HC Deb 21 February 1961 vol 635 cc453-78

Again considered in Committee.

Mr. Willey

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed new Clause, to leave out subsection (1).

The purpose of the Amendment is to leave out the subsection, which says: The following provisions of this section shall have effect with respect to any drainage rate made for a period beginning after the end of March, nineteen hundred and sixty-three. An hon. Member asked where that date came from, and I am sure that the Minister knows better than I do that it conies from the 1959 Act. The Act provided for the postponement of new valuation lists and postponed the coming into effect of Section 45 of the Local Government Act, 1948.

Why are the Government so assured about this date? The earlier date was written in all good faith in 1948 but was not implemented. It would have been a wise precaution if they had referred to the new valuation lists rather than specifically to the end of March, 1963.

However, I have more specific arguments against the subsection. The first is that, until the right hon. Gentleman moves his Amendment, we still have Clause 21. I may be wrong in my interpretation, but I gather that that Clause will not come into effect until 1963. I want to know why the Government have taken this decision. The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) looks as though he is not following me. Subsection (2) of the Clause is an abbreviated form of Clause 21.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

I thought that Clause 21 came later, and that we were to have an Amendment to leave it out.

Mr. Willey

Yes, we will leave it out because Clause 21, in an abbreviated form, is subsection (2) of this Clause. In effect, the Government are saying, "The proposals we made in Clause 21 shall be deferred until 1963."

10.15 p.m.

When we discussed Clause 21 in the Standing Committee we had no glimmering of this intention on the part of the Government. I wonder whether it is merely another example of careless drafting, or whether the subsection appears in the wrong order. It is remarkable that only a short time ago we were discussing Clause 21 and now we have it in an abbreviated form, and that the coming into effect of the Clause is being deferred. We are entitled to an explanation why the Government are taking this step. I do not say that they have not good grounds for doing this, but we are right to inquire about it.

The third and equally important point was touched upon in our earlier discussion. The right hon. Gentleman, in the Clause, is doing two things. He is toning up—if that is the right technical phraseology—and is also providing for the effect of the valuation lists. These are two separate things. One is affected by the date in subsection (1) while the other is not so affected. Again, under this subsection we have not only that part of the new Clause which concerns the new valuation lists but also that part which concerns Schedule A.

The subsection is ill-conceived. If it is right that it should appear in the Clause it should relate only to the valuation lists. It seems remarkable to take out of the 1959 Act a certain provision and to say, "This shall affect not only the valuation lists but also the question of agricultural buildings and of the anomalies under Schedule A." I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to satisfy us that this is not merely loose drafting hut that there is an acceptable reason for it.

Mr. Soames

I take the hon. Member's points. As he said, 1st April, 1963, is the date at which the new valuations will come into force and it is only then, when we will have a more realistic and up-to-date net annual value of all hereditaments, that we shall be getting the level basis which we are seeking in order to bring about a greater degree of equity. He asked what would happen if we did not have the new rating valuation by 1st April, 1963. I can only say that the Government are quite confident that there is no reason why it should be held up. I agree that it was postponed, but we have no reason to suppose that it will not come into operation by 1st April, 1963.

Meanwhile, if it were not to happen, we should have to do it on the existing valuations for the period from 1st April, 1963, which would not be so equitable as the new ones. I have no reason to believe that we will not have the new valuations within this period of time so that it can come into force on 1st April, 1963.

The hon. Gentleman asked why we applied subsection (1) to the Schedule A provisions. I do not think that he was arguing against 1st April, 1963. He asked why we did not put this in in relation to these hereditaments and go for the net annual value, as opposed to putting it at the beginning of the Clause covering the lot. This is a considerable shift of emphasis and will involve a lot of work by the drainage boards. We would not want to do it in the middle of the financial year, in any event. It was either 1st April, 1962, or 1st April, 1963. We have been living with these anomalies for some time, and the neat and tidy way to do it was to get rid of them all at once and to do the whole thing on 1st April, 1963. We could not have done it before 1st April, 1962. The neat and tidy way was to do it all at the same time. That includes the agricultural buildings.

I take the hon. Gentleman's point on Clause 21. That would have come into operation as and when it could have been brought about with the extra work involved. Again, we do not think that that could have been done before 1st April, 1962. Our reason for putting it at the beginning is that we are trying to sweep away these anomalies and bring about this greater equity in one operation. We have, therefore, put the subsection at the beginning of the Clause.

Sir D. Glover

Subsection I says: …. made for a period beginning after the end of March… As I understand it, that does not tie one to 1st April. If the rating provisions are confirmed, in a short period after that are we tied to 1st April, or to a point some time after 31st March?

Mr. Soames

My hon. Friend is correct. It is after the end of March. We said after the end of March, bearing in mind that it would come in on 1st April when the new valuation lists started.

Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)

It is difficult for me to follow this argument. I was not here during the earlier part of the debate and I apologise for my absence. Perhaps if I had been present I would have understood the argument.

As I understand the argument, it is that the existing basis of valuation on which the rate is assessed is grossly inequitable as between parties. If it be grossly inadequate, surely it ought not to be continued longer than is necessary. As the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) pointed out, this does not commit anybody to a particular date. The subsection says: The following provisions of this section shall have effect with respect to any drainage rate made for a period after the end of March… I gather that that means that if they do not get the valuations through then, or for any other reason, they can deal with it as and when it arises. That being so, why March, 1963? Why not where we are now or when this Bill starts? As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, this is a longish process. Why not work it out as it comes along? Each as they deal with it could be brought on to the new basis.

Again, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend, regarding subsection (2) referring to the agricultural land and buildings, I gather that is to be on the rateable basis. I do not know whether the Minister can explain this to me; perhaps it has been explained already. Why is this being introduced here in substitution for Clause 21? Part of Clause 21 was omitted in the reproduction as subsection (2) of this new Clause.

Mr. Soames

Nothing has been omitted which leads to anything fundamental. It is better and more abbreviated drafting. There is nothing which Clause 21 would have enshrined in a Statute which this subsection does not do.

Mr. Paget

It is just a case of a second attempt enabling something to be said with economy.

Mr. Soames

indicated assent.

Mr. Paget

That would be almost a good enough argument for a new Clause at any time.

When one looks at this new Clause there is another expression which is even longer and more complicated, and that is almost as horrifying a thought. But I am most grateful to the Minister for his explanation.

In subsection (3) we are dealing with Schedule A which will not, as I understand it, be affected by the new rating valuation. Therefore, it seems odd that one should wait for the Schedule A changes until the rating valuation comes in when the rating changes do not affect the Schedule A changes. The Minister's case for this seemed to me rather odd. Apparently, it is because this whole process would involve the accountancy departments of the various drainage boards in a lot of work. Surely that is all the more reason for giving them the opportunity to take two bites at it. Why not let them get on with the Schedule A changes which are in subsection (3) and wait for the others?

In subsection (4), again one has to turn to the 1930 Act. All this legislation by reference makes it extremely complicated and the result is that Acts of Parliament become more and more unintelligible.

10.30 p.m.

Subsection (4) provides that: Subsection (4) of section twenty-four of the Act of 1930 and the Drainage Rates Act, 1958. shall not apply in the case of land for which a rateable value is shown in the valuation list for the time being in force; but in the case of any such land—

  1. (a) the value on which any drainage rate is assessed shall be one-third of the rateable value so shown; and
  2. (b) the amount per pound at which a drainage rate is so assessed shall be determined in accordance with section (Drainage rates—determination of relative poundage) of this Act."
Again, perhaps I am not following this entirely, but why for the operation of subsection (4) do we require a new valuation? Looking at this, it seems that what may be convenient for the purpose of subsection (2) is being generally applied to a number of subsections to which it does not seem to be really applicable. I should be most grateful if the Minister would reconsider whether he really wants subsection (1) for any more than subsection (2).

Mr. Loughlin

I am a little worried about the wording of the subsection. I may be wrong, but in view of what the Minister said in answer to the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover), I am probably right. The impression gained from what the Minister said previously, and it was confirmed by his reply to his hon. Friend, is that the intention is that the provisions of the Bill shall apply from 1st April, and in consequence of that, subsection (1) reads: for a period beginning after the end of March". My knowledge of legal terminology is very limited; it has been restricted largely to Statutory Instruments and certain other matters. The usual terminology to convey the intention about the operation of a Statutory Instrument is to say that it will commence after "a" given period of time. If we were referring to statutory holidays and the qualifying period for them, we should refer to "the" period after a given date. The subsection says: made for a period beginning after the end of March". Could "a period" be a limitation of time as distinct from the period "being an unlimited period? Surely this is borne out by the Minister's statement that the intention is that the Bill shall apply after the end of March, that being 1st April.

If the Law Officers were present they might be able to give us guidance. We might be able to refer to similar terminology in previous Measures where questions of errors have been raised. In view of what he said about 1st April, perhaps the Minister ought to ascertain whether the subsection should read "the period" instead of a "a period".

Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)

The language of this provision presents me with no difficulty. All that is said, putting it into plain English, is that drainage rates shall be assessed after a period beginning at the end of March, 1963. It could be any period, or in any year. It may not even be in 1963, so long as it was after the month of March.

I am concerned with something else. There are two kinds of valuation envisaged. The Rating and Valuation Bill is being considered in Standing Committee and we know from the work that we have done in that Committee that there are to be new methods of assessment on agricultural and industrial properties. I feel that an extraordinarily heavy burden is going to be placed on some areas and that some of the smaller farming areas may not get value as a result.

