§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Duke of Sutherland.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly:
§ [The EARL of DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]
§ Clauses 1 to 15 agreed to.
§ Clause 16:
§ Owners of certain subjects in counties may be charged with occupiers' rates.
§ 6. Without prejudice to the provisions of the House Letting and Rating (Scotland) Acts, 1911 and 1920, a county council or any other authority (not being the town council of a burgh) having statutory power to levy a rate may, if they think fit, levy upon the owners any occupiers' rate in respect of lands and heritages separately let for a shorter period than one year, but the county council or other authority shall allow to such owners a deduction from the occupiers' rates equal to two and one-half per centum thereof, and every such owner charged with and paying such occupiers' rates shall have relief against the occupiers of such lands and heritages for the full amount thereof without deduction corresponding to the period of occupancy and, so far as he fails to recover the amount payable by any such occupier, he shall be entitled to repayment from the county council or other authority upon lodging a claim on or before such date as may be fixed by the council or other authority, without prejudice to the light of the council or other authority to make adjustments with such owner in respect of any sum subsequently recovered by him in respect of such occupiers' rates.
§ THE EARL OF STAIR
On behalf of my noble friend the Duke of Buccleuch I should like to move the Amendment which stands on the Paper in his name to substitute "five per centum" for "two and one half per centum" I understand that the Lord Advocate in another place originally put this in and I should be very much obliged if the noble Duke in charge of the Bill could give us any reason why it was withdrawn.
Page 14, line 36, omit ("two and one half") and insert ("five").—(The Earl of Stair.)
THE PAYMASTER-GENERAL (THE DUKE OF SUTHERLAND)
I should like to explain briefly this clause. The clause empowers but does not require a county council to levy occupiers' rates from owners in the case of short lets, that is, houses let for less than a year. The owner, who is allowed a discount of 2½ per cent., is given the right to recover the amount of the occupiers' rate from the occupier and if he fails to do so he is entitled to repayment from the county council. The clause reproduces in modified form a provision which was formerly the law in counties but was inadvertently repealed. Under Section 9 (6) of the Representation of the People Act, 1884, the county council were authorised to collect occupiers' rates from owners, not only in the case of short lets but also in the case of houses let at less than £4 annual rental. This provision was included in the Statutes repealed by the Representation of the People Act, 1918. The clause as introduced in the Commons related to both short lets and houses of under £4 rental, but by an Amendment in Committee the reference to houses of and under £4 rental was deleted.
As previously mentioned, the clause allows a discount to owners of 2½per cent. in payment of occupiers' rates and provides that the owner is entitled to repayment if he cannot recover from the occupier. On both these points the clause is more favourable to owners than was the original provision in the 1884 Act which contained no such provision. The county councils found the power useful; and even after it was repealed in 1918 one or two county councils made administrative arrangements with owners to pay occupiers' rates in the case of short lets, such as of miners' houses. In burghs, town councils have a similar power. Moreover, in cases of small houses to which the House Letting and Rating Acts, 1911 and 1920, apply (that is to say, in most burghs and in certain county water and drainage districts), the rating authority are compelled to collect occupiers' rates from owners. The clause, therefore, embodies no new principle.
This Amendment seeks to allow owners who are called on to pay occupiers' rates a discount of 5 per cent. instead of 2½ per cent. as under the Bill. The rate of 1475 commission or discount was fully discussed in Committee in another place, as your Lordships may see from the OFFICIAL REPORT of the fourth day's proceedings, and particularly the following statement of the Lord Advocate at column 106:There is also this very important point that undoubtedly the most expensive compounded rates to collect are those under £4. The short lets are not so expensive—indeed, one of the landowners' associations from whom we received representations requested that under £4' should be left out and went on to say: 'If you are going to leave them in 2½ per cent. commission is not enough. It ought to be 5 per cent.' In other words they took the view that the ones that really troubled them were the ones under £4.The association referred to by the Lord Advocate was the National Federation of Property Owners and Factors of Scotland and the Property Owners and Factors' Association, Glasgow, Limited.
In one case where since 1918 there has been an administrative arrangement between the county council and owners whereby the latter pay occupiers' rates on houses under short let, the rate of discount allowed is 2½ per cent. as under the clause. The Government are against any increase of 2½ per cent. One serious objection is that it would give a higher rate of discount than that allowed under the House Letting and Rating Act, 1911; and this would be unwarrantable. Accordingly His Majesty's Government are not prepared to accept the Amendment.
§ VISCOUNT YOUNGER OF LECKIE
The noble Duke has, no doubt, made a very admirable statement in reply to this Amendment, but he has omitted the real question, which is whether this 2½ per cent. under the old Act is anything like sufficient under the new system which we are now, by this Bill, carrying into effect. No doubt some difficulty was felt in the House of Commons on this question. Personally I put an Amendment upon the Paper, which I do not now propose to move, in order to deal with it. It was originally intended that in this particular case no percentage ought to appear in the Bill at all, but that the various sheriffs in the different counties should have an opportunity of deciding what was and what was not a fair charge for the collection of these rates.
1476 The Amendment which dealt with this point was apparently ruled out of order by the Chairman in another place. It is difficult to understand on what principle he ruled it out of order, because the very next Amendment in the proceedings was an Amendment increasing a charge for superannuation. This was apparently dealt with and passed, while the Amendment to which I refer was ruled out on the Report stage, which appears to me, as an old House of Commons man, to have been a mistake. In other words, an Amendment which really does not affect the charge at all was refused and ruled out of order by the Chairman. It is hopeless in the circumstances to suggest that that be put right here. I do not think the Government could ask the House to waive privilege, because they accepted the ruling and the situation was accepted by them. Therefore I do not propose to move an Amendment, because I do not see why this House should put itself in the position of receiving a slap in the face, and having the Bill sent back. There it is, however, and the whole thing is in a complete muddle, and I hope and believe that if it is found that this 2½ per cent. is far too little to give, then the Government itself will in another Session put that right by a single clause.
§ On Question, Amendment negatived.
§ Clause 16 agreed to.
§ Remaining clauses agreed to.
§ First Schedule: