§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD)
My Lords, I fear that the task to which I invite your Lordships is a somewhat tiresome and technical one. I will, however, try to make it as lucid as I can without deluding either myself or your Lordships into believing that I can make it interesting. Indeed, I have never regretted so much the fact that Ministers are denied the right of speaking in both Houses as when I reflect that my distinguished colleague might under such an arrangement have had the opportunity of himself making a bright exposition of this Bill. It is a-short measure, designed to deal with one or two matters of urgency in London and in the country, and those who are concerned departmentally have attempted to introduce some amending and supplementary provisions into the Rating and Valuation Act, 1925, which, I am informed by those who administer this Act, experience of its working has shown to be desirable. It would, perhaps, be the most convenient course that I should attempt a brief exposition of the scope of the Bill in relation to its clauses, and if there is any matter which I fail to explain, and noble Lords will 610 call my attention to it, I will do my best to supplement that omission at a later stage of the debate.
Clause 1 is, I think, not controversial. It carries out promises given in both Houses of Parliament during the passage of the Rating and Valuation Act, 1925. In fact, I think your Lordships were rather insistent upon the assurances upon which this clause has been founded. It extends, in effect, to London, the relief in regard to the rating of machinery which was given to the rest of the country by the Act of 1925. This relief is to operate from April, 1929, which is the date from which it will operate in almost all the provincial centres. I apprehend that that clause is uncontroversial. Clauses 2 and 3 deal with matters affecting the incidence of rates on certain classes of property in London and the provinces. Clause 2, with the First Schedule, makes a temporary provision as to the statutory deductions to be made from the gross value of certain classes of hereditaments, for the purpose of calculating the rateable value under the Valuation (Metropolis) Act, 1869, and the Rating and Valuation Act, 1925.
These provisions are designed to mitigate certain sharp increases of rate charges on smaller houses, which, on such estimates as it has been possible by expert people to make, seem likely in the absence of legislation to occur in London at the next valuation. The next valuation, as yore Lordships are aware, takes effect in 1931, and in many provincial areas the first new valuation under the Act of 1925 will take place on April 1, 1928, or 1929. I am advised that this matter must be separately considered in relation to the case of London and the case of the provinces. Let me then deal with the case which is proposed first in relation to London. At the last London re-valuation, which took place in 1926, there were, generally speaking, material increases in the rateable value of small properties within the Rent Restrictions Acts limits. The true gross value of these properties had risen since the preceding valuation, in many cases by as much as 40 per cent., reflecting the permitted increases of rent under the Pent Restrictions Acts, and quite disproportionately to the general rise in value of other rateable properties during 611 the same period. It fact, I believe that this disparity has not been defended or justified by any critic. If to these gross values the scale of deductions in the Act of 1869 had been applied, there would have been increases in the rateable value of these properties entirely disproportionate to the increase in any other form of property.
Parliament realised this disparity, and as a result a temporary Act was passed in the year 1925, providing for considerably higher deductions than those permissible under the Act of 1869, but applicable only to the current period of five years. Obviously then the period has come in which that legislation requires supplement. The Metropolitan authorities have given, I understand, deep consideration to the position which will arise when this temporary Act lapses, and the matter has formed the subject of detailed consideration between the Metropolitan authorities and my colleague at the Ministry of Health. I am informed that the authorities have not dissented from the view that ultimately, and as a permanent and not a temporary statutory provision, the scale of deductions laid down by the Rating and Valuation Act of 1925 should govern the determination of rateable values, both inside and outside London.
At the same time they have strongly pressed the practical argument in favour of reaching this result by gradual steps. Their argument, so I am informed, is that the occupiers of the class of property in question had their assessments materially increased in 1926, and we are told (and I confess the complaint seems to me to be reasonable) that it would give rise to widespread and justifiable discontent if, at the next period of five years, their assessments were suddenly increased even more than they were the last time, and such would indisputably be the effect of making an immediate recourse to the scale laid down by the Rating and Valuation Act, 1925. Accordingly the authorities in question propose a scale which is approximately midway between that and the present temporary seals which London enjoys. That proposed intermediate scale is the scale set out in Part 1 of the First Schedule of the Bill. The effect of the proposed scale on the rateable value of typical houses has been worked out, and 612 it can be made readily available to the curiosity of any of your Lordships who is sufficiently interested in the question. It is believed that it corresponds roughly with the reasonable requirements of the situation. So much for the case of London. I believe that there is a great consensus of opinion in favour of these proposals among the more experienced authorities who are concerned in the matter.
But obviously, equally there is a provincial case which must be established. The problem which arises in the provinces, though in some aspects it resembles, is not completely identical with, the London problem. It is similar to the problem which arose in London in the year 1926, in that in many cases for the first time the increases of rent under the Rent Restrictions Acts would be taken into account in estimating gross values. In the country prior to the Rating and Valuation Act there was no statutory scale of deductions at all. Each assessment committee fixed its own scale by methods which were sometimes arbitrary, and sometimes very difficult to understand. Where the scale of deductions fixed by an assessment committee was on the high side the application of the lower scale of the Rating and Valuation Act to the increased gross values might well result in sharp and really quite indefensible rises of rateable value. This in itself would not, it is true, necessarily result in serious increases in the actual rate charges falling on the tenants, because it may be expected that there will be a drop in the rate in the £ in most areas because of, and proportionate to, the admitted increase of the total rateable value; but certainly in one class of property such increase in rate charges may be very considerably increased by another cause.
