HC Deb 24 April 1963 vol 676 cc332-7

(1) Any lands and heritages—

  1. (a) which consist of a park vested in or under the control of a local authority; and
  2. (b) from which the local authority does not derive net profit,
shall not be entered in the valuation roll for the year 1963–64 or any subsequent year;

Provided that this subsection shall not apply to any building comprised in any such park unless it is used for purposes ancillary to those of the park.

(2) In this section the expression "local authority" includes a district council, and the expression "park" includes any recreation ground or pleasure ground.—[Mr. Leburn.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Leburn

On a point of order, Sir William. There is an Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) to this proposed new Clause.

The Chairman

I propose, if the Committee decides to give a Second Reading to the Clause, to call the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry), if he wishes to move it.

Mr. Hendry

Further to that point of order, Sir William. I am not clear about what we are discussing. I had understood that a new Clause in my name, "Certain village halls not to be entered in valuation roll," was also to be discussed.

The Chairman

I said that that Clause would be debated in the discussion we have just completed. That is the position. What will happen now is that if the Committee agrees to the Government's new Clause being read a Second time the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to move his Amendment to it.

Question, That the Clause be read a Second time, put and agreed to.

Mr. Hendry

I beg to move, in line 2, after the first "authority", to insert "or a village sports club".

The original proposal discussed in Committee upstairs brought out considerable misgivings. Doubts were raised about parks where there was an occasional charge for entry and about areas in parks used for such purposes as bowling greens. My hon. Friend then gave certain assurances. At the same time he stated that the exemptions must be given out evenly, fairly and squarely over the whole of Scotland. If he is to give exemptions evenly and fairly and squarely over Scotland, I consider that he must in fairness give them to parks which are not vested in a local authoriy but in local organisations such as sports clubs.

There are many of these parks throughout Scotland, especially in the country areas. There are many in my constituency and I believe that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is well aware of one near his own home in the village of Freuchie where, I understand, there are a public park and cricket pitch belonging to the local cricket club. Both come within the definition of a park for the purposes of a new Clause, and so we shall have the extraordinary state of affairs that the park vested in the local authority will not be on the valuation roll, but that occupied by the cricket club will.

This sort of thing is serious in the countryside. There are many sports grounds in my constituency which are rateable and which I hoped would have been classified by the local authorities as charitable and so exempt from the payment of rates. However, that has not been the case. Some local authorities regard sports clubs as charities and others, for reasons best known to them-selves, do not. There is a certain inequity as between one area and another.

The best way to deal with the anomaly would he to regard all sports grounds which would otherwise come within the definition of parks for this purpose as exempt from rates and thus not enterable on the valuation roll. I have had the extraordinary experience of having to open a sale of work for the purpose of raising funds to pay the rates of a local sports ground. That is the height of nonsense, and I hope that my hon. Friend will see his way to adopt the Amendment and achieve justice for these local associations.

Many of the buildings on these grounds are used for public purposes and are essential to the well being of country communities. Buildings used purely in connection with such community purposes should be exempted in the same way as similar buildings belonging to local authorities. I am not sure whether the wording of my Amendment is perfect, but if my hon. Friend accepts its spirit he will be able to arrange for its redrafting in another place.

Mr. T. Fraser

I hope that the Under-Secretary will not readily succumb to the blandishments of his hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry). The hon. Member is trained in the law and frequently lets us know of his prowess in his profession. Although his Amendment proposes to include village sports clubs he did not take the trouble to seek to define a village sports club. Although we know what a local authority is, we have taken care to define it, but we do not know what a village sports club is.

Public parks vested in or under the control of the local authority are not to be entered on the valuation roll only if the local authority does not make a profit. If the hon. Member's Amendment were accepted, a park vested in any village sports club would be left off the valuation roll even though the club made a huge profit, while the local authority park would be left off only if it made no profit. This is ridiculous.

Mr. Brewis


Mr. Fraser

We have another lawyer joining in the fun now. He, too, has omitted to put down an Amendment to define "village sports club". If there had been genuine concern to give some relief from rating to those many amateur sporting and recreational organisations which are dotted about the country, many in villages but many in towns, I could have seen the point. I do not see the point of taking out of the valuation roll altogether some undefined parks which happen to be vested in undefined village sports clubs.

