HC Deb 28 June 1955 vol 543 cc289-353
The Temporary Chairman

I think it will be convenient to the Committee to discuss with the Amendment in page 9, line 37, the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Sir I. Horobin) in page 9, line 42, to insert a new paragraph (c), the Amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) in page 9, line 43, and in page 10, line 3, to insert a new paragraph (d), together with the Amendments to that Amendment, and the Amendments in page 10, lines 29, 30 and 31.

Mr. Lindgren

I beg to move, in page 9, line 37, to leave out "and."

If it is for the convenience of the Chair and the Committee, I do not object to taking all the suggested Amendments together, but the subjects under discussion do not seem to me unduly related, unless there is some principle involved in the other Amendments which might apply to the Amendment I am now moving.

I will confine my remarks to the Amendments in my name, which extend the benefits of the Clause to community centres and village halls. That is the simple purpose of this Amendment.

I am certain that everyone in the Committee will agree that the community centre and the village hall are playing a very big part in the social life of the country. They are doing very valuable work generally under very difficult circumstances. Those who are responsible for them are sometimes assisted by such national bodies as the National Council of Social Services, but sometimes they spring from purely local effort and local finance. Whatever their source of origin, they are maintained by voluntary workers who put in a tremendous amount of time and energy on behalf of the people of the community and their social life.

8.15 p.m.

We shall add by the Clause to the worries and anxieties of those who run these halls additional financial worries about rates. One does not want to draw a distinction between the classes of work done by different types of workers in communities. Places of worship and the halls which are attached to them play their part, but there are many parts of the country where there are no halls attached to places of worship but where there are community halls and village centres. Although they do not spring from the same sources of inspiration, these halls and community centres play their part in community life, and we feel that the principle of the Clause should be applied to them.

Sir Ian Horobin (Oldham, East)

I do not know why so many Amendments are being taken together, but it is a convenience to do as the Chair directs. It will mean, however, that I shall have to trouble the Committee at rather considerable length, because now we are going to roam over the whole question of Clause 6 and the treatment of charitable and non-charitable hereditaments. I am afraid that I shall have to ask the Committee to bear with me in a rather detailed and long discussion of a number of technical and important points.

First, I should like to say a few words about the Amendment which the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) has moved. I do not need to trouble the Committee at great length about that Amendment, only to say that I very much welcome this move on the part of the hon. Member in associating himself, and I am sure his hon. and right hon. Friends, with the principle that it is right and proper to take this opportunity for Parliament to lay down the types of hereditaments which, in the view of Parliament, are suitable for special treatment in the realm of local taxation. That is an extremely important principle, with which I cordially agree, and I am very glad to have support in principle from the hon. Member.

The second point on village halls and centres is that if the Minister at a later stage feels able to accept the Amendment, nobody will be more pleased than myself. I must, however, say that I am not quite sure whether this is the best or even the correct way of dealing with the particular type of hereditament which the hon. Member for Wellingborough has in mind. The hon. Member bases his Amendment on a Section of the Income Tax Act, 1952, which is very well known to all trustees of charities. I would ask the Committee and the Minister to bear in mind that that Section is the Section upon which the Income Tax position of all charities is based. It exempts from tax chargeable under Schedule A … lands, tenements, hereditaments and heritages owned and occupied by a charity … The Income Tax Act deals with all charities, and it is not clear upon what principle one should select a particular one out of that general Income Tax exemption to be added to those in Clause 6 for which we are attempting to obtain complete exemption.

I should have thought that once we start doing that, we would wish to add other types of charities for total exemption, but it does not seem to me quite clear that founding ourselves upon a general exemption in the Income Tax Acts we should then pick out these two admirable classes of charities; not, as it were, put them into the Clause by name after charities and alms houses, but bring them in as a section of a general exemption under the Income Tax Acts. However, as I say, if the Minister felt that he was able to accept an Amendment along these lines, I should welcome it, because I associate myself with everything that has been said by the hon. Member for Wellingborough as to the good work done by these community centres.

I understand, Sir Gordon, that we are to discuss these Amendments together. I come now to the point about open spaces which is the subject of the first Amendment in my name, which would add to the complete exemptions from rates private open spaces held on charitable trusts. I must address myself to two points, and I am sure the Committee will agree with me when I make the general case in favour of helping and securing open spaces, particularly playing fields.

It is well known that the National Playing Fields Association, a body of which I am glad to feel I was one of the founders, specified many years ago a suitable proportion of land which should be open space for playing fields in a normal built-up area. It is also, I regret to say, only too well known that there are hardly any areas in any of our great towns where a proportion of anything like that desirable amount is available. Nevertheless, as a result of the work of many people over many years, great improvements have been made in the open spaces available for the young people of this country.

I cannot illustrate better the beneficent social revolution that has taken place in these matters in my lifetime than by the happy coincidence that the present President of Oxford University Athletics is running on one of my tracks in the East End of London, a track which would have been built all over by the local authority if I had not, by desperate efforts, persuaded it of the unwisdom of such a course.

I think I may proceed on the assumption in this part of the debate that all parts of this Committee are anxious to preserve open spaces of that kind, the shortage of which is admitted on all hands. I need not go further into the point I made during both Second Readings that these open spaces are in a position of peculiar danger in this regard, apart from any other, that they are of undoubtedly great rateable value if they are once rated as an ordinary hereditament. There is no possible appeal that can be argued against the enormous rateable values which will be entered as a result of the centralised valuation in the rate. I gave illustrations of that and I need not repeat them.

So I start with the assumption that we all realise the danger and want to help. We come, therefore, in this Amendment, and particularly in the first one in my name, to a purely typical but genuine set of problems. I think I can best put the problem that has bedevilled all the discussion which has been going on with the Ministry and local authorities amongst charitable trustees for now literally years in this way: that if we give a very high degree of protection in one way or another, we then feel compelled to narrow ourselves to the sphere in which it is given to such an extent that we find that all sorts of highly desirable open spaces are not protected, or we bring in automatically every kind of open space. Then we say to ourselves, "It really is not fair to the local authorities or others to give an amount of protection which is worth having."

That is the difficulty which we have all been in when discussing this matter. It is upon that basis that I feel the only way in which we can tackle this open space part of the charitable problem with which we are concerned in this Clause is to proceed upon at least three grounds. We must first deal with the core, where open spaces are easily and definitely definable. For that purpose, after a lot of consideration and consultation, I do not see that we can do better than take the definition of a charity. Charitable trusts are what are determined by the courts of the land to be charities. No question of definition administratively arises. There are other matters of definition with which I shall have to trouble the Committee in a moment, but they are specific. A piece of land is either the subject of a charitable trust or it is not.

We then have the next section of the open space problem where I feel we can best—and this is the subject of the second main Amendment in my name—give the general direction without complete limitation, that they should have some limitation of their rates but not a complete exemption.

Then we come at the periphery, as it were, to a set of open spaces held by all kinds of cricket and football clubs where there really is no alternative but to leave them to the discretion of the local authority, as far as I have been able to see so far.

I will deal with the first, the core of the problem, those open spaces which are definitely tied up in charitable trusts for the benefit of the community or some sections of it. Some of them are very big and valuable. I am trustee for more than one with a value running far into six figures. The assets at stake are, therefore, enormous. However, open spaces, though they are very valuable in the sense that far-seeing trustees bought and developed them in areas which have later been built on, are not an asset while being used for the purposes of the charity. On the contrary, they are then a very big liability.

Areas held in charitable trusts are important for another reason, in so far as they are areas the security of tenure of which for the purposes for which they were designed is greatest. One of the great problems is that many open spaces are held on leases or by agreements and are frequently lost as a result of changes in circumstances.

8.30 p.m.

I am asking the Committee to say that, just as Parliament decides that a church should be exempt from rates as it is not a fit subject for local taxation, Parliament should apply the same principle to open spaces which are definitely tied up in charitable trusts for the benefit of the people, usually the young people, though it may be the old as well. Admittedly, there are some difficulties. It may be held by some that "charities" might bring in bodies which some hon. Members might doubt should be exempted.

Rightly or wrongly—rightly, I think—right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite in passing the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, decided, when dealing with the matter for the purposes of that Act, not to go behind the definition of "charity." Section 85 gave special treatment to operational lands in the occupation of charitable trusts. I think I carry both sides of the Committee with me when I say that, though there are no doubt some charities which might be held on an unsympathetic consideration not to be as worthy as others of complete exemption, nevertheless precedent is on my side that more harm than good would be done in attempting to go behind the definition of "charity." I am sure that the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) agrees that the precedent of the 1947 Act should apply here.

The Minister may say that other definitions of what I refer to as the central core of open spaces are possible. One might be based on the Physical Training and Recreation Act, 1937. That has advantages which might appeal to some local authority administrators because not only would the hereditament be governed by the general provisions of that Act, which are wide, but grants by the Ministry of Education under the Act have to be made in accordance with regulations laid down from time to time by the Treasury. By using a definition of that kind it might be possible to give complete exemption to a set of hereditaments, which would be more amenable to administrative control. I am, on the whole, of the opinion that there is a very strong case for exempting from local taxation open spaces which are definitely tied up in charitable trusts.

Mr. Mitchison

In view of the advice that he has taken and the care that he has taken in framing his Amendments, I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman could answer two questions which are troubling me. My recollection is that in the Section of the Town and County Planning Act which he mentioned land used for agricultural shows and reserved for that purpose has been treated as "charitable land," to use a short phrase. Would such land be covered, on the advice that he has taken, by his Amendment? My second question is a much simpler one. Would the playing fields of Eton be covered?

Sir I. Horobin

Those are both matters on which only the courts can give a final decision and, as I am coming to a very complicated case which is troubling all of us and which has just been decided by the House of Lords, it will ill become me to endeavour to do what the Government did earlier—step in front of a decision of the courts and get myself into the same sort of trouble as we were in earlier about water works.

My point is that what is or is not a charity is a matter for the courts to decide. It is a matter which they have to decide for a number of reasons, as everybody will remember, affecting testamentary decisions—whether a gift has to have been given within one year or five years of death to be exempt from tax. This is a matter which is being decided by the courts all the time. Speaking very cautiously, I should have thought that it was very difficult to claim that an agricultural show was ipso facto a charity.

The proper way to test that, if a local authority felt aggrieved and believed that it was not obtaining rates from a hereditament which it did not hold to be charitable, is for the local authority to adopt the remedy which the Birmingham Corporation used and ask the courts to decide whether it is charitable or not.

Hon. Members

What about Eton?

Sir I. Horobin

The same thing applies to Eton. I do not know whether the courts have ever been called upon to decide if Eton was charitable or not, just as I do not know whether the Governors of Eton put in a claim under Part VI of the Town and Country Planning Act. There are several Old Etonians here. I do not know whether any of them can tell me. Did the Governors of Eton make a claim to the Central Land Board under Part VI of the Town and Country Planning Act? Perhaps the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland would care to answer that. I see that he remains seated. Like me, he is too wise to be drawn.

There is nothing new in this provision. Whether an open space or other open hereditament is or is not a charity arises under the Town and Country Planning Act and under Income Tax provisions, and could be decided in the ordinary way. Here is a comparatively easy way of deciding whether a piece of land, as has to be decided under the Town and Country Planning Act, should get the benefit of special protection, and I feel that it should.

Captain Christopher Soames (Bedford)

I was interested in the point raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) about agricultural shows. I think that my hon. Friend will agree that it would not be wise if the Amendment enabled privately-owned land on which every year there took place a county agricultural show automatically, to be exempted from rating because of that. Is this not an example where, by endeavouring to remove some anomalies and by taking away a large amount of discretion from the local authorities, my hon. Friend has put in their place a lot of new anomalies?

Sir I. Horobin

I do not think so. The position is almost inconceivable. I cannot imagine that there is any land in this country held on charitable trust—if it would be charitable, which I doubt—where the point of the charitable trust was that the land should be used for agricultural shows. I do not think the point has any substance. I must appeal to the Committee. We are here dealing with a very serious and grave problem, and we must not start trying to pick imaginary holes.

Mr. Hayman rose——

Sir I. Horobin

I am troubling the Committee at great length. I hope I shall be allowed to continue.

Mr. Hayman

While we have a great deal of sympathy with the objects of the Amendment, I think that the hon. Member is wrong in discounting as almost impossible the idea that any considerable amount of agricultural land in this country might be held by charitable trusts. It might be land near towns which could be very valuable and used as car parks, too.

Sir I. Horobin

Really! If it is suggested that any court in the land would hold a car park as being occupational charitable land, I think that we are getting a long way from the realities of my Amendment. I appeal to hon. Members to allow us to get on with the discussion.

So much for the Amendment dealing with open spaces held in charitable trust. I come now to the far wider but equally serious matter of general charities, covering the whole field of clubs, Y.M.C.A.s and so on, and the great university settlements known to so many of us. I do not need to go again over the points which I made on both Second Readings of this Bill—which met with considerable support from hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the Committee—about the impossible position in which the owners of those hereditaments are placed. They are completely at the discretion of the local authorities. They cannot object and they are subjected to hopeless pressure at any time. Indeed, as hon. Members pointed out, it is invidious for local authorities if they are left without any principle upon which to act in this matter.