The properties in question are almost invariably small houses, and I am informed that this case has been pressed upon my colleague, the Minister of Health, by more than one important municipality. The properties in question, as I have said, are small houses up to £20 gross value, where the rates are paid by the landlord under what is called the compounding system, and the tenant pays an inclusive rent. In such cases the landlord under the old law was granted a commission or allowance regulated by 613 Statute, amounting in many cases to 25 per cent. or 30 per cent., and in some cases to more, according to circumstances. In 1925 it was the opinion of Parliament, and I think certainly the opinion of your Lordships' House, that these allowances were unnecessarily high, and they were substantially reduced. Ten per cent., if I may remind the House, was fixed as the allowance payable where an owner is compulsorily rated.
I may be asked the question, and not unreasonably: How does that affect what the tenant will have to pay? The answer is that the effect of a decision of your Lordships' House in a Rent Restrictions Act case (Nicholson versus Jackson) was to pass on to the tenant either the burden (or the benefit) of any increase (or decrease) in the net amount of rates for the time being payable on his house. That amount is, of course, affected, consistently with the general law, inter alia by any alteration in the percentage of the owner's allowance. Those who give deep attention to these matters inform me that in extreme cases the increase in rate charges on small houses due, first, to increased gross value, secondly, to the smaller deductions therefrom which are conditioned by my hypothesis, and, thirdly, to the reduced owner's allowances, might amount to as much as an addition of 1s. a week or more to the tenant's increased rent. In average cases I am told that a conservative estimate of the amount would be about 4½d. a week.
This Bill is designed to prevent or to mitigate increases which on principle I think no one could seriously support, and the Bill tries to effect a purpose which I am sure will recommend itself to the House, in two ways. Clause 2 (3) and Part II of the First Schedule provide, as a temporary measure, for some increase in the deductions from gross value applicable to houses between £11 and £20 gross. The modified scale is so calculated as to secure that the rateable value in the new valuation lists of all houses from £12 to £20 gross shall be less by £1 than it would otherwise have been, and I am informed that this is a very sensible remission. Clause 3 deals with the other aspect of the matter—owner's allowances—and permits the 10 per cent. of the principal Act to be increased to 15 per cent., thereby, if my 614 argument hitherto has been well founded, reducing correspondingly the burden on the tenant. This particular matter, the possible adverse effect on tenants of cutting down compounding allowances should the Rent Restrictions Acts still be enforced when the Rating and Valuation Act comes into full operation, was discussed in another place on the Report stage of the Rating and Valuation Bill. Observing a superstition in tins House, I will not quote the ipsissima verba of the Minister who was in charge of that Bill. It is, perhaps, sufficient for me to say that he gave a definite assurance that this matter should be dealt with in the sense which, undoubtedly, the opinion of the House of Commons required and which is in effect, in my humble judgment, adequately carried out in the proposals which I now recommend to your Lordships' House.
I come now to the clause of the Bill which has certainly occasioned more difference of opinion than any of those which I have hitherto attempted to expound. I have had the advantage of informing myself as to the progress of the discussions in another place and, undoubtedly, the principal criticisms which have been addressed to this Bill have been directed at Clause 4. At this stage of the Bill I had better, I think, because your Lordships will naturally desire a more detailed and critical examination of it in the Committee stage, address myself, consistently with well understood Second Reading principles, to the purpose of the Bill, and when we address ourselves more closely to the details we shall be able to weigh the matter somewhat more carefully and critically in the balance. This clause was inserted at the request of the Central Valuation Committee. That Committee, after all, is a body consisting of persons with very wide experience in local government, set up by Section 57 of the Rating and Valuation Act, 1925, to advise the Minister of Health—and through him the rating and assessment authorities of the country—by means of representations which seem to them desirable for promoting uniformity and removing inequalities in the system of valuation.
We often hear complaints, sometimes cool and sometimes heated, as to the 615 speed by which we are driven in this House to pass what is described as premature legislation, and no doubt some foundation of truth may reside in those general charges. Nevertheless, I am a sufficiently old Parliamentarian to believe that on the whole where both Houses adopt a deliberate conclusion there is probably something, if only you could discover it, to be said on its behalf. I, therefore, assume that when Parliament in 1925 concluded that it was important to call into being some authority, specially experienced, which could offer advice to the Minister of Health enabling him to co-ordinate that advice for the purpose of his own communications with the rating and assessment authorities of the country, there was probably something to be said for the constitution of this particular body. At any rate, this clause has been inserted in this Bill, and presents itself for discussion, analysis and criticism in this House, at the direct request of the Central Valuation Committee.
This Committee has now been at work for some eighteen months and has produced a number of recommendations for the guidance of local authorities—which I am told have been much valued—dealing with points on which in the past there has been a very great lack of uniformity in practice. They have, however, found themselves faced with great difficulty because, in regard to a number of points on which they not only themselves desire advice, but have actually been invited by local authorities to offer advice, there is an admitted difference of opinion as to the proper interpretation of certain well-known statutory provisions. They have taken counsel's opinion on these points; but everybody knows that the opinion of counsel, however valuable, possesses in these matters small authoritative value, and the result has been, in the opinion of the Committee, that their power of securing uniformity by offering an authoritative opinion has not hitherto been established, and is not capable of establishment with the machinery at present at their disposal. At present the interpretation is in doubt in a variety of questions, principally, perhaps, because there is often not enough at stake in an individual case to make it worth any one's while taking the question 616 beyond the Court of Quarter Sessions, and it does not necessarily even get to the Court of Quarter Sessions. The decisions of a Court of Quarter Sessions are, of course, not binding upon any other Court of Quarter Sessions, and the consequence is that differences of practice have prevailed, and until some binding decision is obtained in the High Court the inconvenience of those deplorable divergencies of practice will inevitably prevail as between county and county.
