HC Deb 13 November 1956 vol 560 cc885-910

10.2 p.m.

Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)

I beg to move. That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Local Government (Qualifications of Assessors) (Scotland) Regulations, 1956 (S.I., 1956, No. 1594), dated 10th October, 1956, a copy of which was laid before this House on 17th October, in the last Session of Parliament, be annulled. My purpose in moving this prayer is not to divide the House or to ask the Government to cancel the Regulations as they stand, unless we are not satisfied that the Government have done the right thing. There have been questions raised in regard to the procedure taken by the Government in dealing with these Regulations, and we think that it is right that they should tell the House why they have done this in this way and whether it is the only way in which it could be done.

The Act empowers the Secretary of State to prescribe qualifications for the people who are to act as assessors. I take it that the purpose is to ensure that only competent people are appointed to these positions. The question arises whether the Government have not just taken the easiest way to ensure that somebody qualified is appointed and whether they have not. in taking the easiest way, excluded from the possibility of appointment other people who may be equally qualified but who cannot possibly apply under these limited qualifications.

The first question which I should like to ask the Joint Under-Secretary of State is why only three societies can be considered as authorities regarding the qualifications of people who are to be assessors? Why is it limited to these three societies, because by limiting the certification or qualification to them it is in effect giving them a monopoly as to who may be assessors and who may not. In previous Acts of Parliament there has been a much wider field. For instance, in regard to the qualification of county treasurers and town chamberlains a very large number of societies were included as possible authorities for the appointment of such people. There are people who have been doing this work for a great number of years. There is, of course, that school of experience. I recognise at once the difficulty, unless some standard is set, of merely saying that because a person has done the job for a number of years he is of necessity qualified. In discussing these matters on the passing of the Bill, we took the view that there ought to be assured qualifications.

I wish to ask the Secretary of State whether he has considered the position of those individuals who have been doing these jobs and who definitely have the qualifications although they are not members of these societies. Is there any way in which they could be considered for these appointments? It is possible that among the assessors there might be some who are well qualified to do the job. Is there any way in which these societies could test the qualifications of such people to see that they are not excluded?

It would be an injustice to exclude a man who has been doing the job successfully and yet to admit people who may have the necessary qualifications without any guarantee that they can do the job. The mere fact that a person becomes a. paper engineer does not mean that he is a good engineer. On the other hand, there are some people who never became paper engineers but who managed businesses successfully and conducted great engineering establishments which achieved a high degree of success.

We are anxious to ensure that there will not be any injustice and that people will not be excluded automatically just because they do not belong to one of the societies. The restrictions to these three societies appears on the surface unduly to limit the field for recruiting purposes. Are there any other societies, such as the Land and Valuation Society, or others, which might be included in the list? Has there been any invitation to these societies to offer themselves as guarantors as to quality?

Suppose a civil servant from the staff of the Board of Inland Revenue who has been doing similar work for many years wishes to apply for a job. Would he be considered to have the necessary qualifications? Is there any doubt that he might not have as good qualifications as some of those who are members of these societies? I do not want to review all the possibilities, but it seems that there are many and that we may be unduly restricting the area of recruitment.

I assure the Government that we have no desire to get round the provisions of the Act which wants the Secretary of State to ensure that qualified assessors are appointed. It is not with any idea of lowering the standard that we ask these questions. We merely wish to ensure that nobody is excluded merely because he is not a member of one of these chosen societies. We hear a lot about chosen races and chosen societies, and one wants to leave it open to everyone who has the qualifications to be able to apply for the job. We hope that there may be some method of testing the qualifications of anyone who wishes to apply, especially those who have been doing similar work. They should have an equal opportunity with those who are members of the societies.

10.10 p.m.

Colonel Sir Alan Gomme-Duncan (Perth and East Perthshire)

I will not detain the House for more than a minute. The right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) has largely expressed the anxieties which some of us have as to whether automatically the fact that a person has a certificate from one of the three societies named in the Regulations necessarily makes him better than somebody who has already been doing the job for some time. What we want from my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State is an assurance that the best man will be chosen for the job. It is quite likely that a young man who has just passed his examination could not hold a candle in efficiency and practical knowledge to a man who had been doing it for years.

My second point is to ask whether we can be certain that those who are now holding these positions will be compensated for loss of livelihood if they are not chosen—and we realise that some of them will not be chosen. Those are the two points I wish to put. A lot depends on what the Minister has to say, for there is an anxiety throughout Scotland that under the Regulations it will not be the best man who is chosen but the man who has the paper qualifications. That is what I am not very happy about.

10.11 p.m.

Mr. G. M. Thomson (Dundee, East)

I support my right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Wood-burn) in praying against the Regulations, but I would feel more strongly against the content of the actual Regulations than did my right hon. Friend. It seems to me that the Regulations in their operation may lead to manifest personal injustices. I fully support the motive behind the Regulation—the desire to raise the professional standards in assessment throughout Scotland; I have no quarrel with that. The method by which this is being done, however, breaks past precedents in such a way that personal hardships will be caused.

I am concerned about the position in the city which I represent. As I think the Joint Under-Secretary knows, because I have had correspondence with him, the position in Dundee will be particularly serious when the new Regulations come into operation. In Dundee, whose status as a valuation authority is not altered in any way by the Act, we have the position that under the new legislation the existing city assessor will be one of the unqualified persons and will not be entitled to apply for the post which he at present holds. As I understand it, the post and the job will be exactly the same, and the present city assessor of Dundee has behind him 30 years of experience in the City of Dundee as a principal officer in the Assessor's Department and as city assessor.

I assure the Minister that as far as official and representative feeling in Dundee goes, there has been every possible satisfaction with the professional skill of this official. Representations have been made to me both from town councillors and from official sections within the corporation and I assure the Minister that everybody in Dundee, on both sides of the corporation and in the corporation service itself, feels that an injustice will be done if the Regulations operate in such a way that under the new Act this man, who has behind him so many years of great experience, is not to be entitled to be considered for the post.

In correspondence with the Minister, I have had the reply that assessors who are not qualified under the new Regulations will still be entitled to serve in the departments and may even be entitled to higher emoluments than they at present receive. That, however, is not the point. In the personal case to which I have referred—I give it only as an example of what may well be other personal anomalies in the operation of the Regulations—the officer has behind him 30 years of professional work. By the time that one has that amount of life behind one, it is not really the salary which one is earning which counts. If one has only ten further years of public service ahead, what matters is the status which one holds in the community which one has served for that length of time. It is very unfortunate if, after all that length of time with complete local satisfaction, these Regulations are to operate in such a way that an officer is to be demoted.

If normal precedent had been followed, this kind of thing would not have happened. The position of assessors seems exactly similar to that of city chamberlains or county treasurers whose posts were the subject of very similar legislation under a previous Administration a few years ago. In those cases it was specifically laid down that in trying to raise the general professional standards those who had ten or twenty years' service in the finance departments of local authorities and who were either city chamberlains or deputes or county treasurers or deputes should be entitled to be considered for those positions. There are other precedents in other kinds of public service. When comparable changes were made in England, allowance was made for assessors qualified by experience, but not qualified on paper.

It is a great pity and rather hard to understand that similar- flexibility was not laid down in these Regulations. Only a very few people are involved, but this House does not measure an injustice by the number of people involved in it. I hope that even at this stage the Government will feel able to say that they will take back the Regulations and reconsider them. I have every support for efforts to raise professional standards, but I hope that the Government will reconsider this matter in order to try to avoid creating personal injustice.

10.17 p.m.

Captain J. A. L. Duncan (South Angus)

I cannot quarrel with what the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) has said. He has made the sort of case which I want to make for the County of Angus, but the County of Angus has a case even more extreme than that of the City of Dundee. After serving in the First World War, the county assessor went into the office of the Glasgow city assessor in 1918 or 1919. He entered his father's office of county assessor of Angus at about 1920 and became the county assessor in 1922 when his father resigned.

The county assessor of Angus has therefore had 34 years' experience of this work and was trained not only in Glasgow, but by his father, who had been county assessor before him. After 34 years' experience, it seems a little hard that this man should have to give up his official position on 16th May next year. The suggestion that he should be made a special assistant in the new valuation assessor's office, even with higher emoluments, does not really meet the point, because, as the hon. Member for Dundee, East has said, he loses his status as the county assessor.

In those days, when a man became an assessor, no qualifications were required. Indeed, it was not possible or necessary for a county assessor to become qualified. These Regulations come as a great blow to a man who has worked so efficiently and so well.

Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)

Does not the hon. and gallant Member appreciate that it is not these Regulations, but an Act of Parliament which he so enthusiastically supported, which provides that his assessor will give up his appointment on 15th May?

Captain Duncan

The hon. Member is introducing party quarrels. I hope that he will not do so, because the Act says that the man should be a properly qualified assessor. I do not object to that, but I am suggesting that 34 years' experience is a proper qualification. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) ought to keep quiet and allow me to make my case without interruption.

Mr. T. Fraserrose

Captain Duncan

No, I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman has interrupted enough.

There is another matter. There are four county assessors and 12 other assessors in the same position. There are not very many suitable persons in Scotland for these jobs. If the Angus County Council, for instance, and Dundee City Council and may be Perth County Council are all obliged to find by 16th May new people properly qualified they may find it extremely difficult to do so.

