HC Deb 24 April 1963 vol 676 cc363-8

Amendment made: In page 11, line 30, after "(Scotland)" insert "Amendment".—[Mr. Leburn.]

Mr. Ross

I beg to move, in page 11, to leave out line 31.

I raised this point with the Under-Secretary of State on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill." The more I think of it the more inclined I am to the view that he would be doing us a service and saving the time of the House if he said right away that he would accept the Amendment. He would not be losing a great deal and he would be preserving what I think is a valuable right.

He proposes to replace by regulations a right specifically laid down in Section 12 of the 1956 Act. This is a useful power which should not be left out, possibly to be replaced by regulations covered by the general regulation-making power, for it involves the procedure of the valuation appeal committee. Let us look at what the Minister proposes to repeal. It is information to be furnished by parties to an appeal or complaint. At present anyone taking an appeal in relation to a valuation to the valuation appeal committee can call upon the assessor to tell him the basis of his original assessment and the subject with which the relevant comparison has been made. Likewise, the assessor can make the same demands on the appellant in respect of the basis of the appeal and what he proposes to consider as a relevant comparison to support the appeal.

That is written into the Statute and is a valued right which is the basis of a person's appeal. It is unfair of the Secretary of State to take away this right and not himself to come to the Committee or the House to justify it. The Government Whip makes a comment on that; he has made many more speeches—from a sedentary position—on the Bill than has the Secretary of State.

The Under-Secretary well knows that many appeals have been brought forward in a year of revaluation. This proposal would obstruct a person seeking to make an appeal and might obstruct the assessor in relation to an appeal which he might make. I see no great virtue in wiping out this right and covering it by blanket regulation-making powers. As I raised the matter in Committee and gave due warning of the point, and as the Amendment has been on the Order Paper for some time, I hope that the Under-Secretary will have second thoughts. He would not be robbing his Bill of any little virtue which it might have, and he would be retaining rights which are valued by people in respect of valuation appeals.

Mr. Leburn

I assure the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) that I have given a lot of thought to the matter and that I have every sympathy with the aim behind his Amendment, which is, of course, concerned with the protection of the rights of appellants under Section 12 of the 1956 Act.

The hon. Member will recall that in Committee upstairs I gave an assurance that, whatever is done by way of regulation, it will not take away anything from any of the basic rights of the appellant. I will explain why I have included Section 12 of the 1956 Act as one of the provisions that may be repealed under Clause 15 and why I would hesitate to accept the Amendment. I hope that, just as I have listened carefully to what the hon. Member had to say, he will try to follow my difficulty in this connection.

The Scottish Valuation Advisory Council considered last year, in studying the lessons of the 1961 revaluation, the question of valuation appeal procedures with a view to the inclusion of any changes in the forthcoming Bill—that is, this Bill—and it soon became obvious that it would be better to deal with this procedure question by means of regulation, which involved repealing the existing statutory provisions, including Section 12 of the 1956 Act, to prevent confusion and overlapping. I am sure that the hon. Member for Kilmarnock will come that far with me. The question, however, is whether Section 12 should have been one of these. I consider that it is necessary, for whatever ones we do include, that there should be power to repeal, so that there is no confusion.

I agree that Section 12 of the 1956 Act confers rights on appellants which should not be lost. It is for this reason that I gave the assurance in Committee upstairs to which I have referred. On the other hand, it is undoubtedly true that Section 12 has not been operating satisfactorily from the point of view of either the appellant or the assessor. As the hon. Member for Kilmarnock said, under Section 12 an appellant can demand a list of the comparable properties on which the valuation is based and the ground of the valuation, but he must make this demand at the time of lodging the appeal; and the information must be supplied within twenty-one days. The assessor can also make a corresponding demand and the appeal must not be heard by the Valuation Appeal Committee until twenty-eight days after that right has been exercised.

There are several defects in this procedure. There is the practical problem that a large proportion of appeals in an area of revaluation tend to come in over a very short period, with the result that even though in practice many of these appeals will not be heard for months and months, the assessor must produce the information demanded within twenty-one days. Then there is the fact that the appellant must exercise his right at the time of lodging the appeal, which allows him no time for further thought.