If the uniformity of valuation which it was the principal contribution and object of the Act of 1925 to secure is to be attained, I am informed that a number of points of law of the highest consequence require to be resolved. They can only be resolved by decisions of the High Court. At present the only way of obtaining such decisions is for some rating authority to take an individual ratepayer to Quarter Sessions and thence to the High Court, at great expense to the ratepayer if he loses. I am told that the process has not proved itself to be popular among ratepayers who have been singled out for these preferential positions. Clause 4, which I am now discussing, proposes a cheaper and a more efficacious method of obtaining a solution of these matters. It will operate in the following way. The Central Valuation Committee, having had a point of this kind brought to their notice, decide to move the Minister to submit the question to the High Court. It would not be reasonable to suppose that the Committee are likely to go about attempting to discover interesting problems on which they may move the Minister to consult the High Court. It would seem to me to be more consistent with the practice of business people to suppose that the problems to which they would call the attention of the Minister would be such as were found in experience to be actually perplexing and sometimes even bewildering to the local authority.
Presuming they behave as reasonable people, one would imagine they would in all cases consult the representative bodies concerned. In this way the fullest publicity is secured, and there is no chance of decisions being obtained which would materially affect the interests of a number of persons without the repre- 617 sentative bodies whose business it is to protect those interests becoming aware of that which is proposed, and therefore being able, if thought desirable and legal, to oppose and perhaps even to defeat it. The Committee, after holding these consultations, will attempt to satisfy the Minister of Health that a substantial question of law has arisen. The Minister of Health is so satisfied, or is not so satisfied. I am sorry to say I do not recall at this moment whether the Minister of Health has special legal advisers of his own. If he has not, he always has the advice of the Law Officers of the Crown available to him. If then, after taking such advice, he is satisfied, he is empowered to put the question of law before the High Court. The Central Valuation Committee are empowered to appear and argue that a particular interpretation of the Statute seems to them to be the correct one. The representative bodies concerned, having been consulted, will be in a position to appear before the Court and argue the contrary contention. In order that the matter may be thoroughly argued the Committee are empowered, under the terms of this clause, to contribute to the cost or any party so appearing.
The Minister, for his part, will naturally put before the Court the argument for and against possible alternative interpretations; for, be it observed, he has no object except to secure, for the benefit alike of ratepayers and local authorities, an accurate and authoritative interpretation of the Statute. Whatever else may be supposed, it will not be supposed that the Minister's course of action will be deflected by any proposal which has not for its object to obtain an authoritative declaration of the law. The facts on which the case is stated would naturally be taken from the actual circumstances of an individual case or cases. The Court, after hearing both sides of the question argued—and probably not less competently argued than the case fought by some individual litigants whose professional representation might be of an inferior character—would give their decision. That decision would determine the interpretation of the Statutes, and would apply in all cases where the material facts are undistinguishable. The opinion of the Court will in due course be known to the local authorities. 618 and will guide them in making or reviewing the assessment of hereditaments of the class concerned, thereby securing uniformity.
I have thought it proper to explain somewhat in detail the nature of this proposal, for it has elicited some considerable criticism. It is claimed for it—and it will be for your Lordships to judge, after debate, whether or not the claim is established—that at the present moment there exists no method by which such authoritative decision as is necessary to uniformity in these matters, where uniformity is indispensable, can be obtained. It is claimed that the method contemplated in this Bill, requested by a highly expert Committee, approved by the Ministry of Health and by the House of Commons, will satisfy the difficulties which have arisen. I have had some opportunity of discussing this matter with my distinguished colleague. No one who knows his administrative skill would imagine that he would have approached this or any other question in an attitude of obstinate rigidity. Therefore I say at once that, while I do not anticipate that the Second Reading stage of this Bill will afford a very suitable occasion for the detailed exposition of such difficulties and doubts as are felt—because there is so much in this Bill that everyone, I think, must approve of, and no one would lightly undertake the responsibility of disputing its progress at this stage—when we come to the Committee stage, within the limits of such powers and elasticity as are conceded to me, noble Lords who have criticisms to bring forward will be quite sure that those criticisms will be very carefully and attentively considered. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Birkenhead.)
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, the noble Earl has given, as of course he would do, a very explicit and lucid explanation of this Bill. I propose quite shortly to state (and I do not think he would differ from it), what appears to me to be the purpose of the Bill looked at as a, whole, and then to say a few words in reference to the various matters on which he has spoken in dealing with the different clauses. When the 1925 Bill was introduced in the House of Commons, it included 619 a clause which applied the principles and statutory provisions of that Bill to the Metropolis. The Metropolis, as the noble Earl has stated quite accurately, has always been under a rather different code from the general rating authorities in the country. They have the system of the quinquennial valuation. They have also the system of supplementary and provisional valuation, and, in addition, as regards the deductions in order to reduce gross value to rateable value, there is a scale applicable to the Metropolis which would be applicable to but was not used in other parts of the country. I want to say at once that it seems to me quite an anomaly, in dealing with a Rating Bill, not to have included the Metropolis. When the Metropolis was not included, a promise was given by the Minister in charge of the Bill—first of all in the Session of 1926, and, if not then, certainly in 1927, and now we have got to 1928—that not only would proposals such as we have here, which are partial proposals dealing with specific points, be dealt with, but that a general Bill which would make the provisions of the 1925 Act applicable throughout the Metropolitan area could be introduced.
