HL Deb 17 June 1879 vol 247 cc13-9

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee, read.


begged to ask the noble Earl who had charge of this measure, whether he had any objection to setting forth the objects of the Bill? Such a proceeding was the more necessary, because no statement of its objects was made on the second reading.


said, he had no objection to comply with the desire of the noble Earl—especially as some serious Amendments had been placed upon the Paper. The object of the Bill was to introduce certain amendments into the law relating to the valuation of lands and heritages in Scotland. As many of their Lordships were aware, there were various bodies in Scotland known as Commissioners of Supply. Now, it had been found extremely inconvenient that so large a number of persons as the general body of Commissioners of Supply for each county should be called upon to sit for the purpose of hearing appeal cases; and the principal object of that Bill was that the Commissioners of Supply of each county should themselves form out of their own body a Committee — to be called the County Valuation Committee—to whom should be delegated the same powers as the whole body at present had. That was the real object of the measure; but it also provided for what were called " misnomers," and provided an easy way of rectifying such misnomers. It further provided that, in case any person should feel aggrieved at his assessment, when made by persons who were not officers of Inland Revenue, and an appeal from their judgment might be brought before the Commissioners of Supply, there should be a further power of appeal to any two Judges of the Court of Session. Where the assessor was an officer of the Inland Revenue no appeal was allowed. The remaining part of the Bill was merely formal. It gave power to Commissioners of Supply by a majority of two-thirds of their number at any time to alter the place of meeting. These were the provisions of the measure. He hoped that the explanation he had given would satisfy his noble Friend, and that they would now proceed with the Committee upon the Bill.


said, the noble Earl who introduced this Bill had explained that its main provision was that, inasmuch as the whole body of Commissioners of Supply amounted to an inconvenient number, they should elect among themselves a smaller number. That did not seem a very logical proceeding, neither did he see any reason why all the owners of land in the counties should be compelled, whether they willed it or not, to submit a valuation of their land to a Committee simply of the Commissioners of Supply. For his own part, he should think that that was a question of which the whole body of Commissioners themselves were the best judges.


said, that if the Commissioners chose to sit as a whole body to the number of 20 for the purpose of investigation, instead of appointing from their body a smaller Committee for the purpose of hearing any appeal, there was power to do so.


said, that he should prefer to see the introduction of the word "shall," so as to make it compulsory on the Commissioners, in the first place, to investigate the case; but he had no wish to prevent the progress of the Bill in Committee.

House in Committee accordingly.

Clauses 1 to 7, inclusive, agreed to.

Clause 8 (Evidence to be taken if required).


said, he had given Notice of his inten- tion to move the omission of two clauses in this Bill—namely, the 8th and 9th; and, inasmuch as the question involved in both clauses was the same, it would be the most convenient course to move the rejection of both at the same time. Many of their Lordships were probably aware that, by an Act which was passed in the 17th and 18th years of the Queen, and which was amended by an Act passed three years afterwards, power was given to the Commissioners of Supply in burghs and counties to appoint such assessors and valuers as might be thought necessary; and a power was given to appeal from their decision to the Commissioners of Supply, and from the Commissioners of Supply to a Judge of the Court of Session. Now, the object of the 7th clause of the present Bill was to extend the right of appeal to all cases in which the assessors were not officers of the Inland Revenue. It was also provided that the appeal should be to two Judges, which he did not think was necessary; but he did not wish to raise any unnecessary objection to a measure which he thought would, in the main, prove a very useful one; and he did not think it mattered much whether the appeal went to one Judge or two. Clause 8 provided that if either party to any appeal or complaint to the Commissioners of Supply of any county, or the magistrates of any burgh, required at the hearing of any appeal or complaint that the evidence should be taken down in writing, it should be so taken. That was not the course at present pursued in all cases. He was not a sufficient lawyer to say whether the word "writing" would include "shorthand;" but, if not, he conceived that to take it all down in ordinary writing would be a very cumbrous mode of proceeding in these days of rapid progress, and he thought it would be incurring a very unnecessary expense. He had yet to learn that any dissatisfaction had been expressed with the present system. He thought, moreover, that the 9th clause, which required that in stating any case the grounds of complaint and the replies should be set forth, in addition to the particulars required by the Bill, very objectionable. It made appeals much more cumbrous and expensive. It would make more work for the lawyers; but he had great diffidence in using that argument in their Lordship's House; but at any rate he did not think they should go out of their way to make more work than was absolutely necessary for members of that Profession. He thought, also, that if this new method of stating cases for appeal, as provided by Clause 9, was adopted, the duties of the Commissioners of Supply would become very onerous, and there would be a difficulty in getting gentlemen to sit on the appeals. It must be remembered that the Commissioners of Supply were not a body of salaried officers, but a body of private gentlemen unpaid, and it would be impossible to induce them to spend a large portion of their time in hearing the long discussions which would be likely to arise under these clauses. It would probably be replied that it was only necessary to take the evidence in writing in certain cases; but he ventured to think, if they read Clause 9 carefully, it would be found to be necessary to take evidence in writing in every case—and for the reason that if they went to the Court of Session the case stated must contain the evidence, and if none was taken there could be no case stated. In his mind, to require the evidence to be taken in writing was virtually pre-judging the case; because, if before the case was begun to be heard one party requested that the evidence should be taken down in writing, it showed that he meant to be dissatisfied with the finding of the Commissioners. Again, he did not think that there should be an appeal given in the case where the assessor was not an Inland Revenue officer, and not incases where he was; and he might point out that in no less than 10 counties in Scotland the assessors were not officers of the Inland Revenue; neither were they in 45 burghs, including Ayr, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Greenock, Perth, Galashiels, Arbroath, and Stirling—these burghs included some of the largest and most populous towns in Scotland. He had, he thought, shown their Lordships that these clauses were not only unnecessary, but objectionable; but there was a further point—namely, the history of these clauses, and the manner in which they came to be inserted in the Bill. The noble Earl might possibly tell them that several counties and burghs had petitioned in favour of the Bill. So they had; but when they did so these clauses were not in the Bill. These clauses, in fact, had not yet been discussed. The Bill came up to their Lordships as having passed all its stages in "another place;" but, as a matter of fact, they were never discussed at all. These two clauses were only inserted in the last stage of the progress of the Bill, and he ventured to say that very few conveners of counties or magistrates of burghs knew of their existence; and, most certainly, no opportunity had been given to them to consider the nature of the clauses, or how they would affect the valuation of lands. He, therefore, begged to move that Clause 8 be omitted from the Bill.