In view of these considerations, it would be to the interests of the appellants as well as the assessors if Section 12 were re-examined; and this is what I was proposing to do—that is, reexamined in consultation with the Valuation Advisory Council and the local authorities to see whether it could be replaced by a more generally useful provision. I confess that we do not know what it should be at this stage, but I do know that it should help everyone concerned if it were possible to adjust Section 12 of the 1956 Act. I hope I have persuaded the hon. Member for Kilmarnock on this point. If not, perhaps he will let me know his further doubts. I have put my difficulties to him and I hope that he appreciates them.

Mr. Ross

Does not the hon. Gentleman appreciate that the right with which we are concerned is the right to ask for the information in question? The only difficulty he has listed is that of convenience in relation to a stipulation about time. Will he consider making some change in relation to his power to alter that time of twenty-one days, which originally was ten days in the 1956 Act?

11.0 p.m.

Mr. McInnes

I have a great regard for the Under-Secretary. I think he is fair and reasonable, but his opposition to this Amendment creates in my mind the belief that there is something sinister behind his deliberate attempt to block it.

The hon. Gentleman said that as a result of the revaluation there will be tens of thousands of appeals. It is over 100 years since we have had a revaluation of this kind. Revaluation was left to the whims and fancies of the local assessors, and they undertook a revaluation only as and when it suited them, spread over years. Here we have had for the first time a practical and exceedingly good system introduced in order to ensure that revaluations will take place each succeeding five years.

I regard Section 12 of the 1956 Act as fundamental to the whole system of appeals. It provides that it shall be the duty of the assessor, if requested by the appellant, to provide information upon which he, the assessor, founds his case. A similar duty is imposed upon the appellant to give the assessor the information upon which the appellant founds his case. There could not be anything more reasonable than that. It is a co-operative arrangement whereby the assessor shall tell the appellant why he so decided on such a revaluation, and the appellant shall tell the assessor why lie regards that revaluation as being wrong.

Section 12 is one of the most important provisions of the 1956 Act. I cannot understand why the hon. Gentleman, who is normally so kind and helpful in matters of this sort, should adopt a dictatorial attitude on this vital issue. I appeal to him to accept the Amendment.

Mr. Leburn

With the leave of the House, I should like to say one more word on this Amendment. I told the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) that I was sympathetic to his Amendment. I listened carefully to what be said when he intervened in my speech. I have also heard the remarks of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes). I, too, am very concerned about the rights of the appellant. That is an important factor. I have been persuaded by what both hon. Members have said, and I am prepared to accept this Amendment.

I should like to tell the hon. Member for Kilmarnock that we already have powers to change the timing, which I think will help in regard to the difficulty which has existed about the twenty-one days. I think that, on balance, I have been persuaded by the arguments put forward from the benches opposite, and therefore I propose to accept the Amendment.

Mr. Ross

With the leave of the House, I should like to express my appreciation—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

May I make the position clear? As I understand it, the hon. Member does not require leave to speak a second time when he has moved an Amendment, and neither does the Under-Secretary who is in charge of the Bill.

Mr. Ross

Thank you, too, Mr. Deputy-Speaker—thanks all round! I was about to say that the Committee and the House owe a great debt of gratitude to the Under-Secretary. He has been in his seat since a quarter-past four without a single break. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear."] I wonder where all the other Scottish Ministers are. It is all very well somebody saying, "Hear, hear." Whoever said it should be cracking the whip and seeing that one of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues was present to give him a chance to get a cup of tea. I begin to think that the longer the hon. Gentleman sits here, the better able he is to appreciate the points and the brilliance of the argument as put forward from this side.

The Under-Secretary's acceptance of the Amendment is no surprise to us, because in Committee we were able to persuade him by the force of our argument. We are glad that he has taken this step.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Ross

I do not know whether to press my Amendment in page 11, line 32, leave out subsection (4) and insert: (4) Regulations under this section shall not have effect unless approved by a resolution of the Commons House of Parliament. The Under-Secretary will remember our argument concerning the effect of the Amendment. It was because of Section 12 of the 1956 Act and our concern that matters should not be left to the negative procedure, whereby we should watch all the various enactments and pray against them, but that it should be the responsibility of the Government to bring them forward by the affirmative procedure.

I am not necessarily prepared to press the matter in view of the fact that the previous important right has been left in the Bill. Having made that explanation, I do not propose to move the Amendment.