Another point I want to say a word or two upon is this. When the 1925 Act was introduced, it also included the principle of one valuation for all purposes, both of rates and taxation. I think that every expert authority or Committee, or Commission, which has considered this question, has expressed an opinion strongly in favour of the one valuation principle. For instance, the Royal Commission upon Local Taxation recommended that there should be only one valuation, and that upon such valuation all rates and taxes both for local and Imperial purposes should be charged and levied. That Commission reported in 1901. Subsequent to that, in 1912 there was a Departmental Committee, of which Sir Trustram Eve was Chairman. We all know that he has very special authority in these rating matters. That Committee were unanimous in thinking that we should have one rateable value for rates and taxes. Had that been done the provision in Clause 4 of this Act would have been unnecessary. I want to say a few words on that clause when I come to it.
620 The only way you can get real uniformity and equality is by having one valuation on the same basis throughout, and that valuation should be used both for rates and taxes. What is called the co-ordinating authority is, of course, the inspector of taxes, and the objection has sometimes been raised that a higher valuation might be sanctioned in those circumstances than would be sanctioned by the local authority. What we want, of course, is a fair valuation, as the noble Earl has said, and if it is fair as between all the parties concerned, it really does not matter if it is a little higher or lower. A certain amount of money has to be raised and if you distribute the assessments fairly that is the method by which you get equality and uniformity. That, again, was abandoned in the 1925 Act. When I come to say a word or two on Clause 4, I shall say that, although I agree with what the noble Earl said on the question of uniformity, yet whereas uniformity could have been easily and naturally obtained under the system of one valuation both for rates and taxes, it seems to me at least doubtful as Clause 4 now stands whether it is a workable clause.
Coming now to the clauses of the Bill, I think as regards Clause 1, without going into it in detail, that to be fair you must apply within the Metropolis the method of valuation of factory and trade premises which was applied to the rest of the country under the Act of 1925. If the noble Earl will give me his attention upon this point for a moment, I will tell him that as far as I am concerned the only objection I have heard to this clause is that there are about 10,400 factories which will come into the valuation. I take that from a report issued by the London County Council. In order that the Bill should be carried out as it stands, that is to say that supplementary and provisional valuations should be dealt with as provided in the words which appear in Clause 1 (2), you would have to have every factory, I will not say valued, but entered on the supplementary list before May 31, 1928, which is not a long time ahead. As regards actual re-valuation you would have to have it done before October, 1928. I am told that is not possible as a practical matter.
621 I do not want to dwell unduly on this point. We want to get, as the noble Earl said, a fair settlement. I am not speaking antagonistically, because I am in favour of the principle of the Bill. But what I think ought to be considered is a statement in the report made to the London County Council by a committee of which Sir Trustram Eve was acting as chairman. He said that an Amendment should be might to secure that the provision relating to the exemption of machinery should be applied to London at, and not before, the next quinquennial re-valuation. In principle, I should agree that the earlier we can apply it the more equitable the clause would be, but I am told that there really is not time to get a fair valuation, on the new principle, of more than 10,000 premises if you seek to get it before the next quinquennial valuation, which, as the noble Earl has stated, will be in 1931. That is a matter, therefore, which I ask the noble Earl to consider before the Bill comes up again on Committee stage. It is a business matter. It may be right or wrong, but that is the view taken by a committee of the London County Council. He knows, as I know, very well that there are provisions as regards the supplemental and provisional valuations which I think myself it would be difficult to apply to this very large number of places rated in a particular way for the first time.
The second provision he referred to was the ascertainment of rateable value. I entirely agree with what the noble Earl said upon that point and with the terms of the Bill. I think difficulties have chiefly arisen in connection with premises or houses which come under the Rent Restrictions Acts. They have been the main cause of the difficulty and your Lordships' House decided in a well-known case that the Rent Restrictions Acts should not be taken into consideration, or in other words that the provisions of the Acts must not be taken as altering in any way the basis of rating fixed in the Valuation (Metropolis) Act, 1869. I agree, and I think we must all agree, that the only question is how it can be done. Having had some experience of these matters, I have looked very carefully through the tables to which the noble Earl has referred. I am told that in one of these tables only there is an overlapping which makes the table not fairly usable for the purpose for which 622 it is intended. I do not want to dwell on that for the moment, but I feel certain that if the noble Earl learns from those who are advising him from a business point of view that there is a difficulty of that kind, it will be a matter which he will carefully consider before the Committee stage.
Then we come to Clause 3, which deals with compounding. Great differences have been made in the allowances for compounding rates. They have gone up, I think, as high as 33½ per cent. There again I think uniformity is of the greatest importance, and I hat the amount of the allowance should be fixed in a statutory manner so as not to permit the endless discussions which sometimes occur in rating cases as to what the percentage deduction should be in the case of compounding. The percentage, which the noble Earl has stated is perfectly fair and proper, and which I think is quite adequate, is set out in the Bill as 10 per cent., ranging up to 15 per cent. in certain cases. That is a fair adjustment. It gives a definite figure, and if you look upon the charge for compounding as really a charge in respect of the difficulties and liabilities which the owner carries out, it is sufficient. Therefore, so far as Clause 3 is concerned, I certainly have no criticism to offer.
Now I must, say a word about Clause 4. It may be quite true, as the noble Earl said, that the details of Clause 4 will have to be determined at the Committee stage, but the noble Earl himself, in the speech which he made, suggested that one cannot understand the principle of Clause 4 without having regard to the actual words which we find used in it. In the first place I want to say that I do not think that want of uniformity has arisen on a question of law. At my own Quarter Sessions, when I was Chairman, we had to reassess all the business parts of Buckinghamshire. There were many questions of fact and valuers had different views on different points, such as the best method of valuing tied public-houses, which is always a matter of some difficulty, but, though I charge my memory, I cannot recollect any question of law being raised. Looking back on the many occasions when I have sat as Chairman and heard large number of rating appeals, I cannot call to mind any case in which the question was not really one of fact when you came to look into it, 623 rather than one of law. This is extremely important because, if the difficulty is a question of fact rather than of law, you will not get the uniformity for which you are seeking in Clause 4, and the claim that the clause gives uniformity is not, to my mind, in accord with the real difficulty. It is uniformity of valuation that is required, and valuation is very largely a question of fact. I should have thought that nearly every point of rating law as a matter of principle had now been decided, or at least a great proportion of them, many having been decided by your Lordships' House. I do not say that outstanding questions of law might not arise, but that is not the difficulty. When you say that there is not uniformity in rating you mean that valuation has been made on different appreciations of the facts in one case and in another, and that is a point which, I think, you can deal with only by the method of one valuation.
Although I should like to see this Clause put into a workable form, I think the noble and learned Earl must appreciate that it is open to a great deal of criticism at the present time. To begin with, the Central Valuation Committee is a purely voluntary body, voluntarily appointed to represent certain valuation or rating authorities, and it has no funds of its own except those voluntarily placed at its disposal by the valuation and rating authorities interested in its maintenance. This body has to make it appear to the Minister—that a substantial question of law has arisen in relation to the valuation of hereditaments …The criticism that I am going to make on that point is, I admit, something of a verbal criticism, but I have much deeper criticisms to make as I go through the clause. What does the clause mean by "a substantial question of law"? Does it mean substantial as between the parties? That is the construction that has been put on the same words in the Indian Acts. That would mean that, if there is a sufficient sum involved in a particular case, then circumstances have arisen which would call the Minister's authority into operation under this clause.
§ LORD PARMOOR
Then I presume that the ordinary meaning given to "a substantial question of law" is substantial as between the parties. I do not want to make a false point on a mere drafting question, but I think that the words will certainly want altering and considering if the clause is in other respects workable. It goes on to say:… or of any class of hereditaments for the purposes of rating and that, unless that question is authoritatively determined, want of uniformity or inequality in valuation may result …I do not know the sort of point of law that takes away the difficulty of inequality or want of uniformity. I agree entirely that it is of the utmost importance, and I am strongly in favour of one valuation in order to have uniformity and to avoid inequality. The clause adds that the Minister may refer the matter to the High Court, and then we have these words:—and the High Court after hearing such parties as it thinks proper shall give its opinion on the question.What power will the Court have to hear any parties except those who volunteer to come forward? It is entirely a voluntary matter from beginning to end. The noble Earl knows that our Courts very properly refrain, whenever they can, from giving merely theoretical opinions, and I think that the Minister might ask and get no answer. Supposing that Mr. John Jones were asked to come forward on a matter of this kind. Mr. Jones says: "No, you have not interfered with my right of appeal; I am proceeding by the ordinary method and I shall ultimately get the decision of the House of Lords that I want to get." How are you to get him to come forward at this hearing? So far as I can see there is nothing that would allow the Court to bring any one before them except someone appointed by the Minister or by what is here called the Central Valuation Committee.
I say this with the more assurance because in similar cases which have arisen under the Industrial Assurance Act, 1923, the National Health insurance Act, 1924, the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1920, and the Indemnity Act, 1920, there have been in every case special provisions and rules have been made under, I think, Order 55 in order to make a hearing of this kind effectual 625 and to give the Court such grasp of the matters in question and such power of getting the right parties before them as to allow the matter to be considered by the impartial method which we, of course, expect from our Courts of Justice. I do not see how, as the clause stands, it can be properly worked, even with every desire to help it along in order to get, as the noble Earl says, a decision covering a number of cases, which, I agree, might be of great value. I think that the machinery is so imperfect and so out of accord with the ordinary practice of our Courts in determining matters of this kind, that you could not work it unless you have special rules such as have been promulgated in the cases to which I have referred. The clause goes on to say that the Committee may appear as parties—I presume they may appear by counsel—"for the purpose of supporting any contention." and that they maycontribute such amount as they think proper towards the costs of any persons appearing on the hearing for the purpose of supporting the contrary contention.Why should anyone appear to support the contrary contention? Rating comes back to the individual. The question is, for instance, whether a man has to pay £500 a year, or whatever it is, or only £100 a year. That is the real matter to be determined, and it is determined by the rating authority putting its case on the one side and the individual, who is concerned to have his rating put upon an equitable and fair basis, upon the other.
I agree with the noble Earl that a matter of this kind cannot be discussed in great detail at the present time, but I feel bound to say that the clause as it stands appears to me to be unworkable and out of accord with the practice of our Courts not to give theoretical opinions. There is no provision for getting the parties before the Court, and unless this is done there is no safeguard of any kind that a decision will be of value. There is one other point, which I should like to ask the noble Earl to consider. Is it intended that this procedure should interfere in any way with the ordinary right of the litigant to go to the Courts? May he go to the Divisional Court, or to the Appeal Court, in rating cases, and to this House? I 626 would like to that, because when there is a substantial case involving large interests, the present provisions appear to me to be ample, and the decisions which have been laid down in this House in rating cases meet far-reaching points of legal principle. I do not want to dwell further upon this point at the present time, but the clause will have to be revolutionised, if I may use that expression, before it can work at all.
