§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I am very sorry to have to trouble your Lordships at, I am afraid, some length, in laying before you the provisions of a most complicated and technical Bill, and I can only ask your indulgence if I do not make it as clear as I desire to make it. Let me ask the House, in the first place, to lay aside a great deal of the prejudice which may have been excited in your Lordships' minds by certain of the provisions of the Bill as first presented to Parliament, because, in the course of its passage through another place, it has received a great deal of amendment. For example, all mention of special provisions for London has disappeared from the Bill, and railways and special properties are no longer dealt with. There is no absolute and complete break with the local knowledge of parochial organisation, and the connection with the Inland Revenue is completely done away with. There is no question of that any longer. These very important changes have been made in the 1189 Bill before it reaches your Lordships, and therefore I ask you to approach it with a completely unprejudiced mind, so far as those considerations are concerned.
The general defence of this Bill is that the present rating system is lacking in simplicity, does not promote uniformity, and closes the road absolutely to future local government reform. The changes that the Bill proposes are not in the main changes of principle, but changes of machinery—elaborate, intricate, far-reaching changes of machinery—with a view of promoting simplicity and uniformity and the opportunity for reform. As to simplicity, I am not going to trouble your Lordships with many figures, but under the present system there are very nearly 13,000 rural rating authorities.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Yes. Under this Bill they will be reduced to about 650. The urban case is not so strong, but the rating authorities will be reduced by one half. Under the new system there will be no reason for the elaborate apportionment of estimates and expenditure amongst this enormous number of small rating authorities. I am informed that, in connection with the charges made for rating purposes, there were no fewer than 200,000 journeys a year which had to be performed by public officials in order to carry them through. All this we hope to simplify, and, perhaps more than anything else, there are provisions to consolidate the rates. Your Lordships are no doubt familiar with the fact that what is called the poor rate and the general district rate reached the rating authority as it were independently, so that there cannot be any proper correlation and co-ordination between them so far as the capacity to bear the burden by the ratepayers is concerned. Then I turn to uniformity. There is a deplorable lack of uniformity under our present system. Under the Bill, however, there will be but one valuation for poor rate and county rate purposes, and there are elaborate provisions by which the practice of assessment committee and assessment committee in the same county may be brought into relation, and, similarly, on a larger scale the practice between county and county assimilated.
That is the general defence of the Bill, and I will now attempt to describe its 1190 actual provisions. The general scaffolding of the English rating system, of course, remains the same. There is to be a valuation, there are to be precepts, rates, assessments, and a final appeal to Quarter Sessions. Those fundamental features remain. But there is a new distribution of function in nearly all these matters in the direction of that very simplification to which I have referred. I say "nearly all these matters," because I think it may be said that, broadly speaking, in precepting there is no change. The same authority whose duty it is to issue precepts now will, broadly speaking, still have that obligation—the county, the board of guardians, and so on.
Now I turn to the main point, rating and valuation. The great change to which the noble and learned Lord has already, in an interjection, referred is the disappearance of the parish as the rating unit. With the parish the overseer disappears. The rating authority in the county boroughs is the county borough; in every other area it is the district, either the urban district or the rural district, and it is never a smaller authority than those. There is a special advantage in having the larger unit in the country districts because, under the present system, there is an uncertainty in the burden which may be thrown upon the individual ratepayer, and it arises in this way. Let us suppose that in a parish some large property becomes unproductive from a rating point of view—some great works, say, become unoccupied and cease to pay rates. That does not change necessarily the apportionment of the rates upon that particular parish, and consequently, under the present system, the deficiency has to be made good by the other ratepayers, and a very heavy burden falls upon them. That will be altered, because we deal with much larger areas. The effect of this putting out of action of particular assessable units is spread over the larger area, and there is no such hardship as I have indicated.
I have said that the parish disappears as the rating unit, and it is true. Nevertheless, it is not true to say that there is a complete loss of touch with parochial local knowledge, because whenever a rating authority is valuing for rating purposes a particular parish then two representatives of the parish are, for 1191 that occasion and for that purpose, added to the authority. That was a change introduced while the Bill was going through another place. It preserves the great advantage of parochial local knowledge, and I am sure your Lordships will think it an improvement in the Bill. Next there is a provision under which there shall be regularity of valuation. At present it is left entirely vague, and there are all sorts of variety of practice. Sometimes valuation has not taken place for any number of years. All that is to be put upon a regular footing. It is to take place quinquennially; not that there is to be a complete recalculation every five years, but every five years the valuation is to be brought up to date. Then there is the great subject of deductions which are made from the gross value in order to find the rateable value. The House is aware that at present those deductions are made within certain limits upon the authority of the local body. Now, by the Bill, they are to be prescribed by Statute. They will be found in a Schedule to the Bill. That is in order to produce the uniformity of which I have spoken.
There is one matter affecting deductions to which I ought to call your Lordships' special attention. As the House is aware, the rateable value of agricultural land is only a quarter of the corresponding value in other hereditaments. Though that applies to agricultural land, it does not apply to the farmhouse. But the question of the farm buildings has arisen, and, in considering that question, the House of Commons came to the conclusion that, as the farm buildings had no object and no value apart from the agricultural land with which they were connected, therefore the valuation of farm buildings ought to follow exactly the same rule as the valuation of agricultural land, and the 75 per cent. deduction is inserted in the case of farm buildings.
I turn now from the rating authority to the assessment authority. Under the present law the assessment area is the union, and the assessment authority is the board of guardians or a committee of the board of guardians. Modifications in that system are introduced into the Bill. In a county borough the county borough council itself is to be the assessment authority. With regard to the rest of the country there are to be schemes which 1192 are to provide areas consisting of one or more districts which will be the new assessment areas. I think it may be said that the general pressure of public opinion has been in the direction of dwelling somewhat upon a smaller number of districts than a larger, and as the intentions of the Government have been explained up to now, they have been rather in the direction of including in these new areas a lesser number of districts than a larger as was at first suggested. The assessment committees in the county boroughs are, as I have explained, to be provided by the county borough councils, but are to consist not merely of county borough councillors. One-fourth of the members of the committee are to be representatives of the boards of guardians concerned.
But there is a further provision, the object being that there should be independence as between the assessing authority and the spending authority. Attention was called to the fact that the county council is a spending authority and that it would not be fair that it should be also the assessing authority. It is for that very reason that the Government have introduced into these committees other elements than the county councillors themselves. As I have said, one-fourth of the members of the committee are to be representatives of boards of guardians; but there is a further and a more far-reaching provision, that one-fifth of the whole body are to be neither guardians nor county councillors but, if I may use the phrase without importing any derogation, outsiders altogether.