I should like to know how this relates to the provisions of Part V of the Finance Act, 1949, under which Income Tax allowances can be made by means of deductions from the assessment on property. That Act states that in assessing the amount charged on land by a public rate or assessment in respect of draining, fencing or embanking, and the amount expended by the landlord or owner of the lands on an average of the twenty-one preceding years in the making or repairing of sea walls, embankments, tidal rivers or other acts connected with drainage, the amount expended is calculated over an average of the preceding twenty-one years.

What effect will that have? Unfortunately, there is no Law Officer present, but the Committee ought to be told what effect this provision will have on these allowances in respect of draining, fencing or embanking, which are specially written into the 1949 Act.

Mr. Soames

If I may interrupt the hon. Member, it will make no difference whatsoever.

Mr. Davies

That answer came very quickly. In saying that, of course, I intend no insult to the Minister. However, I should like to know if the Minister has taken advice on the relationship between this provision and the Finance Act, 1949.

Mr. Soames

indicated assent.

Mr. Davies

We shall have to wait and see whether it will make no difference at all, but I am afraid that there will be some difficulties and anomalies in claiming deductions from Income Tax

Mr. Symonds

I do not propose to detain the Committee for long, but there are one or two small matters which are worrying me a great deal. The Minister may probably be able to clear up the points for me. Subsection (1) of the Clause states: The following provisions of this section shall have effect with respect to any drainage rate made for a period beginning after the end of March, nineteen hundred and sixty-three. Surely the same sort of proviso could have been inserted stating "after the end of March, 1964." "After the end of March" is any time after that date. The Clause does not state specifically that it shall be 1st April, 1963.

Are are Government waiting to see if we are to have a General Election in 1963? There may be some such thought in the mind of the Government. We shall also have a rating and valuation Measure coming into operation at that time.

There is also something else which to me is important and which may have a bearing on what I have said. Subsection (3, a) of the Clause states: the land is, forms parts of, or comprises land whose annual value for the purposes of income tax under Schedule A… Schedule A plays a very important part here. Now what happens? Hon. Members opposite are in favour of the abolition of Schedule A. Let us assume for a moment that Schedule A is abolished—

The Temporary Chairman

Order. The Amendment refers only to subsection (1) which deals solely with the date at which the proposed new rate should commence.

Mr. Symonds

Schedule A has been mentioned on several occasions by hon. Members and I am referring to it because it is of vital importance in connection with the Clause. If Schedule A is abolished the Clause will have to be redrafted. I think that in the best interests of everyone the Minister should have another look at subsection (1) and should tell us whether he means 1st April, 1963, 1964, 1965 or 1966. I shall probably be able to say something further on this issue later. In my view, the Clause should be taken back and redrafted in a totally different way.

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present;

Committee counted, and, 40 Members being present—

10.45 p.m.

Mr. Symonds

As I was saying, I hope that the Minister will have a further look at this and take into consideration what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey). This is vitally important to the whole of this Clause, particularly to Schedule A and the commencing date of 1st April, 1963, as I understand it probably will be.

Mr. Soames

If I may, I will answer one or two points made by hon. Members on this Amendment. First, as to whether it is "a period," or "the period." "A period" is used in land drainage language. I direct the attention of hon. Members to Section 26 (2) of the 1930 Act, which says: Subject as hereinafter provided, every drainage rate shall be made in respect either of a period of twelve months or a period of six months… That is why it is "a period," because it can be either twelve or six months at a time. It also says: the last day of the period shall be the last day of the financial year. Hence the hon. Member will understand why it is "a period" and, since it is: the last day of the financial year why it should be 31st March, 1963.

Mr. Paget

I can well understand from what the right hon. Gentleman has said why in the case he mentioned "a period" is given because two periods are mentioned; but here there is only one period. I should have thought that when referring to only one period if we use "a," the indefinite, in opposition to "the," which is definite, it means not the period immediately after, but "a," the indefinite, any period after that date. The example which the right hon. Gentleman has given I should have thought was grammatically quite different.

Mr. Soames

I do not think that it is very complicated. It was in respect of any drainage rate made for a period, that is for a period of twelve or six months beginning after 31st March, 1963. I do not think that it is very complicated.

Mr. Loughlin

On a point of order, Mr. Hynd. This is a serious issue. It is a question of whether there has been a drafting error. I ask for your guidance because, if there is a drafting error, this Committee is incapable of dealing with this Bill.

The Temporary Chairman

I am sorry, but I do not think that is a point of order.

Mr. Soames

I can assure the hon. Member that there is no drafting error. The point I want to make is a serious one in answer to the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) about why we included in this time scale beginning on 1st April, 1963, subsection 4, why we included the agricultural property which is not going to be on a net annual value basis but which will remain on the Schedule A basis.

There are a number of points here. I think that the main one, which will appear to him the readiest, is that within an agricultural hereditament we have the land, the agricultural buildings, which will be valued like the land, and the farmhouse, which will be on the net annual value which hitherto has been on Schedule A like all houses. Drainage rates have been levied on the Schedule A value hitherto, but when this Clause comes into operation everything that can be rated will be on the net annual value basis. It will not be until April, 1963, that we shall have this new valuation which will make it as equitable as we should like it to be.

We are not going to have the whole agricultural hereditament—that is the land, the buildings and the farmhouse—on the same basis after April, 1963; hence this is included. This may be straying nearly out of this order, but it is necessary in answer to the points which have been made, to say that this applies not only on this Clause but on the new Clause which is to follow—and hon. Members will be aware of the question of relative poundage. Not until we have the net annual value fixed and assessed on the new basis so that it is levied throughout shall we be able to work out the sum as between Schedule A and net annual value. That is why the whole operation should begin on 1st April, 1963.

Mr. Willey

The right hon. Gentleman should not persuade me to turn to the next new Clause. I have read it only fourteen times, and do not yet understand it, so I shall not succumb to his invitation.

The Committee will be largely persuaded by what the right hon. Gentleman has said. The point made by my hon. and learned Friend for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) is a valid one, but there is a good deal of substance in the Minister's statement that we may as well deal with all this at one time. I am sure that he will also recognise that this is a different view from that which the Government must have taken in the Standing Committee, and that there is a very great deal in what we have said. If, as I assume, I can he assured that the Minister will look at this again when this Bill is considered in another place, I should be perfectly willing to beg to ask to wthdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Willey

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed new Clause, to leave out subsection (3).

I move the Amendment for two reasons. This is really a most horribly drafted subsection—it really is a shocker. This is the "tone of the list" principle incorporated in legislative form, and with the most benevolent good will I find it extremely difficult to be fully seized of the effect of the subsection. It is largely for that reason that I have put down the Amendment.

I have referred to one thing in particular on a previous occasion and I do not want to elaborate on it now; it is this reference to the Drainage Rates Act of 1958. Although tempted, I did not refer in detail to this. I am obliged to the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) for his recollection—which was largely accurate, as one would have expected from him—but this provision was the result of a case, and it affected the position where there was an appeal.

I cannot see why, in the present subsection, all this should be made conditional upon and flowing from the Drainage Rates Act, 1958. As I say, I have given notice of this point and do not want to canvass it unduly. The introductory words are: Where a drainage board have demanded a drainage rate in respect of any land the annual value of which for the purposes of the drainage rate has been ascertained in accordance with the Drainage Rates Act, 1958 On the face of it, it would seem that this considerably circumscribes the effect of the subsection.

The other matter about which I wish to make inquiry is the insertion of the date, 1946. The Government select dates. In an earlier subsection, they have shown that they had a good reason for the selection, but here we have: …commencing after the end of March, nineteen hundred and forty-six… I should have thought, having been persuaded by my hon. Friend, that the wording should follow the wording we have just discussed in subsection (1), where we have …for a period beginning after the end of March, nineteen hundred and sixty-three. The wording here is …commencing after the end of March, nineteen hundred and forty-six… I am not so much concerned about the difference in wording, except that it shows an inelegance of draftsmanship which I can only attribute to haste and panic which, again, confirms our view that the Clause has not been fully thought out. As this was a matter that was referred to at some length in our discussion on the Question, "That the Clause be read a Second time", I take no more of the advantage of moving the Amendment than to seek elucidation of these points in particular.

Mr. Soames

The hon. Member will know, of course, that, if his Amendment were accepted, it would prevent us from bringing about the removal of anomalies where agricultural land is concerned because it is this subsection which will enable owners and occupiers who are on a recent and unusually high Schedule A assessment to appeal. However, I see the point he makes. He did not have very long to consider the matter and he wished to have a discussion on the subsection, as I understand it, on an Amendment to leave out the subsection as a whole instead of taking it in detail and moving to leave out or amend certain words. I must warn the Committee that acceptance of the Amendment would have a drastic effect upon the Clause and upon all our efforts to remove the anomalies, and I hope that the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) is quite clear about that.

We use the words …commencing after the end of March, nineteen hundred and forty-six… because it was after 1st April, 1946, that these revaluations on Schedule A took place. There were not any before then. This is to differentiate between the old valuations on Schedule A which relate to the vast majority of hereditaments, the 1935–36 valuations, and what are to them the inequitable valuations which all came about after 1st April, 1946. In order to differentiate between the two, this date has to be inserted, and, indeed, it is in order to bring about more equity and bring the second valuations down to the level of the first that the subsection is introduced.