There are certain minor amendments of the principal Act, which the noble Earl said it would not be right to trouble the House with at this stage. Therefore I propose to follow the example of the noble Earl and say nothing with regard to Clause 5. I would, however, say this (and perhaps it is rather for the noble Marquess), that I think that the drafting of this Bill, up to that point, is exceedingly satisfactory. It is a complicated topic, although it can be made perfectly lucid, as the noble Earl has shown, and when we get to the end of Clause 5, we get back to legislation by reference. I hope that when the time comes for considering this matter in Committee, this House will make a final stand against the absurdity of legislating by reference, unless your Lordships wish to make the law so unintelligible that no one can understand it. I will not say anything more at the present time. There is no desire on this side of the House to put obstacles in the way of dealing with the matter, but it is a subject of a complicated character, and I have endeavoured by my observations to assist your Lordships' subsequent discussions.
§ LORD CARSON
My Lords, I have no intention of debating the various clauses of this Bill in detail. In fact, I am not competent to do so, nor have I had the time that would be necessary to get together all the Acts of Parliament and the various decisions which are brought into this Bill by reference, as the noble Lord who has just spoken has said. It would be a matter of considerable length to do so. It is one of those Bills that no one will ever understand until he is paid to sit down and go through the various amendments that are made by this Bill and the Act of 1925. But I certainly wish to take the first opportunity that I have of speaking on this Bill, to enter my absolute protest against Clause 4 as at present framed. I am not at all surprised 627 to be told that a vast number of questions have arisen for legal decision under the Act of 1925, because it was pointed out, when that Act was before this House, that it was full of many difficulties and some absurdities, and we were only given a day or two in which to pass it. Otherwise, we were told, the Constitution would tumble over and the House of Lords would for ever cease to exist. We accepted the situation, as we always do at the end of a Session with a Conservative Government in power.
Therefore I am not at all surprised to be told that there are these objections, and that they must be got rid of in some kind of way. For the sake of uniformity, and I have no doubt with very good intentions, somebody hit upon Clause 4. If somebody would invent an easy way of having matters decided in the Courts of Law without the expense that now occurs, I should be the very first to support him, but if there is one matter above all others that this House ought to take care that a Government should not be allowed to do, it is that they should not be allowed to take from litigants the right of decision by the Courts and the right to argue their cases before them. That is what this clause does. I do, not know why there is this passion recently for either setting up autocratic bodies within a Department, or setting up tribunals ad hoc, which now is the fashionable way. Only a few months ago the Landlord and Tenant Bill was before us. They tried (and this House did something to prevent it) to take away certain matters entirely from the Courts of Law by that Bill, which left a great deal for the Judiciary to legislate upon. The result has been that agents and solicitors, and people concerned, are all warning everybody that they ought to have no transactions under the Act until the meanings are explained by the Courts. Now the Government want to get over that sort of difficulty by simply saying that the Central Valuation Committee may go to the Ministry of Health, show there is a very great question of law with regard to the rating of hereditaments, or a class of hereditaments, for decision, and ask him to take the case up to the Courts and have it decided.
In the old days, as I understood, and I had some experience as a Law Officer, if in framing your Bill you had any 628 doubt about it, you sent it to the Law Officers, and the Government had the care and responsibility for their own legislation. But now what you are to do is this: you are, without having any concrete case or parties before you, to go to the Courts and ask for their opinion. When that opinion is given I am not sure what is to happen. It does not say in the clause. All it says is that:—the High Court after hearing such parties as it thinks proper shall give its opinion on the question.Is that opinion to affect people who have not been heard? Is it to affect a number of people who may come within a certain class, but who may think they may have entirely different rights? If not, of what value is it? If it is a mere departmental matter to help the Department, then probably there is not very much harm in it; but does it mean that when John Jones, the friend to whom the noble Lord opposite referred, has a case to be considered, and he goes up before the Court, he is to be told that there is already a decision which has been given? He will say: "When was it made? Why was I not given notice of it?" Of course, they cannot give everybody notice of what is going to affect people upon these decisions being taken by the High Court.
Who is to state the case? I suppose the Central Valuation Committee. Who is to agree the facts, and the deductions from the facts? It is all to be stated behind the backs of the ratepayers. It may be a very convenient thing for a Government to be able to come forward when a ratepayer objects and to say: "Oh, you cannot do anything more, this is all closed; on such and such a morning we went before the Lord Chief Justice and one of his colleagues in the King's Bench Division, and it is all completely settled." "But," he says, "I did not know anything about it." "Well," is the reply, "you ought to have known, because everybody is presumed to know the law, and the law has been settled by this Court." Who is to settle the case? And then, if the Central Valuation Committee do not like the decision of the Court, are they to be able to go to the Court of Appeal? Are they to be able to go to the House of Lords? There is nothing about that in the Bill. "The Minister may submit the question 629 to the High Court for its opinion thereon," but how much further the matter goes I do not know.