The utter absurdity of the position into which we are getting can perhaps be best illustrated by a fact, which I have not yet given, arising out of the position of a very large charitable hereditament in another part of England of which I happen to be one of the trustees. It is a building which I think I can say is unique of its kind on this side of the Atlantic. In order to endeavour to be as reasonably sympathetic as possible, the Inland Revenue provisionally put a value on it—which in itself was something like five times the present value—on the basis of it being a warehouse for flock mattresses. Anything more unreal and absurd could hardly be imagined. This is a type of hereditament where I feel that there would be a serious and genuine objection to complete exemption. I propose, in the second Amendment standing in my name and the names of my hon. Friends, that there should be some reduction. I have put in the figure of three-quarters, but there is no magic in that figure, and I will say a word about that in a moment. Beyond that it should be left to the discretion of the appropriate authority.

I think it fair that there should not be a complete exemption for this kind of more general hereditament. I do not see why they should be a charge on the local authority, because, after all, they have to have their dust collected, and so on, and it is fair that they should pay something towards it; unless—as I am glad to say is sometimes the case—local authorities de- cide to exempt them even from that. But it is difficult to see why a hereditament of that kind should contribute to, say, the education rate when they are, in fact, relieving the local authority of a great burden in that respect.

There is only one other point which I wish to make, if, as I hope, the Minister is sympathetic to this principle. It is that for the general charitable hereditaments there should be a proportionate secured reduction in rates, but that it should not be too low. There is always the danger in these matters that the minimum will become the maximum and that we may do more harm than good. On the other hand, there is a very good precedent for a reduction of this kind where there are special circumstances.

To take one obvious precedent, one might mention allotments. The three-quarters exemption on allotments has nothing whatever to do—as may be imagined by some people—with agricultural derating. It dates back to the Public Health Act of 1875. As allotments do not benefit from a great deal of the services, they pay rates at a lower level, and I think that is a good precedent for what I am here suggesting. There are precedents such as the Halifax Act, which exempts 90 per cent. and—I will not weary the Committee by reading it in detail—one of the Edinburgh Corporation orders which was previously repealed by this Bill but has gone out of it in this new form, and which would give even wider exemption.

8.45 p.m.

I hope, therefore, that the Committee will feel that a strong case has been made out for, on the one hand, giving complete exemption to a very narrow but vital type of hereditaments, namely, open spaces held on trust, and, on the other, for giving a less but substantial security to the much wider field of other charitable hereditaments.

We are left, of course, with the whole field of what one might call near charities where, so far, we can see no alternative but to leave them to the discretion of the local authorities. There is one advantage in that, of course, which is that there will be a definite and very strong inducement wherever possible to put hereditaments which are not yet in charitable trusts into them, particularly in the case of open spaces and playing fields.

I am very glad to have the support of the hon. Gentleman opposite who is most knowledgeable in these matters and speaks with much greater knowledge on matters connected with county councils than I can claim to have. But we all ought to bear in mind that just as we want to give an incentive to people to do this kind of work and to preserve this kind of properties, so we want to put every inducement in their way to see that such properties are as far as possible permanently tied up.

For my own part—and I apologise for speaking so long, but we are dealing with such a variety of problems—I would say just this. If, as I hope, the Minister can see his way to go further, well and good. Personally, I should be only too glad to see a very much wider range of open spaces given complete exemption. I have drawn the Amendment as narrowly as possible for fear lest if one draws things too widely one gets nothing. If the Minister feels that village halls and open spaces are so important to the country that he would wish to give them complete exemption, I should be only too glad. If the second Amendment, which gives a limited but valuable complete three-quarter exemption can cover more than the almshouses and charitable hereditaments which are mentioned in it and if it were put lower down in the Clause so that it would cover these wider hereditaments not run for profit, I should rejoice.

In the light of the discussions that took place on the two Second Readings, my two Amendments seem to be the very minimum to secure and to preserve pieces of work which have been of untold benefit particularly to the young people of our country and which are at the moment in grave danger as a result of measures which were taken for totally other reasons. It is right and proper that Parliament should lay down some general principles. I have suggested these two, but if others can produce better ones, so be it. As I say, Parliament should lay down some general principles on these fields of benevolent activities just as it has laid down principles to cover such things as churches and other things to which I have referred.

I am sorry to have taken up the time of the Committee for so long, but these are matters dear to my heart, and, I am sure, dear to the hearts of many other hon. Members in all parts of the Committee. I hope that the Minister and the Committee will give sympathetic attention to them.

Mr. Lindgren

May I intervene—I was about to say for the benefit of the Minister, but I do not want to put it in that way. The hon. Member for Oldham, East (Sir I. Horobin) has raised two important matters of law. On this side of the Committee we are extremely fortunate in having an eminent lawyer who has been absent from the Chamber and has now returned with a number of volumes. As I do not want to see the Minister put to disadvantage, could we be told whether we are likely to have the presence of Law Officers of the Crown when considering the definition of charities and the arguments likely to arise concerning them?

Mr. Sandys

I was not aware that any very difficult questions of law were likely to arise, but if they do I will see whether I can get in touch with one of the Law Officers. I do not think that this will be a legal debate. We all recognise the difficulties of defining a charity, but I doubt whether any legal gentleman on either side of the Committee will be able to be of very much assistance to us in that matter.

Mr. Sparks

There is one aspect of the problem which the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Sir I. Horobin) dealt with, and I do not want to dispute with him the main substance of the case which he has made. I think that we should take into consideration to some extent the use which is likely to be made of the open spaces held by charitable trusts. This is a constant source of discontent in many built-up areas, where there is a shortage of open space, and where most of the open space which is available is in private hands and is used, not for the benefit of the local inhabitants, but for other people who come into the area, use it for the time being, and go away.

In London and the Greater London area, a good deal of open space is not available to the local people for use. It is let to all kinds of bodies—very deserving, desirable people, such as members of cricket clubs and works sports clubs—but they are not the people who live in the area. The people who live in the area are not able to have access to the open space or playing field for any of their local purposes. I think it would be a little hard on local authorities if we were to say that in cases like that these bodies should be exempted from any contribution to the rates.

Whatever open space is considered, particularly in a built-up area, there is a certain amount of expense which falls upon the local authority in connection with it. I will not say how much or how little. I do not think that anyone knows precisely how much or how little. Therefore, I feel that the right hon. Gentleman—I do not want to confuse the straightforward issue which the hon. Member for Oldham, East has put forward—should take into consideration this aspect of the problem, namely, the use to which an open space or playing field is being put. If it is to be exempted from rates, surely the ratepayers and the people in the area should have reasonable access to it. I do not suggest that they should have a monopoly of its use, but that they should have reasonable access to it for local purposes.

If that were so a stronger case could be made for its exemption from a rate contribution, but if it is not to be available for local people, being reserved specially for people who do not live in the area, it is difficult to justify its complete exemption. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to bear that point in mind, because this problem affects many authorities in built-up areas, and areas where open space is very scarce and the little which is available is in private hands and used for private purposes.

Mr. Sandys

I know that it is not usual on these occasions for a Government spokesman to intervene at an early stage, but I think it might be helpful if I do so on this occasion in order to deal with some of the issues which have been raised. I am, naturally, available to reply again later if need be.

We are now discussing three Amendments together, and in my view it is extremely convenient that they should be discussed together—for the simple reason that it is not easy to form an opinion upon proposals for the exemption or preferential treatment of certain types of property owned by charitable and other organisations until we have decided what line is to be taken towards charities as a whole. If a satisfactory solution can be found for charities generally, some of the other problems may disappear.

I want to make one or two preliminary observations about the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren), in page 10, line 3, who said that community centres and village halls owned by charitable organisations—defined, as he says, as those which are exempt from Schedule A Tax on the ground that they are charities—should be altogether exempt from rate contributions. He is well aware that as the Bill stands those organisations would come within the provisions of subsection (4), and it would, therefore, be open to local authorities, at their discretion, to give them either total exemption or such remission as they thought fit.

The hon. Member is asking that these village halls and community centres should be treated in exactly the same way as church halls. The reason church halls are exempt is that the churches themselves are already completely exempted from rates by law. It is felt that since a very great part—and a growing part, nowadays—of a church's activity takes place in the church hall, it is desirable to extend the exemption to church halls, except to the extent that those halls might be used for profitable ventures.

9.0 p.m.

The community centre or village hall held by a charity is not in the same position as a church hall; at any rate, the justification for exempting it is not the same. It does not represent an extension of an existing exemption of some building, like a church. That is the main reason why I question it; but in these preliminary remarks I am not attempting to present a final view on the matter.

If we gave total exemption to community centres and village halls belonging to charities there would be a strong case for exempting other halls owned by charitable organisations and used for non-profit-making purposes. This is one of the matters in which one thing inevitably leads to another. Other halls belonging to charitable organisations come within the scope of subsection (4), and one would have to consider, logically, exempting them if one were to exempt the community centre or the village hall.

We should address our minds, first, to the problem of avoiding fresh confusions and anomalies. There are already quite enough of them in this field. We need a means of dealing with village halls, community centres and other institutions, including the open spaces referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Sir I. Horobin), as part of the general problem of charities, with which I am sure we are all sympathetic.

These three Amendments raise, in different ways, several distinct and difficult issues. I hope that hon. Members will help me by addressing their minds to these problems, which are very real, in trying to arrive at a correct solution. The first question raised is, "Should relief for charities be provided by giving discretion to local authorities, as the Bill proposes?" This is as near as we can get to a continuation of the existing procedure under which local authorities give sympathetic assessments. Now, when they no longer are the valuation authorities, they cannot give sympathetic assessments.

We have introduced the nearest thing to it, which is to give local authorities the power to use their discretion in exempting altogether, or omitting to some extent, as they think fit, the rates payable on charitable properties. The property itself will be fully assessed, like any other property, by the Board of Inland Revenue, but the Board, from its central position, cannot exercise the discretion which has been used in the past by local authorities in appropriate cases.

Should relief for charities be provided by giving discretion to local authorities? Or should we substitute a statutory remission of four-fifths for these organisations, as proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East, or total exemption of certain classes of property, as proposed by the hon. Member for Wellingborough?

The views of local authorities have been expressed by a number of hon. Members in the course of our debates It is my duty to put the facts before the Committee. When these Amendments were put down I sought the views of local authorities through the machinery of the local authority associations and it is right that I should read to the Committee a letter which has been circulated to a number of hon. Members and which gives the views of one local authority association. This is a typical letter which I have received on the subject: My Association are most concerned at the Amendments which have been put down by Sir Ian Horobin and others and by Mr. Lindgren"— It will be seen that it is impartial to both sides of the Committee. I am not associating myself with the letter, but I think it right that the Committee should have this information before it. The letter continues: to add private open spaces, community centres, village halls and almshouses to the exemption to be given to church halls under this Clause. We feel that this goes far beyond the reasonable extension of the existing exemption from rates of churches and chapels which is provided by the Clause. We also strongly object to the Amendment on page 10, line 31, to compel rating authorities to forgo rates to the extent of four-fifths of the value of properties used as almshouses or occupied for charitable purposes. We feel that rating authorities, who possess local knowledge of the needs, can properly he trusted to exercise discretionary powers with regard to charitable properties. So much depends on the facts in each case and the problem is not by any means confined to so-called national charities. The effect of these Amendments will be to diminish the rate income of local authorities or to subsidise charities at the expense of local rates. The letter finishes with this sentence: We consider that if Parliament desires to give further aid to charities it should provide the money out of national and not local resources. I thought it my business to put that point to the Committee, as I am trying to put before it the issues as I see them.

I turn to the second issue. In dealing with concessions which would be defined by Parliament in some form of statutory exemption, we must ask whether they can be confined to charities. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East said that it is difficult to decide exactly what is the type of organisation which should properly enjoy these advantages. Whatever definition we take, the position will be very unsatisfactory. Various examples have already been given on this and an earlier occasion. There is no doubt that whatever ready-made definition we take we shall find that we include organisations which, though deserving, are perhaps not in need of relief and exclude some organisations equally deserving and perhaps in fat greater need of this relief.

May I read to the Committee the recent remarks made on the subject by the Royal Commission on the Taxation of Profits and Income, which went into the matter? The Report, which was published the other day, refers to the evidence given by the Master of the Rolls, Lord Stern-dale. The Commission evidently agreed with his views. Lord Sterndale observed: The whole subject"— he was speaking of charities— is in an artificial atmosphere altogether … and when one takes gifts which have been held to be charitable, and compares them with gifts which have been held not to be charitable, it is very difficult to see what the principle is on which the distinction rests. The Commission went on to say: Other judges have declared themselves baffled by the task of deciding according to law what is and what is not a charity. Later, the Commission said in the Report: the present situation is hardly less than chaotic and the prevailing uncertainty does not do credit to the tax system. There is no doubt that there is no satisfactory definition of what a charity is or of the type of body which we have in mind. We all know what we have in mind and the type of organisation which we feel is deserving and which we would like to help, but when we try to put it in the form of a subsection of a Clause in a Bill, we find ourselves in very great difficulties.

The third issue which these Amendments raise is this. If we are to extend the application of the remission to other classes of property, where should the line be drawn—when I say "remission" I include exemption or remission—for there have been various suggestions that we should include organisations of a different kind; my hon. Friend mentioned some of them and others were mentioned on Second Reading. If we are to extend these exemptions or remissions to further classes of property, where are we to draw the line?

Before we can consider the extension of the list and the enlargement of the field, we really have to try to make up our minds whether we are thinking of a discretionary power to local authorities or of a statutory remission or statutory exemption. The list which was drawn up and which is embodied in the Bill, I think the Committee should know, was drawn up after very close consultation with the National Council of Social Services, which is the acknowledged organisation to which the Government normally turn for an expression of view on the interests of charitable organisations in general.

If it is decided to stick to the discretionary basis which is now contained in the Bill as drafted, it would no doubt be possible, if the Committee so desired, to consider a further extension of the classes of organisation to which a local authority would have a discretion to grant exemptions or remissions. If, on the other hand, the statutory basis, allowing no discretion to the local authorities, as is proposed in the Amendments——

Sir I. Horobin

My right hon. Friend unwittingly, I think, is giving a false impression. That is quite definitely not the intention or the effect. It is precisely to have both. I argued to the Committee at some length that it was impossible to have either, for the reasons I gave, and that what we should do was to have a wider list with discretion and a narrower list with a statutory limit.

Mr. Sandys

I did understand that. My point is that if we were generally to adopt or extend the statutory basis, it would have to be confined to a more limited class of organisation such as charitable trusts.

9.15 p.m.

I was going on to say, before my hon. Friend interrupted me, that probably the right answer—it is the one we have adopted in the Bill, at any rate—is to go in for both types. We have, exempted church halls and we have the rest of the properties in the discretionary class. We have to consider whether we want to extend that class to other organisations such as charitable trusts. At once, we come against the difficulty of definition.

If we leave the discretion to local authorities to decide to which individual charitable organisations they will give exemption or remission, that allows the human element to come into play; it allows local knowledge to come into play; it allows the facts of individual cases to be assessed. On the other hand, if we define in a list, in certain categories, the organisations which are to be totally exempted, those which are to get the four-fifths, or whatever the proportion may be, although that may be a good answer to the problem we shall inevitably define them in a way which, we know in advance, will be unsatisfactory. However, that may be the best thing we could do. I am not trying to prejudge the matter. It would, however, create anomalies, and nonsense in certain cases.

I fully understand the anxieties of these charitable organisations which, in the past, have had sympathetic assessments from local authorities. They have had them year after year. They have not been revised for a long time. Now that the whole issue is to be reconsidered, even though they must assume, as I think they have the right to assume, that the local authorities will continue to be sympathetic and wish to be helpful to them, they are afraid that they may not be treated as generously as they were. I fully understand their anxiety. Theirs is a genuine fear, and it is because of that that these Amendments, in the main, have been put down.

Mr. C. Pannell

The right hon. Gentleman says that these cases are to come up for revision and that the Bill reopens the matter, but is it not the case that the rating authorities could at any time have revised the assessments of those hereditaments on the grounds that church halls, for instance, were used for purposes other than purely parochial ones? Why should it be supposed that there is a revolution in taxation to be brought about by the Bill?

Mr. Sandys

The hon. Gentleman is quite correct. At any time, of course, the rating authorities could have reviewed and revised the sympathetic assessments which they have been giving for a long time. However, that very seldom happened. These sympathetic assessments, having been given, were continued. Now every rating authority will be obliged to consider the list again. It will now, under the Bill when it becomes an Act of Parliament, have to exercise the powers given it by the Measure, and decide which charities are to be given this special treatment, and to what extent it will exempt or remit their rates. I think it is natural that the charitable organisations should feel some anxiety, and it is that anxiety, I have no doubt, which has prompted these Amendments. There is anxiety, no doubt, among these charitable organisations on this score.

The objective which, I believe, we all share is to find a way of ensuring relief and security to deserving, public-spirited organisations fairly and even-handedly all over the country.

I have explained to the Committee some of the difficulties which this problem raises. I have not tried to provide an answer at this stage, because I think that it is essentially the kind of problem which a Committee of the House of Commons ought to try to sort out together. We know what we want to achieve and I think that we all see the difficulties. I shall listen with close attention to any views that are expressed in debate.

Mr. G. R. Howard (St. Ives)

Would my right hon. Friend be prepared to say that there is one case where it would be wrong to allow discretion to the local authority, namely, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution? There are 148 stations, of which a hundred are not assessed. The other forty-eight are assessed. This is unfair. They should be included specifically, because this is a national organisation.

Mr. Sandys

I do not want to go into cases of individual organisations, but that is a good example of the kind of anomalies which have crept into this business.

Mr. Mitchison

I am sure that everybody in the Committee appreciates not only the fact that the Minister has spoken now but the real help which he has given to the Committee by stating his own reasons and feelings for what he has put in the Bill and also the fact that he has told us that he would attend to the discussion, that he expected something from it, and that his mind and the mind of the Government were not closed on this matter. If I do not follow exactly the particular way in which the right hon. Gentleman put it, it is not because I differ from him in the least about the questions that are involved. Am I right in thinking that we are not discussing any Amendments beyond the Amendment in page 10, line 31?

The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)

I understand that we are discussing all the Amendments from the Amendment in page 9, line 37, to the Amendment in page 10, line 31.

Mr. Mitchison

I asked that question because it seems to me, with respect, that the question of what additions should be made to the discretionary remitments really arises on the later Amendments which at the moment we are not considering. Therefore, what we have to consider at the moment is whether any change should be made either in the class of absolute exemptions or in the class of what I would call discretionary remitments or reductions. We on this side of the Committee are seeking to make one specific addition, with relation to community centres and village halls, to the absolute exemptions. The right hon. Gentleman replied to that, in effect, "You are making a new addition which is not linked with any existing exemption in the way in which church halls are linked with the churches themselves, and therefore that is an innovation the limits to which one does not clearly see."

I would say that, though it is perfectly true that community centres and village halls are not linked to any existing exemptions, they are quite closely linked to the addition which the Minister proposes to make by way of church halls. On this side of the Committee, as I am sure on the other side, we all welcome the addition of church halls, but, if I may take the example of villages, one has cases of a village where a church hall is used for social purposes under the supervision and general control of the parson, while in another village one has a village hall which is not under the control of the church in any way but conforms in its constitution and its management to the general rules that have been prescribed or recommended in these matters by the National Council of Social Service and is of course a charity. If, in fact, church halls in villages are to be exempted, and there are many of them, there is no sufficient difference between the functions of the church hall and the village hall not to entitle the village hall to a similar exemption.

I would like to put the matter a little more broadly. If we go back into the history of this country we find that churches at one time performed a rather wider function than that merely of places of religious observance. I remember that in at least one church, Thaxted, for a considerable time an effort was deliberately made by the parson to extend its use, I would not say for social purposes, but for community purposes, and to some extent that is taking place in a number of other churches now. I know of one London church not far from this place where there is a considerable use of the church building in that way, and it is rather hard to say where the church ends and where the church hall begins in those activities.

I can see no real distinction in modern times between many of the functions and community services that are carried out in a community centre or village hall and other similar services which might in the past have been carried out in the church itself. I view with apprehension the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn) on the opposite bench, and I am sure he will correct me on this matter if I am wrong.

To put the matter generally, I would say that under modern conditions and in our modern society a community centre or a village hall, subject always to its charitable nature, was entitled to promotion into the same class as any church or chapel hall; that it had an importance to the community whose centre it was which was at least parallel with and as valuable as that of the church or the church hall—and when I say church I include chapel. That is the reason why we selected these two types, and I agree they are broadly similar. One would regard a community centre in a town as corresponding generally to the village hall in the village, though I have no doubt there will be some individual differences.

As to the point which has occurred to several hon. Members, that these places have a definite value for letting and are extensively used for all sorts of activities, that is safeguarded in the case of church and chapel halls, and the same safeguards would apply, and conveniently, to community centres and village halls. Therefore, speaking for my right hon. and hon. Friends on this matter, we would definitely like to see that not very large but important class of places included in the absolute exemption.

We have also put down, and we are now discussing, a rather different type of place which again we do not put forward with quite the same confidence, but we should like to consider it on the question of absolute exemption. I refer to almshouses, which occur at present specifically by themselves as a special class in the discretionary group. It seems to me that there is a case—though not one that we feel with the same intensity as in the instance of community centres and village halls—for putting them into the absolute exemption class. They have, of course, to be charitable, and I imagine there are few places called almshouses which would not qualify.

9.30 p.m.

In a charitable almshouse there is performed a duty rather than a service which devolves on the community as a whole and may in this case be carried out by a private charitable agency. This country is rather short of proper accommodation for elderly folk. I will not raise that broad question on the discussion of this Amendment, but we must all recognise if we look at the matter frankly that the more we have of that type of accommodation the better, and the more use that can be made of what exists the better. That use has a certain public character and discharges what we all recognise to be a public duty, even though it is discharged by a private charitable agency.

In the simple name of the duty which we all owe to those who have spent their active lives in the community, we feel that almshouses have special claim. It does not seem to be very relevant, to most of us at any rate, that some almshouses may be wealthy bodies. They are nonetheless charitable bodies. The question seems to be whether their wealth could not properly be applied to some similar charitable purpose, and that is not a question upon which we need to embark today. On the question of rating, some of us at any rate—I put it no higher than that—think that almshouses are worthy of consideration for absolute exemption.

I turn for a moment to the two matters raised by the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Sir I. Horobin). I confess outright to him and the Committee that on Second Reading it occurred to me that it was to some extent anomalous that some things should be exempt from Schedule A Income Tax but not at the same time from rates. The answer is that this is one of those practical anomalies which we must accept, because if we tried to exempt all charities from rates we should find some absurd consequences.

I mentioned by way of an interjection the case of an agricultural society's ground which is a private open space devoted to charitable purposes. It has been held to be so in the case of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society. It seems to me that it is carrying the matter beyond our common intention to make the suggestion in a case of that sort. Another instance is provided by the playing fields of Eton. I understand that the Eton urban district depends, not unnaturally, very largely upon the college for a considerable proportion of its rates. Though no doubt the playing fields do not pay a very large part of the rates, I think it is carrying it rather far to use such sweeping words as those in the hon. Member's Amendment. Perhaps he might find it possible to reconsider the matter and see if there is not a smaller grouping that could effect the object he has in mind.

Sir I. Horobin

Do I take it that the hon. and learned Gentleman agrees, following his principle that there should be certain additions to the list of complete exemptions, that in their nature open spaces, if of a somewhat narrower character, have just as strong a case as almshouses—about which I agree with him—although some almshouses are as wealthy, or even far wealthier, than Eton?

Mr. Mitchison

I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but I am afraid that in my next sentence I intended to say that he would find it uncommonly hard to find suitable words and in that case the best solution would be to leave them to discretionary exemption by local authorities.

I can only give the Committee my honest and considered opinion, and I am not sure on that point how far my right hon. and hon. Friends would support me, although I think that they would. I am quite certain that on the four-fifths Amendment he would find little or no support on these benches. We feel that the question of a reduction or remission of the rate, the sympathetic poundage in lieu of the sympathetic assessment, is one for the local authority to put to itself and that there is no more reason why it should be compelled to exempt the whole of this very wide group to the extent of at least four-fifths than that it should be compelled to exempt it to the figure of any other vulgar fraction that occurs to the minds of hon. Members from time to time.

The cases must be widely different, because the group itself goes a good deal beyond charities. It goes into the class of cases where the objects are mainly charitable, and it would be a very wide group, indeed. I feel that with open spaces in general—and even more as regard other bodies whose objects are mainly charitable—there is every reason for leaving that to the discretion of the local authorities.

I, too, have made inquiries of the National Council of Social Service, and I believe I am stating the position correctly when I say that the National Council of Social Service is content with the pay or concession that is offered by the Government in this Clause, but, like other people who are from time to time offered a concession or pay, it would not be particularly averse to its being made a little larger. After all, the suggestion we are making in our Amendments is really quite small and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will look particularly at the point of community halls and village centres and remember to what extent it has been the policy of one Government after another to try to encourage these places, particularly the village halls in many villages which sorely need them as a centre.