The reference to the Drainage Rates Act, 1958, means, in effect, that the land is land leased on the actual Schedule A value, as compared with subsection (4) where assessments would be based on the rating list. I hope that that answers the questions which the hon. Member put to me.

Mr. Mitchison

There is an absolute line drawn at the end of March, 1946. Perhaps the Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I should have thought that in changes of this sort the process of change would be a gradual one, and to draw a line at any particular date would result in anomalies as between rent agreements made shortly before and those made shortly after the date in question. No doubt there is a reason for it, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will indicate what it is.

Later in the subsection it is provided that the land has to fulfil the conditions in (a), and, as regards (b), there has merely to be a notice asking for determination in a given way. Then it is provided that …the annual value of the land…shall be such value as may be determined by the board, having regard to the annual values of comparable land in their district … I do not quite understand that. What we are dealing with here is cases which are guided by, if I may use that expression, rent agreements after the end of March, 1946. It is to deal with them that the Clause is introduced.

11.0 p.m.

We were told by the right hon. Gentleman, if I heard him aright, that there were real differences between land valued for Schedule A as before and as after that date. When we come to what is comparable land in the district, it looks as if we should include valuations, of both kinds, that is to say, valuations made on the earlier and valuations made on the later arrangement. While no doubt this may be clear to people who are better acquainted with the Schedule A arrangements in this case than I can claim to be, it is certainly not quite clear if we look at the subsection by itself.

Then I think the remaining matter is simply the extension of a right of appeal and the substantial point is the one I have put. I think that I put it rather clumsily and if the right hon. Gentleman would allow me I will try to repeat it, but if the right hon. Gentleman understands it, then I will ask him particularly to remember, as a former War Minister, the man who was kept to read despatches in the War Office.

Mr. Harold Davies

If one looks at this provision carefully one can easily put it into simple English. What amazes me is that all the time we are getting legislation by reference, although many of the people who have to deal with this will be in the country districts, on farms and other places, and they will find it very difficult to understand legal language. I criticise the language used, and put it into clear and simple English. What the Minister is saying here is that where a rate has been demanded it should be demanded under the Drainage Rates Act, 1958. That may not be clear legally but it is clear semantically. Then the owner or other people concerned have a form of appeal which can be made and can allow the board to make the assessment of the land. We are told how the board makes it—by reference to the Act of 1930. That is all it says. Why could not this be put more simply in the Clause?

I do not want to delay the Committee, but this brings me to a Report drawn up and presented when the Labour Party was in power and was concerned with getting a comprehensive policy not only for drainage but for water conservation. A special Committee was set up and its Report is Cmd. 7122. I quote from page 75: …we cannot but draw attention to the fact that the present lack of a co-ordinated policy has direct bearings upon our particular problem. And the kind of co-ordinated policy the Committee was talking about was for national water resources and the extent and incidence of sub-surface and surface—

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

The hon. Member is going far beyond this subsection.

Mr. Davies

Yes, but I am coming back to it.

Mr. George Brown (Belper)

Taking the loopline.

Mr. Davies

This effort of the Minister to be fair has resulted in more and more anomalies and more and more difficulties, because there is a complete lack of a Government policy for land drainage. There are only bits and pieces of land drainage legislation, and they are pointed to in this new Clause, which is another demonstration of legislation by reference, which makes it almost impossible for us to take a clear approach to this vital problem of land drainage and the conservation of water supplies.

Mr. Mitchison

I want to raise two other points and in that way I hope to save the Minister from having to get up repeatedly to answer questions. I understand the substance of the Amendment to be that in certain circumstances if someone is dissatisfied with the Schedule A valuation he may serve notice and then the annual value of the land shall be such value as may be determined by the board. Apparently, under paragraph (b) the owner and occupier, or either of them, may serve notice to bring this subsection into operation. They will do that presumably because they think that they will get a better deal from the operation of the Clause, that is from the board itself, than by leaving the matter otherwise in its normal condition.

I should have thought that it was a rather dangerous position to allow either of these people to raise that point, for the reason that it is, after all, a matter of almost hazardous estimate in some cases and certainly a matter of judgment. One may take one view and one may take another, and if we allow either to raise it, the owner, for example, may force upon the occupier a reconsideration by the board which the occupier does not want to have done and which may prove to be a loss for the occupier. Where there are two interests in the same land, I should have thought that it is wrong in principle to claim special adjustments, the effect of which cannot be known beforehand—in short that each man should be allowed to make up his mind what he thinks would be best for him and no action should be taken by the one without the concurrence of the other.

The second point is one of principle which I believe has been raised before. I am unaccustomed to speaking on agriculture and therefore I raise it with a certain amount of diffidence. But to the ordinary person unaccustomed to these things it is very strange that even at the request of the owner or occupier the rating authority, that is to say the board, should itself be allowed to value the property upon which the rate is to be levied.