Before the noble Marquess leaves that point, are not these outsiders to be nominated by the county council?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I think that is so; still, I do not think the noble Earl must suspect the county councillor of a desire to act unfairly.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
The great point is that they should not be part of the everyday administration of the county council, that they should be divorced from its ordinary policy and should look at matters with a fresh eye. I do not put it higher than that, and I am obliged to the noble Earl. In other 1193 areas than county boroughs the assessment committee is to be formed by means of schemes which are to include representatives of the rating authorities, representatives of the guardians and representatives of the county councils; it is to be a composite committee of that kind. As your Lordships are aware, the assessment committee is the authority to which the ratepayer turns when he desires to object to a valuation of his property which has been made for rating purposes. It is provided that the ratepayer may object to the draft valuation list or to the current list. He may object at any time and, thereupon, the assessment committee pronounces upon his objection. When the assessment committee has pronounced upon it the decision of the committee is retrospecpective; that is to say, it goes back to the beginning of the period during which the objection is launched.
Under the present system there is an appeal from the assessment committee to Quarter Sessions. That appeal is retained, but in a modified form. Quarter Sessions will still be the appellate authority, but it will be a committee of Quarter Sessions, a committee of justices. Moreover, there is a suggestion in the Bill that the Chairman of this committee of justices should be learned in the law and should not be a pure layman. This committee of justices, presided over, if possible, by a lawyer, will have all the powers of Quarter Sessions in the matter of rating appeals.
§ THE MARQUESS Of SALISBURY
Clauses 31 and 32 in boroughs the Recorder will sit as Quarter Sessions for this purpose and will sit alone. It is also provided, with a view of cheapening the procedure in the interest of the ratepayer, that solicitors as well as counsel should have audience before Quarter Sessions in these matters. Lastly, also with a view of studying the convenience and, if I may say so, the purse of the appealing ratepayer, the committee of Quarter Sessions will move from centre to centre according as it may find occasion. It will be a sort of judicial circuit in miniature bringing justice to 1194 the litigant instead of forcing the litigant always to go himself to the centre to seek justice.
With regard to the provisions for obtaining uniformity in valuation, there is a provision in Clause 18 of the Bill for what are called county valuation committees. Those are committee of the county council with representatives added from the assessment committees of the county. These valuation committees will attempt, by means of conferences and in other ways, to produce uniformity of valuation throughout the county. With one exception they have no actual power. The exception, however, is a very important one, because it consists in a provision under which they have the right to appear before any assessment committee in the county against any assessment and to appear also before Quarter Sessions in any appeal. The same principle is carried one step further. There are to be not only county valuation committees but a Central Valuation Committee sitting, that is to say, in London. This Committee is to be created under a, scheme formulated by the Minister of Health after consultation with the local authorities. This is under Clause 57. They will consist of representatives of the rating authorities, of the county valuation committees and of the assessment committees. These, like the smaller valuation committees, will proceed by way of conferences to try and arrive at uniformity over the whole country. They will make a Report to the Minister, and this Report will be laid before Parliament, as would naturally be expected.
I have something more to say, I am sorry to state, but I have sketched the main outline of the new rating system as we ask your Lordships to enact it. There are, however, two matters, which I may call subsidiary matters, of great importance, to which I must call your attention. There is, first of all, the system of compounding. Under the present law, as your Lordships are aware, in respect of small house property the practice is that the local rating authority should come to an arrangement, subject to certain limitations laid down by law, with the owners of property in the localities as to what allowance should be made in return for the advantage of the rates being collected by the landlord. That is what is called 1195 the system of compounding. I need not say that the system of compounding is not done away with, but is very much improved. I may remind your Lordships that this system of compounding applies only to hereditaments that are held on less than quarterly tenancies—that is to say, held only for short tenancies.
There are two main provisions. In the first place, there is a compulsory provision dealing with very small property of less than £13 a year value. In that case the rating authority may make compounding compulsory by resolution. Thereupon they treat the owner, as the occupier, and they give him an allowance of ten per cent. That is what is prescribed by Clause 11. There is another, a more general, system of compounding which is voluntary. That applies to all property of less than quarterly tenure. There the allowances are divided into three categories. Where the owner undertakes to take the risk not only of vacant occupation but also of uncollected rates—when he, takes that very considerable risk, the rating authority are allowed to make him an allowance not exceeding fifteen per cent.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
No. In that case he has to take the risk of uncollected rates, but not of vacant occupation. The voluntary system is one which I am now going to describe to your Lordships. Where the landlord takes the risk of the uncollected rates only, but not of the vacant occupation, he is allowed an allowance not exceeding seven and a half per cent. Finally, if he is merely the agent for the local authority to collect the rates, and does not take any risk either of vacant occupation or uncollected rates, then the allowance is not to exceed five per cent. It was suggested in another place that these substantial allowances to owners were in a large measure passed on to the occupiers, and that, therefore, an occupying owner of this very small property was placed at a disadvantage as compared with the tenant, and very strong pressure was applied to His Majesty's Government in another place to produce some remedy. My right hon. friend the Minister of 1196 Health promised to consider it, and I am here to repeat that promise. I do not think it would be fair to leave the occupying owner without some consideration, and when we come to a further stage of the Bill the Government will have a suggestion to make on this head.
I have one other subsidiary topic to deal with, and that is the hoary question of the rating of machinery. If your Lordships will allow me, in the midst of this terribly dry statement, to indulge in a personal reminiscence, I may observe to your Lordships that when I came into Parliament in 1885 the rating of machinery was already a burning question, and it has remained in exactly the same state as it was in 1855 until this day. But at last, if your Lordships are willing to help, the present Government hope, in the year of grace 1925, to solve the problem. At present there is any amount of variety in the treatment of the rating of machinery according to the union in which the manufacturer happens to live. In some places it is reduced to the lowest minimum, in other places—and indeed the majority of places—there is a tendency not only to rate the standing machinery—the shafting, the lighting, the motive power and all those things that are attached to the edifice—but also to include as much of the process machinery as possible. That is a very natural tendency on the part of the rating authority, which wants to get as much money as it can, and, therefore, desires to assess as widely as it can. The Government have applied themselves to the problem, and they propose to solve it in the simplest possible way by rating all the standing machinery, and not to rate any of the process machinery.