In modern times we have been obliterating squirearchy to some extent. On this side of the House we are not averse to that, but we feel that if we are to do that, we must at least provide facilities for village democracy, and the village hall plays an important part in that. Similarly, as regards community centres, we are encouraging new towns and new sections of towns—I hate to say overspill, but that word is associated with it—in different parts of the country, and if we are to turn these new towns and extensions of old towns into real communities, a community centre becomes a social necessity, and, I should have thought, nearly a moral obligation on all of us. I do not like rating moral obligations, whether they be religious or social.

Captain Soames

When my right hon. Friend was speaking, I had the impression at the outset that he had an open mind about this whole matter. But as he developed his arguments, I gained the impression that he was coming down more and more in favour of maintaining the discretion of local authorities.

The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) has just given us excellent reasons why village halls should be included in the non-discretionary category. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Sir I. Horobin) gave excellent reasons why open spaces should be included in that category, and I am sure that many hon. Members could put forward excellent reasons for many charities to be included in the category for which no discretion is allowed at all.

I believe that a considerable point of principle is involved in this matter. Obviously, we all hope that the best arrangement to aid these charitable organisations will be arrived at, but there is here involved an important principle concerning the power of local authorities. It appears to me, in view of the grave doubt which, I consider, is felt by my right hon. Friend on this matter, and which, I am sure, is shared by many hon. Members, that it would be a great mistake for this Committee further to clip the powers of local authorities, unless an overwhelming case can be made against discretionary powers. I do not believe that such a case has been made out; nor do I believe that it could be, even though we were to argue far into the night or into the early hours of tomorrow morning.

Lying behind these Amendments is a fear on the part of certain hon. Members that charities are not to be assured in future of a fair deal from all local authorities. Therefore, they regard it as important that these charities be protected by being written into the Bill; that either they be completely exempted from rates or exempted up to the level of four-fifths.

In Bedford, there are a number of very large charities. I do not think that any of them would complain that they have not had a fair deal, and more, from local authorities over many years. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) raised the question of the Lifeboat Institution, and I think that is a good example of the need for some tidying up to be done. But I do not consider it sufficient—and I think that hon. Members would find it difficult to advance the argument—to support an argument that charities throughout the country do not get a fair deal from local authorities.

Even were that possible, I should have thought that some form of compromise, such as the Charities Commission, could be arrived at. Then, in the event of a charity feeling that it was not being treated fairly by a local authority, it could appeal to the Commission. For instance, it might well be that a charity had been getting a greater remission than it was now receiving, and it might be considered that personalities were entering into the matter. The charity could then appeal to the Commission.

I think that much stronger arguments have to be put forward by those who favour taking away the discretionary powers of local authorities than have so far been put forward in this Committee before such a step is taken. I think it would be wrong to take away that power unless an overwhelming case were made out for so doing.

9.45 p.m.

Mr. Wade

I wish to approach this problem from a slightly different point of view. I believe that the whole Committee is most anxious to arrive at a right and proper decision. We are all deeply interested in community centres and playing fields as well as in church and chapel halls. At the same time, we should be aware that there may be disadvantages as well as advantages in being in inclusion in the category described as complete exemption.

If I say a few words about the Clauses dealing with church and chapel halls it may, perhaps, illustrate what I have in mind. I think that the extension of the exemption to church and chapel halls and to similar buildings is a welcome step. Great changes have taken place since the Poor Rate Exemption Act, 1833, was passed, which exempted buildings used for public worship.

It is generally accepted that the work of a church or of a chapel today goes far beyond the confines of the actual building. It is no longer the case that a building is used exclusively for religious worship. Similarly, church work involves work among young people and youth movements of all kinds. There is not the same demarcation between the church and the chapel, on the one hand, and the buildings used in connection with them on the other.

In these circumstances, I think it quite right to make this extension, but in considering the advantages we must, of course, keep in mind Clause 6 (3). Where a hall is let rates may be levied on the net amount after allowing for expenses. I do not know whether in the future difficulties will arise in interpreting the expression "expenses attributable to letting."

I will give one example. A building belonging to a religious denomination was let to a local authority which offered a rent of £150. On going into the figures, it was estimated that the expenses inevitably involved in the letting, including lighting, heating, cleaning and certain extra payments to the caretaker, amounted to approximately £150. The local authority was very reasonable and very generous. It accepted that estimate and offered an additional £75 in rent.

I assume that in that case the net rent will be £75. I fear, however, that difficulties may arise in interpreting the expression "expenses attributable to letting." It may be that some religious denominations will be put to a considerable amount of work and trouble, and possibly worry, in the future in supplying the necessary figures for the Inland Revenue authorities.

On the whole, I have found local authorities rather more human than Inland Revenue officials. Therefore, before deciding enthusiastically in favour of extending the category of total exemption, we should consider the other aspect, namely, that if village halls, which are sometimes let for various purposes, are included in this category, the trustees may incur an additional burden of responsibility and some disadvantage as well as certain advantages. I am, therefore, inclined to favour retaining the discretion which lies in the local authority.

I believe that there is a great deal to be said for including playing fields in the class of total exemption. It may be that, on balance, there is something to be said for including village halls, but I am anxious to point out that it is not altogether an advantage to be put into the category of total exemption. There are advantages in being included in the discretionary class whereby the local authority which has knowledge of the local circumstances will, I think, deal fairly with a particular charity.

Viscountess Davidson (Hemel Hempstead)

I am sure we are all grateful to the Minister for having spoken so early in the discussion and for having shown that he is sympathetic to our anxieties. I want for a moment to speak about almshouses. As a member of the Council of the National Association of Almshouses, I am particularly interested on the effect of the Clause on almshouses. Up to a point, the position under this Clause is satisfactory. The local authorities may, at their discretion, remit rates on almshouses, but that means that we are in the hands of the local authorities. Relief or remission may be given by the local authorities of the rate payable on any hereditament, including, of course, almshouses, where poverty can be established.

We fear that we may still be faced by some local authorities which have refused to remit the rate where poverty has been clearly established, and which may not take advantage of the new proposed provisions. We have actually had cases where, although poverty has been clearly established, the local authority has said that it will not remit the rate because there is a sympathetic valuation, and it does not see why it should give any further relief by remitting the rate itself.

Many of us have had similar letters to the one read out by the Minister. We fully appreciate the difficulties expressed in that letter, and they have been expressed by many of us. Those of us connected with almshouses are very anxious about their future, and it was because of that anxiety that I was anxious to say a few words supporting the Amendment put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Sir I. Horobin).

Mr. Ede

I find myself in some difficulty, because I happen to be president of two organisations which may be in conflict on this matter. I am President of the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society, and I am also President of the County Councils Association. As neither body has communicated with me on this subject, I propose to use my own discretion.

The Committee is greatly indebted to the Minister for having intervened so early in the debate, because he focussed the issues which we have to decide, and he asked us three specific questions to which, I think, we ought to be able to give, each according to his own conscience, a specific answer. The Minister asked whether local authorities should have discretion. I am quite certain that we shall have to leave some discretion to local authorities. Then he asked whether exemptions should be confined to charities. My great difficulty in that connection is in regard to the definition of a charity. The Bible says that Charity suffereth long, and is kind, but not all people are kind to Charity. A certain class of charity may have a strong claim for consideration, but there are other bodies which are not charitable by legal definition which have an almost equal claim.

I see the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) sitting on the benches opposite, and in the absence of an English Law Officer of the Crown—although I notice that we are now favoured with the presence of a Scottish Law Officer to listen to a discussion upon English law—I would point out that I am very concerned——

Mr. Sandys

I do not want it to be thought that the Law Officers are lacking in courtesy to the Committee. They are available and can attend very shortly if any point of law arises.

Mr. Ede

I do not want them to be here while I am speaking, because I am quite prepared to rely upon my own judgment, in the presence of the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington. South—for once, in a corporate capacity, I paid to have his opinion, but I have never paid for the opinion of English Law Officers.

The third question which the Minister asked was where the line should be drawn. I share the fears of the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Sir I. Horobin) with regard to the future of some of the playing fields in the hands of well-established charities, if they are left to the discretion of local authorities. If my hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) will not mind my saying so, I think that his speech illustrated the kind of difficulty that will arise. It is quite clear that the only place where charities which are charged with the duty of providing playing fields for the centres of great cities will be able to find the land is in the suburbs, or beyond the suburbs.

The London County Council has already bought playing fields in the parish in which I live. When I was Chairman of the Surrey County Council, I arranged jointly with the London County Council the purchase of the site to which it now conveys children from the centre of London and from some of the south-western suburbs of London. The children are conveyed 14 or 15 miles in order to enjoy organised games which are something beyond playing tag upon an asphalt playground. That is a very serious problem for the future.

10.0 p.m.

My experience under the Rating and Valuation Act, 1925, presented me with formidable problems of the proper rating of playing fields and sports accommodation in suburban areas. Take, for instance, a piece of land, let on a commercial basis to a club of middle-class suburban people of very limited means, like typists and clerks in London. It might be a piece of land accommodating four tennis courts. When one considered the rent that could be obtained for it and had to assess the rates according to the rent that was being paid, the clubs concerned were presented with most formidable financial propositions. I do not know on what other basis the Inland Revenue Department will be able to assess the playing fields in which the hon. Member for Oldham, East and other hon. Members are very interested.

I would like to have found some way to include playing fields, some definition enabling us to deal specifically with grounds that come into the category of playing fields provided at an uneconomic rent for the use of clubs for youths and maidens who otherwise would have very little opportunity of enjoying the recreation that comes from organised games. The provision of such opportunities for young men and young women is among the first of the social purposes that we ought to provide for adolescents and those who are a little older.

Let us face up to it: we shall encounter the kind of feeling voiced by my hon. Friend the Member for Acton. I do not complain that he voiced it. I know how strong the feeling is in such areas. I lived at Mitcham, where London University has very considerable playing fields. At the time the area was not too well equipped with playing fields, so many people felt that it was rather rough to see London University using exclusively fields that might otherwise have been available for themselves.

Local authorities differ very much in this matter. Perhaps I might give a kind of cognate instance. It is the case of Crow versus the Lancashire County Council, over the repair of voluntary-school playgrounds. It resulted in an amazing situation. Mr. Crow was the local government auditor who surcharged the Lancashire County Council for having contributed towards the repair of voluntary schools playgrounds. In the end, the House of Lords decided against Mr. Crow, not because there was a duty on the local authority to repair such a playground but because it had the discretion.

I happened at that time to be associated with three local education authorities. Jarrow, which was then a Part III education authority, took advantage of this discretion and paid the whole of the cost of the repair. South Shields paid nothing. Surrey split the difference and paid half. Under the Act of 1944 that situation was dealt with. The local authority is now responsible for the repair. I very much fear that the same kind of difference may exist.

Because of the sacrifices that some local authorities may be asked to make, it may be difficult indeed for them to take the view which I am sure the majority of this Committee hopes they will take. I do not know whether the Minister could consider having another category of case where, if the local authority reached a decision, there could be an appeal either to the Minister or to some other person in order that reasonable equality of treatment could be secured for the whole country.

I am bound to say, dealing with his three questions, that I think the local authorities should have a discretion. Once we make exemptions we could not confine them to charities. When he asks me where should the line be drawn, I can only say that I have always been a very poor hand at freehand drawing and I should not like to attempt to draw the line in the Committee. I support the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren), and I hope that almshouses may also be included.

Sir Patrick Spens (Kensington, South)

I had not intended to speak until we reached the Amendment to line 31, but in view of the references to myself by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) I should like to make some comments on these Amendments. Legally, the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Sir I. Horobin), concerning playing fields and open spaces, would offer a firm legal definition, and these could easily be included in the category of total exemptions. Open spaces and playing fields held on charitable trust would be something which the law courts and the judges would have no difficulty in defining. Nevertheless, as the right hon. Gentleman indicated, and as we all know, the legal definition of a charity is something different from that which we, as laymen, regard as a charity.

I suggest that that category should be included in the total exemptions, which would leave a large number of open spaces which most of us would consider were held on very similar trusts and which equally should be legally exempted. They would have to go into the discretionary class, but I do not think there would be anything against that. Private firms or other organisations could, if they wished, vest their open spaces in trustees for charitable purposes and get them into the total exemption class. If they did not care to do that they would be dependent on the good will of the local authorities. I should have thought that that would be a perfectly satisfactory solution.

Mr. C. Pannell

I want to say as strongly as I can that the utmost discretion should be left with local authorities. I have found it rather sickening in the past to listen to those who, before they came here, served on local authorities, who apparently thought that discretion was all right when they were members of local authorities but who, when they became Members of Parliament, tended to think that local authority members were not quite what they used to be. Theirs was an Olympian detachment.

Yesterday I took the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) to task for some words he said about local authorities on Second Reading, words which were a complete caricature of what takes place. In parenthesis I intervened when the Minister was speaking to say that this reassessment which is to take place is nothing new. Thinking the matter over, I remember that when I served on such a body we annually had presented to us a list of sympathetic valuations with a report from the officer on whether there would be any difference in the year under review in incomes and other circumstances.

I return to what the hon. Member said, which was: There is very often conflict in these matters between a local authority and a charitable institution. I should very much like to know, if he succeeds in being called, what is his experience in these matters or whether he speaks from the usual prejudice that we get from the other side of the Committee. The hon. Member even went on to use these words: We have the playing grounds in parks of local authorities alongside the playing fields of charitable bodies, and undoubtedly"— that is a very strong word in that context— there is on occasion a certain amount of jealousy, if not antagonism, by the local council towards those who are competing with them in providing these amenities. Competing with them indeed! They are both in the public service.

A local authority does not want to compete with anybody. There is no vested interest in elected bodies. The average member of a local authority serves in that spirit. He goes on to a local authority generally in the public good. Or is this idea of competing a charge against the officers of a local authority rather than against the members? This was not a legitimate expression of advocacy by the hon. Member, but was merely blind prejudice. It would be perfectly within the power of the local authority"— said the hon Member— by failing to make sufficient remission, to smash those who are providing the competitive amenities … Does the hon. Member really believe that, or was that merely another of the occasions when he gets on his feet and does not quite know what he is saying?

Mr. Page

The hon. Member is goading me to answer. I stand by every word I said.

Mr. Pannell

Some people get on their feet and say silly things, but when they read what they have said they usually have the humility to repent. Can anyone in this Chamber defend that sort of language about the local authorities, that they are out to smash charities?

The hon. Member was saying: smash those who are providing the competitive amenities, and then graciously offer to purchase them out at the local authority's own price. I am not saying that that is the intention of this Bill"— it was the Bill of his right hon. Friend— but it seems to me to provide an irresistible temptation to local authorities at times to use their powers under the Bill for their own ends."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th June, 1955; Vol. 542, c. 971.] A local authority is a corporate, elected body, elected from year to year to serve the generality of the ratepayers. Broadly speaking, whatever we may say at Election times, my experience of men and women who get on to local authorities is that they usually try to administer their affairs in a spirit of equity. I can honestly say that I know of no council, whatever its political complexion, who would be so biased as the hon. Gentleman imagines. I think that this springs from his own imagination. I do not think that he has much experience in local government affairs. It indicates his bias. I have served on assessment committees and rating committees, and I have never seen this bias against charities.

We all know what the national charities are. The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) mentioned the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, a good example of a national charity which we all admire. But the difficulty is the local charity. The most generous sort, I suppose, is when the mayor runs a benevolent or Christmas fund. Anything run by or through the mayor is given extra special facilities, because the mayor is the Queen's representative within the borough.

The difficulty of all this, when one examines the case for a remission of rates, is to examine the balance sheet first. If there is the kind of general income of £100 of which £98 has been pocketed by the organiser, there is no remission at all. But there is a general "know-how" in local authorities through the fact that because they are officers or members of the council spread over the wards, they know whether a charity is good or phoney. Therefore, it is a good thing that we should leave within the local authorities as much discretion as we possibly can.

10.15 p.m.

Sir Hugh Linstead (Putney)

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution has been referred to by the hon. Gentleman and by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard). There is a problem which the hon. Gentleman's proposals do not meet. How can he justify a hundred lifeboat stations being exempted from rates by a hundred local authorities while forty lifeboat stations have to pay rates to forty authorities? I do not put the question in a hostile way. What can be done to iron out such an anomaly?

Mr. Pannell

I cannot justify it, but to be fair we must ask the forty local authorities why they are doing what they are. Presumably, their case has not been put. That is the pattern of local government. It is a various pattern. It allows for local circumstances and feelings. It is not a diktat from Whitehall. The hon. Gentleman would not wish to judge a body of persons without its case being heard, and, although I am not attempting to excuse those forty local authorities, I say I do not know why they are doing what they are, and I think we ought to inquire about the matter before judging, and so be fair.

Rating authorities, when considering remissions, consider them in committee, and confidential information is often passed. I am not now speaking of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. One can imagine that under the procedure envisaged by my right hon. Friend such a national charity would be a recommended charity. I would add that there are some national charities which are administered in some localities better than in others.

I remember from my experience of remissions that from time to time came to me, among others, for consideration, that we had to meet the difficulty of a lack of frankness on the part of organisers of charities. I remember, for instance, that some parsons were more commercially minded than others; but I say no more about that.

Local authorities are elected bodies, and no matter on which side of the Committee an hon. Member who has had experience in local government may sit, he ought not now so lack humility as to say that he is more disinterested in the public service than members of the local authorities, and we here should consider the local authorities not as junior partners but as local partners in the government of the country and in our way of life.

I do not want to go into the question whether the concessions can be extended to other charities. That is another matter. I am making the general plea that local authorities should be regarded as what they are, bodies to be trusted, bodies under the public gaze, bodies which can be removed by the votes of the people. If, occasionally, they make mistakes, the electorate, in the last resort, has matters in its own hands. There is the local Press, too, to keep an eye on local proceedings.

I regret that an hon. Member should adopt an extraordinary moral tone, saying, "Local authorities are not of the calibre they were when I sat on them." We must avoid that frame of mind, and appreciate the fact that local authorities have a job to do, and that Parliament cannot do it all.

Mr. Sandys

We have had a pretty full discussion on the various issues involved, and it may be convenient if I say a few words now in reply to the debate. All the speeches have shown a keen desire to help these charitable organisations and others which play such an important part in our British public life. We have a Welfare State, we have many Government services, but we still pride ourselves very much on the part which is played by voluntary organisations of various kinds and by the organisations which have been set up as charities within the general meaning of the word. I am sure it is the desire of the Committee that we shall discharge our responsibilities and obligations towards those organisations which play such an important part and to which the country as a whole is so much indebted and has been indebted for so many years.

Earlier, I put a number of issues to the Committee which seemed to me to present difficulty and which raised serious problems. I am grateful to hon. Members for the way in which most of them addressed part of their speeches to the questions which I put, though I must be frank and say that they have not altogether solved all of the problems for me. I noticed that most hon. Members advised that local authorities should have a wide measure of discretion in these matters and that a number of hon. Members expressed the view that local authorities should be trusted to do the right thing by and large.

Most hon. Members who expressed those views at the same time made exceptions in respect of some particular charity for which they had a specially soft spot in their hearts. There was general expression of the view that local authorities should be given discretion and then there was a particular issue which it was thought should be exempted for fear that local authorities might be insufficiently sympathetic towards that organisation. That is only natural. All of us have aspects of this problem in which we take special interest, and I think that the debate has very much reflected the cross-section of opinion on these matters.

Pleas were made for special treatment of village halls, community centres, almshouses and playing fields. I listened with great attention to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Sir I. Horobin) and the speech of the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who both concentrated to some extent on this point. I think that the playing fields are in a special class, not necessarily—though that is a matter for consideration—because they are playing fields but because I am not satisfied that they are fully covered by subsection (4) as it stands. Even if the Committee accepts that it shall be left entirely to the discretion of the local authorities, I am not satisfied that under subsection (4) they have the full scope which they would need to exercise that discretion.

Quite clearly, therefore, that point would have to be looked at whatever the decision in principle as to whether there should be statutory exemption or that the matter should be left to the discretion of local authorities. I have great sympathy with the case which has been made for playing fields. I am sorry that the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) should have thought it necessary to go out of his way to express the hope that the playing fields of his own school would not benefit from the exemption which we were discussing. Be that as it may, we have certainly benefited greatly from the hon. and learned Member's education at that fine establishment.

I have to be careful in making any promises of concessions in such a matter because hon. Members who have taken part in these debates are well aware that few concessions can be made which do not lead to other concessions. It is like the game of one thing reminding a person of something else. One thing leads to another and it is difficult to draw the line with any conviction at any special point.

Therefore, I do not think the Committee will expect me at this stage to come out with any cut-and-dried solution of these problems. We have had a debate which has been extremely helpful from my point of view, because it has revealed fairly clearly the feeling on these issues in various parts of the Committee. We have had a pretty good expression of opinion on the question of the extent to which local authorities should be given discretion to deal with these matters; on the question of statutory exemptions; on the difficulties of defining, and different views about how we should define what is and what is not a charity.

Personally I feel better capable of addressing my mind to this problem with a view to trying to meet what I believe is the general desire of the Committee. My only task in this matter is to try to find a solution which will meet with general acceptance. It is really the public conscience with which we are concerned, and it is not always an easy thing to define that in a Bill.

I hope, therefore, that hon. Members will look upon this debate in the same way as I have done and will not press me to state exactly what our attitude is on all these matters. I would like to study carefully the debate in the OFFICIAL REPORT and to bring forward on the Report stage proposals which I would hope will go some way towards meeting some of the points which have been raised during this debate.

Mr. Mitchison

I only rise to say that my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself feel that community centres, village halls and almshouses should be entitled to statutory exemption and we would like to press that matter to a Division.

The Chairman

Will the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) withdraw his Amendment?

Mr. Lindgren

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Lindgren

I beg to move, in page 10, line 3, at the end, to insert: and (d) any community centre or village hall, in respect of which exemption from tax chargeable under Schedule A is granted under

section four hundred and forty-eight of the Income Tax Act, 1952 (which provides for exemption from tax in respect of lands owned and occupied by charities)."

Mr. Sparks

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, after "any" to insert "almshouse."

Amendment to the proposed Amendment agreed to.

Question put, That the proposed words, as amended, be there inserted:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 167, Noes 229.