I ask my hon. Friend whether he can consider redrafting these Regulations, so that they may follow the lines of the legislation dealing with county treasurers and other people. I ask him to introduce a saving clause to safeguard the position of those with, say, twenty years' experience of this office. In the nature of things these people will pass in a few years' time into honourable retirement. I should have thought it would have eased the task of those who have to appoint these rather specially qualified people if there were some elasticity, some saving clause, in the Regulations to protect these officers.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Sir A. Gomme-Duncan) argued about compensation. I do not think there is any doubt that the Angus man is covered for compensation. Perhaps the situation is different in Perth. This is not, however, a question of the interests of the man so much as a question of the interests of the county. For the two reasons I have mentioned, because a man is properly qualified after 34 years' service, and because of the difficulty that the county council will have in finding a man, perhaps a young and inexperienced but qualified man, to take over the work, I think some saving clause should be introduced, and I hope my hon. Friend will reconsider the matter.

10.22 p.m.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

It is rather a pity that the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan) should have gone out of his way to shout down my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser), who intervened, because my hon. Friend was quite right. These Regulations are based on the fact that under Statute valuation officers in Scotland give up their jobs on 15th May next. The rub is that the appointments thereafter are to be very many fewer. Because of the changes which we have made by the new Act there are fewer posts than there are at present people employed on this job.

This has been a triumph for the assessors. It is very unfair indeed of the Government to assume that of the assessors presently working in Scotland the best and most qualified are those who happen to belong to three societies. The numbers affected are so small that the Department must surely know every one of them personally, and can make a fair assessment of his abilities.

We cannot amend these arbitrary Regulations. We can only pray against them, and vote against them, and that is not very desirable in this instance. It is very unfair of the Government to decide that there is not one of these people fit to take one of the new posts. I am sure that the Joint Under-Secretary of State does not really believe that himself. I am sure that the Secretary of State does not. We on this side of the House are as anxious as anybody to raise the general standards of assessment throughout Scotland, and we gave our support to that object in Scottish Grand Committee when the last Measure affecting it was in Committee.

Surely the interpretation of the Section, whereby we seek to raise the standards and which refers to qualified persons, does not mean that anyone who happens to be doing the job and is a fellow or professional associate of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, or a fellow or associate of the Chartered Auctioneers' and Estate Agents' Institute, or a fellow or qualified associate of the Land Agents' Society, is qualified for the job, and that those people and those people only are qualified. Nor surely does it mean that someone who is not doing the job at present but happens to be a member of one of these bodies can do the job better than someone who is acting as a county surveyor of Angus or is the gentleman referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson). That is terribly unfair, and I sincerely hope that the Government will reconsider it.

It is obvious that anyone who is acting as surveyor in a large burgh or county cannot continue to be acting in a similar post when there is a reduced number of posts. Obviously, those people should have a right to apply and be considered on their qualifications, be they paper qualifications plus experience, or paper qualifications alone, or experience alone. We have to trust to the good sense of the people who are making the appointments. My recollection of the Act fails me, but cannot the Secretary of State also have an ultimate voice in these appointments? Surely, we should rest on that, out of fairness to the people who have been doing the job and many of whom may be capable of filling the post.

It should be remembered that not only cannot they be assessors but they cannot be even depute assessors under the Regulations. I hope that the Secretary of State, who has heard the powerful case put forward tonight, will consider withdrawing the Regulations. I do not think that it would be a wrong thing to do. It would not be a defeat for the Government. It would be a victory for good sense, and I hope that he will do it.

10.27 p.m.

Mr. J. C. George (Glasgow, Pollok)

I have a great deal of sympathy with the Prayer. I hope that we shall not look at this problem as a party matter. Very few men are involved. It is illuminating to look round the House and to notice that there are more hon. Members interested in the question than there are assessors or depute assessors involved in the problem.

It has been made quite clear that the assessors and depute assessors cease to hold their positions on a certain date and that they cannot apply for the new job. There are possibly a dozen involved, and that fact makes us feel most strongly on the point. The House is never more definitely for righting an injustice than when it is defending one person, and we are talking about a dozen. It is part of the case that few are involved. The Regulations could not have been made if many had been involved.

There are plenty of precedents for the protection of people occupying a job which ceases to exist as a result of Regulations. In many of these precedents there are arrangements for the retention of the position. We are not asking for that retention but simply that these people be given the right to apply for the job. As the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) said, we can safely leave the selection of suitable people to the councils involved, and we have heard from both sides of the House of the confidence that we put in local councils. I am certain that we can leave it to them to make sure that in the future, with the new changes brought about by the Act, suitable persons are employed as assessors.

We are asking that these assessors should, somehow or other, be given the right to apply for the new jobs. We are told that compensation is to be paid, but compensation is no substitute for an interesting job. Men are not completely mercenary animals, to be paid off simply by offering them compensation. Most professional men love their work, and they value their local prestige and hate the thought of a premature idleness.

In what they suggest are not these Regulations going against the modern idea of the length of the working life of professional people? In the educational field, have we not recently made arrangements whereby experienced headmasters and directors of education can continue beyond the age of 65, to the age of 70? Is not modern thought tending to the idea that people should work longer, and not be retired earlier? Are not these Regulations inconsistent with what we have been preaching in recent months?

Why do the Regulations lay down that these men should be put out of their jobs and not given the right to apply for new ones unless they have certain qualifications? Is it on grounds of ability? We have heard from hon. Members on both sides of the House that many men with long experience will be unable to apply for the new posts. Is it that the methods of valuation will be vastly different? What we have heard is that in rating and valuation uniformity is the ideal to be striven for in the future, and I would suggest, therefore, that the future valuation of asessments must be easier.

If we are to have uniformity we must work to certain mathematical formulae, and all the intimate knowledge gained throughout the years will not be of such importance as it was in the past; it will become a more or less routine job. I am certain that any changes brought about can readily be assimilated by these men with years of experience for whom we plead tonight.

It is not on the question of ability that we bar them from taking these posts, but purely on the question of qualifications. We must pay due respect to the opinion of the Advisory Council which recommended this course to the Secretary of State; but that committee was studying this problem from only one angle, whereas we, in this House, must study it from another angle. We have the duty of seeing that justice is done.

Paper qualifications can mean a lot or a little. I have paper qualifications from certain institutes, but it is very long since I practised the art in which I qualified, and I could not claim to be a competent man today, yet I could put those qualifications on the table if I were applying for a job. Many men with degrees gained long ago may apply for jobs, having long forgotten what was involved.

There is a way in which the Secretary of State can put right this seeming wrong. I suggest that what has been done previously in the case of the mining industry can be done here. The certification of managers was required, and a certain course was followed to make sure that the industry would not be robbed of the large pool of men with long experience. In that case a large number of men were involved, against whom the sweeping action of today's Regulations could not have been taken. The colliery managers were not asked to sit for examinations but were deemed, by regulation, to be qualified. I suggest that these Regulations should be taken back and studied again with that possibility in mind, and that these men should be deemed to be qualified to hold the new office if they are appointed by the council.

Perhaps these assessors could have years of experience written in. I suggest that the assessors should have a minimum of ten years' experience and the deputes five years. If my right hon. Friend could put it in that form he could perhaps ensure that they were deemed to be qualified for a certain period of, say, three years during which they would be required to qualify. In view of the volume of opinion expressed here this evening I think my right hon. Friend should take the Regulations back and reconsider the matter.

10.35 p.m.

Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)

The case that I want to put is rather embarrassing from my point of view, especially after years of service have been mentioned, because the assessor in Clydebank was a lady. I have to be careful not to say that she performed her job for years and years. She has been doing the job for a long time, although she is still young.

When the Bill was going through the House I realised that the Secretary of State would have to consider a body which was competent to decide about qualifications. When I saw the Regulations I was spending a great deal of leisure time with a retired farmer who knew country towns that I knew and knew some of those who went to school with me. I noticed that a person would be qualified for one of these posts in Dundee or Glasgow if he were an associate of the Chartered Auctioneers' and Estate Agents' Institute—not necessarily a fellow of that body, but an associate. The elderly farmer spoke of boys whom I had known who had served their articles with small land agents and they did not become fellows of the Institute because, as he said, "They were not very bright, Cyril. I believe that so-and-so, who has been working for ten years for so-and-so, is now a rent collector." Yet, according to this Regulation, if that man were an associate, he would be qualified as an assessor. He may have been in his father's firm for many years and at long last become an associate, but he is not good enough to be an assessor in a large urban area or city.

I think it a frightful thing that people who have been doing the job for many years, as in the case of the lady in Clydebank, should not be able to apply. Clydebank will now disappear as a valuation area and the County of Dunbarton becomes the valuation area. The assessor for the area is qualified but he will need a couple of assistants. The lady whom I mentioned knows the area but cannot apply. I doubt very much if anyone can be found who is so conversant with the job. I am sure the Secretary of State never envisaged a situation in which a person who had been doing the job would not be permitted to apply as a depute. She is eliminated. It may be difficult for that lady to take up another occupation.

I beg the Joint Under-Secretary to see whether anything can be done to safeguard people such as that body from the effects of the Regulations, which have such wide qualifications as to be shocking. It lets in anyone who may have served his articles in a small estate agent's office or other office—perhaps selling bulls, cows, calves, rams, tups and wethers—if only he becomes an associate.

Sir A. Gomme-Duncan

What is the difference between a ram and a tup?

Mr. Bence

I cannot explain that here. I will tell the hon. and gallant Gentleman afterwards.

I admit that one has to have a body that will provide a basis of qualification. I am in favour of qualifications for people such as engineers, doctors, dentists and school teachers, but the qualifications required by these Regulations are too wide. A man becomes an associate after about ten years, if he is any good at the job, but those qualifications do not entitle him to become a fellow. He may get that by paying five guineas. It is like being a B.A., who gets his MA. not by passing further examinations but by paying perhaps three guineas.

