§ 3.38 p.m.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Gordon Touche)
It will probably be for the convenience of the Committee if we discuss with the first Amendment, in page 1, line 16, to leave out subsection (3), that in line 18, to leave out from " proposal" to the end of the Clause and to add:served on the valuation officer after the twelfth day of February, nineteen hundred and fifty-nine, for altering a valuation list in force at the passing of this Act (not being a proposal made by the valuation officer) shall have effect only where the assessment resulting from the said proposal is not excessive, incorrect or unfair in relation to the values ascribed in the list to other hereditaments of the same class at the date of the proposaland that in page 2, line 9, at the end to add:or unless it is a proposal made in respect of a hereditament the rate able value of which has been altered in consequence of structural alterations or is unfair in relation to other hereditaments of the same class in the list at the date of the proposal".
§ Mr, G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
That would suit us very well, Sir Gordon.
1144 I beg to move, in page 1, line 16, to leave out subsection (3).
This Amendment deals with a short but important point, and I hope that we may be able to get through with it reasonably rapidly, though I am well aware that a number of my hon. Friends wish to speak in support of it. Subsection (3) removes from local rating authorities, with certain exceptions, the power to make proposals for the alteration of the list, and that removal is to operate for five years.
When this matter was mentioned on Second Reading, the right hon. Gentleman said that he had a precedent in the matter because the Rating and Valuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1955, contained similar provisions. The difference, of course, is that in that case the provisions were to operate only for about a year—actually, having regard to the machinery, for about nine months—and in this case the right is being removed for about five years.
This is a very serious matter for the local authorities, and one wonders why it has been thought necessary to make the provision. The right hon. Gentleman intimated on Second Reading that his reason was that there might be proposals which might develop into a partial revaluation in some areas.
There have been questions of this sort before. Some years ago, the Liverpool Corporation employed a valuer and, no doubt on the strength of his valuation, made certain proposals which covered a considerable section of the city, so I understand. The question arose, in the form of proceedings in the High Court whether the corporation was justified in employing the valuer. In delivering the judgment of the court, Lord Goddard said something which seems to me to bear directly on the object of the Amendments:It seems to me that the case for the council can be put as high as this. The council are under a duty—I do not say a positive duty, but they are under a duty—as the council interested in the fair and proper rating of the city of Liverpool. They are under a duty also as ratepayers themselves, and they are under a duty as the rating authority in Liverpool. If they think that an alteration of the valuation list is required, they are under a duty to see that a proposal for the alteration is made. It is not for them to make the alteration, because that is now left to the valuation officer. I think they are under a duty to make proposals to correct any inequalities or under-assessment of which they know.1145 Those were Lord Goddard's words, quoted at page 740 of the last edition of Ryde on Rating. If that is the duty of the corporation—and we must take it from the decision of the court that it is —it involves making proposals. Local authorities are now to be deprived of the power to make them. That is a very serious step. Let us see what will happen.
There will be cases where the valuation officer does not make any proposal at all and the owner or occupier, who remains entitled to make a proposal, does not make any proposal either. In those cases, the local authority may be of opinion that an alteration should be made. The local authority can, of course, make representations to the valuation officer, but he is under no duty to agree with them. Indeed, his duty is to make up his own mind. The local authority may be unable to raise the matter at all and may be unable to bring it before the local valuation court.
Yet again—this is a very common case —there may have been proposals made by the owner and an agreement may have been reached between the valuation officer and the owner, there being, in the result, no case to go before the local valuation court and no right in the local authority to do more than make representations to the valuation officer if it is deprived of the right of making a proposal itself.
There is a third type of case I wish to mention. Let us suppose that the valuation officer and the owner do not agree. The valuation officer says £100 and the owner says £80. They go to the valuation court. The local authority will have the right to object and may say in the valuation court that the right figure is, let us say, £120. The difficulty in this type of case is a practical one. A local valuation court, like any other arbitration body, is only too apt to consider the cases of the two contestants before it and to pay little regard to a third party stepping in with a third suggestion which does not take the form of a proposal which it has to consider.
I suggest that, in this type of case, it would be very rare indeed for the local valuation court to disregard the views of the valuation officer and the owner and fix a figure which the local authority might think right, and which might be 1146 right but which would be beyond anything which had been suggested by either of the two contestants. After all, the object of the local valuation court here is to act as the arbiter—in most cases the final arbiter—on the general question of the value of property.
It is not surprising that this proposal has met with indignation and opposition from all the local authority associations and. I may add, from the London County Council. There have been meetings between the local authority associations and, I believe, the London County Council, on the one hand, and the Minister and his advisers in these matters, on the other. The point has been raised again that this would lead to a partial revaluation in some places, and the Minister has expressed his willingness to try to find some compromise which would avoid that.
But, at the end of what I understand were quite long discussions, all that resulted was that the Minister offered to make representations to the Treasury, whose servants the valuation officers are, that they should pay regard to representations from the local authorities. I have no doubt that a valuation officer would do that anyhow. No doubt, circulars or letters to that effect would make it even more certain that he would do so. It does not really meet the point.
The local authority has a duty to perform, the duty described by Lord Goddard in the passage I read asa duty to make proposals to correct any inequalities or under-assessment of which they know".That is not qualified in any way by the scope of the proposals. That case happened to be a case, I believe, in which the Liverpool Corporation was approaching the stage of, shall we say, a partial revaluation of the city. Of course, there are cases where that will arise. I understand that there has been a similar case in Sheffield, although I do not know the details.
I say without hesitation that the duty was correctly stated there in a case which did not involve a single property, but involved a fairly extensive valuation. It ought to be allowed to continue. There is no real reason for taking the right away. As it seems to me, what it comes to in the end is this. Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared not so much to trust 1147 local authorities as to allow local authorities to carry out their duties in this matter even if they do extend beyond a single instance of unfairness or anything of that sort?
The first Amendment on the Notice Paper, which is the one I myself prefer in this case, is to leave out subsection (3) as a whole. The rest of the subsection makes some exceptions which I need not go into for this purpose. It leaves untouched the point I have been taking. The second Amendment, in page 1, line 18, has a history. This is not the drafting of a Member of this House. Neither I nor my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) drafted it. It is the drafting of the local authority associations and they are unanimously agreed on it, with the exception that the L.C.C. prefers the first Amendment.
The Amendment has been tabled in this form, because I think that in a matter of this sort it is right that a draft which has been prepared after consultations of this sort and has met with the unanimous approval of the local authority associations should go on the Notice Paper as it is. I appreciate that there is some vagueness about it. I do not believe that there would be any practical difficulty in working it, but it is open to a little objection on those grounds and I would rather that the whole subsection were taken out for that reason.
The third Amendment, on which no doubt the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Rippon) will have something to say, deals with a matter that I think the valuation officer would be sure to attend to, anyhow, namely, an alteration in rate able value in consequence of structural alterations. The hon. Member may say that there are cases in which a local authority may repair an inadvertent omission, possibly through lack of knowledge on the part of the valuation officer. That is a different point and it is not the point raised by the Amendment, which reads:or is unfair in relation to other hereditaments of the same class in the list at the date of the proposal.The first Amendment is, broadly, on the same lines as the second, although it is different in language and there might be a small difference in effect.
I am sure that in the majority of cases the valuation officer, owner and valuation 1148 court between them, together with the local authority's right of objection, would settle the matter, but there will be a minority of cases—and no one can say how large it will be—where the local authority should be allowed to exercise what is its long-standing right to make proposals. It is in relation to those matters that I moved the Amendment.
I repeat that I do not accept the proposition that a local authority has not a duty to deal with the matter, because the area of the town which is intended to be affected by the proposals of the local authority may be quite considerable. It seems to me that that sort of question is pre-eminently one for local authorities. It would be utterly wrong as regards relations between Parliament or the Ministry and the local authorities that matters of that sort should be taken out of their jurisdiction. If Liverpool, Sheffield, or any other town comes to the conclusion that there is a substantial under valuation of a part of the town it is under the duty that Lord Goddard described to put it right by making proposals.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Rippon (Norwich, South)
Like other Members on both sides of the Committee, I accept that it is a regrettable necessity that a Bill has been put forward postponing yet again the introduction of new valuation lists. My right hon. Friend made it perfectly clear on Second Reading that this decision had not been taken lightly. I think that we are forced to the conclusion, as he said that postponement is inescapable. At the same time, it is generally accepted, I think, that a Bill of this kind should be strictly limited in its scope. It should do nothing in my view, and I hope that of other hon. Members, which is not absolutely essential to the achievement of its simple purpose of postponing new lists.
I would not go so far as the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) in saying that subsection (3) of Clause 1 should be omitted altogether, but I would support an Amendment which would limit the scope of the subsection. I am not satisfied that in its present form it is essential to securing the primary object of the Bill.
The Amendment which stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple), is in very similar terms to the 1149 one which stands in the name of the hon. and learned Member and his hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren). My Amendment also has the full approval of the local authority associations. It is a question of seeking to find a formula which will enable the Minister to secure the object of preventing a small minority of local rating authorities from attempting to secure a partial and premature revaluation, while not unduly restricting the rights of the rating authorities.
During the Second Reading debate, on 23rd February, my right hon. Friend explained why subsection (3) has been put in the Bill. He said:Subsection (3) is put in because, if there is to be a general postponement, a door ought not to be left open for attempts to secure partial revaluations. Subsection (3) debars anyone, other than the valuation office or owner or occupier concerned, from making any proposal for altering the current valuation list. It is exactly similar to the provision in section 2 (2) of the Rating and Valuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1955, with regard to the lists then in force. So we are not creating a precedent." — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rdFebruary, 1959; Vol. 600, c. 820]My own view is that it is irrelevant simply to have a precedent. The question is whether it is a good or bad precedent. I take the view that the provision in the 1955 Act was a bad precedent to apply in full and is unnecessary for the purpose of this Bill.
The case made by the local authority associations is summed up in representations which I have received from the Finance Committee of the Norwich City Council. The Town Clerk wrote to me as follows:Whilst my Committee appreciate that the Minister has introduced this clause in order to prevent a rating authority securing a partial revaluation of properties within its area, they feel that the clause should be redrafted in such a way that where on merit there is justification for the rateable value of an individual hereditament being altered, the rating authority should be entitled to submit a proposal.In spite of what the hon. and learned Member said, I think that most local authorities would be prepared to accept that position and would not go so far as to urge the elimination of the subsection altogether.
§ Mr. Rippon
I am glad that the hon. and learned Gentleman agrees with that.
1150 Rating authorities will still be able to make proposals to include properties not in the lists at all. That is mainly a question of challenging claims for total exemption from rating. But that is not the only special case with which rating authorities are concerned.
I was a little disturbed by some observations of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary on Second Reading, when he said:The provision in the Bill is limited to the period of current valuation lists, but if the obvious mistake is already in the list then the local authority has, after all, had three years since April, 1956, to take action about it." — [OFFiciAt. REPORT, 23rd February, 1959; Vol. 600, c. 870.]In my view, that is a fallacious argument and has no merit whatsoever. As my Amendment indicates, structural alterations may take place, or there may be a change of use which raises the question whether the hereditament is still occupied for industrial purposes and so liable to partial derating.
In a number of cases there has been a quite genuine difference of opinion between the rating authority and the valuation officer on whether a hereditament is industrial or not. It seems to me that where there are two sets of experts with a genuine difference of opinion that difference of opinion should be resolved by the courts. They should be able to go as of right to the valuation court and then, if necessary, to the Lands Tribunal.
No doubt, as the hon. and learned Member for Kettering suggested, if my right hon. Friend does not accept any Amendment at all he will feel able to take steps, whether by issuing a circular or otherwise, to ensure that valuation officers should be asked to pay particular attention to suggestions put forward by rating authorities for the assessment of certain properties. Perhaps he might go even further and urge valuation officers, when there is a genuine difference of opinion in an arguable case, to put forward proposals of their own so that the matter can be tested in court.
I would not, however, regard that as a satisfactory solution. I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Kettering that it would put the valuation officer in a difficult position. If the valuation 1151 officer does not accept the rating authority's suggestion, he should not have to put a proposal forward. That can be left to the rating authority. Rating authorities have acted responsibly in all these matters.
There have been only a few cases—Liverpool and Sheffield and, more recently, in Hertfordshire--in which there has been anything which could be described even remotely as a partial attempt at revaluation. In my view, that can be met without having a subsection as sweeping as this one. The purpose of the Amendments, apart from the first one moved by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering, is to try to preserve as far as possible the rights of the rating authority while preventing these partial and premature attempts at revaluation.
My Amendment in page 2, line 9, and the further Amendment which has been put forward by the local authority associations do not involve any complicated new machinery. They would close the door which my right hon. Friend the Minister says ought to be closed. That is the only door which we ought to close.
I hope that if my right hon. Friend does not feel prepared to go further until he has considered this afternoon's debate, he will at least give careful consideration to trying to find a form of words that will meet the viewpoint of the rating authorities before the Bill is considered in another place.
§ Mr. A. E. Oram (East Ham, South)
I support particularly the Amendment to leave out subsection (3) of Clause 1 not only for the kind of reasons put forward by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), but because of the effect of the subsection on a particular class of property, one which is of a special significance in the County Borough of East Ham, part of which I represent. In a sense, I am putting forward a special plea. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will take note of the special problem I have in mind and that if he and the Committee do not see their way to accept the Amendment, the right hon. Gentleman will think further upon this problem and consider bringing in an Amendment at a later stage in another place.
The class of property to which I am referring is that occupied by a public 1152 body and rated on a profit basis. It is rated in that way because it is impossible to assess its annual rental because of the nature and extent of the undertaking, and there is no open market upon which an annual rental could be assessed. There are two examples in East Ham. The first is property of the Metropolitan Water Board and the second is property of the Port of London Authority.
In the case of the Metropolitan Water Board, I understand that it is defined asmains and pipes in the parish".It is not easy to conceive of an open market for such property. Similarly in the case of the property of the Port of London Authority, for which the definition ispart of the Royal Albert and King George V docks".Here again, it is not easy to think of an open market annual rental value for such property. Therefore, the rateable value of such hereditaments is on a quite different basis from that which is generally under discussion in the Bill. That is to say, it is upon the annual profit of the undertakings concerned.
It has been the practice of the County Borough of East Ham to make annual proposals in respect of these properties, which represent an important part of rateable value in the borough. Because the annual accounts of these public bodies become available after 31st March— that is, after the end of the rate year—it has been necessary for the local authority to put in what is called a protective proposal to safeguard the position when the profitability of the undertaking comes to be known later in the year. I understand that if subsection (3) is passed unamended, the local authority would be prevented from making use of that kind of safeguard to which it has had resort in past years.
On the other hand, it would be possible for the occupier—the Port of London Authority or the Metropolitan Water Board—to claim a reduction in the assessment. Consequently, we would be faced with a one-sided arrangement in respect of property which, I submit, was not meant to be affected by the Bill. It would mean that the local authority would have to rely solely upon the judgment of the valuation officer.
1153 I am given to understand that in the past, to avoid any duplication of proposals, there has been consultation between the valuation officer and the local authority in the submission of proposals. One hopes that that sort of consultation will continue. In the next few years, however, the position may well arise that the opinions of the East Ham Borough Council and of the valuation officer differ. In such a situation, if the Bill passes unamended, the local authority would be powerless in the matter.
I have figures, with which I shall not bother the Committee, which show two things. The first is that these two sets of property are of considerable significance to the local authority. In the case of the Metropolitan Water Board, they are in the range of £5,000 rateable value and in the case of the Port of London Authority, the figure extends up to £21,000. They are, therefore, considerable undertakings. The figures also show, however, that over the last five or six years, there have been considerable annual variations. It is upon these annual variations that the local authority has been able to put forward its own proposals and which it will be precluded from putting forward by the subsection which we seek to delete.
I would like to make two further points, similar to those made by the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Rippon). They relate to arguments in support of the subsection that were put forward on Second Reading. In the first place, the Minister said that it would not be right for a local authority to seek revaluation of some of its properties on a post-war basis while others were still on 1939 values. That argument bears no relation whatever to the problem to which I am calling attention, because the kind of properties which I have been describing are on an entirely different basis of assessment and are not affected by the new revaluation proposals.
The second point, which was made by the Parliamentary Secretary on Second Reading, to the effect that the local authority had already had three years in which to make corrections, obviously has no relation to the problem which I have attempted to describe. Therefore, I urge the Minister to have regard particularly to this special class of property.
1154 The problem would be adequately met by the deletion of the subsection and I hope that that will be the solution to which the Minister will turn his mind. If, however, he fails to adopt that course, I hope, as I said earlier, that he will seek the opportunity at a later stage of putting right what could be a very serious piece of harm to the local rateable values of East Ham.
§ Mr. Arthur Moyle (Oldbury and Halesowen)
I rise because the local authorities in my constituency, the Boroughs of Oldbury and Halesowen, are entirely in agreement with the views expressed by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison).
Their main point of criticism is that their right under the Act of 1948 to propose changes in the current valuation list is to be taken away. I should have thought that as the local authorities agree with nine-tenths of the Bill and accept his plea for the Bill, the Minister, having regard to the rough passage that he has had during his term of office, would come down on the side of the local authorities and establish good will all round.
What do the local authorities want? They want merely the right to propose any change in the current valuation list that would enable them to deal with any minor anomaly of, say, inequality or undervaluation without in the slightest degree involving the danger with which the Minister seems to be exercised, and that is to introduce a revolution in the valuation lists into the locality if the right under the Act of 1948 is maintained.
The local authorities have readily accepted the Minister's plea that the Bill stems from the need for further time up to 1963, and that nothing else is involved in this, except the simple proposition to enable local authorities to have the right —and I should have thought at least they should have the right—to appeal against the proposals of the valuation officer, because I cannot think that anyone acting for the Inland Revenue could have the same point of view as a local authority.
For those reasons, I support the Amendment moved by my hon. and learned Friend.
§ Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
It is only right that I should voice the view of my local authority, the County Borough of Tynemouth. I have had a 1155 letter from the Town Clerk, on behalf of the local authority, asking me to support the Amendment moved by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison).
I find this a very complicated matter. I certainly would not be able myself to enter into any of the controversies, nor would I be able to assess, with any real knowledge, the differences which have arisen between the Opposition and my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Rippon) and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government.
I think, however, that it is right, when we are discussing a matter of this kind in the House of Commons, that the views of my local authority should be known. I ask my right hon. Friend to accept the view of that local authority, which is a very responsible body, with a first-class record of local government. I wholeheartedly accept any views on this matter which it puts forward.
It seemed to me, in listening to the discussion, that perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South had found a way out of the difficulty. I hope that, if it is the genera] view of hon. Members on both sides of the Committee that there should be some accommodation to meet the views of the local authorities which have expressed themselves on this matter, my right hon. Friend will be able to find a way in which he can meet all of us.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Mr. John Diamond (Gloucester)
It is a great, although perhaps slightly unusual pleasure, for me to be able to agree so wholeheartedly with what the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) has just said and to join the County Borough of Gloucester with the County Borough of Tynemouth. Tynemouth, we were told, is an extremely well-conducted borough and I claim to say that for the County Borough of Gloucester.
There was a time when Parliament used to meet in Gloucester and knew how to carry out its own affairs. Gloucester feels that it is capable of conducting such small matters as were within its discretion in 1948, a year in which we had a Government which thought that it was appropriate to allow a local authority at all events a minimum of discretion.
1156 The hon. Lady and I differ only on one point. The hon. Lady thought that this was a complicated matter. I think that it is a matter of extreme simplicity. It is merely a matter of the Government and a particular Minister pursuing certain well-known principles that, first, the Government must take away, on whatever pretext and however inappropriate the occasion, whatever small duties are left to a local authority and, secondly, to prove that he is strong, the Minister must, on every possible occasion, get the whole of the Opposition and all the local authority associations against him. These are the two simple principles functioning here which have produced this extraordinary subsection.
I say that this is an inappropriate and irrelevant occasion, because the Bill has nothing to do with this at all. It is a Bill for postponing a valuation. Nowhere else in the Bill are powers altered. It is merely that a date is postponed for two years, for reasons which we can all understand and accept, but there has been tucked into a subsection of this Clause a provision which takes away from local authorities, the County Borough of Tynemouth as well as the County Borough of Gloucester, powers which have been exercised since 1948 and in respect of which, so far as I am aware, there has been no serious criticism. Certainly, they are totally unrelated to the general valuation which is being postponed. In fact, the powers of the local authority are already in this respect at very low ebb.
After all, all that the local authority can do is to put forward its opinion and make a proposal. It cannot make a new rating assessment. It can merely make a proposal that in an appropriate case, where. for some reason, a matter is not generally in line with other rating assessments, it should be considered. That is a very small matter indeed for a local authority to do. It has this power and it should continue to have it.
No reasons have been shown why this power should be withdrawn from it. It is certainly not appropriate in a Bill of this kind to try to exclude a power of this kind. It is out of line with the Minister's philosophy that not only should he seek to withdraw powers from the local authority, but that he should seek to do so retrospectively. Here we are, in the middle of April, and we have 1157 by no means finished with this Bill, concerned with powers which would be deemed to have been withdrawn from the 12th February, which is two months ago already and may be three or four months past by the time the Bill comes into effect.
I know that 12th February was the date when the Bill was printed, but that does not alter the fact that it has this further element in this subsection which, I should have thought, would make it wholly unacceptable to the right hon. Gentleman's political philosophy. Therefore, for those reasons, I should have thought that the Amendment before the Committee to leave out the subsection completely would be one that would appeal to the Committee, although there may be put in its place at a later stage some form of wording which would deal with the major difficulty which the Minister sees. Just because there is a major difficulty over a complete or semi-complete revaluation, and because the Minister sees that danger, which is not so very great, he is not entitled to withdraw from the local authorities the small powers which at the moment rest with them.
I support wholeheartedly the speeches which have been made on both sides of the Committee.
§ Brigadier O. L. Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
I do not want to add to the discussion of this problem except to say that it is my duty also to put forward the view of another efficient and extremely well-run local authority, which does not happen to have at the moment county borough status, though that is hoped for in the near future. I am one who favors entirely decentralisation as a principle. Anything which tends to withdraw powers from local authorities immediately arouses opposition from me.
I suggest to my right hon. Friend that if the Opposition Amendment were accepted, as such, it might have and could have the effect of permitting a local authority to revalue the whole of its shop premises at one fell swoop or even all its industrial hereditaments. I do not think that that would be a good thing or acceptable to the Committee, but I think that what my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Rippon) said has great validity.
1158 I hope that, having regard to the views of both sides of the Committee on this matter, the Minister will not be too recalcitrant and in some way or another, to use the words of the town clerk of my local authority, will preservethe right of a rating authority to propose alterations to the valuation list where the resulting assessment is not excessive, incorrect or unfair having regard to values ascribed in the list to other hereditaments of the same class.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
We have reached a point in Committee in which the public has a considerable interest. It might not have been observed by the Minister that up to now every speech made from either side of the Committee has been against the Clause. No one has been seeking to catch your eye, Sir Gordon, to defend it, and the Committee has reached the position in which the sincerity of hon. Members on both sides may be put to the test shortly unless the 'Minister meets the point. Hon. Members, having put without reservation and hesitation the views of local authorities who have written to them, would like to know whether the Minister is taking any notice and any action and, if not, how the vote will be taken and recorded.
I did not rise to pursue this local authority tour de l'horizon or perhaps I should say tour des hotels des vines. I rose to ask a question, because it seems to me that if there is anything more astounding in recent social history than the Minister's actions it is the explanations that he gives for those actions. The right hon. Gentleman made a speech on Second Reading in which he said:…if there is to be a general postponement, a door ought not to be left open for attempts to secure partial revaluations.The right hon. Gentleman may be surprised if I say that that seems to me a very fair argument. We are not to have any valuations at all. We shall freeze everything at a special figure, until after the election.
The Government say to people " Your rates have not gone up, even if your rents have." We can understand the motives. It is at least a system, whether it is good or bad, but having said that, after a full stop and the usual pause, the right hon. 1159 Gentleman, sparkling out among the fern and bickering down the valley, adds:Subsection (3) debars anyone, other than the valuation officer or owner or occupier concerned, from making any proposal for altering the current valuation list." — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd February, 1959; Vol. 600, c. 820.]In other words he says, " We are to have a little free-from-crime organization and put a stop to all these prosecutions. We shall not prevent criminals from appealing against their sentence, but we will let the police intervene. We shall have one side only."
Therefore, we have a situation in which local authorities, which, after all, are concerned for their vital revenue in this matter, are the only bodies or persons debarred. A system of checks and balances has been arranged. I do not think that it is perfect, but at least it is sensible and there is an independent valuation officer who acts in a quasi-judicial capacity. He has at his disposal a vast amount of information and the services of advisory valuers if he needs them, and he is to lean neither to the right nor to the left.
The valuation officer is to make a proposal and then the Government says that as a matter of justice the owner or occupier can make representations if he feels aggrieved. So should the local authority. Both have financial concern in the hereditament. The local authority derives from it the revenue for the work which it has to do, and the owner-occupier is already paying the Government a great deal more than he wants to or expected to have to pay when he voted them into office.
The Minister says, " We are not going to have an open door, but a two-piece door," that is, a door rather like the French court used to have —two doors for the higher nobles and one door for the smaller ones. The Government say, " We shall let one side make representations, but not the other." That makes neither rhyme nor reason.
When we go back for a moment to consider the framework in which this proposal is presented we find that it is based on the proposition, which, so far as I know, has never been supported by evidence and depends on the right hon. Gentleman's statement alone, that for some reason it is impractical for the Valuation Office to prepare this valua- 1160 tion until 1961. No one noticed it until there was talk of an early election. No one heard of it until last November, and it became acutely obvious about 12th January of this year.
If local authorities are debarred from making representations in any circumstances about any property in respect of which a proposal is submitted for a change of use affecting rateable value, it may have a serious affect. And in some cases, under town planning, the grant of use is made by the local authority. No change of use, no alteration of the building, and no adaptation is to be permitted to intervene. What happens to the staff of the local authority when the valuation is effected? What about the staff of the local authority in 1963? Will they be able to cope with all the proposals that may come forward then and the new considerations put upon them after they have been kept entirely out of the waiting world for some time?
It is relevant that local authorities have officers to perform this duty. They are employed on and paid for performing the duty. What happens to them in the meantime? Are they to take notes and make preparations for proposals to be put forward in some years' time? This proposal will not do. It is, admittedly, a narrow field but, nevertheless, a negation of the ordinary principles of justice. It seems to me a further piece of evidence that, for some reason in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman, " local authority " is a naughty word much as " Co-ops " used to be in the minds of noble Lords who now direct the Conservative Party.
It used to be always the Co-op that was a symbol in the Conservative mind of something rather undesirable and rather retrograde and something which conflicted with whatever principles they had convinced themselves they possessed. Now we find that in the right hon. Gentleman's mind it is the local authority — which has been called upon in the last eight years to bear more administrative and financial burdens than ever before and which has been treated abominably by the present Government and deprived of the means and debarred from carrying out its social services.
I did not intend to refer to the hotels des villes, but if I can refer to any one town selected at random — let us say, Oldham — I might say that every 1161 morning I am receiving heart-rending letters about the effect of refusals to build on people who are waiting for hospital admissions and who need certain services but have been deprived of them because of all these restrictions. Now there is another. We cut the revenue in one way and now we cut their right to make representations as to the source of their revenue. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman is a singularly sensitive person, but he may have come to the conclusion by now that these proposals are not very popular. Perhaps he will take this opportunity of considering that situation.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Sir Hamilton Kerr (Cambridge)
Little did I think that when the hon. Gentleman the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) defeated me so soundly in Oldham, in the 1945 General Election, I should be speaking in complete agreement with him on this issue. I hope that my right hon. Friend will lend a sympathetic ear to the arguments advanced by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, particularly as I have received a special plea from the City of Cambridge. The rating authorities are merely seeking to retain their existing powers which have a practical basis, in that they enable the rating lists to be kept up to date. Now that flexibility has become the theme in foreign policy, will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity of adopting it in his Department by reaching accommodation on this Amendment?
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
I rise because the hon. Gentleman the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) said that nobody had risen to defend the Minister's Clause, and I am happy to do so.
§ Mr. Page
Nevertheless, I am here to do it. The hon. Member for Oldham. West said that it was reasonable that if there was to be a postponement there should be a complete postponement. I think that that is reasonable. One can see what would happen from the practice which has been adopted by some local authorities on past occasions when the door has been left open for revaluation in a certain area although there has been a national postponement of revaluation.
1162 The hon. Gentleman also said that under this Clause only local authorities w ere debarred from making proposals. That is not true. If there were not this postponement, if there were not this debarring of proposals for revaluation, then any owner could make proposals about property other than his own. Indeed, as hon. Members know, this is done frequently by ratepayers' associations, who complain that certain property is undervalued and that, therefore, the property of their members is rated too highly. Such a proposal is debarred under the Clause.
So it is not only local authorities who are debarred. It means, however, that the only people who can make the proposals are the valuation officers who, as the hon. Gentleman said, are independent and disinterested persons and in an entirely different class from the local authorities. There is also the owner of the property himself. Surely it is right to allow the owner to make a proposal even though there is a general postponement of the right of appeal.
§ Mr. G. Lindgren (Wellingborough)
Will the hon. Gentleman agree that revaluations have not come frequently? We had none between 1935 and 1956, and goodness knows when the next one will be.
§ Mr. Page
I agree that revaluation has been postponed again and again not only by the present Government, he will remember, but by his own Government. I cannot understand why there should be the suggestion of a postponement by reason of a coming General Election when this Government propose it. Exactly the same thing was done by hon. Gentlemen opposite before a General Election when they were in office.
§ Mr. Lindgren
At the same time, the local authorities then had the power to correct anomalies in the valuation list if they found any, and that is being taken away.
§ Mr. Page
I would go a long way with the hon. Gentleman on this point and say that there is undoubtedly here, as well as in the whole of rating, a matter which needs careful consideration as between the Ministry and the local authorities. This period of postponement might well be used for setting up a committee as between the Ministry and the local 1163 authorities to consider this subject, perhaps going a little wider than the mere dates of revaluation by considering many of the anomalies in connection with rating.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
I support the general argument advanced by so many hon. Members and I do not wish to repeat anything that has been said. I only want to ask one question. What happens when the local authority is the owner or occupier of property, as most local authorities now are to a large extent? Will they still be debarred or, if they are the owner or occupier, can they then submit a proposal?
§ Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)
It was typical of the general approach which is always taken by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), in these matters that he decided to select a town represented by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power, namely, Oldham. The hon. Gentleman obviously agrees with my hon. Friend but, as a member of the Government, he is somewhat prescribed in what he can say on this issue. I am sure, however, that the hon. Gentleman will be grateful to my hon. Friend that this case was put.
I assume from subsection (3) that the Minister is attempting to ensure that there cannot be an alteration in local revaluation while national revaluation is in progress. This, I should have thought, presupposes that since valuation of rating went over to the Inland Revenue there have been difficulties as between the rating department and local authorities. Yet I am not aware of any such difficulties existing on any scale, and if the Minister persists in his attitude it is for him to show that there is, or have been, wide differences of approach in this matter as between the local authorities and the Inland Revenue. So that he finds it necessary to safeguard the position for the Inland Revenue.
If the Minister can quote any such instances, I shall be surprised, because I was not aware that this had been going on. If I am right, while supporting my hon. Friend, I am entitled to claim that there is no real danger in present circumstances of anything of the kind happening. If I am right in this, what is the purpose of the subsection?
1164 Irlam Urban District Council, in my constituency, has pointed out to me that industrial properties represent 51 per cent of its total rateable value. That is a very high percentage and even a slight alteration in any of those large industrial concerns can seriously effect the position of that council. I do not think that the Minister has made out a claim that local authorities have been in any way irresponsible in their dealings with the Inland Revenue authorities, nor that there is any reason to believe that we are likely to have great differences in practice between two types of authority.
As he is quite unable to say that such a state of affairs is likely, local authorities are entitled to the view that they are being treated cavalierly by the right hon. Gentleman when he suggests that they are not sufficiently responsible during a period of national revaluation to co-operate with the Department responsible. I hope that he will agree to delete the subsection. With one exception, all hon. Members who have spoken have been in favor of such an action and I hope that he will tell us that he will withdraw subsection (3) in view of the consensus of opinion in the Committee.
§ The Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Mr. Henry Brooke)
I have listened to the debate with the greatest interest for the past hour, and it may be for the convenience of the Committee if I rise now to restate the problem to which we all have to give attention.
During the debate I have been in sympathy with nothing more than the statement of my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward), that she found all this very complicated. The stature of the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Diamond) rose greatly in my eyes when he said that it was all very simple to him. I do not find rating and valuation light, gay or simple, and I greatly envy the mind of anybody who can. I therefore hope that the Committee will be patient with me if I endeavour to explain why the Government originally inserted this subsection and why we feel it necessary to defend it.
Before I come to my main argument, I must reply to the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) and assure him that if a local authority is an owner or occupier of premises it will certainly 1165 have the right, like any other owner or occupier, to make a proposal under the Clause as it stands.
§ Mr. Brooke
Provided it is the owner or occupier. That is the test.
The difficulties here stem from one fundamental fact. There is a concealed ambiguity in the present power to make fresh assessments during the period between general revaluations. Frankly, the present state of the law is unsatisfactory. I must advise the Committee that none of the Amendments on the Notice Paper would put that right and that there is an extensive problem to which Parliament will have to give its full attention at the right time.
This ambiguity has existed ever since 1925, but it has been of only limited general importance until the post-war years, when the rate of increase in rental values has been unusually high. It is that fact which has brought attention to the difficulty.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Brooke
The hon. and learned Gentleman mentions the Rent Act. He will know that the rise in values in commercial properties since 1945 has been very much greater than anything seen in house property.
The ambiguity is in deciding the level of values at which new or revised assess-men -s should be made. I will give an example, not unlike an example quoted earlier. It is that of a shop correctly valued in the present list, drawn up in 1955 and put into operation in 1956, at £100, by reference to the rental values then current. Let us suppose an identical shop now being built and coming into rating later in 1959 or 1960 and that shop rents in the area rise by, say, 20 per cent from the date of the last valuation. Should the new shop be assessed at £100 because it is identical with the one correctly assessed at £100, or should it be assessed at £120 on the ground that rental values have risen by 20 per cent. since the last revaluation?
Frankly, the law gives us no clear guidance on that issue. In all likelihood, an assessment of £120 could be sustained 1166 under the law, but it would create anomalies and indefensible inequity between the two shopkeepers concerned. What is the valuation officer to do? Is he to increase the first assessment to £120 as well? If so, he will remove the inequity between those two shopkeepers, but create inequity among many other people. There would be unfairness between those two shopkeepers and all the other shopkeepers in the area. Is he to revalue all the shops in the area? If so, all the shops in that area will be valued on one basis, whereas all the rest of the property will be valued on another basis.
If one follows that line, one cannot arrive at any point of fairness until there has been a complete revalution. It is doubtful whether one could revalue the houses in relation to rental values, because the basis is firmly tied to 1939. However, the ambiguity arises over the whole range of hereditaments, apart from houses.
What is the right way of handling this? The commonsense solution is to disregard changes in rental levels since 1956 when assessing new or altered properties for the purpose of the existing list. To be logical, if one does that, one has to hold back from any revision of values before the next revaluation, to the extent that the revision would take up any part of an increase in rental values since the last valuation. In general terms, that is the practice of valuation officers. When making a valuation, they ignore an increase in rental values since the last valuation.
After the Bill had been printed and had received its Second Reading, I met the representatives of all the local authority associations, at their request before Easter, and discussed this difficulty with them. As a result of that meeting, we clarified the issues and I invited them to go away over Easter and consider further whether there were any means, any device, by which one could try to secure all-round equity while leaving the door open for the correction of what were clearly inaccuracies or errors.
I mention that at this point, because, from my conversations with local authority associations, that practice of the valuation officers which I have just described is in its broad application, one which I think the local authority associations are ready to support. What I cannot 1167 say, what they cannot say, and what no one can say, is that all local authorities are ready to support it. If a local authority departs from this practice and starts seeking a partial revaluation by putting in a number of proposals, the difficulties of anomaly and inequity will arise in the area concerned.
I am not criticising the local authority which does such a thing; no doubt it believes it to be right and in the interests of its own area. Such a local authority evidently treats what I have described as the prevailing view as a wrong view, but I must advise the Committee that there is nothing in the law as it stands at present to restrain any local authority from trying to get a partial revaluation which takes into account current values in its area.
I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) referred to certain cases.
§ Mr. Mitchison
Do I understand that local authorities, at a meeting after Easter, to wit, at a meeting on 7th April, made proposals to the Government and they were turned down?
§ Mr. Mitchison
It is difficult to see the connection between the ambiguity to which the right hon. Gentleman refers and the exclusion of local authorities from the right to make proposals, unless the suggestion is that all the valuation officers can be relied on to take one view of this doubtful point and local authorities may take different ones, as I should have thought they were entitled to do and have their views tested.
§ Mr. Brooke
I was going to deal with these questions. As I had sat patiently for an hour, and there were many points on which I wished to answer, I was trying to get my argument into shape.
There is no doubt that local authorities are liable to take advantage of this ambiguity, loophole, or whatever one likes to call it. The hon. and learned Gentleman, in his speech, referred to Liverpool. An outstanding case was the conduct of the Sheffield City Council, in 1955, when, during the eight days before the last day on which a proposal could be put in, 9,500 proposals were put in. The Sheffield City Council was clearly and validly seeking a partial revaluation 1168 on the higher current rental values of a particular section of the properties in its area.
If the Bill goes unamended there is nothing to prevent that happening again. Indeed, something very much on those lines is happening in Hertfordshire under proposals which were legitimately put in before this Bill was published.
§ Mr. R. E. Winterbottom (Sheffield, Brightside)
I know the Minister will realise that at the time when the Sheffield City Council took the action it did—and as has happened more recently in Liverpool—there were special circumstances arising in respect of revaluation that made that action essential. There is a great difference between the circumstances at that time and the circumstances today. One has to face two anomalies that are not repeated in almost every phase of this valuation list. That is the situation that the Minister has to face now.
§ Mr. Brooke
I do not think that the hon. Member can give the Committee any undertaking that in the next four years there will not be other local authorities which will think that they have a good case for seeking to increase their rateable value by making sweeping proposals to obtain a revaluation of particular classes of property in their area.
This stems from the ambiguity in the law and I should have thought that the one thing on which we could all agree was that it was desirable to have a permanent measure to get this matter clearly governed by Statute and not resting on the customary action of valuation officers, or on gentlemen's agreements among local authorities, or anything of that kind. It was for that reason that when I met the local authority associations I asked them if they would join with officers of my Department, acting under my direction, in a general review of the whole field of rating valuation. This is essential before the 1963 revaluation takes place and we can make good use of the interval of time.
There are also a number of other matters that have to be considered. There is the question—which I am not prejudging—whether five years is the ideal period between revaluations. There are questions of the basis of assessments for various types of undertakings, and so on, and I am glad to say that the local 1169 authority associations assured me that they would willingly enter into discussions of that kind. This will be set on foot as soon as may be.
The purpose of subsection (3) is to make sure that no local authority, by a partial local revaluation, can circumvent the decision to postpone the general revaluation. Taking up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page), no private individual can stop it, though it is always open to the owner or the occupier to move.
Having been frank and open with the local authorities, I invited them to continue having discussions with my Department to see whether there was a form of words which could be written into this subsection effectively to close the door to a partial revaluation on a substantial scale, whilst still enabling a local authority to make a proposal to correct errors still remaining in the valuation lists. If there are errors in the list, there should be provision for getting them corrected. The primary responsibility for securing a fair and equitable list rests with valuation officers, but they need the help of everybody to do that.
I invited the local authority associations to consider this and come back to my Department after Easter with any form of words which they thought would meet the case. It was from that invitation that at least two of the Amendments on the Notice Paper stem. When there was a further meeting after Easter and it was possible to examine these forms of words that had been suggested, it was found that none of them would be satisfactory and that nothing would suffice if we were to tackle this at all short of a much more radical Amendment of the law flowing from a thorough examination of it in relation to all types of properties.
In passing, I would point out that there has already been over three years in which to correct any error in the list. It has been possible to make a proposal at any time since April, 1956, so there should not be many errors left.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Rippon
Would my right hon. Friend say how that could possibly help in the case where there is an alteration of the structure, or a change of use, such 1170 as would raise the question whether partial derating is applicable?
§ Mr. Brooke
I was coming to my hon. Friend's Amendment. There is no special reason to preserve the rights of local authorities or others in the limited field of the structurally altered property. That is where there is least likely to be a difference of opinion. If we leave that door open it would render it possible for a local authority, or anybody else, to make a proposal based upon current rental values and not upon the 1956 values. I appreciate that his Amendment is designed to try to prevent that, but where structural alterations are concerned difficulties are not likely to arise.
A local authority has a specific duty to draw the attention of the valuation officer to anything that comes to its notice, in the exercise of its functions, which may necessitate an alteration. In the normal course of events local authorities have to be consulted, in one of their capacities, about any kind of structural alteration to a house—under the building Acts, or the town planning Acts, or in some other respect. That is the normal way in which alterations of that kind come to the notice of valuation officers.
The second part of my hon. Friend's Amendment, which is closely akin to part of the hon. and learned Member's second Amendment, is of a more far-reaching character, and I should like to explain why the Government do not feel that we could solve the problem by a simple change such as is suggested in one or other of the Amendments. If we were going to make any alteration it would almost certainly have to be more far-reaching than those proposed. The hon. and learned Member's Amendment would provide that certain proposals should have effect only where the resulting assessment was not excessive, incorrect or unfair in relation to the values given in the list to other hereditaments of the same class. That has the effect of altering the legal basis of assessment for certain properties. The basis, which is at present ambiguous, would be altered for certain properties if a proposal were made by a certain class of people, but not if it was made by another class.
Furthermore, if the principle of valuing according to the tone of the list is to be put into an Act of Parliament 1171 it must apply universally. The Amendments to which I have just referred would have the effect of providing different statutory bases according to the class of person making the assessment. That cannot be sensible. In addition, this tone of the list principle would have to be applied not only to property whose assessment was based on direct rental evidence but also to classes of property such as were mentioned by the hon. Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Prentice)—to whose speech I listened with interest—such as water undertakings and other public utilities whose assessments are based on an accounts or profits basis.
Nobody has yet suggested how we could value on that basis and, at the same time, on a tone of the list basis. As I believe the hon. Member has himself perceived, it is possible to seek an annual revaluation of properties of that kind, although it may not be obtained. Moreover, if we are using such words as " unfair in relation to other properties of the same class ", we must very closely define what we mean by the same class. There is no one class of shops. There are small corner shops, and there are great departmental stores in main shopping streets, and these two kinds of shop are found in the same rating area. Their rating values may, nevertheless, have varied relatively greatly in three or four years.
If we are to seek to introduce into the Bill something which establishes a link with the tone of the list we must also write into the Bill provisions to allow all concerned to obtain the necessary information. The principle of the Amendments is based upon the possibility of making comparisons, and if persons are to be allowed to make comparisons it is imperative to make available detailed particulars of the other properties with which comparisons are sought to be made. We would, therefore, have to provide for a statutory right of access to information of that kind. That is why I say that we cannot make an alteration on the tone of the list basis by a simple amendment of the subsection.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I am coming to the rescue of the right hon. Gentleman, who will catch his own tail unless we do something about it. All this has been going on since 1925, and in an aggravated form since the war, according to him. If there 1172 is this ambiguity, all that he is going to do to solve it is to leave it to valuation officers, whom he thinks can be relied upon, and gag local authorities. That cannot be right.
§ Mr. Brooke
What the hon. and learned Member proposes in his second Amendment cannot be right, either. That would leave it open for a repetition of what has happened in the case of Sheffield, Banbury and Solihull, and what has been happening recently in Hertfordshire.
Various hon. Members have spoken up for their local authorities—and all honour to them—but the Minister, if no one else, must stand up for the private citizen. [HON. MEMBERS: " 0h."] Yes—the Minister must stand up for the private citizen who wishes to see equity between one class of ratepayer and another. Wherever these partial revaluations have been attempted they have given rise to the most intensely bitter feeling between different classes of ratepayer. as is naturally and unavoidably the case when a proposal for a partial revaluation is designed to put one class of ratepayers on a completely different basis of valuation from other classes.
I have said that I met the local authorities and asked them to join with me in forming a working party, and they have generously said that they will. My officers met them after Easter and examined their amending proposals, which I had seen, and on my directions my Department explained to the local authority associations why none of those proposals would work. I have given four reasons in the last few minutes why they would not operate fairly, and why, if we are to tackle this problem, we must do so on a broader front, and after much longer consideration. It is not something which can be dealt with by an insertion at short notice into a Bill concerned solely with postponement.
What I want to secure—and I know that the local authority associations will appreciate this, if it can be done—is that local authorities and all ratepayers can feel satisfied that if genuine representations are made to the valuation officers, whether by local authorities, ratepayers or anybody else, they will not lightly be dismissed by those valuation officers, but will receive proper consideration. The right of the valuation officer to make proposals remains unaltered.
1173 The Committee knows that valuation officers do not come under me. They are part of the Valuation Office, for which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is responsible in the House of Commons. I have consulted him on this matter, and he has authorised me to tell the Committee that valuation officers will be instructed to give full weight to representations by local authorities, and to be prepared, in instances where there is a reasonable case for the local authority's views, to make proposals to enable the authority to have the issue determined, if necessary, on appeal. This will apply not only to representations by local authorities. It will apply equally to those made by anyone else, who, under the present law, would have the right to make a proposal.
Those arrangements would not, of course, apply to any increases in assessments which might be sought on account of a rise in rental levels which has occurred since the lists were prepared: they would be limited to making corrections in order to secure the 1956 tone of the list. This, to be frank, was the main point which the local authority associations put when they met me.
Quite plainly, it will be necessary for the valuation officer to satisfy himself that there would be merit in that case to present to the valuation court, but, in any case when a local authority considers that a valuation officer has unreasonably refused to take action at its instance, the local authority will, as always. be able to pursue the matter within the Valuation Office and, if it thinks fit, through its local authority association and right up to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor.
I submit to the Committee that this is the practical and commonsense way of handling this matter. All Governments, of all parties, since 1925 have had some share of responsibility for the ambiguity in the present law. This is the first time that positive action has been initiated to try to clear up this matter. We are going to work in association with the local authority associations to see whether we can work out a complete and comprehensive solution that would lead to fresh legislation before the 1963 revaluation.
Meanwhile, I put it to the Committee that the assurance that I have already 1174 given to the Committee from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will make certain that valuation officers will not lightly ignore what local authorities suggest to them, but that, despite this ban which the subsection will put on any individual local authority seeking to make, as I would say, unfairly, a partial local revalution, there will still be a real opportunity for the local authority to get genuine errors corrected. That. I believe, is what the whole Committee desires.
§ Mr. Arthur Skeffington (Hayes and Harlington)
Will the right hon. Gentleman answer one question? He has said that he must be the protector of the rights of individual citizens. Is it not a fact—I am sure the right hon. Gentleman did not realise this—that even if an owner or occupier can still make proposals he is often in the position that although he knows, or believes he knows, that his own hereditament is incorrectly assessed, he cannot show why? Hitherto, under a long-established practice, he therefore put in a third-party proposal in relation to other hereditaments. If the Minister insists upon having this third subsection in the Bill, is he not, in fact, taking away the opportunity for the individual who believes his assessment is wrong to submit a proposal? That is really the crux of the whole thing, and, if that is so, can the right hon. Gentleman say that he is protecting the rights of the individual citizen?
§ Mr. Brooke
Yes, I can, because it is the individual citizen who suffers most and feels the greatest grievance if partial revaluations are made, so that one part of the list is on a current rental value basis and the rest of the list is on the tone of the list basis. That, frankly, is indefensible, and has caused intense ill feeling.
What I have sought to do, as I think the hon. Member will appreciate, is to safeguard by the undertaking that I have given the assurance that valuation officers will not, if this Bill goes through, simply close their ears and eyes to any suggestions which are made to them, but will take them seriously, and, wherever there is prima facie merit in them, will act and make a proposal themselves.
§ Mr. Lindgren
It has been the misfortune of some of my hon. and right hon. Friends, because of the spate of 1175 legislation which the right hon. Gentleman has been bringing before the House in the last two or three years, to be almost daily opposite to him. He has been ineffective at times, but I have never seen or heard him so ineffective as he was today. He was so ineffective that he got his own Whip worried enough to move around among his own supporters because of their threat to revolt against him. If the hon. Lady the Member for Tyne-mouth (Dame Irene Ward) had been in her place, I doubt whether she could have understood what the Minister has been talking about for the last half-hour or so.
The Minister said that there is ambiguity in the law, and, therefore, to deal with that position, which has existed since 1925, we are to freeze the powers of local authorities. That is all he has done. Let us be quite clear about this. Let us have a little of the history of this matter. The Inland Revenue Department has never wanted the local authorities to have this power to put in their own proposals. The power was not in the 1948 Act, but my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) was big enough to give way when that Bill was going through Committee, because of the pressure from local authorities, and also because he was convinced that it was wrong to deprive local authorities of that right, and he put in an Amendment which gave local authorities their power in Section 40 of the 1948 Act.
The Minister says that this is partial revaluation. Let us be quite clear what we are talking about. This partial revaluation never affects domestic hereditaments: all that it affects are commercial and industrial properties, shops and factories. The Minister has mentioned Hertfordshire. It is perfectly true that in Hertfordshire we have had a. number of proposals for revaluation. Why? It is because, in fact, there have moved into Hertfordshire, and particularly the southern half of Hertfordshire, over the last ten years, hundreds of thousands of people. The value of a shop is dependent upon its takings over the counter, and the more the population increases, the greater the tendency for the takings over the shop counter to increase, and so the values go up.
What is rateable value dependent upon? It is dependent on rental value, and if that goes up, the rateable value 1176 ought to go up. The right hon. Gentleman now puts himself in a guise in which we have never seen him before—as the protector of the private citizen. What about the Rent Act? What he is, in fact, is the protector of the profits of the multiple shops, the shopkeepers and the industrialists.
What is the purpose of rating? It is to share equitably the burden of the cost of the social services within the area, and, with the method we operate, the rateable value is dependent on rental value. Therefore, shop properties, the rental value of which has increased materially in a matter of four, five or six years, are valued by the valuation officers at that rental value, not at that time, but at the time when the valuation was made. For new shops we put down the value to the figure which obtained five, six or seven years back in order to keep it level with that for the old shops, so that the shopkeepers in these new shops are making an enhanced profit by not paying their fair contribution to the general rates of the area. A portion of their rates is being paid by the domestic ratepayers.
In Hertfordshire, industrial and commercial properties have increased considerably. It is the people of the area who create the rateable value. Were it possible for the whole population in a town of 50,000 people to move overnight, the rateable value of the shops in that town would disappear. In theory, if an additional 50,000 people came into that town the value of the same shops would double, because the possibilities of profits would double. Do not let us hear any more about this Minister being the protector of the private citizen. He is the protector of landlords' profits; he is the protector of shopkeepers' profits—he is the protector of anybody's profits. But the position of the private citizen rarely occurs to the right hon. Gentleman. We suggest that this will take from the local authorities a right which they have always had.
Anyone would think from what the right hon. Gentleman says that a local authority which makes a proposal does not have to convince a valuation court that the proposal is right. When a local authority makes a proposal, it does so against the valuation officer and so it starts at a disadvantage. The professional person responsible for making the valuation is not doing it. The local authority 1177 has stepped in to do it and the local authority has not the same resources to enable it to do the job as the valuation officer has. It has no right of entry, or the same rights of assessing values and obtaining all sorts of information.
The local authority must justify the valuation which it makes, because the owner is bound to appeal against it in the valuation court; and if he is not satisfied, he can go to the Lands Tribunal. A local authority has to justify itself before an impartial body, and if it does so, who is the right hon. Gentleman to say that a local authority should not protect its ratepayers by ensuring that a fair share of the rate burden is borne by those whose property values have been increased?
Shops and commercial premises are dependent on their rental value and if there is a change, the owner or occupier can put in a proposal for a reduction in the rateable value. This very often happens. I can think of one local authority with which 1 was associated where the values of a string of shops deteriorated because one entrance to a railway station was closed and another was opened a little further away, with the result that the flow of custom changed, and the rental value of the shops went down.
§ Mr. Hale
May I come back again to Oldham? A month ago we had over 6,000 unemployed. The money coming into the town went down by something like £6,000 a week, and the shopkeepers were suffering. Under a Tory Government we may get a situation in which they could make proposals for a new rateable value on the ground that the trade of the town had disappeared.
§ Mr. Lindgren
My hon. Friend is quite right. If the value falls, the owner or the occupier of a shop or industrial premises can make a proposal that the rates be reduced and the valuation court would agree, if it were satisfied that the value had been reduced. So we get the position in which a local authority has to accept a reduction because of a decrease in the rental value; and this protector of the private 1178 citizen intends to stop local authorities from putting in proposals to increase the rates where values have increased. He wishes to stop local authorities from getting an increased share of the rate burden from these people in order to assist all the other ratepayers in the area.
The Minister has said nothing about the situation in Liverpool and Sheffield where local authorities acted outside their rights. Regarding Liverpool, every official effort was made to try to undermine that action, even to the extent of taking the local authority before Lord Chief Justice Goddard. When the local authority got the ruling which it did, the Liverpool City Council got this protector of the private citizen to try to undermine that victory of the local authority by inserting this Clause in the Bill to destroy the value of the finding of Lord Chief Justice Goddard. But for that victory, this Clause would not have been put into the Bill. It is a method of taking away by the back door what has been won and established by local authorities, not only by means of the Amendment inserted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale—the then Minister—into the 1948 Act, but also through the courts of this country when their rights were challenged.
I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will stand up for the local authorities so that they may maintain the right to protect their citizens. I would sooner leave the protection of the rights of private citizens in the hands of the local authorities of this country than trust them to the right hon. Gentleman. I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite, who have had representations from their local authorities to support us, will take their courage in both hands and not be afraid of this protector of the private citizen. I hope that they will come to the aid of the local authorities in their area so that the rate burden may be shared equally among all the ratepayers.
§ Question put, That the words proposed to be left out, to " for " in line 18, stand part of the Clause:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 191, Noes 168.1181
|Division No. 82.]||AYES||[5.28 p.m.|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr.R. (Nantwich)||Nabarro, G. D. N.|
|Aitken, W. T.||Green, A.||Nairn, D. L. S.|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Gresham Cooke, R.||Nicholls, Harmar|
|Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)||Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)||Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'ch)|
|Arbuthnot, John||Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.||Noble, Michael (Argyll)|
|Armstrong, C. W.||Gurden, Harold||Nugent, G. R. H.|
|Atkins, H. E.||Harris, Reader (Heston)||O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)|
|Baldwin, Sir Archer||Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon)||Page, R. G.|
|Balniel, Lord||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)|
|Barber, Anthony||Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd)||Partridge, E.|
|Barlow, Sir John||Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Peel, W. J.|
|Barter, John||Hay, John||Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth|
|Batsford, Brian||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Pott, H. P.|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley||Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G.||Powell, J. Enoch|
|Beamish, Col. Tufton||Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton)||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Hill, John (S. Norfolk)||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Prior-Palmer, Brig. o. L.|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Hirst, Geoffrey||Profumo, J. D.|
|Bevins, J. B. (Toxteth)||Hobson, John (Warwick & Leam'gt'n)||Ramsden, J. E.|
|Biggs-Davison, J. A.||Hornby, R. P.||Redmayne, M.|
|Bingham, R. M.||Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Horobin, Sir Ian||Remnant, Hon. P.|
|Bishop, F. P.||Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence||Renton, D. L. M.|
|Body, R. F.||Howard, Geraid (Cambridgeshire)||Ridsdale, J. E.|
|Bossom, Sir Alfred||Hughes-Young, M. H. C.||Rippon, A. G. F.|
|Braine, B. R.||Hutchison, Michael Clark(E'b'gh, S.)||Roper, Sir Harold|
|Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry||Hutchison, Sir James (Scotstoun)||Sharpies, R. C.|
|Brooman-White, R. C.||Hylton-Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)|
|Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton)||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)|
|Bryan, P.||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Speir, R. M.|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Spence, H. R. (Aberdeen, W.)|
|Channon, H. P. G.||Kerr, Sir Hamilton||Stevens, Geoffrey|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Kershaw, J. A.||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)|
|Cooper, A. E.||Kirk, P. M.||Storey, S.|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Lagden, G. W.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)|
|Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Corfield, F. V.||Leavey, J. A.||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Courtney, Cdr. Anthony||Leburn, W. G.||Temple, John M.|
|Craddook, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Lennox-Boyd, Rt. Hon. A. T.||Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)|
|Cunningham, Knox||Linstead, Sir H. N.||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. P.|
|de Ferranti, Basil||Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin|
|Doughty, C. J. A.||Longden, Gilbert||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Drayson, G. B.||Loveys, Walter H.||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|du Cann, E. D. L.||Lucas, P. B. (Brentford & Chlswick)||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Duncan, sir James||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Vickers, Miss Joan|
|Duthle, W. S.||Macdonald, Sir Peter||Vosper, Rt. Hon. D. F.|
|Elliott, R.W.(Ne'castle upon Tyne.N.)||Mackeson, Brig. Sir Harry||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn||Maclean, Sir Fitzroy (Lancaster)||Wall, Patrick|
|Errington, Sir Eric||McMaster, S. R.||Ward, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Worcester)|
|Farey-Jones, F. W.||Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)||Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)|
|Fell, A.||Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)||Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold|
|Fisher, Nigel||Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Webster, David|
|Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Maddan, Martin||Whitelaw, W. S. 1.|
|Freeth, Denzil||Markham, Major Sir Frank||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.||Marlowe, A. A. H.||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Gammans, Lady||Marshall, Douglas||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Garner-Evans, E. H.||Mathew, R.||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|George, J. C. (Pollok)||Maudling, Rt. Hon. R.||Woollam, John Victor|
|Glyn, Col. Richard H.||Mawby, R. L.||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Godber, J. B.||Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.|
|Goodhart, Philip||Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Graham, Sir Fergus||Morrison, John (Salisbury)||Mr. Gibson-Watt and Mr. Finlay.|
|Grant, Rt. Hon. W. (Woodside)||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles|
|Ainsley, J. W.||Brockway, A. F.||Darling, George (Hillsborough)|
|Albu, A. H.||Burton, Miss F. E.||Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Davles, Harold (Leek)|
|Baird, J.||Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)|
|Balfour, A.||Carmichael, J.||Deer, G.|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Diamond, John|
|Benn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S.E.)||Champion, A. J.||Dodds, N. N.|
|Benson, Sir George||Chetwynd, G. R.||Donnelly, D. L.|
|Beswick, Frank||Cliffe, Michael||Dugdale, Rt. Hn. John (W. Brmwoh,|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Clunie, J.||Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead)||Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse)|
|Bonham Carter, Mark||Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Edwards, Robert (Bilston)|
|Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S.W.)||Crossman, R. H. S.||Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)|
|Boyd, T. C.||Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)|
|Fernyhough, E.||Lawson, G. M.||Robens, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Finch, H. J. (Bedwellty)||Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Fitch, A. E. (Wigan)||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Fletcher, Eric||Lewis, Arthur||Ross, William|
|Foot, D. M.||Lindgren, G. S.||Shinwell Rt. Hon. E.|
|Forman, J. C.||Lipton, Marcus||Short, E. W.|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||McAlister, Mrs. Mary||Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)|
|Gibson, C. W,||McCann, J.||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||MacColl, J. E||Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)|
|Greenwood, Anthony||McInnes, J.||Sorensen, R. w.|
|Griffiths, William (Exchange)||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Sparks, J. A.|
|Grimond, J.||McLeavy, Frank||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Hale, Leslie||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)|
|Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Stonehouse, John|
|Hamilton, W. W.||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Strauss, Rt, Hon. George (Vauxhall)|
|Hannan, W.||Mayhew, C. P.||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Hastings, S.||Mellish, R. J.||Swingler, S. T.|
|Hayman, F. H.||Messer, Sir F.||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Healey, Denis||Mikardo, Ian||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis)||Mitchison, G. R.||Thornton, E.|
|Herbison, Miss M.||Moody, A. S.||Tomney, F.|
|Hobson, C. R. (Keighley)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. Herbert (Lewis'm, S.)||Wade, D. W.|
|Holman, P.||Moyle, A.||Warbey, W. N.|
|Holt, A. F.||Oram, A. E.||Weitzman, D.|
|Hoy, J. H.||Oswald, T.||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Owen, W. J.||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Palmer, A. M. F.||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Hunter, A. E.||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Pargiter, G. A.||Willey, Frederick|
|Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Parker, J.||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Paton, John||Williams, W. T. (Barons Court)|
|Janner, B.||Peart, T. F.||Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Jenkins, Roy (Stechford)||Prentice, R. E.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Johnson, James (Rugby)||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)||Winterbottom, Richard|
|Jones, Rt. Hon. A. Creech (Wakefield)||Probert, A. R.||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Jones, David (The Ha rtlepools)||Proctor, W. T.||Yates, V. (Ladywood)|
|Jones, Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)||Pursey, Cmdr. H.||Zilliacus, K.|
|Jones, Jack (Rotherham)||Rankin, John|
|Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)||Redhead, E. C.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Kenyon, C.||Reynolds, G. W.||Mr. Pearson and Mr. J. Taylor|
|Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Rhodes, H.|
§ Mr. Mitchison
I beg to move, in page 1, line 18, to leave out from " proposal " to the end of the Clause and to add:served on the valuation officer after the twelfth day of February, nineteen hundred and fifty-nine, for altering a valuation list in force at the passing of this Act (not being a proposal made by the valuation officer) shall have effect only where the assessment resulting from the said proposal is not excessive, incorrect or unfair in relation to the values ascribed in
§ the list to other hereditaments of the same class at the date of the proposal".
§ I move this Amendment formally—unless it is the intention of the Government to resign at once, in view of the result of the last Division.
§ Question put, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 189, Noes 167.1185
|Division No. 83.]||AYES||[5.38 p.m.|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Body, R. F.||Duncan, Sir James|
|Aitken, W. T.||Bossom, Sir Alfred||Duthie, W. S.|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Braine, B. R.||Elliott, R.W.(Ne'castle upon Tyne.N.)|
|Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)||Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry||Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn|
|Arbuthnot, John||Brooman-White, R. C.||Errington, Sir Eric|
|Armstrong, C. W.||Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton)||Farey-Jones. F. W.|
|Atkins, H. E.||Bryan, P.||Fell, A.|
|Baldwin, Sir Archer||Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Fisher, Nigel|
|Balniel, Lord||Cary, Sir Robert||Fletcher-Cooke, C.|
|Barber, Anthony||Channon, H. P. G.||Freeth, Denzil|
|Barlow, Sir John||Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.|
|Barter, John||Cooper, A. E.||Gammans, Lady|
|Batsford, Brian||Cooper-Key, E. M.||Garner-Evans, E. H.|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley||Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||George, J. C (Pollok)|
|Beamish, Col. Tufton||Corfield, F. V.||Gibson-Watt, D.|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Courtney, Cdr. Anthony||Glyn, Col. Richard H.|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Craddook, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Godber, J. B.|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Goodhart, Philip|
|Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Cunningham, Knox||Graham, Sir Fergus|
|Biggs-Davison, J. A.||de Ferranti, Basil||Grant, Rt. Hon. W. (Woodside)|
|Bingham, R. M,||Doughty, C. J. A.||Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich)|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Drayson, G. B.||Green, A.|
|Bishop, F. P.||du Cann, E. D. L.||Gresham Cooke, R.|
|Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)||Lucas, P. B. (Brentford & Chiswick)||Renton, D. L. M.|
|Grosvenor, Lt. Col. R. G.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Ridsdale, j. E.|
|Gurden, Harold||Macdonald, Sir Peter||Rippon, A. G. F.|
|Harris, Reader (Heston)||Mackeson, Brig. Sir Harry||Roper, Sir Harold|
|Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon)||Maclean, Sir Fitzroy (Lancaster)||Sharpies, R. C.|
|Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)|
|Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd)||Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)||Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)|
|Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Hay, John||Madden, Martin||Speir, R. M.|
|Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Markham, Major Sir Frank||Stevens, Geoffrey|
|Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G.||Marlowe, A. A. H.||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)|
|Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton)||Marshall, Douglas||Storey, 8.|
|Hill, John (S. Norfolk)||Mathew, R.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)|
|Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Maudling, Rt. Hon. R.||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Hirst, Geoffrey||Mawby, R. L.||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Hornby, R. P.||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr, S. L. C.||Temple, John M.|
|Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R.||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Horobin, Sir Ian||Morrison, John (Salisbury)||Thomas, P. J. M, (Conway)|
|Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. P.|
|Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)||Nairn, D. L. S.||Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin|
|Hughes-Young, M. H. C.||Nicholls, Harmer||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Hutchison, Michael Clark(E'b'gh, S.)||Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th.E. & Chr'ch)||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Hutchison, Sir James (Scotstoun)||Noble, Michael (Argyll)||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Hylton-Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry||Nugent, G. R. H.||Vickers, Miss Joan|
|Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||O'Neill, Hn, Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)||Vosper, Rt. Hon. D. F.|
|Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Page, R. G.||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Panned, N. A. (Kirkdale)||Wall, Patrick|
|Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Partridge, E.||Ward, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Worcester|
|Kerr, Sir Hamilton||Peel, W. J.||Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)|
|Kershaw, J. A.||Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth||Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold|
|Kirk, P. M.||Pitt, Miss E. M.||Webster, David|
|Lagden, G. W.||Pott, H. P.||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Powell, J. Enoch||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Leavey, J. A.||Price, David (Eastleigh)||Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)|
|Leburn, W. G.||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Legge-Burke, Maj. E. A. H.||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Lennox-Boyd, Rt. Hon. A. T.||Profumo, J. D.||Wollam, john Victor|
|Linstead, Sir H. N.||Ramsden, J. E.||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Redmayne, M.|
|Longden, Gilbert||Rees-Davies, W. R.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Loveys, Walter H.||Remnant, Hon. P.||Mr. Finlay and Mr. Whitelaw|
|Ainsley, J. W.||Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)||Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)|
|Albu, A. H.||Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)||Kenyon, C.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Fernyhough, E||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.|
|Baird, J.||Finch, H. J. (Bedwellty)||Lawson, G. M.|
|Balfour, A.||Fitch, A. E. (Wigan)||Lee, Frederick (Newton)|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Fletcher, Eric||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)|
|Benn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S.E.)||Foot, D. M.||Lewis, Arthur|
|Benson, Sir George||Foreman, J. C.||Lindgren, G. S.|
|Berwick, Frank||Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Lipton, Marcus|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Gibson, C. W.||McAlister, Mrs. Mary|
|Bonham Carter, Mark||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||McCann, J.|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Greenwood, Anthony||MacColl, J. E.|
|Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S.W.)||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||McInnes, J.|
|Boyd, T. C.||Griffiths, William (Exchange)||McKay, John (Wallsend)|
|Brockway, A. F.||Grimond, J.||McLeavy, Frank|
|Burton, Miss F. E.||Hale, Leslie||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Hamilton, W. W.||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.|
|Carmichael, J.||Hannan, W.||Mayhew, C. P.|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Hastings, S.||Mellish, R. J.|
|Champion, A. J.||Hayman, F. H.||Messer Sir F|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Healey, Denis||Mikardo, Ian|
|Cliffe, Michael||Henderson, Rt. Hn A. (Rwly Regis)||Mitchison, G. R.|
|Moody, A. S.|
|Clunie, J.||Herbison, Miss M.||Morrison Rt. Hn. Herbert(Lewis'm, s.)|
|Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead)||Hobson, C. R. (Keighley)||Moyle, A.|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Holman, P.||Oram, A. E.|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Houghton, Douglas||Orbach, M.|
|Grossman, R. H. S.||Hoy, J. H.||Oswald, T.|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Owen, W. J.|
|Darling, George (Hillsborough)||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Palmer, A. M. F.|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)||Hunter, A. E.||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Pargiter, G. A.|
|Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Parker, J.|
|Diamond, John||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Paton, John|
|Dodds, N. N.||Janner, B.||Pearson, A.|
|Donnelly, D. L.||Jenkins, Roy (Stechford)||Peart, T, F.|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hn. John (W. Brmwich)||Johnson, James (Rugby)||Prentice R. E.|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Jones, Rt. Hon. A. Creech(Wakefield)||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse)||Jones, David (The Hartlepools)||Probert, A. R.|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)||Jones, Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)||Proctor, W. T.|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Jones, Jack (Rotherham)||Pursey, Cmdr. H.|
|Rankin, John||Sparks, J. A.||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Redhead, E. C.||Spriggs, Leslie||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Reynolds, G. W.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Rhodes, H.||Storehouse, John||Willey, Frederick|
|Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)||Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)||Summerskill, Rt. Hon E.||Williams, W. T. (Barons Court)|
|Ross, William||Swingler, S. T.||Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.||Sylvester, G. O.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Short, E. W.||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)||Winterbottom, Richard|
|Silver-man, Sydney (Nelson)||Thornton, E.||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)||Wade, D. W.||Yates, V. (Ladywood)|
|Skeffington, A.M.||Warbey, W. N.||Zilliacus, K.|
|Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)||Weitzman, D.|
|Sorensen, R. W.||Wells, Percy (Faversham)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES|
§ Mr. G. W. Reynolds (Islington, North)
I beg to move, in page 2, line 9, at the end to add:or relates to an hereditament which is already the subject of a proposal by the valuation officer".I am sorry that the matters with which we have been dealing are not now included in the Bill, but I suggest to the Minister that this Amendment would improve the position of the rating authority under this Clause. It is not designed to allow the rating authority to do what the Minister is trying to stop it from doing, namely, to carry out a partial revaluation of the property within its area. If I understood the Minister, the main purpose of the Clause is to stop a rating authority carrying out a partial rerating and, in his words, to circumvent the decision to postpone a general revaluation. This Amendment would not allow that and would not breach the general principle the Minister has in mind.
As I understand the position at the moment, despite the general postponement of the introduction of valuation lists, proposals can still be put forward by the valuation officer, by the owner, or the occupier of the property and by the local authority in a case where the property is not included in the valuation list, but when the local authority thinks it ought to go into the list. We can assume quite safely that there will be a substantial number of proposals coming forward in the next few years pending a complete revaluation of property. When a proposal comes forward from the valuation officer, whether for an addition to a house, a new building or the partial derating of an hereditament, the local authority will be in a position of being able to object by not concurring with the proposal but in the majority of cases, as the Clause is drafted, it will be debarred from putting forward a proposal of its own.
1186 In those circumstances, the valuation officer often puts forward a proposal and the occupier, not unnaturally, thinks the proposal is too high. Under the provisions of this Clause, the occupier will still be allowed to put forward his counter proposal. We may assume that the valuation officer considers that if additions are made to a property the new value for it should be £80 a year and he puts forward that value for the property. The occupier thinks it is excessive and puts forward his proposal for a value of £70. The local authority might think that the valuation officer has been a little generous and that the real value is £85. As it is an extension to an existing building in the valuation list, the local authority would be debarred from putting forward its own proposals.
If the matter went to the valuation court, the local authority would be in the rather ridiculous position of thinking that the valuation officer's proposal was a little too low and having to argue on those lines but not being able to put forward a proposal of its own reflecting what it considers to be the true value.
That would be the position if it went to the valuation court, but we know that, in practice, the valuation officer, looking to a certain extent for easy life—and one cannot blame him for that—will often endeavour to reach agreement with the occupier or owner of the property so that the matter does not go to the valuation court. Thus, the valuation put forward by the valuation officer of £80, with a counter proposal by the occupier or owner of £70, might be settled at £75 without the matter ever going to the valuation court, and yet the rating authority might be sitting in the background all the time thinking that £80 was a little too low. The authority would be faced with a settlement out of court at a figure of £75 without having a chance of putting its own objection let alone of putting what it considered should be the proper proposal for this type of property.
1187 What I ask in the Amendment is that in such a case, where the valuation officer puts forward his own proposal, once the valuation officer has put the ball into the court the local authority should be allowed to make a proposal, too. In other words, I ask that on a property where the valuation officer has started the ball rolling, the local authority should be able to put forward proposals in future as it can in similar circumstances at present. It would not allow the local authority to start the ball rolling by putting forward its own valuation first. As I said, the valuation officer would set the ball rolling and the authority would then be able to make its own proposal, too.
There is another matter of a slightly different nature which also arises. From time to time property which has been in Part 1 of the valuation list becomes occupied for industrial purposes in some way or another, becomes subject to industrial derating and is moved into Part 2 of the list. Often, of course, not the whole of the property is entitled to industrial derating; only part of it is entitled to it. In such a case there may be a measure of disagreement as to what proportion of the property should be entitled to industrial derating.
We thus have a situation in which there may be a change of use by which the property becomes in part liable for industrial derating. The valuation officer may make a proposal and the occupier may disagree and make a counter proposal. The rating authority may disagree with both of them and think that both the valuation officer and the occupier are wrong, but it will be debarred from putting forward any proposal of its own. Once again, if the question goes before the valuation court the local authority is placed in the invidious position of arguing before the court that it disagrees with the other proposals made without having any positive case which it can put forward for its own proposal. Alternatively, and as is more likely, the matter will not reach the valuation court, in which case the local authority has virtually no safeguard.
The question has been raised on an earlier Amendment of cases such as the Metropolitan Water Board mains. To a certain extent this Amendment would help in those cases, too. Sooner or later, 1188 even in such a case, the valuation officer has to make a proposal. If the Amendment is carried, once the valuation officer has made a proposal in respect of Metropolitan Water Board mains or any other property of that kind, it will be open to the local rating authority also to make its proposal.
To sum up, I do not think that the Amendment is contrary to the general principle enunciated by the Minister a few moments ago that the Clause is to stop any rating authority from carrying out a partial revaluation and circumventing the decision contained in the Bill to postpone general revaluation. It would simply mean that once a valuation officer has put forward a proposal, the rating authority, as a party directly affected by the proposal which he has made, should be entitled, if it so desires, to put forward its own proposal in order that if and when the matter goes to the valuation court, the court will have the job of deciding which proposal is right—that of the rating authority, the valuation officer or the owner or occupier. It would by no means allow the rating authority itself to start putting forward proposals in an attempt to secure partial revaluation of the property within its area. It would improve the position of the rating authority slightly in the context of the Clause, and I hope that the Minister will be able either to accept it or to give an assurance that the principle can be accepted and that he will introduce appropriate wording at a later stage.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. J. R. Bevins)
This is a much more limited proposition that those which we have debated earlier. The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) has put his case very fairly and moderately and I will try briefly to do the same.
In the first place, it is true that there is nothing in Clause 1 (3) which deprives a rating authority of its right to object to any proposal. The present procedure is that if neither the proposal nor the objection is withdrawn and there is no agreed settlement between the parties, the valuation court must settle the issue as an appeal, but it is also the case that the alternatives which lie before the valuation court are rather limited. For example, the court is entitled to leave the entry unchanged, to give full effect to the proposal which has been made or to fix a 1189 figure between the figure already in the list and that included in the proposal. What it cannot do is to increase the assessment when the proposal itself is a proposal for a reduction or to increase the assessment to a higher figure than the proposal itself. To that extent it is the case that the effect of a rating authority's objection, which is what we are discussing at the moment, is confined within certain fairly narrow limits.
Perhaps I may give a hypothetical illustration. A hereditament may be the rating list carrying an assessment of £150. The valuation officer's proposal may be for £200. There may be an objection lodged by the rating authority. Whatever happened in the event, the figure finally decided could not be more than £200, whereas it might be between £150 and £200. I agree that under the system of objection there is a strict limit about what can happen at the end of the day.
The Amendment would lay down that if a valuation officer made a proposal, a third party—an aggrieved person, which includes a rating authority—would be entitled to make a counter proposal and not merely to put in an objection, I concede at once that in principle, at any rate, this would not be objectionable in one respect—in the case where having regard to the tone of the list, a rating authority believed that the proposed increase was too small or the proposed reduction was too large. In most cases, the rating authority would probably object that the increase was not sufficiently large. On the other hand, it is precisely in this sort of case that the measures to which my right hon. Friend referred earlier for closer co-operation between rating authorities and the valuation office should go at least a long way to meet the position. Perhaps the hon. Member takes the view that the steps which my right hon. Friend has taken do not go far enough, but whatever view the Committee may take on that, I am bound to say that I think that we have gone as far as we can possibly go in that respect.
In any event, the Amendment is not acceptable to my right hon. Friend because it would enable a rating authority to try to get either new or altered properties into the list at current values. It would enable a rating authority, say, in 1960, to get a property on to the list at the valuation of that hereditament in 19596061, or whatever year it was, when 1190 at the same time the other properties on the valuation list were at the 1956 values. That is because the inclusion at current values is in accordance with the law as we understand it.
Therefore, in spite of what the hon. Member for Islington, North has said, it is the fact that the Amendment, although I agree that it covers a relatively narrow field, would open the door to a limited partial revaluation which would penalise certain ratepayers.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I believe that the Parliamentary Secretary said that under the law as it now stands hereditaments are valued on their present value or their current value. Did the hon. Gentleman mean houses"?
§ Mr. Bevins
No. If the hon. and learned Member will allow me to explain, I said that it would be possible in these circumstances for properties to be valued at their current values—current, shall we say, in 1959, 1960 or 1961, or whenever the time happened to be. I added that that was so because inclusion at current values is in accordance with rating law. If the hon. and learned Gentleman will allow me to say so, he must not confuse that with the existing pattern of rating, for example, for private houses. I am simply saying what the law is, as opposed to the general practice of the valuation office, which is an entirely separate matter.
§ Mr. Mitchison
May I assume that the hon. Gentleman's remarks must be taken as not relating to houses?
§ Mr. Bevins
Broadly speaking, yes, because I do not think that within the confines of the Amendment there would be a great deal of point in relating it to house property.
I was going on to say that the Amendment would, therefore, to a limited extent, open the door to a partial revaluation which would penalise certain ratepayers.
The area of such a revaluation might well be very small. I should not care to express an opinion on how wide it might go, because that clearly would depend on the number of new and altered properties which needed either assessment or reassessment during the period 1959 or 1963, when the next valuation lists are due.
1191 It would also depend to some extent on the number of industrial hereditaments whose assessments are liable to be affected by a new plant and machinery order which will presently be made following the report of the Ritson Committee.
I appreciate the spirit in which the hon. Member for Islington, North has put forward the Amendment. It is a relatively narrow one, but it embodies the same defect as some of the earlier Amendments, notably that it would lead to a differential basis of assessment for certain properties.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I am becoming confused. I am not certain whether the right hon. Gentleman and the Parliamentary Secretary have not succeeded in catching their own tails. At present, they are adhering passionately to what they describe as an ambiguous state of affairs. It is not as latent and ambiguous as all that, because it is already reflected in existing lists. When it is suggested that in relation to all that the local authority might be allowed to make a proposal, we are told that that is unnecessary. The Parliamentary Secretary tells us that local authorities have the right to object within narrow limits, and that is enough for them.
That passes my understanding. Why should it be right for local authorities to be allowed to object within narrow limits if they are unable to make a proposal which would enlarge the limits of the resulting valuation?
§ Mr. Bevins
That is very simply answered, because the right of objection does not in any sense, nor can it ever, give the rating authority the right to seek or to obtain an assessment based on current rental values, whereas if they were entitled to make a proposal in those circumstances it might lead to that result.
§ Mr. Mitchison
With respect, that is not so. The local authority may appear and object within the limits which the Parliamentary Secretary indicated. It might say that the right figure is so and so. What relation that will have to revaluation or no revaluation will depend on what the limits are, that is to say, on what the proposals before the valuation court are.
Therefore, it is quite possible, if the proposals are right, for anything to ha- 1192 pen. All that happens is that, if the proposals are not right, the Parliamentary Secretary achieves his object and the rating authority is effectively gagged. What happens is that it is made to depend on the proposals brought forward by the valuation officer, or perhaps by the owner, too.
I become very puzzled when we are told that the valuation officer will pay great regard to the opinions of local authorities. He may not agree with them. That is the kind of case that we have in mind in the Amendments. If he does not agree with them, what will happen? He will have made his proposal. That Is what the Amendment assumes. He will, no doubt, have consulted the local authority beforehand. Apart from any circular that may be sent to valuation officers, that is a normal and reasonable practice. I cannot think that circulars will make any very great difference. If he does his job he will do that anyhow.
Let us assume that he has done that. What is the next stage? There was a passage in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman on the last Amendment which indicated that steps would be taken for the valuation officer to put forward proposals in which he did not believe in order that the views of the local authority might he represented. What are we to have? Are we to have the valuation officer's proposal and then the valuation officer's bogus proposal put forward at the instance of the rating authority? Or would the Parliamentary Secretary and his right hon. Friend like to consider, since they are so anxious to gag local authorities, having that Scandinavian institution an Ombudsman to put up some of these cases, or a local authority advocate, or someone of that sort?
I do not know how it will be done. What is the sense of refusing to allow the local authority to make a proposal about an hereditament when there has already been a proposal by the valuation officer and when the whole ambiguity will be applied one way or another anyhow? Why should not the local authority be allowed to make a proposal when the valuation officer has made one?
I think that this is a very harsh view of rating authorities. It may occur in the 1193 case of houses, as it may occur in the case of industrial and other hereditaments. There are an infinity of circumstances. It is more probable in the case of industrial hereditaments. It is not confined to them. Yet all that the Parliamentary Secretary can advise the Committee is to reject the whole of a minor, but very sensible, Amendment on grounds which seem to me to leave all the difficulties he apprehends equally likely to happen. His advice would merely ensure that rating authorities once again will be gagged, when other people in these cases have voices.
§ Mr. Diamond
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds), if only for the clarity and fluency with which he expressed his arguments, which were in such marked contradistinction to the way in which the Minister spoke on the last Amendment. The Minister said then that he did not understand all this and that it was a very difficult and complicated matter. Having listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North, I hope that the Minister will understand a good deal more about it and appreciate what clarity can be expressed once one has done one's homework and mastered the topic.
There is no point in my appealing to my hon. and learned Friend to press this to a Division, because to what effect are our arguments or the merits of the case against the fluency and persuasiveness of the right hon. Gentleman? You were not in the Chair, Sir Norman, earlier, but all the arguments from both sides of the Committee—with the sole exception of that of the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) — were in favour of the Amendment then under discussion. The Minister then made a lot of statements, totally irrelevant to the dismissal of that Amendment, with the result, in the Division Lobby that you know. Therefore, as I say, there is not much point in appealing to my hon. and learned Friend to press this to a Division, even though he has made an absolute case.
The previous Amendment was turned down solely on the ground that it would open up the possibility—that had been touched upon in Sheffield and, I gather, is now being canvassed in Hertfordshire—of a partial revaluation. The earlier Amendment was turned down on the ground that the local authority would 1194 have the opportunity of revising upwards the assessments for a large number of hereditaments within its area.
This Amendment could affect only a very small and limited number of cases where the initiative had been taken by the valuation officers. It cannot, in any circumstances, be held to contravene principles laid down only half an hour ago by the Minister. In those circumstances, why must the Government persist in this attitude of destroying the rights of the local authorities down to the smallest vestige that is left to them at the moment? Why must they insist on denying to the local authorities the right, for which they unanimously ask, to have some say in the rating within their own areas? This is a small matter. It could not possibly do damage to the revenue, or create inequity on a large scale, and it is something that the Government ought to grant.
I do not follow the argument that because a central Government Department is unable to carry out its responsibilities at once and so has to ask for a delay of two years, every local authority should have its right permanently reduced so as to suit the convenience of that Department. In those circumstances, it will inevitably be said that Whitehall is all-important, and that the local authority —and the local man—is completely disregarded by Parliament, and particularly by the Government. That will inevitably come about if this small Amendment, which seeks only to give the local authority a reasonable say in cases where the initiative has been taken by the valuation officer, is refused.
Once again, I appeal to the Government. Cannot they reconsider this, even if only in this very small area? I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North is not committed to the wording. It is the principle that matters, and that principle is that local authorities should have some right to make their views felt where the initiative is taken by the valuation officer—
§ Mr. Diamond
Or by the occupier. We therefore ask that this matter should be reconsidered, even if my hon. Friend's words are not acceptable.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Reynolds
I cannot accept the Parliamentary Secretary's reply. In effect, what he is saying is that rating authorities are so stupid that if, because of some structural alteration, there were just one proposal from the valuation officer making, say, a 10 per cent. increase in the rateable value of a shop in the centre of the main street, a rating authority, will try to double the valuation of the shop, because that happened to be the current rental value—and would do so in complete isolation from every other shop in the main street and in the borough.
In the type of case mentioned in Sheffield, Liverpool and other places, the rating authority has not picked out one shop only, but every shop in the main street, for instance, and, if possible, every shop in its area. I do not think that any rating authority would be so silly as to try to carry out a partial revaluation of the kind that the Parliamentary Secretary says has to be guarded against by weakening, as the Bill does, the objecting powers of rating authorities in regard to valuation officers' proposals.
If the hon. Gentleman thinks that acceptance of the Amendment might lead to such partial revaluations as he has mentioned, I can tell him that there are others that would be just as much out of Alice in Wonderland as those he has suggested. There is the tenant who is being evicted by his landlord. If he wishes to be spiteful, and make it more awkward for the landlord to let the house, the tenant can put in a proposal for a partial revaluation.
On the other hand, the owner of the property may wish to be awkward to the tenant and put forward a proposal substantially to increase the rateable value of the property, and we are told that if he can substantiate it, his proposal will have to be accepted by the valuation court. Again, provided the property is not included in the list, the local authorities can make a proposal based on current rental values instead of on those of 195556. I am not impressed by the three cases I have just stated, but they are just as valid and useful instances as those put forward by the Parliamentary Secretary, they are just as likely to happen—and they are just as ridiculous.
1196 I do not think that we have had any answer that stands up to close examination. The hon. Gentleman's reply does, however, show the determination of someone, whom the Minister is obviously supporting, to strip local rating authorities of as much of their powers as possible, and the obvious fact that this Amendment will not be accepted confirms that view.
§ Mr. Bevins
Though I do not wish to detain the Committee, I should not like this discussion to finish by leaving the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) with the impression that the Government are being stiff-necked. The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) asked the pointed question: what is the objection, in these circumstances, to a rating authority making a proposal? The simple and short answer is that although, as I said before, there is no doubt that inclusion at current values is in accordance with the law, there is equally no question—as I am sure hon. Members on both sides will agree—that inclusion of new properties according to the tone of the list—that is, 1956 values—is fairer and more equitable, and applies, with all respect to the hon. Member for Islington, North, whether we are dealing with the odd shop or odd office, or, as in Sheffield, with several thousand properties.
As long as we have a differential as between the tone of the 1956 list and current values the thing is unjust. It is as simple as that—
§ Mr. Diamond
Will the hon. Gentleman answer this question? Once this inconsistency has been removed—namely, by 1963, when we have the revaluation —and the 1963 " tone," as he calls it, corresponds with the 1963 current valuation, is it the Government's intention to restore these powers to local authorities?
§ Mr. Bevins
My right hon. Friend earlier made it clear that the whole question of whether there should be legislative provision governing either current value or the tone of the last list as being the thing that mattered, would be considered between now and the next revaluation. As my right hon. Friend said, that is an obscurity that has to be cleared up as soon as possible.
§ Amendment negatived.1197
§ Mr. Elwyn Jones (West Ham, South)
I beg to move, in page 2, line 9, at the end to add:(5) This section shall come into force on the day when the Minister of Housing and Local Government declares in a report laid before Parliament that he is satisfied that adequate arrangements have been made between all persons in occupation of sewers having diameters of more than twelve feet and the rating authorities concerned for the payment by those persons to those authorities of sums equivalent to those which would have been so payable as rates, if subsection (2) of section nine of the Rating and Valuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1955, had not been enacted.The Amendment is designed to add a new subsection in the terms set out. If I may say so, the Amendment is a tribute to the drafting skill of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). His ingenuity has achieved dimensions almost as large as the principal sewers to which the Amendment relates.
§ Mr. Diamond
On a point of drafting, could my hon. and learned Friend tell me, with his authority, whether as a matter of construction, the word " diameters " relates to the sewers or the persons?
§ Mr. Elwyn Jones
I hope that my hon. Friend will not treat this matter as one for levity. It is my intention to invite the Committee to give it most serious consideration. I will merely say that in the area through which these outfall sewers run I am not aware of anyone having a diameter of more than 12 feet.
§ Mr. Mitchison
Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that Daniel Lambert lived in Loughborough, not East London?
§ Mr. Elwyn Jones
That seems to be a most unhelpful intervention, if I may say so.
The Committee will have seen that the terms of the Amendment are general and relate to sewers anywhere having diameters of more than 12 feet, but it is no secret, I think, that the authorities principally affected by the proposed Amendment are those through which the northern and southern outfall sewers of the London County Council run. The Amendment is of considerable importance, first of all, because of its financial importance to those authorities, and, in particular, to West Ham. Secondly, it is of considerable Parliamentary import- 1198 ance by reason of the fact that a precise undertaking was given by the Government, when the 1955 Rating and Valuation Bill was debated, that they would see to it that an Amendment was introduced to that Bill to exclude the outfall sewers of the London County Council from its derating provisions. I fear that we are faced here with what has proved, in the event, to have been an undertaking which the Government have not honored in the subsequent developments relating to this matter.
The reasons that the Government felt it proper to give that pledge in most precise and explicit terms, as I shall show in a moment, were overwhelming. The sewer in question—there are actually the northern and southern London outfall sewers—is a Leviathan among sewers. Its average height above the surrounding land is 21 feet. To say that one could run a coach and four through it would be no exaggeation, though whether anyone should seek to run a coach and four through it is an entirely different matter. It runs across the whole width of West Ham, towering over the houses on each side of it like some distended Chinese wall. It stands on a vast raised embankment. It certainly cannot be said of this part of my constituency that it is flowing with milk and honey. In an earlier debate on this matter, the sewer was described as a monstrosity, and a monstrosity it certainly is. I have been alarmed to be told today that its capacity is actually to be increased. I find that a most alarming prospect.
However, so long as the authorities concerned—I speak of West Ham, in particular--were deriving some rates, some financial benefit, out of it, the somewhat bitter pill was to a certain extent sweetened—if that is not too unattractive an analogy in the circumstances. Before the 1955 Act, the boroughs concerned, namely, those through which the sewer went drew rate income from the London County Council, the owner of the sewer. The London County Council was quite prepared to pay the amount involved and everybody was perfectly happy. There then descended upon the quite happy relationship between all the authorities concerned a sudden attack of zeal for uniformity in Whitehall.
The hon. Member for Oldham, East (Sir I. Horobin), who is now Parliamen- 1199 tary Secretary to the Ministry of Power and whom I am very glad to see sitting on the Government Front Bench—I hope that his view has not changed as a result of that elevation —described the proposal at that time asa quite unnecessary piece of Departmental tidying up the only effect of which would be to annoy everybody and do a grave injustice to a borough which has many problems." — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th July, 1955; Vol. 543, c. 1144–5.]I hope that the hon. Gentleman is of the same view today and that sitting alongside the Minister as he is now, he will prod the right hon. Gentleman, not physically immediately, but mentally, and by his inimitable persuasion make him see the reason for the Amendment, which is designed to do away with this intrusion, an intrusion which has brought disturbance instead of adding to the ease of performance of local government functions.
The effect of this passion for uniformity upon West Ham was immediate. It meant a loss of rate income of about £27,000. Because the Government were, no doubt, impressed by the arguments of their own supporters and, conceivably, even by the arguments of those on this side, on 6th July, 1955, during the recommittal proceedings on the Bill, they accepted an Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis), to provide that the derating subsection should not apply to the outfall sewers of the London County Council.
The then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government said that various researches had been made into the position, adding:In the light of my remarks, I therefore interpret the discoveries which we have made as meaning that we should accept this Amendment.I think that that acceptance came after a visit the day before to the monstrosity in question by the now Minister of Defence, who, having seen it, realised that something should be done about compensation to West Ham for having it at all.
The Parliamentary Secretary said:…we should accept the Amendment. That we shall do. Perhaps I should add that the term the outfall sewers of the London County Council ' is not a sufficiently distinctive definition. It does not make it absolutely clear that the Amendment relates to the portion above the ground. Perhaps we could be 1200 allowed to do something about the wording, which we ill undertake to do. Otherwise, we accept the Amendment.Then my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), taking no risks and ensuring that the situation was thoroughly and effectively tied up, said:The hon. Gentleman will remember that there are two sewers, each, I gather, equally gigantic and peculiar. One is the northern, and the other the southern outfall. I take it he will agree that his undertaking extends to both outfalls." — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th July, 1955; Vol. 543, c. 1147.]In reply the Parliamentary Secretary said, " Yes ", an affirmative without any qualification. Then numerous congratulatory speeches were made from this side of the House in the confident expectation that the Government would honour their pledge.
Alas, that did not happen. Quailing before a minor criticism in another place, the Government withdrew their undertaking and did not fulfill it. I apologies for referring again to my own constituency, and I do so only because it was the one most directly affected financially, but it then became necessary for West Ham and the boroughs concerned to go cap in hand to the L.C.C. Happily, that distinguished authority dealt most generously with the situation and, indeed, recompensed West Ham for its financial loss. That is a purely temporary arrangement. It is hoped that the L.C.C. will continue to behave with similar generosity in future, but the position has been left in a very unsanitary state.
The Ministry estimates that the loss of rateable income to West Ham by reason of its own creation in the way of derating is in excess of £22,000. In the first period after the introduction of the new Measure, the Exchequer Equalization Grant admittedly dealt with the situation, but there is no certainty that that will happen again in future.
The real crux of the complaint of the authorities concerned is this. They prefer to have their own finances resting fairly and squarely on rateable value, on their own capacity to raise the finance which they need and on the certainties which known chargeable rates give them to the uncertainties of Exchequer grants, which, after all, can be changed almost without notice at the wish of the Government or Parliament.
1201 That is the broad principle of the matter, but what is required now is that the Government shall deal with the situation and put it in order and not leave a harassed community like West Ham, which bore the brunt of much of the blitz and lost about one-third of its rate-able value as a result, to depend upon the generosity of another great public authority which has strict limits upon the extent to which generosity can go. I appreciate the difficulties of the L.C.C. It has not unlimited powers to put its hand in its pocket.
I therefore ask the Minister to look at this problem again and to make good by a suitable statement the breach of undertaking which has so lamentably arisen in the last three years.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
I should like to add a few words in support of the Amendment so ably moved by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Ham, South (Mr. Elwyn Jones). As he has rightly said, this Amendment arises from a promise given by the previous Minister during Second Reading, in Committee and on recomittal of the 1955 Bill. It arises from an Amendment which I had the pleasure to move on behalf of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Ham, South and other Members for the East End part of London. The Minister definitely gave us a promise that this matter would be dealt with. It is true that he did not accept the wording of the Amendment, which was only because of a technical difficulty, but he accepted the principle of it. I believe that it was only because of the difficulty which arose in another place that the Minister backed out of implementing the pledge which he gave.
The Amendment has been very ably drawn up by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend will forgive me when I say that we are not wedded to the wording of the Amendment. If the Minister again says that he cannot agree to accept the wording, but will put something into the Bill to cover the position which affects mainly West Ham, although, as my hon. and learned Friend will appreciate, other boroughs, such as East Ham and Poplar, are affected, we shall be satisfied.
It is not only a question of West Ham having lost £20,000 to £23,000 in rateable income, although that is a very severe 1202 blow to a local authority which lost over one-third of its rateable income because of loss of hereditaments due to the war, but there is the additional matter that there are about 30 acres of land which are not only unusable but a complete eyesore to the local residents.
This huge sewer has mounds of earth piled upon it. It is impossible to build upon it for obvious reasons. It is impossible to do anything with it although the L.C.C. — and I pay it a tribute—try to make it as pleasant as possible. [An HON. MEMBER: " Where is it? "] One cannot miss it. If, on one of your journeys, Sir Norman, you go by car down the main Barking by-pass, you will come to the Beckton gas works, but before you approach that works this huge monstrosity, an eyesore—I do not know how one can describe it—will loom before your eves and you will immediately wonder what it is. All the local residents ask what it is, but they have to put up with the difficulty and the eyesore of this knowing that under the previous Act, the local authority is debarred from drawing a rate income from it and has no possible means of making up the deficiency.
I again pay tribute to the London County Council, which has been kind, helpful and generous and, we hope, will continue to be. At the time, however, the London County Council did not want any change. It paid the rate—I will not say willingly, because no authority pays anything willingly. At least, the L.C.C. did not make any objection. It paid the rate and carried on and subsequently, by joint negotiation and agreement, has come to reasonable terms. We have no certainty, however, that the L.C.C. always will continue in that generous frame of mind. All we ask is that some legislative proposal should be contained within the Bill, when it becomes an Act, to give to the local borough council in West Ham the opportunity of recouping its loss.
When the matter was debated both on Second Reading, in Committee and on recommittal of the former Bill, not one hon. Member, in any part of the House, was in opposition. Hon. Members who had great knowledge of and association with the L.C.C., and who were members of it, also spoke—of course, in their personal capacity—and said that they, too, would want to support the principle. They did not, of course, commit the L.C.C. —they had no power to do so— 1203 but not one hon. Member opposed the idea. The then Minister was sympathetic—and we paid tribute to him—ven before he gave his pledge.
I am glad that my hon. and learned Friend has paid tribute to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power. We in West Ham pay him tribute because he does much great laudable and charitable work there. We are appreciative of his work on behalf of the boys and youths of the area. I believe that he still lives there and is a constituent of my hon. and learned Friend, although, unfortunately, he does not vote for him. The hon. Gentleman spoke eloquently in favour of the Amendment to the former Bill. I appreciate that he cannot speak here today, but I am quite sure that if I were to see him outside and had a private chat with him he would, without committing his Government or the Minister, say that he had not changed his view in the slightest. Hence I am asking the Minister, in support of my hon. and learned Friend, to try to do something to help us.
So often in the House and in Committee we have had words of sympathy and understanding and the promise of help and assistance for this sorely-tried council of West Ham. We have suffered terribly. We can ill afford to lose any rate income. We hope that the Minister will give a pledge to implement his promise.
I believe that the Government wanted to help us on the last occasion, but that a technical difficulty arose in another place and at that time it was almost impossible for them to overcome it. Here is a way in which the Government can do both things. The Minister could say that the Government will implement their promise by including the Amendment, which does not commit the Minister too much except to say that he should get a full and complete report and put it before us before these proposals become operative and get an understanding that there will be a rearrangement of the finances so that all parties to the discussions are satisfied with the outcome.
Surely that is a reasonable suggestion. In view of the fact that we know that in the past the Departments concerned and the Minister's predecessors have supported our plea, I have pleasure in supporting the Amendment with confidence that the Minister will accept its principle.
§ Mr. H. Brooke
I know these outfall sewers— once seen never forgotten. I have not been a member of the London County Council for ten years without getting some acquaintance with the drainage system of London. If there is any way in which I can use my good offices in getting this problem settled once and for all, I shall be only too glad. The one thing of which I am certain is that the best way would not ET to write the Amendment into the Bill, which deals with rather wider issues.
For one thing, we would need to be certain whether the 12 ft. diameter applied to the aldermen or to the sewers. I take it that it applies to the sewers. That is one ambiguity. I am advised —perhaps the hon. Lady the Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet) will be able to help— that there is doubt whether the southern outfall sewer reaches a diameter of 12 ft. Therefore, whatever we are doing, let us get it right.
As the hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South (Mr. Elwyn Jones) and the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis) have said, my predecessor, now my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defense, told the House that he wished to deal with this matter, that he thought the overgrown portions of these sewers should be rated and that the idea was to make an Amendment to the 1955 Bill when it reached another place. When it reached another place Amendments were put down, but a noble Lord—he sat on the Opposition side—called attention to the fact that those Amendments would hybridize the Bill. There was, I think, common agreement that it would be intolerable so to delay the passing of the Bill and so for that reason action was not taken.
The Bill went through unamended. I understand that there were conversations between the borough councils concerned and the London County Council which resulted in a settlement, which the hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South was good enough to describe as generous. In the Amendment, he asks only for "adequate arrangements." I am not sure that he has chosen those words carefully enough; because he might find that there was a monetary loss rather than gain if the rather elaborate procedure outlined in the Amendment were to take effect.
§ Mr. Elwyn Jones
The criticism of the present arrangements is that they are merely temporary and on a year to year basis. That is the main complaint. Secondly, although in the first year or two the arrangements have proved financially satisfactory in the sense that the London County Council and the West Ham Council have agreed an appropriate figure, it does not by any means follow, in view of the ups and downs of local government finance, that it will be satisfactory hereafter.
§ Mr. Brooke
I quite appreciate that this arrangement is an ad hoc one. I can well understand the feeling among the boroughs concerned that it would be better if it could be put on to a firm and permanent basis.
I am quite sure, at the same time, that hon. Members realize the difficulty which the Government have been in. To amend any Government Bill with specific reference to those two sewers would turn it into a hybrid Bill. This ingenious method of bringing it before the Committee has been thought of, but if I were to hazard a guess I should doubt whether the hon. Members who devised or moved this Amendment seriously believed that it was likely to be accepted by the Committee. The question is: what is the best way of handling it?
§ Mr. Mitchison
May I say one thing in no very critical spirit. I respectfully agree that if we mentioned the London outfall sewers we would immediately make it a hybridized Bill and there may be similar difficulties if we were to refer to Daniel Lambert in a specific piece of legislation. This Amendment, however, would not hybridize the Bill or it would not have been called. Consequently, we should get exactly the same result by referring to the category of large sewers—whether 12ft. is quite right I would not venture to say—but there is no real difficulty from the hybridizing point of view. I feel that the Government are a little frightened about that, perhaps unnecessarily.
§ Mr. Brooke
I was not suggesting that the Amendment would hybridize the Bill. The trouble is that I am not at all sure that the Amendment would get it right. There is some uncertainty about the diameter of the southern if not the northern outfall sewer. I certainly cannot come 1206 to the Committee and give an assurance that these are the only two sewers in England and Wales of this outsize. So I say, let us be sure that as we handle this we do it in the right way.
I myself would have thought that the most satisfactory way would be if there should be further discussions between the borough councils concerned there are several beyond those mentioned today—and the London County Council and my hope would be that those discussions might have the outcome of producing some plan which maybe could be put into a London County Council General Powers Bill.
It is certainly not for me to seek to dictate to the London County Council what it should put into its Bill, but I think that there have been previous occasions when to get one of these local matters settled it has been done by private Bill procedure. It would be difficult for the Government to take the initiative at the present time, more especially as there is a Royal Commission on Local Government of Greater London in being.
Although I do not say that one would seriously prejudice the conclusions of that Royal Commission by legislating about two particular sewers, nevertheless we are not anxious at the moment to initiate London local government legislation. Certainly, if there is any way in which I can use my good offices to bring about a permanent agreement I shall be at everyone's service. I would greatly hope that renewed conversations might be possible between the London County Council and the borough councils concerned to see whether a firm basis could be arrived at which could, if necessary be enacted in private legislation.
§ Mrs. Freda Corbet (Peckham)
I am happy to be able to give an assurance to the Committee which I think will be useful this evening. To some extent I was not personally involved in this matter until after the Second Reading.
What happened was that the London County Council received an undertaking from the Minister that the outfall sewers would be accepted. Therefore, none of us was on our guard. Then certain Members came rushing out of the House and in great consternation telephoned the London County Council because everyone was taken by complete surprise.
1207 After that, the Council was extremely concerned. Here was a Bill proposing to exempt one authority from the general provisions of an Act of Parliament. The Council did not think that that was right. It has always been prepared to obey the terms of any Act of Parliament, but it felt that for an authority to be deliberately excluded from receiving certain rates would mean that the ratepayers would have to foot a bill which they would not otherwise have to foot.
Therefore, the Council got busy and was able to sustain its plea I am sure, quite rightly—but when the Minister attempted to introduce an Amendment into the Bill it was submitted that he was hybridising it and that the Bill was becoming part public and part private. Therefore, the Minister would not have been able to go ahead without very long delay. The Council was not dissatisfied with that decision. It recognised the nature of the sewers at the northern and southern outfalls. It knows that they are eyesores and, also, that the ground is completely sterilised. I doubt whether anyone would ever want to build in the vicinity of the Beckton gasworks. One has only to smell it to recognise that the gasworks is a far greater menace to that area than the whole of the northern out-fall sewer. We recognise these things and, therefore, it was with great pleasure that the Council accepted the invitation of the Minister to meet representatives of the affected districts. It expressed its willingness to try to make up to those districts the actual loss that they would have sustained.
There was, however, a point of difference between the Council and the local authorities concerned. As far as we can gather, they all put very great store indeed upon their rateable value. They wanted property there from which they could draw rates, whereas all the County Council thought of was conceding to them what the local authorities would actually lose. It was pointed out that in making the L.C.C. pay they would relieve the Government of, I think, £60,000 by way of reduction of the amount of the equalisation grant which they would have had to pay. It was because of the uncertainty as to the situation of the equalisation grant after the new arrangements came into being that this position has been taken.
1208 I think that I can help the Committee this evening because a letter has just come to the County Council asking for further talks in order to put the matter on a permanent basis. The Council is now in the process of trying to arrange talks. The Committee has recognised the generosity of the Council. I think that it can rely on that continued generosity and that if the Amendment were withdrawn the Committee would have no reason to regret it.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I hesitate to interfere in these cordial and happy relations between the London County Council and the Metropolitan boroughs. They are always an event. I say simply that as between the local authorities concerned it seems to me, from the point of view of annual revenue and expenditure, that the substantial question is whether other ratepayers in London should contribute towards a burden that otherwise would fall on the ratepayers in these boroughs. That is the way it works out in the long run.
There is a rather more serious point. On the whole, I would not expect sewers to improve enormously in value. I can well understand the borough authorities feeling that if they had a choice in the matter they would prefer to have the acreage with possibilities of development there than have the space occupied by a sewer, but I do not want to take sides too far in that transaction. We certainly hope that nothing said in this Committee will interfere with arrangements which I hope will be satisfactory to both sets of authorities.
I am concerned, however, with the Government's pledge in this matter. It was a perfectly definite promise that these sewers should be derated. I found some difficulty in ascertaining the diameter and I was not surprised to hear the Minister say that he was not quite sure of it exactly, because the Parliamentary Secretary of the day said on 6th July, 1955:There has never been a survey of our sewers—there is no complete record of their sizes, heights and so on—but I think that it is firmly established that there is no sewer comparable in size with this."—I think that he meant the northern outfall sewer.
There are 48-inch sewers running over-ground in various parts but they are Lilliputian 1209 compared with this one."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th July, 1955; Vol. 543, c. 1147.]I am not certain about the relationship of Lilliput with the rest of the world, hut I should have thought that the description of a 48-inch sewer as Lilliputian compared with a 12-ft. sewer was about right. These sewers are very exceptional sewers. They occupy an exceptional amount of ground and remove if derated, or even if rated, quite an exceptional amount of rateable value from the boroughs in question. Naturally, those boroughs welcomed the Government's pledge to introduce legislation to provide for sewers to be rated, to the extent that sewers are rateable. There is no particular point about that today.
When this matter got to another place, the Government ran from the prospect of hybridising the Bill. I never took the view that there was the least need for it. These are exceptional sewers and there was not the least difficulty in defining them as a class of sewers of which these two sewers would be the only representatives. Therefore, I felt that the Government should have carried out their pledge at that time. There was no real reason why they should have dropped it, as they did.
It is not satisfactory that things should go on indefinitely as they are. There are too many chances about this. I dismiss as beyond the realms of possibility that London County Council might ever be controlled by the Tory Party, but who knows what may happen? There may be changes in the other rateable values in the boroughs which would make the present arrangements inadequate, and the arrangements get tied up and rather confused with the question of Exchequer grants. I did not follow, and do not pretend to follow, the way in which the effect of the Exchequer grant has been treated in the adjustment between the boroughs and London County Council, but I say to the Government that, apart from anything else, they should carry out this pledge. There is no reason why they should not.
The Government could have introduced it in the Bill if they had drawn the Bill in a rather wider form. At any rate. they put into the Bill one point which we have discussed today that did not seem 1210 to have much connection at first sight with the rest of the Bill. They could have put this matter into the Bill as well. It is the first opportunity that they have had since the pledge was given. We on this side of the Committee cannot do it, because the Bill as it stands would not allow us to table a simple Amendment to give effect to the pledge. But the Government can do it. I believe that they would need a supplementary Financial Resolution. There is no difficulty about that. No. 2 Financial Resolutions are only too common. I assure the Government that on our side we should not oppose such a Resolution and I cannot imagine that anybody would object to a Government pledge being carried out.
I do not want to stand up here and sound too solemn and priggish for words, but, really, Government pledges are very serious matters and this pledge was given on a matter of considerable local importance and in relation to considerable sums of money. The present Minister and his hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary were not the Ministers at the time. They know perfectly well that I am not saying anything against them, or against the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary of the day, but the pledge was given firmly on behalf of the Government and dropped for a quite inadequate reason. The matter ought not to be left simply to arrangements made between the parties concerned, however satisfactory those arrangements may be for the moment. There ought to be the certainty in it that there would have been if the pledge had been carried out and put in statutory form.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, who, I am sure, would be one of the first people in the world to appreciate the importance of Government pledges in matters of this sort, will reconsider the question and see whether he cannot carry out the pledge. It would be quite simple. There would be no opposition as far as I know, and I would hope that he would take the opportunity of carrying it out, perhaps in another place where the unfortunate trouble began.
§ Mr. Rippon
I wish that the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) had hesitated a little longer before he intervened in a matter which.
1211 I think, could have been settled quite amicably between the boroughs concerned and the London County Council. He has raised unnecessarily the point that there has been some degree of breach of faith and that the Government gave a pledge which they subsequently failed to honour.
The Committee is in a reminiscent mood. As I listened to the hon. Lady the Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet) I was tempted to echo the words of the song from " Gigi "--" Ah, I remember well ". Fortunately, on this occasion 1 think that our memories are more in harmony. No one passing through West Ham could fail to notice this sewer. I am inclined to think that after the then Minister drove past it he was very impressed by arguments put forward in the House of Commons, with the result that an undertaking was given. Hon. Members on both sides said that the Minister had been sympathetic. Then, as the hon. Lady pointed out. it was the London County Council. Socialist-controlled, that raised the matter of hybridisation.
§ Mr. Rippon
The London County Council raised the question and canvassed it in the way local authorities canvass these matters, and then I believe that in another place a noble Lord raised it. If the London County Council had been a Conservative-controlled council, no doubt we should never have heard of the point at all. But, as the hon. Lady said, the discussions between the London County Council and representatives of the boroughs, at which I was present. were very amicable. It was realised by the Ministry, by the London County Council, and by the boroughs that something would have to be agreed, otherwise We should have to go through all the difficulties of legislation. As a result, a settlement was reached which was satisfactory at that time. No doubt the situation changes from time to time, but I should have thought the Committee would have been content with the assurance of the hon. Lady that the London County Council will hear further representations from the boroughs and try to give effect to the spirit of the undertaking.
1212 It might well be that this should be dealt with by a Private Bill, but if we can achieve the same result by voluntary agreement, and it is satisfactory to all parties, so much the better. We have not created a situation in which it is fair for the hon. and learned Gentleman to suggest that there has been any breach of faith on the part of anybody, and to carry out a pledge in the form of legislation when the same result can be achieved by voluntary action seems to me to be foolish.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I must reply in plain English to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Rippon). The Government gave a pledge in this case; the Government have not carried it out. The hon. Gentleman used the words " a breach of faith ". All I am saying is that the Government have broken their pledge and that they should carry it out and not leave it broken.
Important as these matters may be to such austere and dignified bodies as the London County Council and the borough councils concerned, and even though the sewers have a certain comic aspect, there is also a public question involved. If the Government of the day give a pledge to amend an Act in a certain sense—that is to say, to legislate in that sense—they are not released from that pledge by other arrangements which may be made between the parties concerned when they have already broken their pledge. The hon. Gentleman must really not treat this matter in that way. There is a question of what is right and what is wrong in respect of Government pledges.
§ Mr. C. W. Gibson (Clapham)
I do not wish to keep the Committee long, but as I was present at some of the other debates on the subject I think that we are entitled to call attention to the failure to keep the pledge which was given, especially when it is remembered that the result of not doing so would probably mean the saving of a lot of Government money. 1 do not want to be too suspicious, but that probably had some influence on what has happened.
For my sins I was for some years responsible for sewers and I know what horrible things they are too look at. However, they were much more horrible one night after a German bomb had dropped on them and spread about a great deal of sewage which took us days and days 1213 to clear away before we could clean the houses and streets. I have no doubt that the local authorities feel strongly through whose areas sewers run—and in East Ham they are all above ground, unfortunately, because it is impossible to put them underground and get a natural flow by gravitation. This all adds to the ugliness and inconvenience, and to the sterilisation of a large amount of land on which building could otherwise take place.
I am glad to hear that in spite of the failure of the Government of the day to keep the pledge given, the L.C.C., with its well-known readiness to co-operate with other local authorities in the area. has been ready to make an arrangement which, while I will not say that it satisfied East Ham, will, at any rate, remove some of its strong feelings on this matter. I hope this will be regularised in future so that it does not have to be the subject of discussion continually. It is true that the trouble was caused largely because of the failure of the Government of the day to honour an undertaking given when this matter came up under a previous Minister. I think that that is worth saying.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Elwyn Jones
I am grateful to my hon. Friends for the way in which they have underlined the importance of the principle that when a Government have given specific undertakings, they should honour them. There is no allegation of breach of faith on the part of any individual Minister concerned, but where so precise and specific an undertaking was given, compliance with which would have avoided much of the difficulty, it is regrettable that more was not done.
I confess that I speak with no authority on the question of hybridisation, and I have been impressed by the arguments of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). I cannot believe that the skill and ingenuity of those advising the Minister on these matters would have been incapable of coping with the difficult problem which arose.
Frankly, the boroughs concerned would prefer a Government Measure now to re-rate these sewers and I think that could be done. Having said that, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham 1214 (Mrs. Corbet) will not think me ungenerous, in view of her most cooperative and helpful observations on behalf of the London County Council. That kindly intervention will give great comfort in my constituency of West Ham.
Nevertheless, 1 ask the Minister whether he cannot look at this matter again, in the hope that by suitable legislative arrangements he can take the question out of the domain of private arrangements between authorities. This is fairly and squarely a responsibility of Government, and, accordingly, I hope that, sympathetic as he has been in this debate, he will feel able to look at the problem again.
§ Mr. Lewis
Before the Amendment is disposed of, may I add my support to the plea of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Ham, South (Mr. Elwyn Jones) to the Minister to add to his sympathetic words and his offer to use his good offices in any way possible in the discussions and negotiations, if called upon. Will the right hon. Gentleman go one step further and accept the suggestion of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) by saying that he will himself take the first opportunity that he can to deal with this matter by legislation, if not in this Bill?
If he could go so far, it would satisfy both my hon. and learned Friends, and I see no reason why the Minister should not take that one step further, because he is with us in principle. He says that he and his Government will support the idea behind the Amendment. Without committing himself to a date, without committing himself even to the actual Measure, all he need do is to say that at the first opportunity open to him he will include in a Bill a Clause or subsection dealing with this problem. If he could do that, we would be satisfied.
§ Mr. H. Brooke
It has already become apparent that there are certain difficulties about including provisions for these sewers in a Government Bill. I have already said that I shall be perfectly prepared to use my good offices if I can he helpful in any way in bringing this matter to a conclusion. The best thing would be if the conversations, which I understand would be welcome to both sides, were to take place.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I share the right hon. Gentleman's hopes that the conversations will come to a satisfactory conclusion and I am sure that my hon. Friends will thank the right hon. Gentleman for promising to use his good offices. He knows that there is nothing personal in this when I say that I cannot regard that as a proper discharge of the Government's original pledge.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.