Division No. 8.] AYES [10.29 p.m.
Ainsley, J. W. Grey, C. F. Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)
Allaun, F. (Salford, E.) Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly) Parker, J.
Allen, Arthur (Bosworth) Hale, Leslie Paton, J.
Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R. Hannan, W. Pearson, A.
Awbery, S. S. Hastings, S. Peart, T. F.
Bacon, Miss Alice Hayman, F. H. Popplewell, E.
Baird, J. Healey, Denis Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)
Balfour, A. Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis) Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)
Bartley, P. Harbison, Miss M. Probert, A. R.
Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J. Hobson, C. R. Proctor, W. T.
Bence, C. R. (Dunbartonshire, E.) Holman, P. Rhodes, H.
Benn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S. E.) Houghton, Douglas Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Benson, G. Howell, Charles (Perry Barr) Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Blackburn, F. Howell, Denis (All Saints) Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Blyton, W. R. Hubbard, T. F. Ross, William
Boardman, H. Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey) Short, E. W.
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Skeffington, A. M.
Bowden, H. w. (Leicester, S. W.) Hunter, A. E. Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)
Boyd, T. C. Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe) Slater, J. (Sedgefield)
Brown, Thomas (Ince) Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)
Burke, W. A. Irving, S. (Dartford) Snow, J. W.
Burton, Miss F. E. Janner, B. Sorensen, R. W.
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Jeger, George (Goole) Sparks, J. A.
Callaghan, L. J. Jones, David (The Hartlepools) Stewart, Michael (Fulham)
Carmichael, J. Jones, Frederick Elwyn (W. Ham, S.) Stones, W. (Consett)
Castle, Mrs. B. A. Jones, Jack (Rotherham) Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.
Champion, A. J. Jones, James (Wrexham) Swingler, S. T.
Chapman, W. D. Jones, T. W. (Merioneth) Sylvester, G. O.
Coldrick, W. Kenyon, C. Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead) Key, Rt. Hon. C. W. Taylor, John (West Lothian)
Collins, V. J.(Shoreditch & Finshury) King, Dr. H. M. Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Lawson, G. M. Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn
Cove, W. G. Lee, Frederick (Newton)
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Lever, Leslie (Ardwick) Warbey, W. N.
Cronin, J. D. Lewis, Arthur Watkins, T. E.
Crossman, R. H. S. Lindgren, G. S. Weitzman, D.
Cullen, Mrs. A. Logan, D. G. Wells, Percy (Faversham)
Dalton, Rt. Hon. H. McColl, J. E. West, D. G.
Darling, George (Hillsborough) McInnes, J. Wheeldon, W. E.
Deer, G. McLeavy, F. White, Henry (Derbyshire, N. E.)
de Freitas, Geoffrey MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling) Wilkins, W. A.
Dodds, N. N. Mahon, S. Willey, Frederick
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Mann, Mrs. Jean Williams, David (Neath)
Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse) Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A. Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Ab'tillery)
Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly) Mason, Roy Williams, Ronald (Wigan)
Edwards, W. J. (Stepney) Mellish, R. J. Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)
Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury) Mikardo, Ian Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)
Fernyhough, E. Mitohison, G. R. Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)
Fienburgh, W. Monslow, W. Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)
Finch, H. J. Moody, A. S. Winterbottom, Richard
Forman, J. C. Moyle, A. Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton) Neal, Harold (Bolsover) Yates, V. (Ladywood)
Freeman, Peter Oram, A. E. Younger, Rt. Hon. K.
Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N. Orbach, M. Zilliacus, K.
Gibson, C. W. Oswald, T.
Greenwood, Anthony Padley, W. E. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R. Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley) Mr. Holmes and
Mr. James Johnson
Agnew, Cmdr. P. G. Gresham Cooke, R. Nairn, D. L. S.
Aitken, W. T. Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans) Neave, Airey
Alport, C. J. M. Gurden, Harold Nicholls, Harmar
Amery, Julian (Preston, N.) Hall, John (Wycombe) Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)
Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J. Hare, Hon. J. H. Nicolson, N. (B'n'mth, E. & Chr'ch)
Arbuthnot, John Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.) Nugent, G. R. H.
Armstrong, C. W. Harris, Reader (Heston) Oakshott, H. D.
Ashton, H. Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon) O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)
Atkins, H. E. Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye) Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D.
Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M. Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.) Osborne, C.
Baldwin, A. E. Hay, John Page, R. G.
Balniel, Lord Heath, Edward Panned, N. A. (Kirkdale)
Banks, Col. C. Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W. Pickthorn, K. W. M.
Barber, Anthony Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton) Pitt, Miss E. M.
Barlow, Sir John Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe) Pott, H. P.
Barter, J. W. Hill, John (S. Norfolk) Powell, J. Enoch
Baxter, Sir Beverley Hinchingbrooke, Viscount Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.
Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.) Hirst, Geoffrey Profumo, J. D.
Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.) Horobin, Sir Ian Raikes, Sir Victor
Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth) Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence Ramsden, J. E.
Bidgood, J. C. Howard, John (Test) Rawlinson, P. A. G.
Bishop, F. P. Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.) Redmayne, M.
Black, C. W. Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.) Rees-Davies, W. R.
Body, R. F. Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J. Ridsdale, J. E.
Bossom, Sir A, C. Hughes-Young, M. H. C. Robertson, Sir David
Bowen, E. R. (Cardigan) Hulbert, Wing Cmdr. Sir Norman Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)
Boyle, Sir Edward Hurd, A. R. Russell, R. S.
Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.) Hutchison, James (Scotstoun) Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.
Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry Hyde, Montgomery Schofleld, Lt.-Col. W.
Brooman-White, R. C. Irvine, Godman (Rye) Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.
Bryan, P. Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) Shepherd, William
Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T. Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)
Bullus, Wing Commander E. E. Jennings, Sir Roland (Hallam) Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Burden, F. F. A. Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle) Soames, Capt. C.
Butcher, Sir Herbert Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Spearman, A. C. M.
Carr, Robert Johnson, Howard (Kemptown) Speir, R. M.
Cary, Sir Robert Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W. Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kens'gt'n, S.)
Channon, H. Kaberry, D. Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)
Chiohester-Clark, R. Keegan, D. Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)
Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.) Kerby, Capt. H. B. Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.
Cole, Norman Kerr, H. W. Storey, S.
Cooper-Key, E. M. Kershaw, J. A. Summers, C. S. (Aylesbury)
Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K. Kirk, P. M. Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)
Corfield, Capt. F. V. Lagden, G. W. Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)
Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne) Lambert, Hon. G. Teeling, W.
Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hn. H. F. C. Lambton, Viscount Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Langford-Holt, J. A. Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)
Crouch, R. F. Leavey, J. A. Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)
Crowder, Sir John (Finchley) Leburn, W. G. Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, S.)
Cunningham, S. K. Legge-Bourke, Mai. E. A. H. Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. P.
Currie, G. B. H. Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield) Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.
Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.) Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.) Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.)
Davidson, Viscountess Lindsay, Martin (Solihull) Turner, H. F. L.
Davies, Rt. Hon. Clement (Montgomery) Linstead, Sir H. N. Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.
Deedes, W. F. Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.) Vane, W. M. F.
Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA. Longden, Gilbert Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.
Doughty, C. J. A. Low, Rt. Hon. A. R. W.
Drayson, C. B. Lucas, P. B. (Brentford & Chiswick) Vickers, Miss J. H.
Dugdale, Rt. Hn. Sir T. (Richmond) Mackie, J. H. (Galloway) Vosper, D. F.,
Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West) McLaughlin, Mrs. P. Wade, D. W.
Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E. Maclay, Rt. Hon. John Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Errington, Sir Eric Macleod, Rt. Rn. Iain (Enfield, W.) Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)
Farey-Jones, F. W. MacLeod, John (Ross & Cromarty) Walker-Smith, D. C.
Fell, A. Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries) Wall, Major Patrick
Finlay, Graeme Maddan, M. Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)
Fisher, Nigel Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Hornoastle) Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)
Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F. Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R. Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.
Fort, R. Markham, Major Sir Frank Whitelaw, W.S.I. (Penrith & Border)
Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale) Marlowe, A. A. H. Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)
Freeth, D. K. Marshall, Douglas Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Gammans, L. D. Mathew, R. Wills, G. (Bridgwater)
Garner-Evans, E. H. Maude, Angus Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Glover, D. Mawby, R. L. Wood, Hon. R.
Gower, H. R. Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C. Yates, William (The Wrekin)
Graham, Sir Fergus Medlicott, Sir Frank
Grant, W. (Woodside) Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich) Molson, A. H. E. Mr. Studholme and Mr. Godber.
Green, A. Nabarro, G. D. N.
Sir P. Spens

I beg to move, in page 10, line 32, after "any", to insert "corporation, company".

The Chairman

Perhaps the Committee might discuss, at the same time, the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman), in page 10, line 34, to leave out "educational"; the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington), in page 10, line 34, at the end to insert: or any hereditament which is occupied by a society registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Acts, 1893 to 1954, and which is used wholly or mainly for educational or philanthropic purposes". and the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Putney (Sir H. Linstead), in page 10, line 34, at the end to insert: or the advancement of science or the promotion of scientific research".

Sir P. Spens

My Amendment is put forward on behalf of certain colleges and schools for exploratory purposes because they are not sure whether, having regard to the form of their constitution, they are, or would be, included in subsection (4). The words which would apply to them are: … any club, society or organisation which is not established or conducted for profit and whose main objects are religious, educational or philanthropic. Those are clubs and schools which are founded by Royal Charter, Private Act of Parliament, or by companies limited by the Companies Act, 1948.

They do not know whether they come within the category indicated by subsection (4). At present, they are in no way subject to any discretionary remission of rates by the local authority. They are subject to what I suppose would be called a form of sympathetic assessment, but they have reason to believe that the future remissions will not be so sympathetic as those in the past. In those circumstances, once the assessments have been made and the rates have been levied, it may well be that one or more of them may want to apply for a sympathetic remission or reduction of the rate so levied.

Therefore, they desire to know whether it is the Government's intention that such colleges and schools should have this right of application, or not. The words I suggest in my Amendment would give such colleges and schools the right to apply for a sympathetic remission or reduction of rates.

Mr. Hayman

This Amendment indicates the need for the Amendment in my name, for it seems to open the door very wide to admit a variety of educational institutions, some of which may not be deserving of the consideration for which the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) is asking.

The Chairman

Order. I did not propose to call the hon. Member's Amendment. I said that the discussion might take place on the point of the Amendment of the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens). I did not propose to call the other Amendments, unless the Committee wanted to divide on them.

Mr. Hayman

I am sorry, Sir Charles. I misunderstood.

The word "educational" calls for clarification. We are embarking on a course which is largely uncharted. Amendments moved earlier today were suggested by the National Council of Social Service, but the Minister himself had to reply that they involved very great difficulties. When we are talking of educational institutions, one wonders what is meant and whether a building that might be taken over by the National Trust would be included in such a category.

I should like to know what kind of institutions the Minister thinks ought to be covered by the word "educational." Is it a place where lectures are sometimes given? Is it a theatre which can qualify for some tax exemptions? We want to know whether those are included. Does he intend to include direct-grant schools and grant-aided schools, many of which charge very high fees, often so high that the majority of parents simply could not afford to send their children to those places? Did the hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South include Eton, Harrow, and the other great public schools?

Sir P. Spens indicated assent.

10.45 p.m.

Mr. Hayman

I see that the right hon. and learned Member nods approval, so that we now at least know where we stand. The question was raised on the last Amendment whether the playing fields of Eton were to be included within the scope of that Amendment, and an hon. Member—I cannot remember who—told us that the Eton local authority depended very largely for revenue upon the rating of Eton College.

I take very great exception to the provision of more privileges for a privileged class of people; for one thing, that was never the intention of the local authorities when they considered charities which might receive "sympathetic treatment." Does the hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South include the universities? We should like to know.

Sir P. Spens indicated assent.

Mr. Hayman

Again, the right hon. and learned Member nods assent. In that case, I do not know to what extent that would affect the revenues of the cities in which those universities happen to be; but it is quite certain that it would have a considerable effect on their incomes.

Will the only schools to be rated be those maintained wholly out of rates and taxes, as well as some small, independent schools? It should be remembered that such schools are wholly maintained—I emphasise "wholly"—out of rates and taxes, and that those are precisely the schools where there are overcrowded classes and insufficient staff. It seems to me that we ought to give them consideration and not lose our heads about providing some reductions in rates for those schools which charge very high fees. Indeed, it has seemed to me that there might be a case for excluding the county primary and secondary schools from all rating because, under present arrangements, it is merely taking money from one pocket and putting it into another.

The ratepayer, in the end, has to pay, but the system must be maintained, I suppose, so that the minor local authorities can derive some benefit; the education rate forms an appreciable part of the income and expenditure of these local authorities and I should have thought that the Minister of Education would have looked into that aspect of expenditure on schools. These county schools may be the only ones called upon to bear the full brunt of the rates, although I was always under the impression that local taxation was intended to pay for the services provided by local authorities for their areas—roads, public health, water supply, and so on.

We have been getting into a serious position in the matter of rating. The shopkeeping community has expressed considerable concern about rates, and it has bombarded hon. Members of this Committee for months about anomalies. We on this side, during the recent General Election, advocated that industrial establishments, which are making great profits, should pay a full 100 per cent. instead of the 25 per cent. as now. Farms are totally exempted from the payment of rates, and if we are to carry different classes of exemption to cover places like Eton and Harrow we shall find ourselves in a most serious position.

Has the Minister estimated the cost of these possible remissions in rates, and may we have some clarification of the word "educational" so that we and the country may know to what extent the concessions are being made to different classes of people, and, as far as the public schools are concerned, to the section of the community that seems to be the best off? It is the shopkeepers and the owners or occupiers of domestic premises who carry 100 per cent. of rating and who, under the Bill, are likely to have to meet very serious increases.

Sir H. Linstead

The Amendment which is in my name and which, I understand, we are now discussing, though it is not to be called, is to add words at the end of line 34.

The purpose of this Amendment and of this discussion is to see whether my right hon. Friend can help to clarify the meaning of the word "educational," and, in particular, whether he can do anything to give special assistance to research associations connected with most of our industries in the country which at the moment, apparently, are not entitled to derating or to exemption from rates on the ground of their being charitable or educational bodies.

What I am really asking my right hon. Friend to do is to consider whether he cannot correct an anomaly in respect of scientific research associations which was created by a judgment of the High Court in 1950 relating to the Scientific Societies Act of as far back as 1834. Under that Act, these scientific research assocations in different industries were exempted from rates altogether on the ground that they were established exclusively for purposes of science, literature or the fine arts.

One hundred years after this exemption had been instituted, the Inland Revenue authorities discovered that under the Act "science" meant pure science and not applied science. They therefore took a case to the High Court and won it, thus withdrawing this exemption from these scientific research associations on the ground that most of them were concerned with the application of science and not merely with pure science.

I do not think that at this time of night the Committee would wish me to labour the point, so I will merely commend it for the consideration of my right hon. Friend. But there is a real anomaly here as the result of this High Court decision which I think ought to be corrected. The point I would put to my right hon. Friend is based on a letter which he was kind enough to send to me, in which he said that the purpose of Clause 6 (4) was to preserve existing rights of various charitable and educational organisations for consideration by local authorities for a reduction in rates.

If the intention of that subsection was to preserve something that was enjoyed under the old law, I am only asking the Minister to cast back his mind to 1950, and to give to these most important scientific research associations connected with industry the privilege they had up to 1950 under the old legislation. I submit that they are as entitled to enjoy it today as they were during the hundred years for which they enjoyed it. I hope that between now and the next stage of the Bill the Minister will see whether he can do something about this point.

Mr. Arthur Skeffington (Hayes and Harlington)

I hope it will not be thought that the substance of the Amendment to which I would like to address myself, in page 10, line 34, would extend unduly widely the discretionary rating provisions for local authorities. The Amendment has been carefully drawn to limit the discretion to hereditaments of societies registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Acts; and then only to hereditaments wholly, or mainly, used for educational and philanthropic purposes. To obtain registration under these Acts bodies have to submit to rigorous examination, and they are subject to check and review of their activities and finances continually every year.

Furthermore, members of such bodies have the right to appeal to the custodian or registrar whose duty it is to supervise the activities of bodies so registered if they consider there is any development which is not right. Therefore, it is almost impossible that any bogus body could, because of the official supervision exercised over them, get benefit, which is the subject matter of the Amendment. Many organisations registered under the Acts have halls and classrooms, and buildings used for philanthropic and educational purposes. Some of them were built a great many years ago when no alternative edifices were available. The use to which they have been put, from then until the present, has been social and educational. Those who know the work of such bodies would agree that they are performing a real community service, and it seems fair that they should be considered equally with other bodies which may be given this opportunity to qualify for discretionary rate relief.

It is true, as I would not endeavour to conceal from the Committee, that Co-operative societies are registered societies under these provisions; but I want to make clear that the Amendment only refers to hereditaments of such societies which are wholly or mainly used for educational and philanthropic purposes. It certainly does not refer to buildings used for the trade, administration, or commercial business of Co-operative societies.

The position of a registered society such as a Co-operative society, which I take as an example because I know more about it than I do about other societies which are registered, is that the Co-operative movement, from its inception more than a hundred years ago, made education in its widest sense a major interest and activity. In the early days, there were no buildings for this purpose, and it became customary for the societies to allocate every year a proportion of their surpluses to the provision of buildings for educational purposes, and for philanthropic purposes, such as the provision of libraries. In many instances, these halls have been a veritable godsend to the community in which they were built In many cases, they were the only kind of large meeting place which existed, and, as I shall hope to show, that is still true today in many parts of the country.

11.0 p.m.

We have a good deal of evidence that these halls are used by all kinds of voluntary bodies, as well as for the educational work of the society, and it seems to us that, playing that part in the service of the community, they ought to be considered equally with any other bodies that may get this discretion rating relief from the local authority. Many church halls in our bigger towns were destroyed during the blitz. It is unlikely that all of them will be rebuilt—the funds are just not available, and parishes are being regrouped in any event; so that in the urban areas, where these halls do exist, their use is possibly of even greater importance today than it was in the past.

I should like to illustrate the problem of a registered society like a Co-operative society by reference to one society of which I am a member. I am a shareholder of the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society, although, as everybody knows, the amount of my influence does not depend upon the amount of shares that I hold in a registered democratic society of this kind. All shareholders have an equal, but only the same, single vote.

The Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society, which is the second largest Cooperative society in the United Kingdom, has built 29 halls, all situated in the area of the society's trade—that is, in South-East London and in some parts of Kent and Surrey. The halls are controlled by a voluntary committee of elected persons, who are elected by the whole of the membership. About 360,000 members are entitled to take part in the election.

The management committee, by the rule of the society, which, again, is approved by the registrar, allocates from its surplus a proportion of its funds for the maintenance of the halls and, before the war, for the extension of halls and the building of new ones. That has not been possible since the war but that was what took place before. If these amounts are approved by the members in an aggregate series of meetings, the grant goes to those halls for the year; so that at all stages there is democratic control and knowledge of the way in which the funds are being used.

The halls in the R.A.C.S. area have always operated at a loss. There is no question of them making any profit. Hiring charges are made in certain cases. Taking the figures for the last five years, one finds that the hiring fees for that period were £61,000 but that the expenditure was £72,000, so that there was an average yearly loss of over £2,000 on these 29 halls.

I should like to say a word about the uses which are made of these halls, because this, it seems to me, is the kingpin of the whole argument. I have referred to one society, although a similar case could easily be made for the Manchester district and many others. In the case of many of the older inner suburbs of London, the Co-operative halls are of the greatest value, because there have not been too many halls even before the war and with the extensive bombing that went on, those that remain are now used more extensively than ever.

In the Kent and Surrey parts of the society's area, the halls were built shortly before the last war, when housing developments were beginning to take place. Since the war there has been considerable building in all these areas, so these halls now are virtually the real community centres of many of the new housing estates. They have kept pace with developments, and in both the inner London area and the suburbs, even outside the boundaries of the County of London, these halls are performing a very valuable general community service. There are two categories of users. I am giving specific examples from one area so that the Minister can check them. They help to prove conclusively the community use which these halls now serve.

The first use is by the education committee of the society itself. There are about 80 men's and women's guilds, some of which meet each week in those halls, and they use them also for social functions for children or for old folk. There are about 20 children's organisations using these 29 halls, either weekly or fortnightly. About 40 general educational classes are held in the halls. A number of cultural societies use them, and even the local education authorities in some areas where other accommodation is not to be obtained hold classes. That is the first group of users, whose case will commend itself to everybody.

Then there is a second group. Many religious organisations use these halls weekly. There are also classes for women, not conducted by the Co-operative movement, but by local education authorities under further education schemes and by other bodies. The halls are used for blood-donor sessions; about 20 old-age pensioners' meetings are held in them. The society makes them no charge or only a nominal charge. The halls are used for school prizegivings. In one place in South-East London the Co-operative hall is the only hall where the children and parents can all be accommodated together. Meal services for the old often operate from the halls. There are activities in connection with the welfare of the blind, the bazaars of charitable bodies, and so on.

I have quoted all these examples from recent annual reports, which provide a good and, I hope, a convincing list of the activities which are carried on. I submit that it would be difficult to find any other places which serve the community to better purpose than the halls of registered societies of this kind. They are centres of excellent community work. They ought to rank equally with village halls or community centres for discretionary relief of rates in part or whole because that is, in fact, what they are. I hope that the Minister will feel sympathetically towards this plea and give us an encouraging reply.

Mr. Sandys

I will deal with the four matters which were raised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens), who moved the Amendment, and the others who have spoken on other Amendments which are not to be called. My right hon. and learned Friend asked me to tell the Committee whether or not subsection (4) as now drafted included a company or corporation. If the words "corporation" and "company" were inserted they would be governed by the rest of the subsection, which says that the corporation or company would be one … which is not established or conducted for profit and whose main objects are religious, educational or philanthropic … There are charities which are formed in that way. Some of them are charitable trusts, others are corporations, others are non-profit-making companies. It is certainly not our intention to make any distinction between different constitutions of charities. If, when I have taken further advice upon it, the Bill is not satisfactory on that point, I will see to it that this is made perfectly clear.

It does not follow, of course, that all companies and corporations which comply with the definition in the Clause would automatically receive this discretion. It is a matter for the discretion of the local authorities. I mention that only because it was said in the debate that it seemed undesirable that these companies and corporations should be brought within the scope of the Clause.

I come to the proposal of the hon. Member for Falmouth mid Camborne (Mr. Hayman) that we should exclude educational bodies altogether from the operation of local authority discretion.

Mr. Hayman

As I said, my Amendment was placed on the Notice Paper for clarification. I did not say that I was proposing to exclude them altogether.

Mr. Sandys

I am glad to hear that. I missed that point. I imagine that such a proposal would hardly commend itself generally to the Committee.

The hon. Member's main point was that there were many schools which would qualify for this discretion, if the local authority chose to exercise it, which, in his view, were not in need of relief of this kind. Again, it is a matter for the discretion of local authorities. Earlier in the debate, we all appreciated the impossibility of providing a definition which, in advance, fits every case perfectly. The important thing is that, in so far as it is a question of local authority discretion, it is better to err by going too far than by not going far enough, for it is still for the local authority to decide what it wishes to do.

In inserting the phrase "educational purposes" we were not thinking exclusively or even primarily of schools. We had in mind, also, a number of other bodies within this class of educational organisations, for example, the National Institute for Adult Education, the National Adult School Union, the Workers' Educational Association, and organisations such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides movements. If the Amendment, which the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne does not wish to move in any case, were adopted, organisations of that kind would be excluded, which I am sure would not be the desire of the Committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Sir H. Linstead) asked that the discretion given to local authorities for the exemption from or remission of rates under subsection (4) should be extended to scientific bodies. I have much sympathy with my hon. Friend's approach to this question. We have to do everything we can to assist and encourage scientific bodies, but I hardly think that that would be an appropriate way of doing it. It would extend the provisions of the Bill very widely indeed.

We are assuming that these are not charitable organisations, otherwise they would have been included already in the subsection. The great number of these organisations are of a wholly different character. The case to which my hon. Friend referred, which came before the courts, related to a research organisation which had been set up by an industry. One can say that it was concerned with the pursuit of scientific knowledge, but with the direct purpose of helping the business of the industry.

Mr. Ian Mikardo (Reading)

And already subsidised in other ways from public funds.

11.15 p.m.

Mr. Sandys

I do not think I needed that addition to what I was saying.

It is quite enough to point out that there is no controversy over this matter. These are organisations many of which are right outside the field we have been considering in this connection. That does not mean that I do not think they are doing important and valuable work, but I hardly think that they should be brought into a subject which was essentially concerned with charitable and educational questions arising under this Clause.

I now come to the remarks of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington). The hon. Gentleman recommended that we should give rating authorities powers to reduce or remit rates on properties occupied by a society registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act and also used wholly or mainly for educational and philanthropic purposes. We all recognise the important work which these societies are doing, but, again, his proposal would take us a long way beyond the conception underlying this Clause. All kinds of societies can be registered under that Act. They are not necessarily non-profit-making and they come into the class referred to several times of organisations which would not be worried by having to pay rates.

If discretionary powers to reduce or remit rates were to be extended to societies in this category, which is a very large one, there would be no good reason for not extending this discretionary power to all property used for educational or philanthropic purposes. That really would widen the field to an extent which has never been contemplated and certainly has not been proposed hitherto in the course of our debates.

I hope that those remarks have adequately replied to the speeches that have been made on these points.

Sir P. Spens

Having regard to what my right hon. Friend has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: In page 10, line 34, at end, insert: or any hereditament which is occupied by a society registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Acts, 1893 to 1954, and which is used wholly or mainly for educational or philanthropic purposes".—[Mr. A. Skeffington.]

Question put, That those words be there inserted:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 130, Noes 193.