Your Lordships may say: It is all very well to use these wide terms, but what precisely do you mean by them? I have a general notion of what I mean by them—namely, very much that which we should call attached to the edifice when we are speaking of our own fixtures in our own houses. But undoubtedly there is a great element of doubt in certain cases where the two types of machinery meet, as it were, and for that reason it is proposed to create a Committee of five persons, to be set up by the Minister, to lay down in detail the dividing line between these two classes of machinery. Their Report is to be laid before Parliament and your Lord- 1197 ships will have an opportunity of objecting to it if you think fit. But even then a margin of error still remains. What if people cannot agree as to the precise application of the conditions laid down in the Report of this Committee? Then there is a procedure provided that it should be taken before a referee. There is a panel of referees, which is to be nominated by the Lord Chief Justice, and from these referees one will be selected to which the particular issue will be submitted, so that we hope we have stopped that hole. We have laid down the general principle, provided a Committee to give the precise limitation to the general principle and a court of referees to decide in individual cases how this general principle should be, applied. That is Clause 24.
I have now finished this very dull explanation. I have tried to confine within reasonable limits a description of this very intricate Bill. For many years a reform of our rating law has been called for. It is long overdue, and until this is reformed every avenue towards greater reforms in local government is barred. There is no means of dealing with the great problems which await us in the reform of local government until local finance has been placed upon a more regular footing, and it is with the object of achieving this end that the Government have prepared this Bill which I ask your Lordships to read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)
§ LORD CARSON
May I ask the noble Marquess whether it is the intention of the Government to refer this Bill to a Select Committee?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
No. I have received no such suggestion, and I think most of us would be convinced that if it were referred to a Select Committee it would not pass in the present Session of Parliament.
§ LORD PARMOOR had given Notice to move, as an Amendment, That the Bill be read a second time this day three months. The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I am sure we are all grateful to the noble Marquess the Leader of the House for the clear way in which he has stated what is undoubtedly a somewhat complicated problem. At the same time 1198 there are large numbers of your Lordships who, from personal experience in matters of this kind and in local government, know quite well that the complications which appear formidable on paper are quite non-existent when you come to practical business. The complaint I have to make against the Bill is that, instead of following right out to its logical conclusion the Report made in 1901 by the Royal Commission on Local Taxation, it has only followed it up to a certain point, and the whole position appears to me to be altered for the worse because some of the most important provisions—provisions which are essential to make a Bill of this kind of real value—are omitted. Let me say a word or two upon it, particularly in reference to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Carson, said about a Select Committee, which may be a solution of our difficulties with regard to this Bill.
§ One of the basic foundations in the Report of the Royal Commission for an improvement in our rating system was that there, should be one valuation for all purposes, whether rating or Income Tax. That no longer finds a place in the Bill at all. Secondly, the Royal Commission on Local Taxation, in making recommendations as regards machinery, made very important recommendations as regards the incidence of local taxation. I am not dealing with the way in which you rate farm buildings or machinery; they are special matters which I will deal with later. The Commissioners pointed out that while the present incidence of rating was maintained it was impossible to arrive at a fair and uniform system applicable to all the varying conditions which apply in the incidence of rating. That, I think, goes to the root of the proposals of this Bill and makes some of them of very little value.
§ They drew a distinction between services which are onerous and which ought to be national, and services which may be of advantage to particular districts, or particular ratepayers in districts, which were said to be beneficial to those ratepayers and in respect of which local payments ought to provide for the incidental expenses. As regards onerous payments, they included education, police, main roads, and the poor law. They said they were prima facie matters of national concern, and that the 1199 incidence of expense, so far as they were concerned, ought to be regulated not on the principle of benefit received but of ability to pay. That great question, the real question, to my mind, as regards what ought to be a very large measure of relief to the ratepayer, has been entirely omitted and put on one side so far as this Bill is concerned.
§ I entirely agree with shat was said in another place that the burden of rates is one of the most important considerations as regards many of our industries. I do not deny that for one moment, and it is not difficult, when we come to machinery and farm buildings, to suggest that those who would receive some relief in burdens would get a benefit as regards their business. That is self-evident; but that is only half the story. It is not a question whether machinery or farm buildings ought to have the remission which is suggested but it is whether, looking at the rating system as a whole, the large number of charges now placed upon it ought not to be placed on the national Exchequer. That is the real foundation which has to be laid before there is any great reform of our system of local taxation.
§ I am coming shortly to what the noble Marquess has told us as regards the provisions of the Bill itself, but let me take the case of machinery. I agree with the noble Marquess that this has been a point of contention for a long time, but the proposals in the Bill as it stands are really the proposals of the Royal Commission of 1901 which, as long ago as 1902, were adopted in Scotland. From that time to this we have been waiting in vain for a similar remission as regards the rating of machinery in this country. If the noble Marquess has in his mind—I have a note of them here—the recommendations of the Royal Commission in 1901 and the actual proposals applied by legislation to Scotland in 1902, he will find that they are in substance the same as the provisions of Schedule III of the present Bill, which deals with the rating of machinery. For my part I think the principle ought always to have been established that machinery which is not used in connection with the premises as such, but which is used for production or in industries carried on for the purposes of production, ought not to be rated for local purposes. There is nothing in this Bill except that which is 1200 to be found in the recommendations of the Royal Commission in 1901, and those recommendations are associated with a new adjustment as between matters to be paid for by rating and matters to be paid for by taxation, and also with the suggestion of new sources of local finance, which find no place in this Bill at all.
§ I pass on to another point to which the noble Marquess referred. In a very innocent way, if he does not mind my putting it in those words—
§ LORD PARMOOR
—he referred to the proposal, which was not in the original Bill but was introduced at a later stage, under which farm buildings were to have the benefit of the three-quarters remission which is given to agricultural land. He knows perfectly well that this was a bargain between the machinery owners on the one side and the agricultural owners on the other, and that through all this series of years, whenever remission was asked for by the machine owners, the agriculturists always objected and said that if advantage was given to the machine owner they must have some compensating advantage in regard to agricultural land. They are given that compensating advantage. It is a bargain, and, I dare say, quite a fair one, between agricultural owners on the one side and machine owners on the other; but it is nothing more than that. Over all these years an attempt has been made to find some basis of bargaining and it has now been arrived at in this form. I believe that the money remitted from these two sources is considerable and I have heard that in some localities it makes a difference of as much as 2s. or 3s. in the rate. But. whatever the remission may be as regards machinery owners or as regards the owners of agricultural estates, the burden will fall on other ratepayers and I think that when you are placing a burden of this sort upon other ratepayers, you ought at the same time to consider whether the ratepayers as a whole might not have been advantaged by bringing in other sources of property to which rates might be attached.
I do not for the moment wish to consider the question of one valuation, but I want to consider the valuation of railways 1201 and special property. There again they have a better system in Scotland than we have in England, and the system in Scotland is the one which, if I may say so, ought to be adopted. It is, moreover, a system which in substance was recommended by the Royal Commission in their Report in 1901. What could be more ridiculous than to attempt to rate a railway system by bringing it down to a particular area, whether it is a new assessment area or the old parish, and trying to ascertain what rental would be given by an occupier for an impossible piece of railway separated from the rest? It is ludicrous. The only persons that I ever understood to be inclined to support it were certain persons interested in the intricacies of railway rating, but it really is astonishing that a matter of this kind, a provision so obviously absurd, should not have been put right in a Bill of this character; and it is more remarkable, if I may say so, since the will to do right was with the Government draftsman, for he introduced a provision of a reasonable character but, apparently owing to pressure during the Committee stage of the Bill in the House of Commons—whatever that pressure may have been—this beneficent proposal was thrown on one side and withdrawn from the Bill.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I am dealing with this Bill as it stands, as a rating Bill. I should like to deal presently with the question of one valuation, which I regard as very important, but I want to deal now, if I may, with the proposals of the Bill as indicated by the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, and I hope that I shall be able to get through with as little trouble as he did. He stated that the Bill was designed towards simplification and, no doubt, there is a strong element of simplification in certain directions. But let us consider a little more closely what he means by this principle of simplification.
I will ask the noble Marquess to follow this test as regards assessment or valuation areas, as they are called. I will take Lancashire, which is a good test. At the present time there are 25 unions in Lancashire—that is to say, there are 25 assessment areas for rating purposes. What 1202 will happen if this Bill passes? It will take out of these areas in various places 17 county boroughs which are at present included in the unions. That leaves no fewer than 24 outside districts which have to be treated in some way or other under the scheme. I cannot imagine a more complicated idea, introduced under the plea of simplification. I think it is quite clear that, in a case of that kind, so far from having simplification as regards assessment or valuation areas, you will have nothing but difficulty and more complication than exists at the present time.
The next point to which the noble Marquess referred has really been immensely exaggerated as regards its influence on our rating machinery as it exists at the present moment. I refer to the parish authority. It really does not matter that you have an overseer and a parish authority; what matters is the assessment committee and the assessment area, and when you talk about abolishing these parish authorities I do not object to that. You do nothing more than take away an officer from a limited district or parish to which all parishioners have access in the first instance, and ascertain how they are rated and whether they are properly assessed. The noble Marquess told us that we should have a reduction from 13,000 to 650. No one knows better than he does as regards the country districts that it is not the overseer or parish which created any difficulties as regards our rating system at all. In my belief whether you have 13,000 or one is practically wholly immaterial as regards our rating machinery and system.
Now the two important authorities to which he has referred are the rating authority and the assessment authority. So far as the rating authority is concerned I think the Bill is a great improvement. The rating authority in the Bill is either the county borough, or rural, or district council area, and I think that is a great improvement. I do not share in the alarm expressed by some people at a similarity between the rating and valuation or spending authorities. I think the suggestion is exaggerated that anything wrong would be done under those circumstances. Then we go from that to the assessment areas. The assessment areas are the really important item in the Bill, and as the assessment areas or assessment bodies stand at the present 1203 time, of course, we have to wait and see what schemes may be made, but as I understand what the noble Marquess says about the assessment areas or authorities, they are to be either county boroughs or areas which are to be provided under some scheme dependent very largely upon the influence of the county councils. Everyone admits that the old assessment bodies in connection with the unions did their work extremely well. At the same time, although it is a mistake to suppose that you will have in all cases simplification, still if you were to have large areas properly constituted as suggested, I say frankly that would be an improvement in rating machinery, although there is a possibility of complications such as I have pointed out in the case of Lancashire. I certainly reserve my opinion. I think the noble Marquess hardly put quite plainly what he called the preceptive process. The change in the Bill I think is quite right. Instead of precepting on totals you come back to rating the ratepayer. Still, that is a matter of extremely small importance. I am talking as one who has been connected with county and guardian assessments, but personally I am glad it should be set right.
The only other point to which the noble Marquess referred was the compounding question. That question is altered for the better by the proposals in the Bill, but it is only an incidental matter. The only question is how far it should be compulsory and how far voluntary, and if it is voluntary what should be the percentage paid to the owner. No one would suggest that a Rating Bill which was to set right the whole machinery of rating areas and valuation in this country, as claimed, is at all necessary to set right a minor point which only affects rating in a minor way and practically to an inconsiderable extent.
I think I have dealt with the matters which the noble Marquess dealt with. That leads me, before I come to the one important point of all, to the consideration whether it would not be wise to have these matters, which are said to be matters of simplification, really gone into and considered by a Select Committee before this Bill is passed. I admit that at this late stage it is difficult to get postponement for such a purpose, but it is much more important in formulating a 1204 scheme of that kind that you should be certain that it is really a simplification and really will be to the advantage of the ratepayers and that these constant complaints which have been going on for years will no longer be heard in future.
That question brings me to what I consider to be the most important omission from the Bill. I think the whole scheme of rating reform is to a large extent invalidated by the omission of the principle of one valuation. When the Bill was introduced into another place there was one valuation of gross value for all purposes, whether local rates or Exchequer Revenue. Surely it seems at first sight almost incredible that a proposal of that kind should have been withdrawn—a proposal which I shall show in a moment has been supported in every independent inquiry into our rating system and one which, if I may quote one or two words of the Minister of Health, had the support of practically all the local authorities in all parts of the country. When I say that, I am aware that the proposals as regards London have also been excluded from the Bill, but I was one of those, and I am one of those, who believe in the London system, and whether it requires reform in certain directions or not it is based on one valuation for all purposes and has received the assent and consent of everyone for the last fifty years. It is admittedly one of the greatest improvements made as regards our rating system in this country.
Let me state how the history of this matter stands. This is what was said in the Report, which I have referred to more than once, of the Royal Commission on Imperial and Local Taxation. We sat for six or seven years, and we had as Chairman a Peer who was known for his great skill in dealing with Committees of this kind, I mean the late Lord Balfour of Burleigh. The Committee recommended that:There should be only one valuation authority in each county, and the valuation list of that authority should be the basis on which all rates and taxes for all purposes should be raised.
§ LORD PARMOOR
You have been fortunate in Scotland in getting many recom- 1205 mendations of the Royal Commission, which have not been applied in this country. I can only congratulate you. They have been to everyone's advantage in Scotland. Now let us look at what was the next step. There was the Report of the Royal Commission on Income Tax, in 1920, and in it occurred this passage:In considering our review of this part of the subject we may refer to the expediency of having one valuation for national mid local purposes in England and Wales, outside the Metropolis.The words "outside the Metropolis" mean that it is already done in the Metropolis. Therefore, you have to carry outside the Metropolis the same principle of one valuation for all purposes. In the final Report of the Departmental Committee on Local Taxation the matter is again referred to and the principle of one valuation is advocated. And it is not as though we were without experience. The experience in Scotland is specially known to the noble Viscount opposite.
§ VISCOUNT YOUNGER OF LECKIE
In most cases in Scotland a Government official is the assessor. That makes a very great difference in having the two valuations.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I am going to refer to that. I entirely agree with the noble Viscount. I think it is a great advantage. It is a great security not only that you have only one valuation, but that that valuation is a right one. Therefore I entirely agree. And that has been our experience in London.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I will come also to that. But whether they want it or not, speaking on behalf of the ratepayers and the Income Tax payers, I say without any hesitation that one valuation and one only ought to be applied for all purposes. In order to answer what the noble Lord has said, I will quote in a few moments some words spoken by the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Health in another place. In London it was said at one time that there was some difficulty under the Rent Restrictions Acts. That was not so at all in my view. A special Act was passed to deal with the matter. It is a matter of a special kind, a sequel of War legis- 1206 lation, which has really nothing to do with the general principles involved.
This is what was said by the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Health:I think it fair to say that apart from the criticism of the hon. Member for Fulham"—who, I think, is Colonel Vaughan-Morgan—and perhaps the criticism of one other authority, there is not a single authority in the country which does not approve of the principle of one valuation for all purposes. We have, for instance, received the approval of the National Conference of Assessment Committees, the Association of Poor Law Unions, the Association of Municipal Corporations, the County Councils Association, the National Federation of Property Owners.And then he goes on to say—The experience of London has justified the proposals which we now make.Therefore you have a principle accepted as right by every impartial inquiry ever made, and you have the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Health saying that all those various associations and all the local authorities are in favour of the same principle and that, as regards London, he appeals to its experience.
But he went on to make another reference to London. He said—In another communication which we have received from the Metropolitan Boroughs Standing Committee, 1924, it is stated that the system of London has worked well for half a century.He also said:—It will be agreed that having regard to the practical agreement of every one to the principle of one valuation it would be impossible to make any variation of the kind suggested."—that is, eliminating the one valuation—Such a variation would go right against our main proposals.And so it does. Here was a Bill introduced on the basis of one valuation for all purposes. That principle was supported in every inquiry and by every Commission and Committee, and practically every authority expressed itself in its favour.
Why was it withdrawn? I do not suspect a strong Government like the present being open to pressure upon them to withdraw what they regard as right in a matter of this kind. I do not think that the noble Marquess who introduced 1207 this Bill gave any explanation upon this point. I confess that the withdrawal of this proposal weakens the whole Bill as a scheme for rating reform, and I believe that when objection was taken to this proposal many of those who made the objection were really not aware of the difference between the Surveyor of Taxes and Commissioners of Income Tax, the Commissioners of Income Tax being for the protection of the taxpayer and the Assessor or Surveyor being the Revenue officer. The proposal was simply that he should take his part in assessment. And why not? Supposing you want unification, simplification, how can you find it better than in one valuation which applies to all parts of the country? There seemed to be a fear that the introduction of the influence of the Revenue officer would put up the standard of rating.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I quite agree with the noble Viscount. He is perfectly impartial. I think the notion that he was going to introduce a somewhat sinister element of a particular kind has no foundation whatever either in the history of this matter or in the position that the Revenue officer holds. Then let us come once more to the principle. Your Lordships will see the definition of gross value in Clause 68. There is nothing very new about it. It says:Gross value' means the annual rent which a tenant might reasonably be expected, taking one year with another, to pay for a hereditament if the tenant undertook to pay all usual tenant's rates and taxes ….Exactly the same definition comes in Income Tax legislation. The term there is "rack rental," but as between rack rental and gross value there is no distinction of principle whatever. Nor has any distinction of principle been found either in Scotland or in London. And yet, for some reason which has not been explained, this basis of one valuation which was introduced into the Bill, which, I think, is the essence of rating reform, has been put on one side during the progress of the Bill through another place.
As the noble Marquess has pointed out, the Bill goes into a lot of detail, with 1208 which, of course, it is impossible to deal on Second Reading. But, as I said at the outset, the objections on principle are the result of not having followed right out the recommendations of the Royal Commission which have been accepted and are in operation in Scotland at the present time, and which would provide a better system of rating on a firmer basis. It is because of these deficiencies that I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time this day three months, although, if I could, I would rather adopt the suggestion made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Carson, that it be postponed and referred to a Select Committee. I do not know whether I can make that alteration or not; if not, I must move my Amendment in its original form.
Leave out the word ("now") and at the end of the Motion insert ("this day three months").—(Lord Parmoor.)
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
My Lords, I should like to join in the opening words of the noble and learned Lord who has just sat down and to add my congratulations to those he offered the noble Marquess the Leader of the House on the exceedingly clear way in which he explained this Bill. He spoke, indeed, as if he had spent his whole life in listening to assessment appeals or else in sitting as a member of assessment committees. With regard to the Bill I confess that I feel it loses a great deal of its interest from the great changes which have been made in it since it was first introduced. So many matters of importance and, I might almost say, the only matter of principle have been left out of the Bill in the course of the discussions in another place. The principle of one valuation is one of them, but there were a number of others which have been mentioned in the course of the discussion—for example, the question of Crown property in London and railways. The omission of these things naturally makes the Bill a measure of much less interest than it would have been in other circumstances. All that is really left for your Lordships to do is to discuss a certain number of matters of detail, some of them more important than others.
I look upon this Bill as I suppose it was intended by His Majesty's Government as being a first step towards the 1209 reform of the Poor Law. That is a measure which I understand the Government will undertake in the course of next year. It is a necessary reform. And the way in which they approach the matter is by abolishing the work which is done in the direction of assessment by boards of guardians. I confess that I should look with a certain amount of alarm and suspicion upon anything which will add to the work of the county councils. They are overburdened with work at present, and although there are now a certain number of self-sacrificing people who come forward and perform the work of the counties, it is a diminishing class which undertakes it to-day. Up and down the country we shall find it more and more difficult in the coming years to discover people who have time to undertake this work, owing to the increasing burdens which are put upon them and of which this Bill is yet another example. For the moment I do not know that there is any alternative policy. Whether, indeed, it is successful in abolishing so many committees and authorities as the noble Marquess led us to imagine, I am not sure. I think the large number he mentioned included the overseers in the various parishes. I am not perfectly certain that they should be included in quite the same way. The figures, as I make them out are different. There are at the present moment 780 valuation committees or valuation authorities, made up as follows:—Assessment Committees, 670; Metropolitan Boroughs, 28; and county boroughs, 82. Those, of course, remain.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
I understand. The Metropolitan Boroughs and the county boroughs remain under the Bill. In addition there will be no less than 253 boroughs, 647 rural district councils and 784 urban district councils. Those, I imagine, are the authorities which will be set up under the Bill when once it becomes law. Should that be so, your Lordships will see that the numbers become very considerably increased from what they are at the present time. Most of the matters of detail upon which one may fairly say something have already been referred to, but I will take the rating of machinery. I am not sure on 1210 the whole that this has been dealt with in the most satisfactory way. A distinction is already made between different kinds of machinery; there is the motive machinery on which rates are paid and the process machinery on which they are not paid. There is already, therefore, a certain classification of machinery, and it seems to be possible to make yet another distinction between the classes of machinery and to allow machinery of one kind to go free and another kind to be taxed. Why should not machinery used for the manufacture of beer, machinery for the manufacture of luxuries and machinery of that kind be still taxed? Had it been possible to make a distinction betwen the purposes to which machinery is put, I cannot help thinking that it would have been useful to have allowed machinery of that kind still to bear its burden. When all is said and done, however much you may, quite rightly, exempt certain classes of machinery from paying rates, the rates have to be paid by somebody in the end, and the unfortunate ratepayer certainly deserves every possible sympathy. Machinery used for the purposes of luxury do not seem to me to come into the same class a the others to which I have referred.
In regard to compounding, it is not, I confess, a system which appeals to me, and it seems that in some cases the individual compounded for does not realise the burden upon him. He does not realise sufficiently, even although there is an obligation put upon him in a recent Act of Parliament, how much of the money he pays goes in rates and how much in rent. Therefore, he does not bring to bear upon the question of economy in local expenditure that anxious scrutiny that I should like to see. One of the reasons for the extravagance of a certain number of our local authorities is that under the system of compounding they do not understand how much they are bound to pay. If every person was obliged to pay separately the amount due from him in rates it would go a very long way in the direction of forcing economy upon local authorities.
May I draw your Lordships' attention to the question of Crown property? That, I think, has been taken out of the Bill. In the Standing Committee in another place a clause was carried 1211 against the Government which provided for the rating of Crown property. That, however, has been left out of the Bill, and I think it is only fair to say that up and down the country there is a feeling that Crown property does not bear its fair proportion of rates in this country. People think that they have to pay more because Crown property pays so much less. In view of that, there is a certain amount of discontent with our present system which might well have been got rid of had the clause proposed in the Standing Committee been allowed to remain in the Bill. Another detail to which some reference has been made is the question of how far the same committee will be responsible for assessing and spending. The noble Marquess gave us the composition of the committee and explained that one-fourth of the members were to have no connection with the council.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
I am obliged to the noble Marquess—one-fifth were to have no connection either with the county councils or the boards of guardians. That is an admirable provision, but I am not quite sure that it goes far enough. I am not certain that the influence of the unfortunate payer is brought to bear upon the county councils. One-fifth obviously leaves the majority well in the hands of the committees as they are set up. I am not quite sure either that the inequalities are altogether abolished. The Bill provides that it is always possible that a county borough should be divided into two for these purposes. If it is divided into two and a different principle is applied to the one part of a big county borough from the principle which is applied in another, those inequalities of which we complain so much at the present time will surely still remain. I do not feel sure when you come to the moment of appeals that you will really be able to promote uniformity. Clause 18 is intended to promote uniformity. I do not understand that these committees have any power. All they can do is to fight the assessment committees at Quarter Sessions.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
That is perfectly true, but it does not follow that the assessment committee will agree to what they propose, nor that when they appear before Quarter Sessions they will have any overpowering influence in persuading Quarter Sessions to meet their wishes. But it is perfectly true that this matter, and all those other matters to which I have ventured to allude, are really only points of detail, upon which I shall not venture to detain your Lordships any longer at this late hour of the evening. I do not propose to put down, nor do I think any of my noble friends propose to put down, Amendments to the Bill in Committee, but we naturally reserve to ourselves the right to take such action as we think well if Amendments are moved in different quarters of your Lordships' House.
§ LORD JESSEL
My Lords, I should not have ventured to intervene in this debate had it not been for some references made by the noble Lord opposite in speaking of London. I may remind him that when these resolutions were passed there was no idea of London being in the Bill, and the authorities concerned with London, being quite happy under the present system, passed the resolutions in favour of the Bill. When, however, it came to their knowledge that, without any notice, London, which is set forth as a model to the rest of the country, was to be introduced into the Bill, they reconsidered their decisions, and they came to the conclusion that if any amendments were going to be made London would rather like to have some different system from that of the Metropolitan Valuation Act of 1869. They desired that some improvement should be made.
One of the improvements which they want, and which I think the Metropolitan Standing Joint Committee now wants, is to have two valuations; for this reason: There is a great difficulty in London, because the assessments are based upon the rents. In some parts of London the rents are very heavy, and it is felt that if you value right up to the rents you are doing an injustice to the tenants, because they are not receiving any better service than their neighbours. Therefore the revenue itself is losing, in a way, by the 1213 present system. The assessment authorities do not like to assess right up to the rent, and they have not put on such a high rateable value as otherwise would be put on if there happened to be two valuations. The Minister has promised, when the Bill relating to London is introduced, to consider the question of having two valuations.