said, he must confess he was not prepared to hear such an elaborate argument from his noble Friend. He had not the slightest objection to take Clauses 8 and 9 together; but he was afraid that he could not accept the proposition to strike out Clause 8. The noble Lord objected to there being any distinction between the position of the Inland Revenue officers and other assessors; but he might remind his noble Friend that in the case of the 10 counties referred to, no such objection came from nine, and none from the burghs. The Bill had been introduced before Whitsuntide, and was read a second time three weeks ago, and before that time—indeed, before the Bill had left the other House of Parliament—these two clauses had been put in, and he had put off the Committee till now that there might be ample time for anyone to object to them; and yet only one county, that of Ayr, had objected. As a matter of fact, the two clauses were put in at the instigation of the Lord Advocate, who considered that inasmuch as there were many large manufacturers interested in this question of land valuation, and who might conceive that the judgment of the assessors was wrong, though they would probably find themselves mistaken, they would have a right to pay for their own protection, and it would be impossible for the Court of Appeal to judge of the merits of the case unless it had the written evidence thus before it. He thought it would be for the benefit of all classes that these two clauses should be retained. Then, again, with regard to the Commissioners of Supply, as he had already told their Lordships, the object of the Bill was to reduce the number of the Commissioners to a Committee; and he did not see any reason to doubt that such a proceeding would be beneficial. On these grounds, he opposed the omission of these two clauses.

On Question? Amendment negatived.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 9 (Case to set forth grounds of appeal, &c.) agreed to.

Clause 10 (Place of meeting of Commissioners of Supply may be changed).


said, there were several objections to this clause. He thought that if it was expedient to do this in any particular case, it could be best effected by a private local Bill, and not by this general measure.


supported the clause.


said, he did not feel very strongly upon the point, as he was not the original promoter of the Bill. He would, however, remind their Lordships that by the clause in question power was put into the hands of the Commissioners themselves, and that it was only by their strongly-expressed wish, and a vote of two-thirds of their number present, that their place of meeting could be removed. He had not had any communication on the subject from the promoters of the Bill; but if there was any strongly expressed wish upon the subject, he would withdraw the clause.


objected to the clause. In the first place, the place of meeting might be shifted at the mere caprice of the Commissioners; and, in the second place, it was well known that in some counties these meetings of the Commissioners were held, if not simultaneously, in rapid succession—in fact, he had known five meetings to be held in five days—and the greatest confusion would take place, unless there was a certainty as to the place in which the meetings were to be held. These meetings of Supply were somewhat analogous to the Quarter Sessions of England, and they were generally held at the county towns; and very great inconvenience would be caused if the venu of the meeting were shifted to another town 10 miles distant. In many cases, also, they were held subject to private local Acts, and no great good could be gained by shifting, unless it was from an inconvenient place to a county town. In other cases it might be inconvenient to change them from such a place as Lanark to the great metropolis of the West of Scotland.

Clause struck out accordingly.

Remaining Clauses agreed to.

The Report thereof to be received on Thursday next.