Division No. 9.] AYES [11.17 p.m.
Ainsley, J. W. Greenwood, Anthony Oram, A. E.
Allaun, F. (Salford, E.) Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R. Orbach, M.
Allen, Arthur (Bosworth) Grey, C. F. Oswald, T.
Awbery, S. S. Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly) Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)
Bacon, Miss Alice Hannan, W. Parker, J.
Balfour, A. Hayman, F. H. Pearson, A.
Bartley, P. Healey, Denis Popplewell, E.
Benn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S. E.) Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis) Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)
Benson, G. Herbison, Miss M. Probert, A. R.
Blackburn, F. Hobson, C. R. Proctor, W. T.
Blenkinsop, A. Holman, P. Rhodes, H.
Blyton, W. R. Holmes, Horace Robinson, Kenneth (St. Panoras, N.)
Boardman, H. Howell, Charles (Perry Barr) Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S. W.) Howell, Denis (All Saints) Ross, William
Boyd, T. C. Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey) Short, E. W.
Brown, Thomas (Ince) Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Skeffington, A. M.
Burke, W. A. Hunter, A. E. Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe) Slater, J. (Sedgefield)
Callaghan, L. J. Irving, S. (Dartford) Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)
Carmichael, J. Janner, B. Sparks, J. A.
Castle, Mrs. B. A. Jeger, George (Goole) Stewart, Michael (Fulham)
Champion, A. J. Johnson, James (Rugby) Stones, W. (Consett)
Coldrick, W. Jones, Elwyn (W. Ham, S.) Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.
Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead) Jones, Jack (Rotherham) Swingler, S. T.
Collins, V. J. (Shoreditoh & Finsbury) Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Taylor, John (West Lothian)
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Jones, T. W. (Merioneth) Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) King, Dr. H. M. Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn
Cullen, Mrs. A. Lawson, G. M. Watkins, T. E.
Dalton, Rt. Hon. H. Lee, Frederick (Newton) Wells, Percy (Faversham)
Deer, G. Lever, Leslie (Ardwick) West, D. G.
de Freitas, Geoffrey Lewis, Arthur Wheeldon, W. E.
Dodds, N. N. Lindgren, G. S. White, Henry (Derbyshire, N. E.)
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Logan, D. G. Willey, Frederick
Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse) MacColl, J. E. Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Ab'tillery)
Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly) McInnes, J. Williams, Ronald (Wigan)
Edwards, W. J. (Stepney) McLeavy, F. Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)
Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury). MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling) Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)
Fernyhough, E. Mahon, S. Winterbottom, Richard
Finch, H. J. Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A. Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Forman, J. C. Mason, Roy Yates, V. (Ladywood)
Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton) Mikardo, Ian Younger, Rt. Hon. K.
Freeman, Peter Mitchison, G. R. Zilliacus, K.
Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N. Monslow, W.
Gibson, C. W. Moody, A. S. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Mr. J. T. Price and Mr. Wilkins.
Agnew, Cmdr. P. G. Cole, Norman Green, A.
Aitken, W. T. Cooper-Key, E. M. Gresham Cooke, R.
Alport, C. J. M. Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K. Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)
Amery, Julian (Preston, N.) Corfield, Capt. F. V. Gurden, Harold
Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J. Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne) Hall, John (Wycombe)
Arbuthnot, John Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hn. H. F. C. Hare, Hon. J. H.
Armstrong, C. W. Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.)
Atkins, H. E. Crouch, R. F. Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon)
Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M. Cunningham, S. K. Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)
Balniel, Lord Currie, G. B. H, Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)
Banks, Col. C. Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.) Heath, Edward
Barber, Anthony Deedes, W. F. Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton)
Barlow, Sir John Dodds-Parker, A. D. Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)
Barter, John Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA. Hill, John (S. Norfolk)
Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.) Doughty, C. J. A. Hinchingbrooke, Viscount
Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth) Drayson, G. B. Hirst, Geoffrey
Bidgood, J. C. Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, W.) Hornsby-Smith, Mist M. P.
Bishop, F. P. Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E. Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)
Black, C. W. Errington, Sir Eric Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.)
Body, R. F. Farey-Jones, F. W. Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J.
Bossom, Sir A. C. Fell, A. Hughes-Young, M. H. C.
Boyle, Sir Edward Finlay, Graeme Hulbert, Wing Cmdr. Sir Norman
Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry Fisher, Nigel Hurd, A. R.
Brooman-White, R. C. Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F. Hutchison, James (Scotstoun)
Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton) Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale) Hyde, Montgomery
Bryan, P. Freeth, D. K. Irvine, Godman (Rye)
Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T Gammans, L. D. Jennings, J. C. (Burton)
Bullus, Wing Commander E. E. Garner-Evans, E. H. Johnson, Eric (Blackley)
Carr, Robert Glover, D. Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.
Cary, Sir Robert Gower, H. R. Keegan, D.
Channon, H. Graham, Sir Fergus Kerby, Capt. H. B.
Chichester-Clark, R. Grant, W. (Woodside) Kerr, H. W.
Clarke, Brig. Terenoe (Portsmth, W.) Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich) Kirk, P. M.
Lagden, G. W. Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'ch) Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)
Lambert, Hon. G. Nugent, G. R. H. Teeling, W.
Leavey, J. A. Oakshott, H. D. Thomas, Rt. Hn. J. P. L. (Hereford)
Leburn, W. G. O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.) Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)
Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H. Osborne, C. Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)
Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield) Page, R. G. Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)
Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.) Panned, N. A. (Kirkdale) Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.
Lindsay, Martin (Solihull) Pickthorn, K. W. M. Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.)
Linstead, Sir H. N. Pott, H. P. Turner, H. F. L.
Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.) Powell, J. Enoch Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.
Longden, Gilbert Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L. Vane, W. M. F.
Mackie, J. H. (Galloway) Profumo, J. D. Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.
McLaughlin, Mrs. P. Raikes, Sir Victor Vickers, Miss J. H
Maclay, Rt. Hon. John Redmayne, M. Vosper, D. F.
MacLeod, John (Ross & Cromarty) Rees-Davies, W. R. Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries) Ridsdale, J. E. Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)
Maddan, Martin Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks) Walker-Smith, D. C.
Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle) Russell, R. S. Wall, Major Patrick
Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R. Sandys, Rt. Hon. D. Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)
Markham, Major Sir Frank Schofield, Lt.-Col. W. Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)
Marlowe, A. A. H. Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R. Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.
Marshall, Douglas Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.) Whitelaw, W.S.I.(Penrith & Sordar)
Mathew, R. Smithers, Peter (Winchester) Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)
Maude, Angus Soames, Capt. C. Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Mawby, R. L. Spearman, A. C. M. Wills, G. (Bridgwater)
Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C. Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kens'gt'n, S.) Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Medlicott, Sir Frank Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.) Wood, Hon. R.
Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R. Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.) Yates, William (The Wrekin)
Molson, A. H. E. Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.
Nabarro, G. D. N. Storey, S. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Nairn, D. L. S. Studholme, H. G. Mr. Kenneth Thompson and
Neave, Airey Summers, G. S (Aylesbury) Mr. Godber.
Nicholls, Harmar Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)
Mr. Mikardo

I beg to move, in page 10, line 34, at end, insert: or the provision by amateurs of entertainment consisting of one or more of the items specified in section ten of the Finance Act, 1949". A little earlier the Minister, when resisting any addition to the list of organisations to whom relief would be granted on the orders of the House of Commons without any discretionary powers to local authorities, said that he did not so much mind, or did not mind at all, another addition or two to the list of organisations to which relief could be given at the discretion of local authorities.

I thought he was right not to want to extend the mandatory list, and equally right to want to extend the discretionary list, but so far he has not, and the Committee has not, agreed to any extension of the discretionary list. I assume, and certainly hope, that what he had in mind when he said that he did not object much to an addition to the discretionary list was that he would accept my Amendment and permit local authorities to give rate relief, partially or wholly, to amateur entertainments.

In order to refresh the minds of hon. Members, Section 10 of the Finance Act, 1949, lists a stage play; a ballet, whether a stage play or not; a performance of music, whether vocal or instrumental; a lecture; a recitation; and an eisteddfod. Most likely to benefit from discretion being given to local authorities would be amateur dramatic societies, amateur music and operatic societies, and, in Wales, eisteddfods. I offer apologies to hon. Members from Welsh constituencies if I pronounce "eisteddfod" wrongly, but I am sure that I am by no means the first to have done so.

There are all over the country a large number of "little theatres," as they have conic to be called, some run by professional stage bodies, some by mixed professionals and amateurs, and some by amateurs. They are literally "little theatres." They charge low prices for seats, and are "broke" nearly all the time. Whether they are technically called profit-making or not, they never make any profit. Indeed, they have the greatest difficulty for the most part in keeping going and either fail after a year or are kept going by some well-wishers who want to see decent plays presented in towns where there are no other opportunities for having them presented and for having music decently rendered.

11.30 p.m.

We have one of these groups in Reading, and many hon. Members will have one in their constituencies. Ours is a little group calling itself the Progress Theatre. It runs in an adapted theatre which has altogether 104 seats, so that if 2s. 6d. is charged and every seat is filled the most that can be got is £13. That will not go far even for amateurs who do not have to pay for services when they have to pay for light, heat and a quite heavy rating bill, as well as costs like the hire of costumes and the hire of furniture and the rest of it.

It is not altogether clear whether these bodies would fall within the present wording of the Clause, that is to say, a Society or organisation not established or conducted for profit and whose main objects are religious, educational or philanthropic". I think that the presentation of good plays and good music is an educational object, but I suppose that could be argued. Since it could be argued, it is not clear that it falls within the definition of the Clause. Nor is it clear whether these bodies, although they never make a profit, could be described as being conducted for profit if, as sometimes happens, they have a surplus on revenue account which they spend on capital account, for example, to pay for new seats. There is certainly one school of accountancy which would argue that, if in one year they made a profit, even though they had no money to show for it.

Because of those two grounds it is possible that these bodies might not fall within the present wording, so I have proposed this addition to the wording. I deliberately chose, on the advice of my hon. and learned and indefatigable Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), to lean on Section 10 of the Finance Act, 1949, because it is in that Section that the Chancellor has made provision to relieve these bodies from entertainments tax. Clearly, he did that because he thought that they were worthy of public encouragement and public support, including financial support.

But his object will not have been achieved, if, as often happens in practice, the relief from Entertainments Duty is not sufficient to ensure the survival of these bodies which are killed from time to time by other factors, including all too frequently the factor of a considerable payment of rates. The Committee will be aware that local authorities have powers to spend up to a 6d. rate on the provision of entertainment. Some have exercised these powers and some have not. Some may have refrained from so doing, not because they did not want to spend the money, but because they did not have the staff or facilities available for doing the job, or because they were too busy with other things. A partial, or total, relief from rates to a body of the sort covered by the Clause would be an easy and painless way at very low cost—in the overwhelming majority of cases it would amount to only a fraction of a penny rate—of exercising their powers to provide entertainment, without landing themselves in a lot of administrative difficulties. I believe that local authorities would welcome the opportunity of being able to assist these bodies in this way.

Captain Soames

In order that the Committee can understand the problem involved, would the hon. Member state the rates paid by the body he has instanced? Secondly, is he seeking to include theatres which sometimes put on professional and sometimes amateur shows?

Mr. Mikardo

I am afraid that I cannot give the exact figure, although I can say that this group states that the rates do threaten its continued survival more than anything else. On the second point, I should have thought that the power would have been limited to buildings occupied solely by amateur performers. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman will look again at my Amendment he will see that it refers to … one or more of the items specified in section ten of the Finance Act, 1949". and that Section lays down pretty clearly what constitutes an amateur group. For the reasons I have given, I hope the Minister will find that this proposal commends itself to him, and that he will agree to its being incorporated in the Bill.

Mr. Angus Maude (Ealing, South)

I will not detain the Committee, but there is one point which I must suggest to the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo), and to the Parliamentary Secretary. In moving his Amendment, the hon. Member for Reading, with whose objects, incidentally, I have considerable sympathy, stated that he had decided to define these theatres by reference to the entertainment tax provisions as contained in the Finance Act, 1949. With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I do not think that that is probably the best way of doing this, because the subsection of this Bill with which the hon. Gentleman is concerned defines the main objects as "religious, educational or philanthropic" and I should have thought that that covered a fairly well defined group. I would say that any little theatre coming remotely near to that is already exempted as an educational charity.

That, surely, is the test which ought to be applied in giving the local authority power to exercise its ability to exempt from rates. Any little theatre, any "experimental" theatre, such as I have in my own constituency, would pass that test and is already exempted from Income Tax. That, I think, is the right test, rather than the principle of entertainment tax. Anything which passes the Income Tax test will already be within the meaning of this Bill in relation to the local authority's power to exempt from rates.

Mr. Mikardo

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am not a lawyer, but I would explain that the Little Theatre Guild has already taken legal advice and that that advice is that the Clause, as it stands at present, would not give exemption.

Mr. Maude

With respect, I think that that is a matter which the Minister and the Government have still to define. I, too, have tried to discover what is the position, and my advice has been that these theatres are probably covered; but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would welcome a ruling and an explanation from the Government.

Mr. Deedes

The object of this Amendment is to relieve certain amateur entertainments, which are already exempt from entertainments tax. That, in effect, is broadly the object of the proposal. The items mentioned include a stage play, a ballet, a performance of music, a lecture, a recitation, or an eisteddfod.

Without in the least denying that this is a deserving form of entertainment and one which, no doubt, makes a serious contribution to culture, I must say that that is really not the issue which the Committee has to consider. In our earlier discussion on this Clause we spoke about charitable and kindred organisations. This question does not really fall within that field at all. It may be deserving, but to accept the Amendment would be, as I think several hon. Members are aware, to open up a very much wider field of institutions which were not only charitable, but which made their contribution to culture and which deserved some remission of this sort. If we were to take as a basis for relief of rates institutions which are already covered by provisions under the Finance Act, we should, I think, be entering on a very wide field indeed.

With regard to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Maude), I will certainly check on any legal situation about which he may have doubts before the next stage of the Bill. I do not want to give a ruling on that at the moment. It is really the width of the field upon which this Amendment embarks that leads me to say that, deserving though the cause may be, we cannot accept the Amendment.

The Chairman

Does the hon. Gentleman wish a decision to be taken, or does he wish to withdraw his Amendment?

Mr. Mikardo

I do not wish to withdraw the Amendment, Sir Charles.

Amendment negatived.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

11.43 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Harry Crookshank)

I beg to move, That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again.

Clause 6 having now stood part of the Bill, it was not the intention of the Government that the Committee should sit late, and I do not think that it was the desire of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition when, earlier this afternoon, we had a certain interchange about arrangements for this Bill. I think, therefore, that this is probably the right stage for the Committee to cease discussing the Measure tonight, though it is not as far as I had understood from the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition that he expected us to go.

Mr. MacColl

Who made long speeches?

Mr. Crookshank

It is not a question of who made long speeches or of the speeches which have been made. I have no doubt that they have been valuable contributions to the debate, though I have not had the privilege of hearing all of them. The point was that the Leader of the Opposition had hopes that we should finish the Committee stage tonight and should deal with the new Clauses and the Schedules on the day which the Government have provided.

On the other hand, it was also understood that we were not going to incommode the Committee by sitting late, and, broadly speaking, sitting late means about this time, when it is convenient for hon. Members to get home. Therefore, if the Committee now accepts this Motion, it is, so far as I am concerned, on the understanding that we conclude the Bill at the next sitting day on Thursday without sitting late. Indeed, I should hope to finish it by 10 o'clock. Whether hon. Gentlemen can give us a guarantee on that I would not know, but, so long as it is understood that we do not propose to sit late on Thursday I am prepared to ask the Committee to agree that we report Progress.

Mr. Lindgren

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the Motion he has moved. I think that his request is reasonable. Certainly, we on this side of the Committee will do our best to see that the completion of the Bill is reached by 10 o'clock on Thursday. Equally, I think that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that such an arrangement ought to apply to both sides of the Committee. There ought not to be an undue proportion of time taken up by hon. Members on either side.

Mr. Crookshank

I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. Of course, that is not a guarantee which either he or I can give, because once an hon. Member is called he has the Floor until he elects to sit down. I think however that, with the proviso he has made, we are in agreement. We want to work together. We did not expect that the House would require more than two days for the Committee stage, and now it has been given a third. I think that that ought to be a reasonable arrangement.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.