The noble and learned Lord opposite seems to me a little dissatisfied, and therefore is moving the rejection of this Bill. Although he has not got the one valuation to which he attached a great deal of importance, he must recognise that in this Bill a great many valuations have been got rid of. There were, as he knows, four or five different rates on a demand note in the county. Now these will, at all events, be simplified, and instead of there being so many rates as there were there will be two rates only.
Another point to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention is that referred to by the noble Earl opposite in speaking on the question of compounding. It is a great pity that the Act that was introduced to make the landlord say exactly what was paid in rent, and what was paid in rates, has not actually been carried out. It is very difficult to get that Act put into practice. The Act exists, but I am sorry to say it is constantly evaded. The authorities have gone into this matter, and they find it extremely difficult to collect personally from weekly tenants the amount of the rate. It is, in fact, almost impossible to do so. If you consider the salaries that you have to pay to the officers who collect these rates—and you have to have very good men, to pay them highly and, perhaps, to give them a pension—and if you consider also the number of collectors that you must employ to collect from these weekly tenants, you find that you lose a great deal more than you do by the compounding system. I can assure the noble Earl that that matter has been very carefully gone into, and it is felt that on the whole it is cheaper and more efficacious to allow the owners a rebate for collection than to employ so many rate-collectors who, naturally, must be well paid, otherwise they might abuse their trust.
As regards the rating of Crown property, all I can say from our London 1214 experience—and I think that in London we have more Crown property than anywhere else—is that the Treasury meet the various assessment committees in a very generous and fair spirit. There is very little difference of opinion, and on the whole the system works exceedingly well. I have nothing more to say about the Bill. London having been taken out of it, we hope that in the next Session of Parliament the advantages given by this Bill to the rest of the country will be granted to London in the new Bill that has been promised.
My Lords, the noble Lord below me (Lord Parmoor) dealt so exhaustively, and in such a well-informed manner, with this Bill that I do not propose to follow him into those details upon which he entered, particularly as I am nothing like so well equipped to do so. But I should like to refer to the general principles, which is appropriate to a Second Reading debate. I may say that when this Bill was introduced I welcomed it very much. I thought that we had something for which we had been waiting for a long time—the reduction of a very redundant number of small authorities, which, on the whole, I thought worked very inefficiently—I will not say badly, but at any rate very inefficiently. I thought that a great deal of unnecessary trouble was to be done away with, and that we were going to get a system of one valuation. On those points, I must say I very much welcomed the Bill an d its general principles, but I doubt whether, as has been said, it has been altogether improved in its passage through another place. I understand we have not got here the one gross valuation for all purposes that we have in the London system. That I must say I think is a very great loss, and a cause of inconvenience and expense to everyone concerned.
The, noble Marquess interrupted the noble Earl when be was referring to the reduction in the number of rating authorities. Is it not rather a farce to call a parish a rating authority when all that is done in a parish is something purely arithmetical? The parish receives a demand for a certain sum of money, and it simply has to divide that up among the rateable value and make a rate. You 1215 cannot call that parish a rating authority in any real sense of the word. It is not a valuation authority. As it happens, I have been an overseer myself. I know how clumsily this thing works, and what an absurd number of people you employ for small sums in poor country parishes. I should have thought it were possible, when altering the valuation authorities, to have only one valuation authority in a county. As I understand, counties are to be divided into assessment areas, and there is not to be only one valuation and one rating authority for the whole county. I should have thought that was an unnecessary multiplication of authorities.
With regard to this assessment committee which is to go from place to place, a committee of half a dozen or eight members, with two or three extra members to be added to it for the local district where it sits, will it not happen that the half dozen or so who always sit and know each other will act together? Their minds will work in the same way, and the two unfortunate people who come on here and there will be less and less considered? If that does happen will it not also happen that you will not get the best people to take on the position of these two extras on the committee? If so, it is not a system that is likely to give you any real assistance. You may get local knowledge, but unless considerable attention is paid to it I do not think you will find the best people taking the position of the two extra members on this committee.
There is the other question of the tribunal of appeal. I think the suggestion in the Bill is a Committee of Quarter Sessions, with some one learned in the law at their head, a sort of travelling tribunal of appeal which will probably be convenient and lead to uniformity. But what you have, not done in this Bill, and it really is important, is this: you have not dealt with that hypothethical tenant who has been a trouble to the law for half a century or more, and who has caused more expensive litigation than any other question connected with rating. Why could not the Government, when dealing with valuation and rating, do something to help to define that difficult question? It seems to me rather 1216 dreadful that you should leave this alone when you are trying to improve your system.
I was sorry to hear Earl Beauchamp say that he and his friends did not propose to put down any Amendments to the Bill. This is a complex Bill and presented to your Lordships at a late period of the Session. We are asked to pass it at short notice, and after, necessarily, a very inadequate discussion. After all, the Government might have given us this Bill a little earlier than December. The noble and learned Lord opposite suggested a reference to a Select Committee. I quite follow the Government's natural apprehension that if this Bill went to a Select Committee it might never get out. That is very true, but at the same time how is this House going to be able to exercise properly its function of revision and make this Bill, which is an entirely new departure in the rating system of this country, the best and most successful system which can be made, unless we are given more time or have some more detailed examination by a Committee?
I know the noble Marquess the Leader of the House wishes the Bill to be as good a measure as can be devised, and I recognise that, however much trouble we take, it may be necessary to have an amending measure in two or three years' time. It has come from another place amended up to the last moment in all sorts of ways and we have not had much time to consider it. There is little more time left in the present Session to consider it. If more time can be found for your Lordships to consider the Bill, I hope the Government will try to find it in the interests of good legislation.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I need not tell your Lordships that the concluding words of the noble Earl who has just spoken appeal very much to me. I have always desired ever since I sat in your Lordships' House, and on whichever side I sat, that there should be more time given to this House to do its work, and I can assure the noble Earl that I use my influence as far as it goes in order to obtain more time. I shall be able to give your Lordships a good many days between the Second Reading and Committee stage of this Bill, but I know that the noble Earl was thinking of a much longer period than that. That, how- 1217 ever, I am afraid is beyond my power. The difficulty of legislating under modern conditions is obvious and notorious. The time taken in the House of Commons is so enormous that if legislation is to be got through in a single Session it necessarily leaves us comparatively little time here. I have always held the view, and now I am not speaking as a member of the Government but as a private politician, that legislation ought to be carried on from Session to Session and that to bring it to an end at the Prorogation is a great waste of time. That is not a view which is largely held in the Party to which I belong and I am afraid you must consider it as only a pious opinion.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor, has moved the rejection of the Bill, and has done so upon the avowed ground, not of what the Bill contains but what it does not contain. He says that surely the Government, with its big majority, can do as it likes. I am afraid the noble and learned Lord has no experience of being in office with a big majority. If he had he would not talk in that light-hearted way as to what Governments with big majorities can do. Undoubtedly it is necessary when you are dealing with vast subjects such as this not to be discontented because you cannot carry all the reforms you want all at once. The thing cannot be done. You are obliged, when dealing with legislation of this sort, to give up many things which you would wish to have, if you are to save a considerable and important part of the measure; and consequently, as I said at the beginning of my remarks, there have been great changes in the Bill all in the direction of leaving things out.
