HL Deb 09 December 1926 vol 65 cc1476-84
Class of Lands and Heritages. Rate of Deduction.

, on behalf of the Duke of BUCCLEITH, moved, in reference to Item 13, to omit "Twenty-five" and insert "Seventy-five." The noble Earl said:—The object of this Amendment is to place the rating relief in Scotland on the same footing as in England. In Scotland the rates are divided equally, or approximately equally, between the owner and the occupier, and also the relief which has been given by the various Acts. In 1896 English agriculture got the full relief. In Scotland the occupier got—I do not know the exact figure, but the equivalent of what under this Bill will be seventy-five per cent. The owner got nothing. I think it has been agreed by practically every political Party in the country that it is desirable to increase the number of occupying owners, and under the present Bill, if passed as it stands, an occupying owner will not obtain any of the relief conferred by the measure at all, or he will get twenty-five per cent.

I think it has been the experience throughout the country of the large number of fanner tenants who have purchased their holdings, that life with the present increase of rates is practically impossible for them, and that if this Bill is passed as it stands at present it means more or less a knock-out to practically all the farmers in Scotland who have bought their holdings. I think noble Lords opposite will agree that it is desirable that this particular form of ownership should not be wiped out, and unless the Amendment which I have moved is accepted by the Government it is practically impossible for occupying owners to continue as such.

Amendment moved— First Schedule, page 31, line 41, omit ("Twenty-five") and insert ("Seventy-five").—(The Earl of Stair.)


My Lords, this Amendment was moved in Committee of the Commons, and, by leave, withdrawn after discussion. The effect of the Amendment would be to put on houses and shops an additional amount of rates of nearly £300,000, assuming that the agricultural rates grant were continued at its present amount. As, however, the supplementary grant under the Agricultural Rates Act, 1923, is calculated on the basis of three-eighths of the agricultural owners' share of the assessment, the Amendment would automatically reduce the supplementary grant, and this additional loss (estimated at about £150,000) would be thrown on the whole body of ratepayers. In order to prevent this additional loss it would be necessary to recast the whole scheme of calculating the supplementary agricultural rates grant.

The Amendment is doubtless designed to remove the inequality in the amount of relief given to agricultural land in Scotland and England respectively for rating purposes. This inequality is the result, of the Agricultural Rates Acts, 1896 to 1923, which were passed specifically for the purposes of giving relief to agriculture. The Rating Bill, on the other hand, does not profess to give relief to any particular class of property. It deals mainly with the machinery of rating and, at the same time, endeavours to preserve as far as possible the present incidence of rates falling on the various classes of property.

Accordingly, if farther relief is to be given to agriculture it would be more appropriately dealt with in a separate Bill—a Bill for the relief of agriculture. Any provision for an increased grant to redress the inequality above referred to would be incompetent under the Rating Bill. It may be pointed out that agricultural land in counties will gain slightly (19sd. for each £1 of rates paid at present) owing to houses having been taken at zero. It may also be pointed out that farm houses in Scotland will get the advantage of the average deduction of 50 per cent. (owners 25 per cent., occupiers 75 per cent.). Farm houses in England get no such deduction—the 75 per cent. in England being confined to land and farm buildings other than dwelling houses. The Government therefore cannot accept the Amendment.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

VISCOUNT YOUNGER OF LECKIE moved to leave out Item 13, and to insert: ("Agricultural lands and heritages for "the purposes of the owners' share of "rates— in a burgh … Fifty per cent. in a county … Twenty-five per cent.") The noble Lord said: We have heard the noble Duke say that this is not intended to be an Act which does more than practically regulate the present system of rating, but here it does entirely the reverse. This places on agricultural land in burghs an exceptional charge, which is not at the present time levied—I suppose for the sake of uniformity. We are not accustomed to uniformity in Acts of Parliament as a rule, and we are certainly not accustomed to uniformity in rating. Why on earth a Bill like this, which the Government pretend is merely a Bill to regulate the present system, should make the owner of agricultural land inside a burgh in future pay twice as much as he does to-day, I cannot understand. At the present moment he pays only on one fourth of his rental; under this particular Bill he has got to pay on one half. I should like very much to have some explanation why this special provision is proposed. Why do you except only one thing? When you are doing a thing you might do it thoroughly.

