HC Deb 26 April 1961 vol 639 cc437-44
5 (1) The amount per pound mentioned in paragraph (b) of subsection (4) of section (Drainage rates—basis of assessment) of this Act shall be determined, as nearly as may be, by applying the fraction arrived at in accordance with the following provisions of this section (in this section referred to as the relative fraction) to the amount per pound (of annual value) at which the drainage rate is assessed under subsection (4) of section twenty-four of the Act of 1930.
(2) The relative fraction shall be stated in the notice of the rate given under section twenty-seven of the Act of 1930, and the notice shall be conclusive evidence that the fraction stated in it has been calculated in accordance with this section.
10 (3) The relative fraction shall be arrived at by dividing—
(a) the aggregate of the annual values of the relevant hereditaments in the internal drainage district; by
(b) the aggregate of the rateable values of those hereditaments.
15 (4) For the purposes of this section—
(a) the rateable value of any hereditament shall be taken to be the value which, at the date on which the drainage rate is made, is shown as its rateable value in the valuation list in force for the period for which the drainage rate is made:
20 (b) the annual value of any hereditament shall be taken to be its annual value as last stated before the said date in any assessment under Schedule A signed and allowed under section thirty-five of the Income Tax Act, 1952, or under that section as applied by the Fifth Schedule to that Act (apportioned where the hereditament forms part only of any land assessed under Schedule A).
25 (5) An internal drainage board may from time to time require the surveyors of taxes for their district to furnish to them, on payment at such rate as the Treasury may determine, such particulars of assessments as may be required to enable theboard to calculate the relative fraction.
30 (6) In this section "relevant hereditament", in relation to any drainage rate, means land for which a rateable value is shown in the valuation list in force for the period for which the rate is made and which is or forms part of land assessed to income tax under Schedule A; and references in this section to the rateable value of any hereditament shall be construed, where that value differs from the net annual value, as referring to the net annual value.—[Mr. Soames.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

4.11 p.m.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Christopher Soames)

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

This is a machinery Clause designed to give effect to the provisions in the Clause which we discussed at the last meeting of the Standing Committee. On that occasion we had a long discussion and it was decided that the Clause then under consideration was a suitable addition to the Bill. This Clause will put it into operation.

I would remind the Committee that the object of that Clause was to transfer the basis on which drainage rates are raised from Schedule A values to rateable values in order to meet a point most forcibly put at various times particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover), my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) and my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke). This Clause provides the machinery enabling us, as it were, to translate from Schedule A value, into rateable value.

To obtain the fraction by which the poundage has to be adjusted, the drainage boards concerned will compare the total net annual values shown in the valuation list with the total of the Schedule A values on the same hereditaments. The resulting fraction will be applied to the poundage paid on rateable value, thus bringing its yield into line with that paid on Schedule A on which it was formerly based.

Perhaps it would be easier if I gave the Committee a quick example of how this will work. For instance, in a particular drainage district the total rateable valuation of property on the valuation list might be £70,000 and the total Schedule A value of the property might, and probably would be, about £30,000. The fraction to be applied to the poundage of a drainage rate where it is charged on the basis of the rateable value would be three-sevenths. So, if an occupier were paying 7s. in the £ on Schedule A, he would be paying 3s. in the £ on rateable value. That is all this Clause is designed to do, and I commend it to the Committee.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

I am obliged to the Minister for his explanation. May I say by way of preface that we notice that the British Farmer, the journal of the National Farmers' Union, complained of the irritating tactics of the Opposition. This is grossly unfair. We are discussing new Clauses introduced by the Government which the whole Committee would agree are of great complexity and importance. They introduce new methods. Having said that, and being reminded of what was said by the Leader of the Opposition at the conclusion of our previous discussion—and not wishing to emulate Oliver Cromwell—I accept what the right hon. Gentleman said, that the present Clause is consequential on the one we previously discussed. It is a machinery Clause and for that reason I do not wish to traverse the arguments we had on the earlier Clause.

The Minister would agree that this is a difficult Clause. During our last debate I said that I had read the Clause fourteen times and was not fully satisfied that I had comprehended it. When the Government introduce a Clause at this stage they should provide an explanatory note to show its meaning. I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his illustration, but had the Clauses been in the Bill, we should have had reference to them in the Explanatory Memorandum. If, on the other hand, the Clauses had been brought by way of Statutory Instrument, we should have had an explanatory note attached in the light of the recommendations of the Select Committee. The Government therefore, should consider when introducing new matters such as this separately and at a later stage, providing, not only for hon. Members but for the public, an explanation of their purposes. Especially so in this case as, again, we get legisation by reference.

I do not wish to discuss the merits, we considered them when we were considering the earlier Clause, but a point which came out late in our discussions on the earlier Clause was that there have been consultations with the Association of Drainage Authorities. Again, I make the point, which we made in respect of the earlier Clause, that there has not been sufficiently wide consultation regarding these new provisions. Having made these reservations about this Clause I say at once that we accept what the right hon. Gentleman has said that, having discussed the previous Clause, this Clause is a necessarily consequential provision which must be made in view of the acceptance of the earlier Clause.

Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

In welcoming this new Clause, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he can tell the Committee what the measure of payment is likely to be in getting the details of these assessments from the Inland Revenue?

Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)

I wish to welcome this new Clause. I support what has been said by the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) about the provision of an explanatory note. Until my right hon. Friend quoted an example, I had difficulty in understanding how this would work. I should like to thank my right hon. Friend for what I consider a valuable improvement to the Bill.

Mr. Soames

I cannot tell my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) what will be the cost of securing the information from the Inland Revenue. This will have to be decided in the light of the amount of work to be done. I am sure that the sum will be moderate and that the service rendered will be good, but I cannot give any idea of the figure. We know what it was under the 1930 Act, but it is too early yet to give any estimate in this case.

I agree with the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) and with my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) that, on the face of it, this new Clause is a complicated provision to add to the Bill at this stage. It took a good deal of working out and all I can plead in mitigation is that it is a provision which is better in the Bill than out; and that this is the only way in which that could be achieved now.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time.

Mr. Willey

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed new Clause, in line 8, to leave out from "1930" to the end of line 9.

The effect of this Amendment is to take out the words and the notice of conclusive evidence that the fraction stated in it has been calculated in accordance with this Section. The Clause, as at present drafted, provides that the fraction shall be stated in the notice of the rate given under Section 27. The Minister is asking that that statement shall be accepted as being conclusive, and shall not be open to challenge. That seems a rather drastic power to be taking and it is for that reason—to elucidate a satisfactory explanation from the Government—that I move this Amendment.

Mr. Soames

I quite appreciate the reason for the hon. Gentleman tabling this Amendment, because it is not until one goes through the Bill with a technical adviser who knows all about its jargon that one appreciates what is proposed by this Clause. I hope that I shall be able to put the hon. Gentleman's mind at rest.

The hon. Gentleman is no doubt thinking that the fractions might vary according to the different hereditaments, from one hereditament to another, within the same internal drainage district, and that, therefore, individuals should be able to appeal against their own particular fraction, perhaps on the ground that that fraction had not been properly worked out.

What happens, in fact, is that these fractions are worked out, not hereditament by hereditament, but over the whole of the drainage district, and the same fraction is applied. It is a matter of mathematics. If, for example, the fraction is three-sevenths, that will be applied to all the hereditaments within a district and, of course, will be subject to district audit. There will be only one sum done, so to speak, and the question whether that sum is correct will be subject to district audit. I do not think that it would be right for an individual to be able to complain that the figure was not right for his own hereditament, since it applies to the district as a whole

Mr. Willey

I must pursue the point further. The right hon. Gentleman anticipated what I had in mind when he said that this will be dealt with, in due course, by the district auditor. But has he realised that there might be a mistake? After all, a calculation will be made and, although most unlikely, a mistake could occur. My object in raising this point is to clear up the position whereby a ratepayer will not be prejudiced by having no way of satisfying himself about the correctness of the calculation. I can appreciate that over a period of time this would not cause any hardship to anyone because, if the district auditor found that a mistake had, in fact, been made, that mistake would be rectified and an adjustment would be made. Nevertheless, the ratepayer should not be entirely prevented from making inquiries.

Mr. Soames

The calculation will be worked out by the internal drainage district concerned and will be subject to district audit, and no one could judge whether the calculation was right without having access to all the figures. A great deal of arithmetic would have to be done, adding up all the Schedule A values of every hereditament, and so on. I am sure that the responsible bodies concerned will do their homework correctly, that their sums will be right and, after all this has been done, that the district auditor will check to ensure that a mistake has not been made. This, I suggest, will provide adequate protection for the public, and I do not think that this is a case where any particular individual should be able to have the right of appeal.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Willey

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Clause, in line 24, to leave out from "them" to "such" in line 25.

This Amendment deals with a point similar to the one we discussed in Standing Committee, and there is no need for me to deploy my argument at length. There is fear among some of the drainage boards that they might be put to some expense if this provision remains as it is. It would be far better that this provision of information from the surveyor of taxes should be accepted as an obligation on the surveyors and that the Treasury should bear the cost. This is a case where the Treasury can well bear, without difficulty, a cost that, to some drainage boards, might cause some expense which would otherwise be avoided.

When we discussed this matter in Committee the Parliamentary Secretary replied that the provision being made here is in accordance with precedent, but I suggest that this is one case where we might depart from precedent. It might be better to say that, since these provisions are being imposed on drainage boards by the Government and with the will of Parliament, it is for Parliament to ensure that the Treasury bears the consequential expenses of this action. For that reason I am still hopeful that the right hon. Gentleman might be willing to accept the Amendment.

Sir D. Glover

I support the Amendment. I deplore anything that adds to the cost of these boards and, since I helped to persuade my right hon. Friend, in Standing Committee, to accept an alteration in the way that the drainage rate should be assessed, it seems a little hard that internal drainage boards should incur a charge from the Treasury. Since it is such a small charge, surely it would be better for the Amendment to be accepted.

Mr. Soames

I am sorry to have to disappoint the hon. Gentleman the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover), but for the reasons I have given several times in some detail in Standing Committee, on a different Clause, the Government are not able to accept this Amendment.

When this matter was discussed in relation not to inland drainage boards but to river boards, under Clause 7 (6), this was gone into at some length and the arguments were identical. The Committee agreed that this must be left to the river boards and, in the Amendment we are discussing, it is clear that, equally, the matter should be left with the internal drainage boards. It is the standard practice for the Inland Revenue to make charges to public bodies for the services it performs, and charges are already made for information required by drainage boards in assessing drainage rates under the 1930 Act.

This is only a continuation of what is practised, and it is right that the Inland Revenue should make some charge for its services, and then, perhaps, its services will be appreciated to the full. For that reason, I suggest that the Committee should not accept this Amendment.

Mr. Willey

I am disappointed at the lack of support I have received for this constructive proposal. There is a difference between river boards and internal drainage boards and in this case, in my opinion, there is a case for making an exception. But since the right hon. Gentleman would not make an exception in the case of river boards, he is obviously not inclined to make an exception in this case. I have raised the matter, however, and I hope I have given heart to the drainage boards. They have had their feelings expressed in the Committee, but, in view of the response of the right hon. Gentleman, I can do no other than beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause added to the Bill.