I ask the Secretary of State to examine this matter again so as to ascertain the position. Why should this position be open to a person who is a fellow or associate, particularly of the Chartered Auctioneers' and Estate Agents' Institute? An associate of that body is not really one of the brightest boys. The lady in Clydebank would be far more able to do that job in Clydebank than an associate of that body. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will look into this point and withdraw that qualification.

10.44 p.m.

Mr. C. N. Thornton-Kemsley (North Angus and Mearns)

Seven hon. Members have spoken so far, and every one has favoured this Prayer. I shall be the exception, because I think that the Prayer is misconceived and that the action which the Government have taken is correct.

No one has suggested that the qualifications which have been recommended by the Advisory Council and accepted by my right hon. Friend, are not the right ones. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, The Chartered Auctioneers' and Estate Agents' Institute and The Land Agents' Society are bodies that qualify members by examination and by practice to do the assessments of valuation for rating purposes.

Mr. Woodburn

Naturally the hon. Gentleman knows a great deal more about these things than I do, but will he say whether those are the only societies that qualify people for such work? Are there other bodies that can be included?

Mr. Thornton-Kemsley

There is one other body, whose qualifications—I want to be quite frank about it—I do not thins are by any means the same. I shall not name the body, because that would not be fair, in view of what I am going to say.

That body has qualified members by examination for only a very short time. Until quite recently, it was open to anyone to buy a fellowship or an associateship in that other body without qualification by examination. I repeat that the three professional bodies which have been named by my right hon. Friend in the Regulations are, in my view, and, I think, certainly in the view of the Advisory Council, the right bodies.

The right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn), who moved the Prayer, spoke about the paper qualifications. Let us be quite clear about that. All these three professional bodies do not require only paper qualifications, That is to say, if a person passes the examinations but does not practise and satisfy those bodies that he is practising with a reputable firm, he does not get his qualification. It is not only qualification by examination: it is qualification by practice.

It is all very well for the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) to make fun about the Chartered Auctioneers' and Estate Agents' Institute, and so on, and to talk about associates who have been used to selling tups in the sale ring. Quite clearly, no responsible local authority would appoint anyone who, in addition to holding what are called these paper qualifications, did not hold also qualifications of experience over a long period of years. Obviously, a local authority would require the person whom it appointed to this important office, either of assessor or depute assessor, to be qualified, not only by examination, but also by practice.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Sir A. Gomme-Duncan) asked about compensation—

Mr. Ross

Does the hon. Member not realise that even if those people are as bad as my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) said, they will still have the right to apply? The people who have been doing the job and who are qualified by experience, however, will not be allowed even to apply.

Mr. Thornton-Kemsley

That is true. They will still have the right to apply, but there is not the least chance that any of them will be appointed unless they have recent practical experience of rating. If I understand Section 4 of the Act correctly, those who are debarred, to whom my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire referred, will not be prevented from claiming compensation.

It is true that the present assessor for Angus, who has been mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan), has acted for a very long time with complete acceptance to the county council, and everyone who knows his work will deeply regret that he is no longer qualified to continue with that work. He is, however, within two or three years of retiring age. He will qualify, certainly, under the terms of Section 4 for compensation, and is not too old to accept a post in private practice, in which there is great demand for such experienced people in Scotland, where he would almost certainly get a partnership in a reputable firm and be able not only to enjoy the emoluments of retirement, but to engage in private practice in rating work.

Mr. G. M. Thomson

Does the hon. Member feel that the assessor of whom he is speaking is qualified by his long experience to carry on his job for a further two or three years until he reaches retirement, or is he arguing that because he does not have these paper qualifications he is not so qualified?

Mr. Thornton-Kemsley

No, I was not arguing that at all. I think he is perfectly qualified by experience—

Mr. Thomson

Why not let him do it?

Mr. Thornton-Kemsley

I will answer that before I sit down.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pollok (Mr. George) spoke of people being out of jobs. I think that he and all hon. Members who know the position in Scotland would recognise that there is no reason why any of these professionally-qualified men should be out of a job. There is a great demand for them in Scotland, as, indeed, there is in England and Wales. Any man who has experience of valuation for rating could quite easily pick up a job in private practice, and I guarantee that it would be a better paid job than in the local service.

On the point made by the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) about why we have to have qualifications at all and why we have to exclude the man qualified by long practise, I think that the answer is that if we are to have a fair system vis-à-vis England and Wales, we have to satisfy the Englishmen and the Welshmen that our valuation in Scotland will be fairly done by professional people. The whole question of the equalisation grants and the Gosehen formula and considerations like that are involved.

In England and Wales the assessments are done, as the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) well knows—

Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)

I wish to remind the hon. Gentleman that the rating officers in many offices in England do not possess the qualifications set out in these Regulations. They were in fact absorbed into the Inland Revenue Valuation Department from local authorities, because it was known that their qualifications and experience were of high quality and their services were badly needed in the new organisation.

Mr. Thornton-Kemsley

I quite agree.

My final point is that the valuations in England and Wales are done by the valuation officers of the Inland Revenue. There they have a whole organisation to promote uniformity. The chief valuation officer at Somerset House, who is a very good friend of mine, is there with the job of co-ordinating the activities of the valuation officers throughout England and Wales.

In Scotland the position is completely different. Every valuation officer and assessor will be standing on his own. They are employed by the county council or the city council, and they have a very difficult job to do. They are not controlled. They are not answerable to an organisation like that at Somerset House. They are on their own. It is, therefore, the more important that they should be not only highly qualified by examination and by practice—both those things are necessary—but that they should be recognised to be so qualified, if there is to be proper uniformity throughout the United Kingdom.

Mr. Woodburn

The hon. Gentleman, with his great experience, has given his view that a certain gentleman is qualified. One of my hon. Friends has given his view that a certain lady is qualified. I have no doubt that most of the county councils would express the view that the ladies and gentlemen employed by them are qualified. From his great experience, can the hon. Gentleman tell us of any way by which that can be measured so that it is not just a question of liking a person, or of reputation? Is it to be mere guesswork or is there any way of measuring so that the Secretary of State can have some professional standard which he can apply?

Mr. Thornton-Kemsley

The whole burden of my argument is that we must have a standard and that the only standard we can have, within reason, is that of examination, qualification and belonging to a recognised professional organisation. That, I think, is the justification for my right hon. Friend's action. Without that standard we throw the whole business overboard. I suggest that my right hon. Friend is absolutely right in what he has done.

10.54 p.m.

Mr. James McInnes (Glasgow, Central)

While I have a good deal of sympathy with the ten or twelve nonqualified assessors involved, I suggest that if we were to follow some of the suggestions advanced tonight we should find ourselves in infinite difficulties. It has been suggested, for example, that the Secretary of State might make some provision that would enable the assessor such as the one at Dundee to apply to be allowed to continue for a period of three or four years. Now such a suggestion as that might not be acceptable in Clydebank or in Kilmarnock, and, therefore, one would create considerable difficulty.

Apart from that, however, I must also recognise that as a result of the Valuation and Rating (Scotland) Act, twenty assessors will become redundant in Scotland. Most of them are qualified, and so we shall be in the position where the qualified assessor may be denied the opportunity of continuing in local government work. It is all very well to say, "He can go into private practice". That could apply to any official in local government, but most of them desire, strange as it may seem, to continue to work in local government circles.

I agree that there has been a good deal of sentiment expressed—such as the case of the lady in Clydebank who is not so old as she used to be.

Mr. Bence

I said that she is just as: young as she used to be.

Mr. McInnes

I was putting it another way, trying to be more courteous. [Laughter.]

Do not let us delude ourselves. I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) was trying to make the case that this lady was indispensable for valuation work in Clydebank. That is going too far. It is no use simply to say "Let the local council give the unqualified people the opportunity of applying, and let the local council decide. One of the best features of the Valuation and Rating Act was that we sought to provide that the assessor would be kept away from contact with local councillors, etc. I think that we are more likely to achieve that objective under the Act and under this Statutory Instrument than by some of the suggestions advanced tonight.

Quite candidly, while I have a great deal of sympathy for the individuals, I have not heard tonight any concrete suggestion or proposal that would overcome the difficulties which would arise if we persisted with the Motion. I think that we are adequately covered so far as getting the best form of valuation is concerned; that was one of the objectives of the Bill, and one with which I agreed. I think that having the qualified man, freed from contacts with local councillors, is the best method of attaining our objective.

10.59 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. J. Nixon Browne)

I am very grateful to the House for the way in which it has approached this important matter. It is an important matter, although few people are affected. The content of these Regulations was not decided upon without the fullest consideration. I think that the House will wish to know the procedure followed and the advice made available to the Secretary of State before the Regulations were made.

The Sorn Committee recommended that the professional qualifications to be required of a candidate for the post of assessor should be prescribed by Order made by the Secretary of State, and that the qualifications now required by the Board of Inland Revenue should be adopted in Scotland, at any rate in the first instance.

The Valuation and Rating (Scotland) Act, 1956, gave the Secretary of State power to prescribe the qualifications by regulation. In answer to the point made by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), may I say that the Secretary of State has no say in these appointments? In fact it would be incompetent to introduce such a provision into these Regulations. The Secretary of State then asked the Scottish Valuation Advisory Council for its advice on what should be prescribed. The Council was informed of the representations received about the Sorn Committee's recommendations both after the publication of the Report and during the passage of the Valuation and Rating Bill through Parliament. The Council was also informed of the references made to this matter in both Houses during the proceedings on the Bill.