The hon. Gentleman did not even take the trouble to say what is a village. I do not think that a village is defined in any local government statute. Inasmuch as we define a local authority, a burgh and a county, surely it would be necessary, with an Amendment like this, to define a village?

It could be said that a village is a small community, but Cambuslang in Lanarkshire has a population of over 30,000. Is it a village? I am told that it is not a town because it has no council, and yet it is not a burgh. It is frequently described as the largest village in Scotland. Is it intended that the park occupied by Cambuslang Rangers, the local football club, should be taken off the valuation roll? I assure the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland and the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West that the local authority, which is the Lanarkshire County Council, does not make a net profit from what goes on in this park which is owned by Cambuslang Rangers. I think that the hon. Gentleman will see just how foolish the Amendment is.

Mr. Hendry

The hon. Gentleman will admit that I suggested to my hon. Friend that the drafting of the Amendment was probably anything but perfect, and I should have preferred my hon. Friend to address himself to the merits of the Amendment and not to the drafting of it.

Mr. Fraser

Before the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland could address himself to the merits of the Amendment, and before the Committee could consider them, they would have to be outlined by the hon. Gentleman. He has lamentably failed to do that. He failed to mention what he had in mind, although he referred to a cricket club.

Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)

Is cricket a sport?

Mr. Fraser

I do not know. Bingo is sometimes described as a sport. There are many recreational activities which many of us would like to see given rating relief, but we have had far too many subjects taken off the valuation roll. The proposed change in the new Clause is being made as a result of earlier concessions. I think that too many concessions were made in the 1956 Act, and I do not want any further concessions to be made when the Bill goes to another place.

I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will not say that he accepts the principle of the Amendment and will see that a suitable Amendment is made in another place. We are unwilling to let this Amendment go on that basis, and I hope, therefore, that the Under-Secretary of State will not give the Committee any foolish advice.

Mr. McInnes

I do not think that the Under-Secretary of State will require any encouragement to reject the Amendment entirely, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) said, it would lead to thousands of subjects being taken off the valuation roll.

It is all right to deal with a village sports club. My hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) will no doubt concede that there are probably 50 or 60 junior football clubs that come within this category because they all come from villages. In addition, local tennis, golf, bowling and other clubs could come within this category. One could carry on ad infinitum, and there would be no limit to the number of clubs which could be included under this provision. I repeat, therefore, that I do not think that we need to give the Under-Secretary of State any encouragement to reject the Amendment.

9.30 p.m.

Mr. Leburn

May I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) that I understand what he has in mind. That is probably because I live near Freuchie rather than Cambuslang. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the question of Freuchie. I do not think that ever before has a back bench Member been able to anticipate the mind of a Minister quite so accurately in considering a specific case.

At the same time, I thoroughly understand the other side of the question put by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) and by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes). I say to the hon. Member for Hamilton—although he may not follow this, some of his hon. Friends will—that perhaps it is a good thing that we have passed Clause 8 when we are making this reference.

The new Clause which we have been considering restricts exemptions from valuation to parks which are vested in or under the control of a local authority". I think that it would be right to stick to this principle and would be dangerous to depart from it. Whole communities benefit from the provision of public parks and recreation grounds run by local authorities. I think it reasonable that they should be exempted from valuation. To extend this provision to grounds under the control of village sports clubs seems to me rather different.

The village sports club, whatever its contribution to the community—and certainly, in the case of Freuchie it is a considerable contribution—enjoys beneficial occupation and it seems appropriate that it should be treated in the same way as a private sports club. It might be difficult to distinguish between them. That point has already been made. These clubs may possibly qualify for mandatory rating under Section 4 of the 1962 Act and they are eligible, I should have thought, for discretionary rating relief under the terms of Section 4. Such relief can extend to the whole of the rates. In the light of the full consideration given to this matter under the 1962 Act and of the view expressed by the working party and by hon. Members, I think that we have to be very careful not to widen this question of exemption from valuation and rating. I feel that the Amendment of my hon. Friend goes too far and that a park should come within the definition which we have laid down of vested in or under the control of local authorities". Alternatively, the provisions of Section 4 of the 1962 Act should be looked at for rating relief. In these circumstances, I hope that my hon. Friend will not press his Amendment.

Mr. Hendry

I hope that my hon. Friend will impress upon local authorities the desirability of putting the provisions of the 1962 Act fully into effect. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause added to the Bill.