This, to my mind, is the very worst kind of legislation you could have in the interest of the subject. I cannot discuss it now, because it will have to come on as a Committee matter and I am only discussing it in general outline. But I do beg of noble Lords to go into the question and be prepared when the matter comes up in Committee. There is no reason in the world, if this is allowed to be the way of deciding questions, why exactly similar provisions should not be put into Finance Bills. The Commissioners of Taxes might say: "Where we are assessing cases of excess profits we often have great difficulty; why not put in a clause in such cases providing that all you have to do is to state a case for the High Court?" I look with great apprehension on a clause like this, which, if put into Finance Acts, would take away from the taxpayer the right which he now has to challenge an assessment, which would then not be based on a general principle that may have been sanctioned by the Court. However, I have no intention whatever of opposing the Bill, which may or may not be useful—I will take that assurance from my noble and learned friend who moved the Second Reading; but I do hope that by the time the Bill comes on in Committee noble Lords will have taken some trouble to instruct themselves upon the far-reaching consequences of this legislation.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
My Lords, there are a few words that I should like to add to what has just been said by the noble and learned Lord. Clause 4 was dealt with exhaustively by my noble friend behind me, and yet I think no allusion has been made to the genesis of this idea of submitting abstract questions to the Courts. Some of us are very familiar with it. The Dominion of Canada got into the habit many years ago, before my time, of passing Acts submitting abstract questions for the opinion of the Supreme Court of Canada, and then, by a special clause, to the Privy Council here. The Privy Council was not bound to hear those questions, and said so, but the Privy Council, from the desire to be helpful, 630 did get into the practice of entertaining them, and the King in Council pronounces upon them when they come. I have had a long experience of these questions. I have decided scores and scores of them, and anything more unsatisfactory and more mischievous I do not know.
You get a perfectly general question brought up, without reference to specific facts—or, at least, there are no specific facts which enable you to deal exhaustively with the case; and then what happens? I have heard Lord Chancellor after Lord Chancellor say: "We decline to answer the whole of the questions which are put to us. To do so would be to decide ahead, to go into regions which we cannot survey, and embarrass at every turn private litigants who come hereafter." The result is that the tribunal confine their decisions to the most abstract questions, and speak in the most guarded fashion. Then all sorts of unsatisfactory results come up when the next private litigant comes along to have his case dealt with, and this decision on an abstract question is thrown at his head. You can pursue that practice usefully if you are interpreting the Constitution of a great Dominion. It is perhaps a very general question that has to be decided—what is the power of a Governor-General in a particular set of circumstances, or something very broad concerning the State as a whole. But when you come to rating questions I cannot conceive any region worse adapted for such methods, except, perhaps, a Finance Act.
I do not know what this clause means. When the King's Bench Division has given such an opinion what are you to do with it? Can you appeal? The Bill does not say so. In the Canadian Acts they say there is to be an appeal to the Privy Council, and the Privy Council, out of consideration, listens to it. But if you go with an abstract opinion to the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords, then I shall expect to find the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords demurring very much to undertaking a thing which is wholly outside their jurisdiction. If the Act of Parliament says they have got to, then they will have to. But until they are told that 631 they have to I doubt very much whether they will do it. I think this clause has been borrowed from the system which is so familiar to the Privy Council without sufficient consideration of the vast divergence between the two fields, and I think the result will be that it will give rise to question after question and lead to great confusion. Well, it is there. It is always a good thing to get an opinion from some competent body, and an opinion from a Court is an opinion from a very competent body. But how it can be binding, and whether it can be reviewed, and what it amounts to—those are questions upon which I hope that the noble and learned Earl opposite will enlighten us when he comes to address the House.
My Lords, I hope you will allow me to say a few words on Clause 4 from a practical point of view. I listened to the noble and learned Earl who addressed the House upon this clause with deep interest, and I found myself able to go with him in all that he said on behalf of the clause, but after he had said all that he had to say on behalf of the clause I found myself unable to accept the clause in anything like the form in which it stands. The noble and learned Earl told us that the Central Valuation Committee is a very useful body—I agree—and that they may find out that difficulties occur as to the meaning of some particular section of the Act which comes up for administration and with which they have to deal. I agree with that also. They may wish to have some sort of guidance upon it. I agree. They can, of course, apply to the Minister for the assistance of the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General, who are familiar with such matters, and give opinions constantly on such points. But that is not the course to be adopted. They want to have some opinions, and, as I understand, the procedure which has been referred to is then to be adopted for obtaining the opinion of the High Court.
Now, the Courts have always set themselves, and rightly set themselves, against giving opinions upon theoretical facts, and apart from concrete facts, and for this very legitimate and cogent reason. If you give an opinion without having the particular facts before you, you may find that you have overlooked some consideration 632 that ought to be borne in mind, and a later appreciation of facts may show that the interpretation given was either too wide or perhaps did not go far enough. There is, legitimately and rightly, a rooted objection to giving opinions apart from the concrete facts. The noble and learned Earl told us that the facts are to be taken from the individual cases. If that be so it means this. A particular case will have arisen. It will have been brought to the attention of the Central Valuation Committee, and by that Committee it will have been brought to the attention of the Minister of Health. The Minister of Health will then say that this is a, matter which, upon those concrete facts, ought to be decided by the Courts. So it ought, and there is the ordinary machinery by which it can be decided. But this clause suggests that you should ask for the opinion of the High Court. There is an amount of confusion of thought in this clause which is quite remarkable.
At the present time there is a system in operation under the Arbitration Act. If an arbitration is proceeding, there is power for the arbitrator to say: "I will state certain facts for the Court, and before we proceed further I will ask the Court to give an opinion upon this legal point which has arisen." I am referring to Section 19 of the Act. It is not very often done, but it can be done, and when an answer has been given upon the concrete facts the arbitration can proceed after the matter of difficulty has been cleared away. There is another system under which matters can be brought before the Courts cheaply and expeditiously. The noble Viscount who has just spoken will recall the fact that, beginning with the Vendor and Purchaser Act and now much more widely adopted, there is a system under which a point upon a particular contract or upon particular facts may be brought to the attention of the Court and a decision reached. That is a cheap and expeditious method. There is another method. You can proceed by a case stated upon certain facts, and you can take that case to the Courts. But this clause appears to mix up all these different methods and to ask that some decision shall be given.