After examining the information available, the Council recommended that appointments as assessor and depute assessor should be limited to persons qualified by membership of any of the three chartered bodies, that is the bodies listed in the Regulations, which are the only ones incorporated by the Royal Charter. It further recommended that no exceptions should be made for serving officers. The Council made clear that this recommendation was subject to reconsideration in the light of the comments on the draft Regulations received from the interested professional organisations and the local authority associations.

The Secretary of State invited the interested bodies to submit observations on the draft Regulations. All the interested parties replied and their observations were placed before the Council. After full consideration the Council, which out of its fifteen members has eight who are members of valuation authorities, decided to adhere to its original recommendation. That was accepted by the Secretary of State.

Two things are clear from this very brief history of events. The procedure followed allowed the fullest opportunity for interested organisations to represent their own points of view. Secondly, the Secretary of State, in making the Regulations in their present form, acted on the best advice available, namely, that provided by the Sorn Committee and the Advisory Council, the majority of whose members, as I said, are members of valuation authorities.

The effect of these Regulations should not be exaggerated. My hon. and Gallant Friend the Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan) was not quite correct. There are at present twelve unqualified assessors and one unqualified depute.

Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)

Before the hon. Gentleman passes from the question of representation, and the opportunity for objection, will he give some idea at what stage the National Local Government Officers' Association made its representations? So far as I am aware, the first representations were received this morning in most cases, which did not give us much chance, and I should like to know when he received the organised representations from them.

Mr. Browne

It was 17th September, 1956, that the first letter was received by my right hon. Friend.

I was referring to the effect of the Regulations. There are at present twelve unqualified assessors and one unqualified depute adversely affected by this Regulation. There are likely to be between twenty-three and twenty-six posts of assessor to fill in Scotland and we have twenty-one assessors who qualify under the Regulations. I am advised that there is a satisfactory number of suitably qualified men available for the three or four remaining posts.

Mr. Ross

When the hon. Gentleman says "suitably qualified," does he mean that the man has these paper qualifications which he himself or the Secretary of State says are all right?

Mr. Browne

I think we can rely on the valuation authorities not to pick a man who simply has paper qualifications.

Mr. Ross

But when the hon. Gentleman says that there are twenty-one suitably qualified men, he means men who have these qualifications?

Mr. Browne

Yes, suitably qualified, with the qualifications required. I now turn to the choice of professional qualifications. The right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) asked why only three societies were chosen. I agree that the effect of adopting the Inland Revenue qualifications is to exclude persons who hold certain other professional qualifications which have not so far been acceptable in England and Wales. It is appreciated that the professional bodies concerned will hold strong views on this, but it is essential to have the same qualifications for assessors in Scotland and in England and Wales, otherwise the prospects of securing comparable valuations in both countries will be greatly weakened.

Mr. Woodburn

That raises a suspicion in my mind. First, are these United Kingdom associations or are they purely English associations? Are Scottish associations like the Chartered Accountants of Scotland, which may not have a similar standing in England but which probably have a superior standing so far as accountancy is concerned, automatically excluded because they are a fully Scottish authority in respect of qualifications?

Mr. Browne

No, there are no purely Scottish associations that have the necessary qualifications. This matter is of particular interest in relation to the Exchequer equalisation grant, which is at present calculated on an interim basis.

Mr. G. M. Thomson

I am sure we all agree on the need for uniformity, and support the hon. Gentleman's arguments as far as they go, but surely he is aware that in the English surveys a great deal more flexibility was allowed for assessors without qualifications than the Minister is allowing in his Regulations.

Mr. Browne

Yes, I will deal with that point when I come to it.

We consider it is essential to do our best to start from the same base line in both countries, and thereafter to keep in step. The Secretary of State has power to vary the Regulations, so evidence of improved standards on the part of other professional associations will be examined as a qualification for appointment in both countries as it is offered.

On the position of serving officers, it is recognised that some serving officers will be disqualified by the Regulations from holding the office of assessor or depute assessor, but not from holding any other office in assessors' departments. That will be after 15th May next year. It will, for example, be possible for an assessor or a depute assessor, now disqualified, to hold a post as chief assistant instead of that of depute assessor. It is not essential to have a depute assessor.

Mr. Houghton

But that is downgrading.

Mr. Browne

I appreciate that point of view, but we are making a major change here and must be prepared to face some little difficulties. It is possible for the local valuation authority to have a chief assistant instead of a depute assessor, at similar or even higher emolument. I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Sir A. Gomme-Duncan), that Section 4 of the Act of 1956, makes; provision for compensation.

The Valuation and Rating Act represents really a major operation. It is unfortunate, though inevitable, that some individuals who have given long and valuable service should suffer through no fault of their own. I know that the local authorities concerned will do all they can to ensure that these individuals are treated as favourably as possible and that they suffer the least possible loss of prestige.

However, there are strong arguments against making any exceptions to the professional qualifications prescribed by the Regulations. The Act provides for new appointments to carry out valuations for new areas, which will in most cases except the cities be larger than the old areas, and for valuation on new principles. Under the old system a very high proportion of the work of valuation was automatic, as it was based in a large number of cases on the rent actually paid for the property in question. If the Act is to succeed the new valuations on hypothetical and not actual rents must not only be uniform within the valuation area itself; they must—

Mr. McInnes

Will the hon. Gentleman explain to us how he makes anything hypothetical uniform?

Mr. Browne

The hon. Gentleman knows the answer to that.

The hypothetical rents must not only be uniform on properties within the valuation area itself; they must be on a level comparable with all other Scottish areas and comparable with England and Wales.

Mr. T. Fraser

Surely the hon. Gentleman made certain in the Act that he would not get uniformity? If he wanted uniformity he would have accepted an Amendment to the Measure to adopt the English system.

Mr. Browne

Not necessarily. If we have qualified assessors we shall get it.

There has to be uniformity not only within the areas but between the areas and with England and Wales. So tenure of an existing appointment does not necessarily prove the ability required to perform this new task.

Only if we succeed in our aim can we secure fairness in distribution in Scotland of the Scottish equalisation grant between one local authority and another, and only if we achieve our aim can Scotland know she is receiving her fair share of the grant vis-à-vis England and Wales.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pollok (Mr. George) suggested that assessors who had served for ten years should be allowed to take the job—

Mr. George

I did not suggest that at all. I suggested that they should be deemed to be qualified and thereby allowed to apply.

Mr. Browne

—that they should be deemed to be qualified and thereby allowed to apply. I would tell my hon. Friend that such qualification would in any case eliminate ten of the twelve assessors who are affected by these Regulations.

The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) suggested that the concessions which were made to serving officers when the new qualifications for chamberlains and treasurers were introduced under the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1947, provide a good precedent for making an exception in the present case. The Government are convinced that this precedent is not a relevant one since there was then no such major change in the technique of the offices in question. Moreover, assessors do not work under the supervision of either a local authority or—like the Inland Revenue valuers in England—of a Government Department. From the point of view of the professional organisations whose diplomas are not recognised under these Regulations it would be unfair to admit persons who had no qualifications at all.

Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)

Is the hon. Gentleman telling us that in Scotland we are to have a system based on the professional standards and practices of England but, unlike the English system, not paid for through the Inland Revenue but by the ratepayers?

Mr. Browne

That is perfectly correct. That is what we passed in the Bill. Of course, we had the opportunity of having this done by the Inland Revenue authorities, and of having an equivalent Scottish valuation office, but what has just been said is the reason why we have what has been decided.

Mr. Lawson

In fact, are we not adopting precisely the English system, with all valuations brought up to English level? If so, then why not have the man graded in, as in England? Why not adopt that system, too?

Mr. Browne

We have no central control in Scotland, so that we cannot possibly adopt the English system of valuation. Any concession to unqualified serving officers, or to members of associations other than those recognised by the Inland Revenue authorities would weaken the Scottish claim to have comparable valuation with England and Wales; and, apart from all other considerations, the Government consider that to be a decisive objection.

Under the Act, there will be new valuation areas, new principles of valuation and, as a result, there will be new duties and responsibilities for assessors. The Sorn Committee recommended this standard of competence, and the Advisory Council agreed with the Sorn Committee. For their part, the Government can see no valid reason for rejecting this weighty and well considered advice.

Mr. G. M. Thomson

The Joint Under-Secretary has said that in order to make Scottish assessors comparable to English assessors, the Scots are to be given conditions which are not comparable with the English. My hon. Friends do not understand it.

11.17 p.m.

Mr. Woodburn

We raised this subject tonight in order to try to elicit some information about the limitation of the qualifications for these assessors. We have had an interesting discussion, and the fact has emerged that no matter how the arrangements are made, some people will be included and some will be excluded. The hon. Member for North Angus (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) made it clear from his professional knowledge that there is no way, except guesswork. that can be followed unless we adopt the standard of professional qualifications which is laid down. The Joint Under-Secretary has told us that that is the advice of the Sorn Committee and of all the professional bodies and people involved; that all the information has led to that conclusion. He also says that other bodies can make recommendations to satisfy the Minister that a person's qualifications are at least equal to the job.

This Act makes a revolutionary change in Scottish valuation. Some of us understood that the assessors must be independent of the local authorities to a large extent and have a professional standing which made them independent and subject to no pressure. My hon. Friends have not suggested that there was any pressure. We have heard the argument, and if anybody can make a case against it by producing other qualifications which would be acceptable, then the way is still open for them so to do. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Lawson

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, two of us said "No."

Mr. Speaker

I am sorry, but I did not hear the hon. Member. He should have spoken a little more loudly. I collected the voices, and I did not hear him.