I take railways merely as an example because the noble and learned Lord mentioned it himself. I do not know whether he is familiar with the clause dealing with railways as it appeared originally in the Bill, but it was an extremely vulnerable clause because of its vagueness, its necessary vagueness, and therefore not easy to get through Parliament. The subject bristles with difficulties. It requires a Session to itself to deal with railway rating, and I am not at all astonished that it was necessary to leave out railways. Then the noble and learned Lord said that we ought to have dealt with the whole question of rating as laid down by the Commission over which Lord 1218 Balfour of Burleigh presided in 1901. That is a vast subject. It could be dealt with, but it could not be dealt with at the same time as the machinery of rating. You must take one or the other first, and the Government, wisely, as I think, took the machinery of rating first.
Then the noble and learned Lord says that the great blemish on the Bill is that the one valuation has disappeared. There is in this country a great jealousy in the localities against any interference by the centre. Local life and local patriotism is to be met with every day, and on the whole it is very valuable. It is the vivid interest in local life which does so much to keep public interest and public service alive, and one of the forms in which it shows itself is great jealousy of interference in local affairs from Whitehall. I share it when I am down in my county, and therefore I am not at all astonished that my hon. friends in another place resented the presence of a Revenue official who was going to interfere, as they thought, with the valuation of property in their localities and to apply London notions and London standards to matters which ought to be dealt with according to the dictates of rural human nature. Accordingly they would not have it, and, though I dare say the noble and learned Lord, finding himself in command for the first time in his life of a large majority, might have forced it through, and perhaps we could have done the same—
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
—that is not a very reasonable method of legislation, and therefore we must be content to pass what is even now a measure of vast importance and huge scope and not try to deal with these other big subjects. I turn to the speech that was made by the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp. I share with him a certain apprehension that too much work may be thrown by modern legislation upon the county councils. One of these days Parliament will have to consider whether there must not be some new organ of local government, something larger than a county council and less than a Parliament, in order to cope with the kind of devolved work which increases every year. That 1219 is a very big subject, but undoubtedly one of these days it will have to be faced. In the meantime Governments naturally fall back upon the county councils because they are far better equipped than any other subordinate body.
I come next to some observations that were made regarding the rating of machinery. There is, of course, a tendency at first sight to say: Let us get within the scope of rating as much as we can and relieve the other ratepayers. But really that is not a very rational principle. After all, this machinery is used for creating the wealth of the country and one does not want to tax it more than is absolutely fair; and to apply to machinery principles which you would not apply to your own house is not fair. It is perfectly true that your house is rated in the same way as a factory is rated and all the fixtures in the house go to make up the rateable value. In the same way the standing machinery, all the shafting and all the main structural fixtures of the manufactory will be part of the rateable value. But when you come to the process machinery, the kind of thing that you can move about, you might as well have your piano rated or your arm chair. It is as distinct from the standing machinery as the examples which I have given. If you are going to be fair you must apply to machinery the same principle as you apply to any other hereditament in the occupation of any of your Lordships or of any other private individual. The line must be drawn somewhere and, although it is undoubtedly difficult to find the exact place in which to draw it—that is conceded—all the elaborate machinery which I attempted, I am afraid at too great a length, to describe to the House when I spoke before is designed for the very purpose of drawing that line at what seems to be, on the whole, the fairest place.
Something was said about compounding. There is provision in the existing law that upon the demand note there should be a distinction drawn between what proportion is rates and what is rent, and my noble friend Lord Jessel, who spoke just now, told your Lordships that the economy of compounding was so great that it was very difficult to forego it, even with the object which the noble 1220 Earl expressed, and with which I heartily sympathise, of bringing home to the ratepayer the effect of raising the rates, which he otherwise might not understand. As regards Crown property I really need not say a word, because my noble friend Lord Jessel has covered the ground. As a matter of fact, Crown property does accept a voluntary rate, which is arrived at by a conference between the Treasury valuer and the assessment authority in London, and also in the country, and no complaint is made that as a result the Crown property is underrated. Another point was made by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, who said that he did not think that the parochial members added to the rating authority would have any effect and that the permanent members of the rating authority would always decide matters their own way without reference to added members. I am afraid that I do not agree with him.
I beg the noble Marquess's pardon, but that was not what I meant. I did not in the least mean that they would be overridden. I merely suggested that as six gentlemen would always be acting together it would come more natural for them to act together and the two additional members would not count for much when they came.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
They would count for a good deal because they would have invaluable local knowledge. They would be the people who would really know, and any amount of acting together would not make up for that. They would say to the others: "If you lived in Slocum Parva you would know more than that; you would realise at once that what we say is true and that you are talking nonsense." Consequently they would have great weight; the possession of actual local knowledge is a tremendous advantage in dealing with these questions. I have to thank your Lordships for the reception of the Bill. I do not know whether the noble and learned Lord proposes to divide. I rather hope that he will not, and I can assure him that there is no desire on my part or on the part of His Majesty's Government to crush out discussion of any part of the Bill. I propose to put the Bill down for the Committee stage for next Monday, giving almost a week's interval between the two stages, and I 1221 hope that the result of the Committee stage may be all that your Lordships may desire.
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, I do not wish to reply generally to the noble Marquess, although I think I have a right to do so as mover of the Amendment. This Bill was received by me for the first time this morning in the form in which it came out after discussion on Report in another place. To put the Bill down for Committee next Monday would give sufficient time, and I am sure the noble Marquess would give every opportunity which is possible within the limits of the time at his disposal. Accepting as I do his assurance on that point, and this being a very inconvenient time for a Division of the House, I ask permission to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and referred to a Committee of the whole House.