There has always been great dissatisfaction as to the way owners of land are treated in Scotland as compared with England. In Scotland the landlord pays 86 per cent. of the rates, while the tenant only pays the balance. In England it is the other way round. The tenant pays most of the rates and the landlord the balance. The result is that in Scotland the landlord is ruined and in England the tenant. There is no reason for this matter at all. We ought to have a decent deal. I want to know, and I ask the noble Duke, why it is that in this particular instance of agricultural land inside burghs in Scotland they are doubling the charge at the present moment on the landlord and why it is that they pretend that this Bill is doing nothing more than stabilising and regulating the existing system.

Amendment moved—

First Schedule, page 31, line 41, leave out from ("13") to the end of the paragraph and insert: ("Agricultural lands and heritages for the purposes of the owners' share of rates—

"in a burgh Fifty per cent.
"in a county Twenty-five per cent.")

—(Viscount Younger of Leckie.)


My noble friend Lord Younger was quite right when he asked whether uniformity was the chief reason for the Government resisting this Amendment. It is quite true it would mean giving different rates of deduction to agricultural owners in burghs and counties respectively and to that extent it would be a departure from the principle of uniformity in assessment which is one of the things which the Bill is designed to secure. On this point it may be observed that the Bill, as first introduced at the end of last Session, provided for the following deductions to agricultural land: In burghs, 50 per cent. to both owners and occupiers: in counties, 25 per cent. to owners and 75 per cent. to occupiers. Numerous representations were received from rating authorities and others in favour of having the same deductions in burghs as in counties and these representations have been met in the present Bill. The effect of giving a 50 per cent. deduction in burghs to owners of agricultural land would be to relieve them to the extent of about £7,800, of which about £5,900 would form an additional burden on houses and shops.


Does the noble Duke mean in rating or in amount?


In amount. Another effect of such a deduction would be that it would automatically diminish to a slight extent the agricultural rates grant payable in respect of agricultural land in burghs for purposes of parish rates. The loss of grant would have to be made good by the other ratepayers. Three-fourths of the loss would fall on houses and shops. It may be pointed out that, as regards parish rates in burghs, the deductions set forth in the schedule, namely 25 per cent. to owners and 75 per cent. to occupiers, exactly reproduce the present position. The change introduced by the Bill is with respect to burgh or town council rates only. For purposes of such rates land used for agricultural purposes is at present allowed a deduction of 75 per cent. Under the Bill agricultural occupiers will continue to receive the 75 per cent. deduction, but the owners will receive a deduction of only 25 per cent. The effect will therefore be that agricultural owners will in future pay more in burgh rates than they pay at present. The increase will be rather less than three times the present rates because the 25 per cent. deduction will apply to farm buildings which at present would not appear to be entitled to any deduction for the purposes of burgh rates.

There is one other consideration which may be mentioned to your Lordships. In some cases, the same landowner will hold land both within and without the burgh and in such cases he will get a certain measure of relief from rates levied in the county area which will be a partial offset against the additional sum which he may have to pay in respect of burgh rates. The total additional sum payable by agricultural owners in the whole of the burghs of Scotland is estimated at £8,500 only. That is not an excessive amount for the whole of the burghs of Scotland. Owners pay approximately one-third of the rates levied by town councils, the remaining two-thirds being paid by the occupiers. There may be some point of principle to which the noble Lord does not agree, but the total effect is not great and I do not think it will be dangerous or disastrous in any way from the point of view of the agricultural landlord


I am very much obliged for the explanation given by the noble Duke, but it does not satisfy me a bit. I cannot see why this should be done. I have no interest in the matter personally as I have no agricultural land of any kind inside a burgh boundary, but there is near me, for example, a rather important case. Some time ago, thinking they had got rather a find, I suppose, the burgh of Dunfermline secured an Act of Parliament to acquire the whole of the land between the town and the dockyard at Rosyth, a distance of some four miles, embracing a very large part of the property of the noble Earl, Lord Elgin, within that burgh. I notice that the noble Earl is not in his place tonight. Why he should be asked to pay twice as much as he pays now in rates I cannot conceive, and I do not see why in this particular case there should have been any departure whatever from the principle of this Bill which merely carries matters on in, perhaps, a more clearly defined manner.

