HC Deb 30 November 1960 vol 631 cc531-45

[Queen's Recommendation signified.]

Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 84 (Money Committees).

[Major Sir WILLIAM ANSTRUTHER-GRAY in the Chair]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to amend the law with respect to the valuation of property for rating purposes and with respect to rates, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament—

  1. (a) of any increase attributable to that Act in the sums payable out of such moneys under any enactment;
  2. (b) of any expenses incurred by valuation officers in carrying out their functions under the said Act of the present Session (including the remuneration and expenses of persons employed to assist valuation officers).—[Mr. H. Brooke.]

10.11 p.m.

Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)

It may be surprising that an hon. Member for a Scottish constituency should intervene on this English Bill, but the Money Resolution gives effect to the provisions of Clause 22, in which there is a reference to Scotland, as follows: There shall be defrayed out of moneys provided by Parliament— (a) any increase attributable to this Act in the sums payable out of moneys so provided by way of Rate-deficiency Grant or Exchequer Equalisation Grant under the enactments relating to local government in England or Wales, or in Scotland; Before we pass this Resolution we ought to have some information about the likely results of the Bill in Scotland. Does it means that Scotland is likely to get more money? We would be interested to know. It is the duty of Parliament to examine matters of this kind when we are asked to vote money. Certainly, in Scotland, we are always looking out for anything that might come to us as a result of English Acts.

On the other hand, if I read the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum aright, we might be losing money. Therefore, we want to know why, because England wishes to change the basis of her valuation, we in Scotland should have to suffer. We want to know, first, whether we are likely to benefit or suffer.

Mr. G. W. Reynolds (Islington, North)

Is my hon. Friend expecting to get an answer from the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs? Does he think that that Minister is in a position to answer, or is he expecting an answer from one of the Scottish Ministers?

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

Before my hon. Friend replies, may I ask whether he observes that the Prime Minister is here? It may be that he will intervene on the subject.

Mr. Willis

In view of the Prime Minister's Scottish affiliations, I am sure that we should be delighted to hear him on these rather intricate matters. I thought that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury would have been here to answer these questions. I certainly thought that one of the Scottish Ministers would have been here to protect the interests of Scotland. It is rather alarming to find that none of them is here.

However, we are prepared to listen to what words of wisdom that the Minister of Housing and Local Government is prepared to offer on this matter, and, after having listened to him, we may then know whether to support this Resolution or not.

10.15 p.m.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

I am sorry that the Prime Minister has now left us and that we have to fight this battle of justice for Scotland without him.

This is a very interesting Money Resolution. We might have been prepared to let it pass without question if we had the information to which reference is made in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum. Dealing with Clause 22 which provides for the payment from moneys provided by Parliament, it says: It is not possible to say what additional expenditure will fall on the Exchequer under any of these heads, but the amount is unlikely to be large and it is possible that, over all, the Bill will result in a decrease. When provision is made whereby any increase in respect of the rate deficiency payment for England and Wales automatically means an increase in Scotland as well, and, vice versa, that a decrease for England and Wales means a decrease in Scotland, we become concerned.

It will be observed that the Resolution is in two parts. Paragraph (a) states: … of any increase attributable to that Act in the sums payable out of such moneys under any enactment; I gather that that means the legislation relating to the Exchequer Equalisation Grant. Paragraph (b) says: … of any expenses incurred by valuation officers in carrying out their functions …". Judging by what I heard from the Parliamentary Secretary in the Second Reading debate, there is to be considerable strain on the valuation officers. Indeed, the Bill will involve additional expenditure. The only place in which there can possibly be a decrease in expenditure is in relation to that aspect of the Money Resolution which is consequentially affected by the overall increase in valuations in England. It means that the Government have passed a piece of controversial legislation which will rob Scottish ratepayers of a certain measure of financial support. It seems rather silly, but that is what it means, and that is why we are protesting. There is sufficient injustice to Scotland in paragraph (b) of the Money Resolution.

In Scotland, the business of assessment is a matter not for the Inland Revenue, but for the county assessors. The whole management of assessment in Scotland is paid for not by the taxpayers of England, but by the ratepayers of Scotland. Any increase under this Resolution which is relevant to the additional work of the valuation officers in England and Wales is not paid solely in England and Wales. It is paid in Scotland as well.

So here we have in this Resolution a double-edged attack on Scotland. As taxpayers, we are to pay more under paragraph (b) of this Money Resolution, and as ratepayers, under paragraph (a) we are, by a mysterious process of the correlation of events in England and Wales with those in Scotland in past legislation, to be robbed of some unspecified amount of rate assistance.

I want the Minister to tell us exactly how much is involved in this, whether he has even considered this consequential damage to the economies of the Scottish municipalities, and whether he proposes to do anything to put it right during the Committee stage of the Bill, because, obviously, we cannot let this rest here unless we get—

Mr. Willis

We might also be told whether he had consultations with the Secretary of State for Scotland before the Minister did this.

Mr. Ross

That is an important point, which my hon. Friend may embark upon later. The important thing is whether they realised that such a thing was happening, whether they realised that this is a double injustice, or, having realised it, whether they propose to do anything about it.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

I am very glad of this opportunity of saying a few words on this Money Resolution. My hon. Friends have put a rather complicated issue very clearly, but they omitted one point which seems to me to require explanation by the Government. There seems to me to be a conflict between Clause 22 (a) and Clause 25 (4). We find, in the latter case—

Mr. Ross

Where is the Lord Advocate?

Mr. Hughes

Yes, where is the Lord Advocate?

We find, in Clause 25 (4), that this Act shall not extend to Scotland or to Northern Ireland. I do not propose to deal with the North Ireland aspect of it; it is the aspect that relates to Scotland to which I propose to draw the attention of the Committee. If this Act is not to apply to Scotland, why do we find Scotland referred to in Clause 22 (a), which reads: (a) any increase attributable to this Act in the sums payable out of moneys so provided by way of Rate-deficiency Grant or Exchequer Equalisation Grant under the enactments relating to local Government in England or Wales, or in Scotland;? This, I suggest, is a very negligent and loose way of legislating. Scotland ought not to be referred to in an Act that does not apply to Scotland, and the proper way, in my submission, to have dealt with this would not have been by slavishly copying, as they have done, these words in Clause 22 (a), but by putting in a substantive Clause that would cover the matter.

The matter is complicated, but, as I have said, my hon. Friends have put the issue very clearly, though, unfortunately, they missed that point. I hope that the Minister will deal with it when he replies.

Mr. Fletcher

I hesitate to intervene in this debate, but I feel that I must. I do not represent a Scottish constituency, but it offends my sense of justice and propriety that any injustice should be done to Scotland in a Bill which expressly states that it is not intended to extend to Scotland. That is explicit in Clause 25 (4).

I am also shocked to find, as I have said before, as a matter of constitutional equity that when we are discussing a Financial Resolution about an important Bill which has been debated and is controversial, we do not have any representative from the Treasury sitting on the Treasury Bench to try to explain and justify an ambiguous Financial Resolution. It is significant that the Prime Minister, who was here a few moments ago, has left the Chamber.

Mr. Ross

In disgust.

Mr. Fletcher

I can only hope that the reason for the Prime Minister's sudden departure was to try to find either the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Lord Advocate or a representative of the Treasury. [An HON. MEMBER: "Or the Leader of the Opposition."] [Laughter.] The laughter from the benches opposite shows that hon. Members opposite regard, as I regard, this conduct by the Government as being contrary to the dignity of the House of Commons.

It is not right that Financial Resolutions about important matters should be treated as of no consequence and of no importance. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) has done a service in pointing out that the Financial Resolution expressly refers to Clause 22 of the Bill, which is printed in italics to show its importance. I find it puzzling to understand why, at the end of paragraph (a) of Clause 22, the words, "or in Scotland" are introduced. The Bill does not apply to Scotland.

I suppose that it is the Minister for Welsh Affairs who will reply. I should like him to explain concisely the significance of the insertion in Clause 22 (a) of "or in Scotland." Will he say whether it would make any difference if those words were omitted? Will he please tell us whether, if the Financial Resolution is passed as it stands, it will be permissible for any of my hon. Friends in Committee to move an Amendment for the deletion of the words, "or in Scotland"? If we are to make sense of the Bill, the reference to Scotland in Clause 22 (a) must be deleted.

If the Minister for Welsh Affairs is not prepared to assent to that proposition, it seems to follow, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) have pointed out, that one must assume that the insertion of these words in the paragraph are intended to impose a financial burden on Scotland. They can have no other object. If that is the case, it is quite unjust that by a side wind, as it were, a Bill relating exclusively to England and Wales should impose a financial burden on Scotland. We are entitled to a clear explanation before we assent to the Financial Resolution.

The Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Mr. Henry Brooke)

I am ready to explain the Financial Resolution. Speaking as Minister for Welsh Affairs, however, it seems to me strange that if Clauses 22 and 25 are together so vital to the Scottish economy no Scottish Members sought to take part in the Second Reading debate on this important Bill. Indeed, so far as I can recollect, they were conspicuous by their absence throughout. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] Had it been a matter of Wales, I am sure that the behaviour of the Welsh Members would have been very different.

Sir James Duncan (South Angus)

Since my right hon. Friend has referred to Scottish Members without reference to party, will he recollect that in col. 81 of Written Answers for 21st November, the Scottish Members, at least on this side, were perfectly satisfied with the Answer given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland?

10.30 p.m.

Mr. Brooke

I confess that I do not recollect that precise entry in HANSARD, but I am well aware that whenever my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland gives an Answer, or makes a speech, Scottish Members, without exception, are well satisfied.

I hesitate to go far in further exposition of the Bill, which has now been under examination for six and a half hours, and I doubt whether you would allow me, Sir William, in a debate on the Financial Resolution, to seek to take up what are, in fact, Committee points about the later Clauses of the Bill. But I certainly wish to explain the Financial Resolution which the Government are asking the Committee to agree to.

The Financial Resolution seeks to authorise certain increases in Government expenditure, in particular with Exchequer Equalisation Grant. As the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) and all Scottish Members on both sides of the Committee will clearly recollect, Section 26 of the Valuation for Rating (Scotland) Act, 1956, relates the Exchequer Equalisation Grant payable in Scotland to the amount of rate deficiency grant payable in England and Wales. I invite the attention of Scottish Members to the fact that we are here dealing with an increase, not a decrease, and that if there is an increase consequent on the Bill in the amount of rate deficiency grant payable in England and Wales, then the Bill, together with the Financial Resolution, will enable Scotland thereby to benefit.

That is the purpose and I am a little surprised that Scottish Members should seek to take objection to a Financial Resolution which appears to me and the Government to authorise an increase rather than a decrease of Exchequer expenditure in Scotland.

Mr. Harry Gourlay (Kirkcaldy Burghs)

The Minister has deliberately refused to answer the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), who referred specifically to the reference to the financial effects where it is clearly stated that overall the Bill will result in a decrease. The Minister has made no reply to that and has claimed that we are refusing to accept an increase in the Exchequer Equalisation Grant in Scotland. Will he kindly deal with my hon. Friend's question?

Mr. Reynolds

I was interested to hear the Minister say, in defence of the Financial Resolution, that an increase in expenditure would be involved under the rate deficiency scheme which, under the arrangements which are now operating and which have been in operation for some years, will involve an increase in the proportionate grant arrangements for Scotland.

I am surprised to hear the Minister make that statement, because it is the only definite statement which we have had about the effects of the Bill all day. Apparently, the Government do not know what is to be the increase in values for different classes of hereditaments and we cannot know until twelve months from now what is to be the proportionate reduction in the rateable value of residential property. We have not been able to get a definite answer from the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary about any fact connected with the revaluation of property which is to take place during the next twelve months.

If he is unable to say what the increase in the value of property is likely to be, and whether residential property is to be valued up by two, three, ten or twenty times its present gross value, or whether the burden which will be met by occupiers of industrial or residential property will be greater, how can the Minister be so definite? In the revaluation, which may or may not come in—we do not know yet whether he is to make it or not—we do not know what the percentage reduction will be, if and when he makes it, or whether it will be uniform or vary from county to county, or county borough to county borough with different percentages in each. With all those imponderables, how can the right hon. Gentleman say for certain that there will be an increase in the amount of the rate deficiency grant in England and Wales and, therefore, a proportionate increase in Scotland?

In view of this uncertainty, I have great sympathy with Scottish Labour members in raising the matter. There is at least a 50–50 chance involved here, and there is just as likely to be a decrease as an increase. We should have more definite information about how anybody can be so certain that it is to be an increase. During the last six hours we have heard nothing certain in any shape or form.

Mr. Ross

It is rather hard, when I have sat here throughout the right hon. Gentleman's speech, that I should be told that Scottish Members on this side have shown no interest in the Bill all day. It is sufficiently hard to listen to him, to do so without interruption, as I did—not that I was enthralled or asleep—and to try to follow him. He will find, if he reads HANSARD tomorrow, that I was still present when the Parliamentary Secretary spoke, because there will be at least one interruption put down to my name.

The right hon. Gentleman said that under the Money Resolution increases are authorised. With all due respect, we know that, but not all things that are authorised come about. I asked him a simple question. There are two parts to the Money Resolution authorising increases. Can he tell us what is to be the result of the authorisation under paragraph (a)? I am perfectly willing to accept his answer: he does not know.

What is to happen under paragraph (b), which deals with the additional work by and payment for valuation officers? Will he admit that he has put in additional payments required for work by valuation officers under this Bill? He seems to be unwilling to give me an answer to that. It is not that he is unable to, but that he is unwilling, because if he gives me the answer to that he gives me the answer about paragraph (a) as well.

There is to be an increase in moneys granted by Parliament in respect of valuation officers. That takes us to what he has already said—that, in respect of the accumulative effect of the Money Resolution, it is not possible to say what additional expenditure will fall on the Exchequer under these headings, but that the amount is unlikely to be large, and it is possible that, overall, the Bill will result in a decrease.

If the Bill is to result in a decrease, taking these two factors together—we already know that under paragraph (b) there is to be an increase—then obviously, under paragraph (a there is to be a decrease, despite the fact that there is authorisation there for an increase. That means that, with the link-up between Scotland and England, Scotland, in regard to rate deficiency equalisation grants, will, by the passing of a Bill in England, be deprived of help to its municipalities. That is the only thing that it can mean. I ask him to try again and not to speak about authorisation, but to tell us what the effect will be.

Mr. Willis

I was busily engaged, of course, in trying to sort out the intricacies of this very difficult problem. I have no doubt, having listened to my hon. Friends, that this is a very difficult problem. It appears to be simple at first sight, but it is not quite so simple as the Minister would have us believe.

It is very pleasant for the Minister to come to the Dispatch Box, pass a few pleasantries and tell us that we are to get some more money. But that is not what the Money Resolution says, or what the Bill says. As my hon. Friend has pointed out, we are liable to suffer in two ways, both under Clause 22 (b) and Clause 22 (a). The problem to us is still whether or not Scotland will be better or worse off.

That should be a very simple question to answer. As a plain, humble Englishman, representing a Scottish constituency, I want a simple answer to a very simple question. Shall we or shall we not get more money? That is a question to which we have not had an answer. As my hon. Friend pointed out, the Minister really does not know, or, at least, I assume that he does not. That is why we ought to have had the Financial Secretary here. I am quite sure that the Treasury would not allow a Money Resolution in such general terms as this one to be put on the Order Paper unless it had some idea of what was going to happen as a result of it.

I think, too, that the Minister should tell us to what extent he has had consultations with the Scottish Office about this. I see the Joint Under-Secretary of State who is responsible for local government in Scotland skulking behind the Speaker's Chair. I should like to see him on the Front Bench, because I think that he should tell us what advice he gave the Government concerning this vitally important matter for Scotland.

I am quite sure that every local authority in Scotland will want to know what is to happen. How can a Scottish local authority budget for next year, decide the rate for next year, if it does not know what it is likely to get from the Government next year in the form of an Exchequer Equalisation Grant?

This is a very serious problem. Take the great cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, take the County of Lanark and any other great county, take any of the local authorities and think of the difficulties which face their officials. It is not really fair to the local authority officials. It is not fair to the men who give very loyal service on the councils in Scotland, and it is certainly not fair to the Scottish people. We ought to be told what this means to Scotland.

The right hon. Gentleman knows that if we had him in the Scottish Standing Committee we should, as Scottish Members, spend a long time on the matter. He knows, too, that we would not let the matter go until we received a better answer than we have had tonight. I ask the right hon. Gentleman, in all fairness and in all seriousness, whether it is likely that Scottish local authorities will get an increase or a decrease. We are entitled to be told that.

10.45 p.m.

Mr. Brooke

I apologise to the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) if I failed to notice that he was faithful enough to sit in the Chamber throughout my speech this afternoon. He must either have been so satisfied that he felt he had nothing more to say on behalf of Scotland in the rest of the Second Reading debate, or his Scottish humility led him to believe, despite the outstanding interests of Scotland, that he ought not to intervene.

The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) said that I had made a definite statement. He should know that the Money Resolution does not settle how much money will be paid. It simply enables the Committee to discuss certain Clauses of the Bill, and on that account I should have thought he would have welcomed this Money Resolution rather than in any way criticising it. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) asked me in some detail about paragraphs (a) and (b) of the Resolution. The estimate of the Government is that (b) will not be required under the Bill as it stands because it is not likely that any additional expenses will be incurred by valuation officers, but, clearly, the Committee must be free to discuss the Bill and this Money Resolution is widely drawn so that Amendments can be moved.

The change in the system of valuing water undertakings in England and Wales, to which I am sure the two hon. Members have very carefully addressed their minds, will be likely, on balance, to diminish rather than to increase the work of valuation officers. That is the purpose. One cannot tell for certain—I cannot tell—what Amendments may be moved in Committee. Surely everybody would wish there to be a wide discussion in Committee.

As to the rate deficiency grant which would be covered under paragraph (a) of the Money Resolution, it is quite impossible to say in advance what the effect of the Bill on rate deficiency grant will be. It is certain to be minimal, but one cannot say more. All that we are discussing in this Money Resolution is the contingency that the effect of the Bill may be to increase the amount of rate deficiency grant in England and Wales and, if it does so, then automatically the amount of rate deficiency grant in Scotland will be increased.

This does not seem, despite their humility, a very strong reason for Scottish hon. Members to protest against the terms of this Resolution. I think I have, with exceptional clarity, explained a Money Resolution which is in almost as simple terms as any Money Resolution ever presented to the House. I trust that I have convinced hon. Members, or all hon. Members but one or two, that there is no injustice to Scotland here and that if we pass this Resolution it will do justice to the Standing Committee on the Bill and thereby enable it to have a more interesting debate.

Mr. Ross

I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman realises the purpose of a Money Resolution. The purpose is for the Government to get from Parliament authority to pay out money. It is as simple as that. Of course, the Resolution may circumscribe the extent to which a Bill may be amended in Committee, and from that point of view it is worthy of scrutiny by any hon. Member.

Our purpose is to find to what extent Scotland is affected. We did not seek to protest; we sought enlightenment and reassurance. We got neither enlightenment nor reassurance from the Minister. From past experience of him, I think that there is every reason why we should continue to distrust his every utterance. I hope that he will once again appreciate and deal with the point I raised about paragraph (b) whereby the taxpayers of Scotland have to contribute to what is purely a municipal service in England and Wales. That is the payment of the business of valuation which we in Scotland pay ourselves through our municipalities. I think that we are entitled to know what the future bill will be.

With all due respect to the Minister, it is customary on these occasions for Ministers, either of the Treasury or those in charge of a Bill, to give information and estimates as to what is involved in a Money Resolution. The House is entitled to that, and it is because the Minister has failed to do that that he has failed to reassure us. He has not explained the foreshadowing in the Financial Memorandum of the possibility that, despite these authorities, there will not be any increase at all. If there is an increase, we are concerned as to how Scotland will be affected in respect of the Equalisation Grant.

Mr. Hector Hughes


The Deputy-Chairman (Major Sir William Anstruther-Gray)

Before I call the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) I think that it would be for the convenience of the Committee if I were to remind the Committee of the new Standing Order No. 1A, under which the Question will tonight have to be put at 10.56. It has to be put 45 minutes after the debate begins. This debate began at eleven minutes past ten o'clock, so we have only six minutes left.

Mr. Fletcher

On a point of order, Sir William. You have, if I may say so, correctly drawn the attention of the Committee to the fact that this is the first time under which the new Standing Order operates, and you have pointed out that the Committee will have to come to a decision on this matter at four minutes to eleven.

I submit to you, with great respect, that although that Standing Order introduces a new procedure, it is open to the Committee, in circumstances in which it feels that there has not been a satisfactory explanation from the Government, and particularly in circumstances in which there has not been any representative from the Scottish Office or from the Treasury in the Committee, to resolve that consideration of this Money Resolution be adjourned. Further, Sir William, with great respect, I submit that in view of the unsatisfactory answers we have had from the Minister for Welsh Affairs, the Committee, and the Minister, may wish to advise that the Committee's consideration of the matter should be adjourned until some other day.

The Deputy-Chairman

I would not be prepared, at this stage, to accept a dilatory Motion such as the hon. Gentleman mentions. Mr. Hector Hughes.

Mr. Hector Hughes

Having regard to the lateness of the hour, Sir William, I do not propose to detain the Committee for any length of time, but it is my duty to draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that, in his observations, the Minister did not address his mind to the problems of principles that were raised. He spoke as though he thought that hon. Members on this side were asking him for figures. Of course, he cannot estimate in terms of pounds, shillings and pence what the liabilities arising under this Clause would be. He is not asked to do that, but he is asked to define the principles which will operate under Clause 22.

I want to draw the Minister's attention to three sets of considerations. The first is an increase under the rate-deficiency grant or Exchequer Equalisation Grant mentioned in paragraph (a). The second is expenses incurred by valuation officers—I shall not trouble the Committee by reading that paragraph. The third is any increase that might be … attributable to section twenty of this Act.… If we turn to Clause 20 of the Bill, we find that the rubric reads: Contributions in aid of rates in respect of court buildings, police stations, etc. What principle is to be applied to the operation of Clause 22 (c) in relation to Clause 20? Important questions of principle may be involved. What my hon. Friends have asked for is a definition by the Minister of the principles that will be applied to the operation of these three paragraphs in conjunction with the court buildings and police stations mentioned in Clause 20.

Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)

Despite what the Minister said, it seems to me that there is bound to be a reduction in the rate deficiency payment in England, and, therefore, a reduction in the Exchequer Equalisation Grant payable in Scotland. The Bill provides for the rerating of industry in England and Wales, but not in Scotland. We will have the situation in which local authorities in England and Wales will, by 1963, get an increase in their income from local rates, and there will be a decrease in their incomes from rate deficiency payments, but Scottish local authorities will not get the increase in income from the rates because there will not be a rerating of industry in Scotland.

There will, therefore, be a diminution in this grant from the Exchequer by way of Exchequer Equalisation Grant. This comes out quite clearly from an examinaiion—

It being four minutes to Eleven o'clock, three quarters of an hour after the House had resolved itself into the Committee, The CHAIRMAN put the Question pursuant to Standing Order No. 1A (Exemptions from Standing Order No. 1 (Sittings of the House)).

Question put and agreed to.

Resolution to be reported.

Report to be received Tomorrow.