HC Deb 27 October 1966 vol 734 cc1336-40
Mr. Hugh Rossi (Hornsey)

I beg to move Amendment No. 201, in page 52, line 34, to leave out from 'security' to the second 'the' in line 36 and to insert: 'as may appear to the Commission reasonably sufficient to ensure'. The Clause as it stands enables the Commission to require a person charged with the levy to give such security as it may direct, whether by way of a charge on his interest in the land to which the assessment relates or otherwise…". It is apparent that if the Commission is to allow a deferment of payment of the levy for any period of time, or is to accept payment of the levy by instalments, it should obtain a security for these payments, particularly in circumstances where the person liable to pay the levy may have sold or otherwise disposed of the land which has given rise to the land being charged.

When the matter was discussed in Committee, my hon. Friends proposed an Amendment to delete the words which we are now proposing to delete and to insert in their place "reasonable security", but the Minister felt himself unable to accept the Amendment because he thought that it would derogate too much from the discretion which the Commission wished to keep to itself.

We argued that there should be a degree of flexibility for the individual. There is no person better than the individual himself to know what his financial resources are, and it may well be more convenient to him to offer to the Commission one kind of security rather than another. He may prefer to offer stocks and shares, or bonds, or an insurance policy, instead of other land, and what the Commission really should be required to see is that the security offered is adequate to cover the levy which is being deferred, that, and no more.

Nevertheless, accepting the difficulties which the Minister had, or found himself to be in, in Committee, the Amendment which we are now proposing makes it clear that the Commission retains the full discretion about the kind of security which it will accept, but at the same time gives a measure of flexibility which does not exist at the moment, and enables the individual to be able to negotiate with the Commission.

As the Clause stands, the Commission shall direct. It will give an order—"If you want a deferred payment, this is the security which we must have from you". We feel that we ought to be able to enable the individual to come back and say, "It would be more convenient to me if, instead, you would accept this, that, or the other, security. It is adequate, it is reasonable, and it will give you all the protection you want." Ultimately, of course, it will be for the Commission to decide. The Commission always has the last word, because under subsection (3), the Commission has the right to refuse to accept payment by instalment or a deferred payment of the levy.

As long as it has the right to refuse an arrangement of that kind it is able to say to the individual concerned, "We do not really want this kind of security. We do not like it." We have tried to meet the Minister's objections in Committee and leave the fullest possible discretion to the Commission as to the security that it is prepared to accept but, at the same time, by introducing the words contained in the Amendment we make it quite clear that the matter is negotiable, and that the Commission shall act reasonably in this matter and not just give orders. I hope that the Minister will see his way to accept this modest Amendment.

Mr. Skeffington

This is a matter in respect of which we would have like to meet the Opposition, because there is no philosophical dispute about this part of the Clause. The Amendment appears to be largely drafting and, except that it is more imprecise, it would make very little legal difference. It would still enable the Commission to require such security as it thinks fit, as the normal procedure. When a person is seeking accommodation the grantor is usually the person who lays down the conditions.

Even if the Amendment were accepted it would still be for the Commission to decide what was sufficient to ensure repayment, and it would require the security to be a charge on the person's interest.

We have looked into the matter very carefully, but the advice that we have been given is that the clarity and certainty of the present wording is very much better than that in the Amendment. The discretionary power still remains with the Commission under either form of wording, but because of the imprecision of the wording of the Amendment it might not be so much to the advantage of those seeking accommodation as is the present form of wording. There is nothing to prevent negotiations going on about the security, and I hope that hon. Members opposite will not continue to imagine that this will be an oppressive engine, trying all the time to grind down the faces of the landowners. This is not what it will have in mind. It will be a reasonable body, and the legal significance of the hon. Member's Amendment is no different from the significance of the present wording. Furthermore, it would be more imprecise. Those are two good reasons why the House should not accept the Amendment.

Mr. Graham Page

We want to make it as near a right as possible for the levy payer to be able to pay by instalments when he puts up a good case to the Commission for doing so. We want to remove all the obstacles to this. One of these is the language of the Clause, which says that the Commission shall require such security as it may direct. The Parliamentary Secretary called those precise words, and ours imprecise. I should be glad if they were imprecise. That is what we want. We do not want the Commission to be able to point to the Clause and say, "Here the Commission has to direct." It is the Commission which decides what the security shall be. The words of the Clause are quite precise and determined— such security as they may direct…". We would rather have some basis on which the Commission could exercise its discretion in those cases, and the words that we have chosen— as may appear to the Commission reasonably sufficient to ensure… express the way in which, in our view, the Commission should exercise its discretion.

5.15 p.m.

This requirement for security will be some sort of obstruction to what I called a concession last time but which I hope is not a concession, namely, permission to pay by instalments. I hope that this will be the normal procedure. The sort of case which may arise very frequently is that where the owner-occupier of a house which has a net development value sells his house, which has a mortgage on it, and is in the process of buying another house out of the proceeds of sale. He has to pay off the mortgage, pay the legal charge and the Stamp Duty on the purchase of the new house, and the legal charges on the sale of his old one. He possibly has to obtain a mortgage on the new house, and also to pay surveyors' fees and removal costs, and probably buy some new furniture, besides doing some decorations.

After all that the ordinary owner-occupier of a suburban house will not have much money left to pay any levies. He will probably find himself well out of pocket because, due to inflation, he has had to buy a house which is more expensive than that which he has sold. That will be so especially in the case of a family man, the size of whose family is increasing, requiring more space.

This is the sort of occasion on which he will find great difficulty in paying any levy if the house which he has sold has a net development value on which a levy is charged. He will go to the Commission and say, "I am sorry. I have not the money to pay the levy. All the money has gone in the expense of paying off the mortgage and buying the new house. I should like to pay by instalments." As the Clause is at present drafted the Commission would make its own decision about such security, and would direct that he should find some security for the payment.

If we can tone down the words and the whole tenor of this part of the Bill we shall encourage the Commission to grant permission to pay by instalments, first, without worrying about security at all, but if it feels that security is required, not to take more than is absolutely necessary to ensure repayment.

Mr. Skeffington

The hon. Member, as usual, has made a very powerful plea. We have looked at the question very carefully, and it seems to us that the present wording of the Clause gives a great discretion to the Commission. The Clause provides that The Commission may require… such security… whether by way of a charge on his interest in the land … or otherwise… Those words are precise. There is no doubt—exactly as is the case in the Amendment—that power rests with the Commission, which is right. The wording in the Clause certainly has the merit of being much more precise, and contains nothing to prevent bargaining between the Commission and the individual.

In substance, the hon. Member has not very much of a case. On the other hand, my right hon. Friend feels that as the Opposition considers that the Amendment provides a better form of wording he can accept it—perhaps with some misgivings as to the way in which his action will be interpreted.

Amendment agreed to.