I do not know what precedents there are for this. It seems to me extraordinarily dangerous to allow a rating authority to assess the valuation on which the rate is to be levied. We in this Committee have had occasion before now to consider this kind of question in connection, for instance, with the recommendations of the Franks Committee. As a matter of principle, both sides of the Committee have tried to dissociate the judicial or semi-judicial, or at any rate the decision maikng element or an authority from its executive function. This Clause does exactly the opposite and enables the executive authority—the board in this case—to reach a decision which ought to be the decision as to what the rateable value of the property is, but tends inevitably to be a decision slightly in favour of the board.

It is just to avoid that sort of conflict between the duty of someone exercising a semi-judicial function and his personal interest that we take great care not to put anyone in that position of having to decide a matter of truth or correctness when it is in his interests to decide it one way.

Because this type of arrangement involves that conflict, I cannot forbear to say that, whatever the precedents may be and however convenient it may be and however many people may have agreed to it, it is fundamentally wrong in principle that the rating authority should itself decide the valuation which will determine the amount of rates to be paid to that same authority. That seems to be the position in which the boards will be placed.

On that ground alone, and it is of major and vital importance, the Committee should hesitate a long time before either enacting or re-enacting this method of determination.

Mr. Soames

I do not know whether the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) has an internal drainage district in his constituency, or whether his constituency touches an internal drainage district. But his speech about the Government not having a conservation policy and the Clause therefore being unnecessary will not go down very well in internal drainage districts. Anybody familiar with the difficulties and anomalies occurring in internal drainage districts at the moment will be very glad to see the Clause coming into operation.

Mr. G. Brown

I do not believe it.

Mr. Soames

In his wisdom as Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) does not believe it, but we can leave it to the wisdom and judgment of those who live in these districts. We have no doubt that this arrangement will be of considerable advantage to them and that it will be felt to be more equitable, which is what we are seeking. The Clause is an endeavour to give a greater degree of equity, as I have said—and I apologise to the Committee for having said that over and over again in the last few hours.

Mr. Harold Davies

I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman is trying to get more equitable distribution, but does he not appreciate that that is legislation by reference?

Mr. Soames

I was coming to the hon. Gentleman's accusation about legislation by reference. The Clause refers to Section 29 of the 1930 Act but it says: … (which provides for an appeal against a determination under subsection (2) of that section) … This is perfectly normal practice. The only choice was to repeat something already on the Statute Book, or to refer back to the earlier legislation indicating that it provided for appeal against determination, so that people would know what it was about, and would know where to look and the way in which an appeal could be made. It is quite reasonable. It is not trying to duck out from anything. It is merely to prevent the Clause being about twenty lines longer. If the hon. Member reconsiders the matter, I do not think he will feel that we are running counter to the interests concerned, or impeding the provisions of the Clause in any way.

11.15 p.m.

The hon. and learned Member talked about whether the end of March, 1946, was the right time to adopt, and whether we should put down a fixed list, because the movement of rents was probably gradual over the period. But we are not dealing with the movement of rents; we are dealing with the alteration of Schedule A values after March, 1946, when new houses were being built and new Schedule A valuations were being placed upon them which were not in line with the old Schedule A valuations which had held sway up to that point—the beginning of the financial year of 1946. It is not a question of the gradual movement of rents; it is that at that time there began to be a distortion, from what the hon. and learned Gentleman might call rough justice, but at any rate some justice in Schedule A values—all being more or less alike—to a difference in values even in houses in the same street, when the new values were introduced. That was why that date was selected.

As to the argument about the tone of the list, and the hon. and learned Gentleman's point about the board having to have regard to the annual values of comparable land in the district, that refers again to Schedule A. We are saying that if a man has had the Schedule A value of his farm very much increased by virtue of a holding being cut into two or three or four smaller holdings, on one of which a house has been built, and it is out of line with the Schedule A value—on which drainage rates are levied—of other comparable farms of that size and type within the internal drainage district, the man can ask for the value to be reassessed to bring it back into line.

This is at the very heart of the new Clause. It is to enable those who have had agricultural land upvalued—whether they be owners or occupiers—to go to the internal drainage board and ask for a reassessment to bring their land back into line with other typical holdings of that character with the drainage district.

As to the question whether the Clause will be in the interests of the owner or occupier, or both—to which question was tied the other question, whether it should be the board which assessed what the value would be—

Mr. Mitchison

I think that they are quite separate points. The question about the owner and the occupier is whether either can bind the other to this method of valuation.

Mr. Soames

This was enshrined long ago in legislation for internal drainage districts, and it is still understood within those districts. The hon. and learned Member has many books to help him, and in one I have no doubt he will find the 1930 Land Drainage Act. Section 29 (3) of that Act provides that Where…a drainage board have made any apportionment or have determined any value, they shall serve notice of their decision upon both the owner and the occupier of the hereditament to which the decision relates, and the owner and the occupier, or either of them, may within twenty-eight days after the service of the notice, appeal against the apportionment or determination to a court of summary jurisdiction … We are doing nothing new or wrong here. We want to bring about equity, and if either the owner or the occupier feels that he is on too high a Schedule A valuation, we want him to go to the board for reassessment. We are eager that that should be done. Whether it will be increased or decreased is neither here nor there, but in fact it will be decreased because it is the man who feels that his Schedule A valuation is too high who will go to the board for reassessment. We want equity between the man paying Schedule A on one farm and the man paying Schedule A on a neighbouring farm.

Mr. Mitchison

It seems to me entirely different to give either of two persons who feel aggrieved a right of appeal—that is what is done in the old Act—and to give either of two persons, both of whom are interested, the right to choose a particular method of assessment, which is what is done under the Bill.

Mr. Soames

It is not choosing a method of assessment. That is where the hon. and learned Gentleman has misunderstood it. The man is on Schedule A and remains on it. We are anxious to deal with the case in which the man feels that he is paying too much. Unlike his neighbour, he may be on a high Schedule A valuation because he had a new house built in 1947. We are anxious that either the owner or the occupier should be able to take the assessment to the Board for reassessment according to the tone of the list. It is not a question of choice between valuation on net annual value and Schedule A.

I was asked whether the members of the board are the right people to determine on what Schedule A valuation the drainage rate should be assessed. The internal drainage district authority has a considerable knowledge of what goes on in the district. It has done this over a long time and I think that there has been no complaint about it. The system has worked well. It is well understood within the internal drainage districts, and we think it best that it should continue.

Mr. Willey

We are much obliged to the Minister, who has vigorously tried to persuade the Committee. I do not think that he has altogether succeeded. Unwittingly he has been somewhat unfair to the Committee. Earlier he said to me, "You are complaining of the obscurity of the subsection but you are moving its deletion, and if you succeed, then you will lose the subsection." That is not an excuse for bad and sloppy draftmanship.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will look at these provisions again to see whether the meaning can be more simply conveyed. I will not pursue the matter further, but I ask him to take note of the reference which I made to the Drainage Rates Act, 1958. He is obviously somewhat embarrassed by this, but I hope that in another place, if possible, this provision can be put in better form. It is at present ambiguous and obscure. The Country Landowners' Association, which is well advised in these matters, says that it regards this as far from clear.

Without pressing the matter further at this stage, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is well seized of the fact that this is obscure. I hope that the Leader of the House is seized of the fact that we have discussed this Clause all day without any attendance by the Law Officers. This Clause imposes charges, and by convention they ought to have been here. Their absence is a disrespect to the Committee which does not help us in our proceedings.

I take by way of illustrating another point the fact that my constituency is in a development district. We feel strongly that the Government are asking us to provide against our unemployment. That is not an answer to the question. The Government should take a more rigorous action. They are retreating from the proper development district policy. We are getting exactly the same attitude over this subsection. The Government are doing nothing about the anomalies in connection with Schedule A. They are asking the internal drainage boards to do something about it.

They are not dealing with the other drainage problems. When the right hon. Gentleman challenges me and says that if I insist on this Amendment I shall lose one of the purposes of this Clause, I am not very impressed. We have not yet had a satisfactory answer to whether the internal drainage boards will be equipped to deal with this problem. It is probable that the boards will not be able to discharge the responsibility that the Government are putting on them, which is unfair to the boards.

I wish to support my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) who emphasised the point we made during the Second Reading debate. The whole purpose of the agreed policy with regard to valuation is to put this on a national basis, but the whole purpose of this part of the new Clause is to break it up again. It was agreed that we should abandon the assessment committees, but this is going back to the old approach and saying that it is for the local rating body to strike equity. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there is a case for something to be done. That was said repeatedly during the Second Reading debate and during the Committee stage discussions. We have to recognise that the Government are not doing anything. They are saying to the smaller drainage authorities—not to the river boards—" We are not doing anything. We appreciate your difficulty. Please try to do something if an application is made to you."

We canvassed this point on Second Reading and, because we did not receive satisfaction, we felt obliged to take this action. We recognise that the Clause has some merit, but we felt obliged to vote against its Second Reading. Having taken that course, and recognising that the right hon. Gentleman obviously has an interest in this matter, we hope that he will look again at the wording of this subsection. I am sure that if he does he will be convinced that it can be improved.

When the Bill is discussed in another place, I hope that the opportunity will be taken to have a full and proper consultation with the drainage authorities. We have not been told why, if this is desirable, it has not been extended to the river boards. We have had no assurance that this duty was sought by the inland drainage boards. It would be unsatisfactory merely to transfer this duty to them because the Government felt it expedient to make a show of doing something. however little, about Schedule A. Having expressed these hopes, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

11.30 p.m.

Mr. Peart

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed new Clause, to leave out subsection (7).

We require an explanation. This subject was previously raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Symonds). We seek to delete subsection (7), which reads: References in this section to the rateable value of any land shall be construed, where that value differs from the net annual value, as referring to the net annual value. We think it rather odd wording. There may be an explanation for it. The Minister tried to explain broadly why he sought to make changes in the Bill where all hereditaments other than agricultural would be put on the same basis as the net annual value. Despite that, we think that there should be some explanation of the wording. This odd phrase may be due to draftsmanship. I hope that the Minister will give me a satisfactory answer.

Mr. Vane

I am not in the least surprised that the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) has asked the meaning of the subsection. It is, I am afraid, the sort of subsection that one sometimes finds in such a Clause for reasons of drafting, and I admit that one can mock it without end. There is good reason for the subsection, and I hope that in this instance we shall be given the credit for being concise. The subsection we have just been discussing was said to be sloppy; this one, despite whatever demerits it may have, at least has the merit that it is concise.

I will attempt to explain the subsection. I should like the Committee to realise that the significance of these rather curious words is drafting and nothing else, and any alternative drafting would have been at very much greater length. It seems strange, but none the less I am advised that it is not possible in the Clause to use the term "net annual value" or the term "rateable value" throughout. We want to avoid the term "rateable value" when dealing with future assessments, because "rateable value" is net annual value abated by any derating provisions that there may be, which are likely to be of a temporary nature. Therefore, the term "rateable value" cannot be used as a general term covering the future.

On the other hand, the term "net annual value" cannot be used to cover all cases occurring in the present. I notice that the hon. Gentleman nods his head. He realises that in certain—not frequent—examples, there is no net annual value; that net annual value and rateable value are merged and "rateable value" is the term which is used.

I am sorry if the explanation is as confusing as the subsection itself, but the point is that it is impossible to use the same term to cover all cases in the present and all cases in the future. Therefore, rather than a very much longer explanation, this formula, strange though it may seem, is really the clearest and the best.

Mr. Peart

In view of the Minister's explanation, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause added to the Bill.

Mr. G. Brown

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

We have had a very good, very close, constructive and intensive debate on a very important Clause, and I think all hon. Members will agree that my hon. and right hon. Gentlemen have done their duty without in any sense being obstructive or difficult. Indeed, I thought that the way my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) very graciously asked leave to withdraw the last Amendment, following the explanation which the Minister was good enough to say was no less confused than the part of the Clause that he was trying to explain, was very great evidence of the willingness of the Opposition to be co-operative whenever we can.

On the other hand, if we go on now we move to another new Clause entitled "Drainage rates—determination of relative poundage," which is at least as confusing and as complicated as the one with which we have just dealt. I am afraid that I have not been here all the time, but I have listened to the debate at intervals, and I am bound to say that the strain on the Government side is clearly showing. There is a certain jaded look on the benches opposite and the explanations of the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary do not improve as the night wears on. The confusion in their speeches becomes rather more marked. Being charitably-minded people on these benches, it seems a good thing to come to the aid of hon. Members opposite and, having obtained the first new Clause on recommittal, it might be a good thing if they were allowed to go home and refresh themselves, so that we can come back another day to deal with the other new Clauses. Then we could proceed with the examination of this detailed and important Bill.

I hope that the Government will accept the Motion and not, as they have done on previous occasions, challenge us and obstruct us and cause us to react. I do not think that has been a good thing. They must themselves see that. We are fortunate in that the Chief Patronage Secretary is nowhere to be seen, and you are in the Chair, Sir William; so all the portents are good, and I hope that the Motion will be accepted.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. R. A. Butler)

I should like to make it clear that I have consulted my right hon. Friend, and that the Government think it is reasonable that we should at this stage accept the Motion moved by the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown). I will not waste the time of the Committee by going into an elaborate answer to the right hon. Gentleman. I would only say that I listened to the Minister's answer to the right hon. Gentleman and I thought it was extremely clear.

The question of land drainage and the rights relating to land drainage and the like is something which caused the original civil wars, excited the intelligence of Oliver Cromwell and led to the complete upside down character of our State. It all those features in those days had been as clear as the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary have been this evening, and if all the faces in the old days had been as bright as they are on this side of the Committee, we might have avoided internal rebellion in our country. That is all I can say in relation to land drainage.

I should like to say this in accepting the Motion. We have a long way to go in this Bill. I am ready to accept that many of the paints that have been made have been constructive. But it is a difficult Bill. Land drainage is a sticky subject and the drains are apt to get clogged. I hope that after this we may be able to make better progress when we bring the Bill forward again. In that spirit, I accept the Motion.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.

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