The burgh rates and county rates in Scotland are two entirely different things. The burgh rates are very heavy in comparison with the county rates. The police rate is a very heavy one. In my county, I think, it is twice or three times as much in the burghs as it is outside and I cannot see why these people should be punished. I see no reason for it whatever except some insane desire for a uniformity which I have not seen in any other Act of Parliament.


My noble friend Lord Younger is generally so reasonable that I do not like to leave his observations wholly unanswered. I want to make this admission to him at once. This Amendment differs very greatly from the last one. That Amendment, which your Lordships did not accept, would have transferred a very heavy burden from the owners of land to the occupiers of land, a burden amounting, it was said, to hundreds of thousands of pounds. That may be right or wrong, but it is not within the purpose or scope of this Bill.

I admit at once, as I said, that the present Amendment stands on a different footing. It is true, and I want to make the admission in a perfectly frank way to my noble friend, that the effect of the Bill as it stands is to increase, though to a very small extent as I shall show, the burden upon owners of agricultural land in the burghs. It does increase the share of rates which they pay, but, to begin with, the increase can hardly be said to be great, for in the whole of Scotland it is something under £8,000 a year—not a very big change in the incidence of rates. Secondly—I want my noble friend to take notice of this—this change does not stand by itself. It is a part of a general readjustment which, taken as a whole, will be found to be perfectly fair to the owners of agricultural land in Scotland, and, indeed, to be considerably to their advantage; for, if my noble friend will look at the White Paper which has been circulated, he will find that whereas the effect of the Bill is that the owners of agricultural land in burghs will pay £1 2s. for every £1 of rates they now pay, on the other hand the owners of agricultural land in the counties will pay something less than 19s. 6d. for every £1 they pay now.

If you treat agriculture as a whole and look at the effect on all agricultural land in Scotland, you will find by that Paper that the effect of the Bill is to reduce the rate on agricultural land to 19s.d. for every £1 of rates now paid. If the noble Viscount will take the Bill as a whole he will find it is not an unfair Bill to the owners of land. I think those very few owners who have agricultural land in burghs and none in the counties ought to have regard to the fact that, taking the Bill as a whole, it is very fair to tie industry of agriculture in Scotland.

I will add this. I believe that if this Amendment were carried it would reduce the grant in aid of agriculture in Scotland. I heard with some surprise on the last occasion that the agricultural grant for Scotland is less than in England. I could not understand how Scotland allowed that to be, but I have made inquiries and I have found that the cause of that is that as the owners pay half the rates in Scotland the grant was only made to the occupiers and, therefore, was less per £1 rateable than in England but I also found that Scotland took full care of itself, for, whereas they had to give up some part of the relief for agricultural land, they took the same amount in the relief of other rates and charges, so that the country as a whole lost nothing. But if this Amendment were carried you would reduce the grant to Scotland, because the grant is made, I understand, upon the amount paid in rates by the owners and, of course, if you reduce the amount paid the grant is reduced in proportion.


Is it not a fact that part of the grant is to be paid back to the tenant?


That may be. I am talking of the grant to Scotland as a whole.


I was talking of the landlord.


I was just putting before Scotsmen a point which I thought as Scotsmen they would appreciate. Scotland as a whole deserves some consideration and, if you carry this Amendment, you will reduce the grant to Scotland. I am sure that is one thing my noble friend would not like to do. But, after all, this is only a small matter. It only touches some £8,000 a year and if the House takes the view which I have put before it that the Bill as a whole deals quite fairly with the owner and does him no injustice it will support me when I say that we do not feel disposed to accept this Amendment.

On Question, Amendment, negatived.

First Schedule agreed to.

Remaining schedules agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment.