude to the Amendment in the name of my hon. and right hon. Friends, because we feel that the refusal to accept that Amendment is most unfair to the rating authorities. We would wish to manifest our disapproval of that attitude by dividing the Committee on the Amendment, but still the right hon. Gentleman may be able to say that he accepts that Amendment, or at any rate that he accepts it in principle.

Mr. Walker-Smith

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. West

I beg to move, in page 4, line 35, at the end, to insert: (6) On the institution of any valuation proceedings (as defined in subsection (2) of this section) the rating authority shall be entitled to inspect any relevant documents in the possession or control of the valuation officer, including (but without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing) any return made under section fifty-eight of the Act of 1948 in relation to any hereditament which is the subject of those valuation proceedings.

Mr. Sandys

I gave an assurance earlier that I was going to consider the problems raised by the three Amendments between now and the Report stage.

Mr. Mitchison

Could not the right hon. Gentleman go one further and say that he would accept the Amendment in principle?

Question put, That those words be there inserted:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 200, Noes 249.

Division No. 5.] AYES [8.10 p.m.
Ainsley, J. W. Deer, G. Hunter, A, E.
Albu, A. H. Dodds, N. N. Hynd, H. (Accrington)
Allaun, F. (Salford, E.) Donnelly, D. L. Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)
Allen, Arthur (Bosworth) Dugdale, Rt. Hn. John (W. Brmwch) Irving, S. (Dartford)
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Dye, S. Janner, B.
Anderson, Frank Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Jeger, George (Goole)
Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R. Edelman, M. Jeger, Mrs. Lena (Ho'bn & St.Pnos,S.)
Awhery, S. S. Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse) Jenkins, Roy (Stechford)
Bacon, Miss Alice Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly) Jones, David (The Hartlepools)
Balfour, A. Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Jones, Frederick Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)
Bartley, P. Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.) Jones, Jack (Rotherham)
Bence, C. R. (Dunbartonshire, E.) Evans, Edward (Lowestoft) Jones, James (Wrexham)
Benn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S.E.) Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury) Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)
Benson, G. Fernyhough, E. Kenyon, C.
Blackburn, F. Fienburgh, W. Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.
Blenkinsop, A. Finch, H. J. King, Dr. H. M.
Blyton, W. R. Forman, J. C. Lawson, G. M.
Boardman, H. Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton) Lee, Frederiok (Newton)
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Gibson, C. W. Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)
Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S. W.) Gooch, E. G. Lindgren, G. S.
Boyd, T. C. Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R. Logan, D. G.
Brockway, A. F. Grey, C. F. McColl, J. E.
Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly) Mclnnes, J.
Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper) Griffiths, William (Exchange) McKay, John (Wallsend)
Brown, Thomas (Ince) Hale, Leslie McLeavy, F.
Burke, W. A. Hall, John T. (Gateshead, W.) Mahon, S.
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Hamilton, W. W. Mainwaring, W. H.
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Hannan, W. Mann, Mrs. Jean
Carmichael, J. Harrison, J. (Nottingham, N.) Mason, Roy
Castle, Mrs. B. A. Hastings, S. Mellish, R. J.
Champion, A. J. Hayman, F. H. Messer, Sir F.
Chetwynd, G. R. Healey, Denis Mikardo, Ian
Clunie, J. Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis) Mitchison, G. R.
Coldrick, W. Hewitson, Capt. M. Monslow, W.
Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead) Hobson, C. R. Moody, A. S.
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Holman, P. Morrison, Rt.Hn.Herbert(Lewis'm,S.)
Cove, W. G. Holmes, Horace Mort, D. L.
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Houghton, Douglas Moss, R.
Cronin, J. D. Howell, Charles (Perry Barr) Moyle, A.
Culten, Mrs. A. Howell, Denis (All Saints) Neal, Harold (Bolsover)
Daines, P. Hubbard, T. F. Oliver, G. H.
Dalton, Rt. Hon. H. Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey) Oram, A. E.
Darling, George (Hillsborough) Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Orbach, M.
Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.) Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Oswald, T.
Owen, W. J. Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E. Watkins, T. E.
Padley, w. e. Short, E. W. Weltzman, D.
Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley) Silverman, Julius (Aston) Wells, Peroy (Faversham)
Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.) Silverman, Sydney (Nelson) West, D. G.
Pargiter, G. A. Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill) Wheeldon, W. E.
Parker, J. Skeffington, A. M. White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.)
Parkin, B. T. Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.) Wiloock, Group Capt. C. A. B.
Paton, J. Slater, J. (Sedgefield) Wilkins, W. A.
Pearson, A. Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.) Willey, Frederick
Peart, T. F. Sparks, J. A. Williams, David (Neath)
Popplewell, E. Steele, T. Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Ab'tillery)
Price, Phllips (Gloucestershire, W.) Stewart, Michael (Fulham) Williams, Ronald (Wigan)
Probert, A. R. Stones, W. (Consett) Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)
Proctor, W. T. Stross,Dr.Barnett(Stoke-on-Trent,C.) Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)
Pursey, Cmdr. H. Sylvester, G. O. Williams, W. T. (Barons Court)
Rankin, John Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield) Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)
Raid, William Taylor, John (West Lothian) Winterbottom, Richard
Rhodes, H, Thomas, George (Cardiff) Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Robens, Rt. Hon. A. Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.) Yates, V. (Ladywood)
Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon) Tomney, F. Younger, Rt. Hon. K.
Robinson, Kenneth (St. Paneras, N.) Turner-Samuels, M.
Rogers, George (Kensington, N.) Viant, S. P. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Ross, William Warbey, W. N. Mr. J. T. Price and Mr. J. Johnson.
Agnew, Cmdr. P. G. Doughty, C. J. A. Hylton-Foster, Sir H. B. H.
Altken, W. T. Drayson, G. B. Irvine, Godman (Rye)
Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.) Dugdale, Rt. Hn. Sir T. (Richmond) Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)
Alport, C. J. M. Duncan, Capt. J. A. L. Johnson, Eric (Blaokley)
Arbuthnot, John Duthie, w. s. Jones, A. (Hall Green)
Armstrong, C. W. Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West) Kaberry, D.
Ashton, H. Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E. Keegan, D,
Astor, Hon. J. J. Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn Kerby, Capt. H. B.
Atkins, H. E. Errington, Sir Eric Kerr, H. W.
Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr, J. M. Farey-Jones, F. W. Kershaw, J. A.
Baldwin, A. E. Fell, A. Kirk, P. M.
Balniel, Lord Finlay, Graeme Lagden, G. W.
Barlow, Sir John Fisher, Nigel Lambert, Hon. G.
Barter, J. w. Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F. Lambton, Viscount
Baxter, Sir Beverley Fletcher-Cooke, C. Lancaster, Col. C. G.
Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.) Fraser, Sir Ian (M'ombe & Lonsdale) Langford-Holt, J. A.
Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.) Freeth, D. K. Leather, E. H. C.
Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth) Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D. Leavey, J. A.
Bidgood, J. C. Garner-Evans, E. H. Leburn, W. G.
Biggs-Davison, J. A. Glover, D. Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.
Godber, J. B. Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)
Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.
Bishop, F. P. Gough, C. F. H. Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.)
Black, C. W. Gower, H. R. Linstead, Sir H. N.
Body, R. F. Graham, Sir Fergus Llewellyn, D. T.
Bossom, Sir A. C. Grant, W. (Woodside) Lloyd, Ma). Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)
Bowen, E. R. (Cardigan) Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich) Lloyd-George, Maj. Rt. Hon. G.
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A. Green, A. Lucas, P. B. (Brentford & Chiswiok)
Boyle, Sir Edward Gresham Cooke, R. Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh
Braine, B. R. Grimond, J. Macdonald, Sir Peter
Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.) Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans) Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)
Bryan, P. Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury) McLaughlin, Mrs. P.
Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T. Hall, John (Wycombe) Maclay, Rt. Hon. John
Burden, F. F. A. Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.) McLean, Neil (Inverness)
Butcher, Sir Herbert Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon) Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.)
Campbell, Sir David Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye) Maddan, M.
Carr, Robert Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macclesfd) Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)
Cary, Sir Robert Harvie-Watt, Sir George Maitland, Patrick (Lanark)
Chichester-Clark, R. Hay, John Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.
Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.) Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Markham, Major Sir Frank
Cole, Norman Heath, Edward Marlowe, A. A, H.
Conant, Maj. Sir Roger Henderson, John (Cathcart) Marples, A. E.
Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W. Marshall, Douglas
Cooper-Key, E. M. Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton) Mathew, R.
Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K. Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe) Maude, Angus
Corfield, Capt. F. V. Hill, John (S. Norfolk) Maudling, Rt. Hon. R.
Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne) Hirst, Geoffrey Mawby, R. L.
Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hn. H. F. C. Holland-Martin, C. J. Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Holt, A. F. Medlicott, Sir Frank
Crouch, R. F. Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P. Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R.
Crowder, Sir John (Finchley) Horobin, Sir Ian Molson, A. H. E.
Cunningham, S. K. Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence Morrison, John (Salisbury)
Currie, G. B. H. Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives) Nabarro, G. D. N.
Dance, J. C. G. Howard, John (Test) Nairn, D. L. S.
Davidson, Viscountess Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.) Neave, Airey
D'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Hughes, Hallett, Vice-Admiral J. Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)
Deedes, W. F. Hughes-Young, M. H. C. Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'ch)
Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA. Hurd, A. R. Nield, Basil (Chester)
Nugent, G. R. H. Russell, R. S. Tilney, John (Wavertree)
Oakshott, H. D. Sandys, Rt. Hon. D. Touche, Sir Gordon
O'Neill, Hn. Phellm (Co. Antrim, N.) Schofield, Lt.-Col. W. Tweedsmuir, Lady
Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D. Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R. Vane, W. M. F.
Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.) Sharpies, Maj. R. C. Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.
Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Weston-S-Mare) Shepherd, William Viokers, Miss J. H.
Page, R. O. Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.) Vosper, D. F.
Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale) Smithers, Peter (Winchester) Wade, D. W.
Pickthorn, K. W. M. Soames, Capt. C. Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Pitman, I. J. Spearman, A. C. M. Wakefield, Sir Waved (St. M'lebone)
Pitt, Miss E. M. Spelr, R. M, Walker-Smith, D. C.
Pott, H. P. Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kens'gt'n, S.) Wall, Major Patriok
Powell, J. Enoch Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)
Price, David (Eastlelgh) Stevens, Geoffrey Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)
Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L. Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.) Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.
Ralkes, Sir Victor Storey, S. Watkinson, H. A.
Ramsden, J, E. Studholme, H. G. Webbe, Sir H.
Rawlinson, P. A. G. Summers, G. S. (Aylesbury) Whitelaw, W.S.I.(Penrith & Border)
Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington) Williams, Rt. Hn. Charles (Torquay)
Rees-Davies, W. R. Taylor, William (Bradford, N.) Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)
Renton, D. L. M. Teeling, W. Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Ridsdale, J. E. Thomas, Rt. Hn. J. P. L. (Hereford) Wills, G. (Bridgwater)
Rippon, A. G. F. Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury) Wood, Hon. R.
Robertson, Sir David Thompson, Kenneth (Walton) Woollam, John Victor
Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.) Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, S.)
Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks) Thornton-Kemsley, C. N. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Roper, Sir Harold Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.) Mr. Redmayne and Mr. Barber.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.