Supposing a decision is given, it will be in the Department, and when the question is raised again with reference to 633 the point that has been decided, it will be possible for the opinion to be misunderstood, and, I do not say at all wilfully, it may be misrepresented, and this answer may be given to some person who is either consulting or dealing with the Central Valuation Committee. It may be said: "This point has been decided already. We had a case sent to the High Court and they decided it and we consider that that covers your case." That may be most unsatisfactory from the point of view of the individual ratepayer, who may desire to have the facts of his case considered and yet may be frightened on being told that the point has already been authoritatively decided by the High Court. Equally, it may happen that although the consultative opinion has been given by the High Court, if and when the matter comes in the ordinary course before the Court a different opinion may be reached upon different facts. Let me take the commonest case of interpretation that comes before the Courts in, I was going to say almost scores of cases every week but that, perhaps, would be too much, so I will say in scores of cases every term—the construction of a will. An originating summons is taken out. The facts are known, and it is upon the facts submitted to the Court that the interpretation is given.
It appears to me that this clause must be recast entirely. The draftsman will have to make up his mind as to what is the procedure he wants to follow. If he wants to follow the simple method of bringing the matter before the Courts upon a case stated with the facts found he can draft a clause to do that. If he wants to do more, then I say he is asking for too much, and I fear that the misfortunes which have been pointed out already will follow. For these reasons I find it impossible to support Clause 4 in anything like its present form.
§ LORD JESSEL
My Lords, when this discussion began the prospect of a very interesting debate was not foreshadowed. In fact, many noble Lords apparently were not taking very much interest in the subject. But Clause 4 has revealed a wealth of argument which makes me doubt a very easy passage for that particular clause into law. I do not propose to enter into the discussion of that clause because, no doubt, a great deal more 634 will be heard about it in Committee, but, as far as I can understand, it is not the substantial reason for the introduction of this Bill. There is only one point that I should like to put to His Majesty's Government. As this Bill applies mainly to London, will the proposed procedure under Clause 4 apply to London? Your Lordships may recollect that under the Act of 1925 a Central Valuation Committee was set up for the rest of the country and, as far as I can ascertain with my want of legal knowledge, that Committee has no power in London. Therefore, if there is any difference of opinion about the necessity it seems to me that this particular clause has no effect. I may be wrong, and perhaps the Government will give your Lordships' House some information upon this point.
My noble friend Lord Carson said in regard to other points that he would not say whether this Bill was a good or a bad one, but he accepted the assurance of the noble and learned Earl who introduced it. Taking the part of the country in which I have been interested all my life, London, I can assure His Majesty's Government that London as a whole is very grateful to it for having introduced this Bill in the present Session. I do not say that it has for once redeemed its promise—because sooner or later this Government, I think, always redeems its promises—to introduce a Bill of this kind in order to put London on the same footing as the rest of the country. I was rather interested in the remarks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor, upon a certain difficulty which he put forward in reference to Clause 1. The main purpose of the Bill is to give London the same facilities as regards the rating of machinery as the rest of the country; but he seemed to think—I hope he is wrong—that no change could take place until 1931.
§ LORD JESSEL
Yes—that there could be no change until the year 1931 when the next quinquennial valuation takes place. I might remind the noble and learned Lord that, the enactments relating to the rating of machinery do not come into force in the rest of the country until 1929. Therefore, so far as I can make out, for two years London would be penalised in 635 comparison with the rest of the country by the absence of some power to deal with that question. That, I take it, is the question at issue.
§ LORD PARMOOR
If I may be permitted to correct the noble Lord, that is not my question at issue. I desire it to be done as soon as possible. But owing to the technical difficulties, can it be done before that time? That is what I asked.
§ LORD JESSEL
Exactly; I am glad to hear the noble and learned Lord say that. As I read the Bill, no amendment of the law takes place until 1929 in the rest of the country. But surely, there is provision in this Bill to remove that state of affairs by including the rating of machinery in a supplementary list? The other point to which I should like to allude is that the purpose of this Bill is the adjustment of possible hardships owing to the Rent Restrictions Acts. I think we are all agreed with the very careful comments that the noble Lord opposite (Lord Parmoor) made. He is such a past-master on these questions of rating. I think we are all agreed, too, that by the provisions of this Bill any injustice to London would be removed. That I am sure must be agreeable to both sides of your Lordships' House. I was delighted to hear the noble Lord argue, as he always consistently has done, in favour of one valuation for all purposes. Unfortunately the Government departed from that great principle in the 1925 Act. The present system of one valuation for all purposes in London has been in existence for nearly sixty years, and it has worked very fairly and very well, and I am only expressing the view that many of us in London hold when I say that we hope no change will be made in that system. As the name of Sir Trustram Eve has been introduced into this debate, I should like to add that the Surveyors' Institute have also only very recently passed a resolution to the effect that no change should be made in that respect.
I am sorry that some slight amendments have not been made in this Bill in one respect, but that is a question with which I will not trouble your Lordships at this moment. I refer to making the borough in London the rating authority instead of permitting the board of guardians where they overlap into 636 two boroughs to remain the assessment and valuation authority. But that is a detail which I hope at some future date will be put right. I want to remind your Lordships that the purpose of this Bill is to give London the advantages that are given by the 1925 Act as regards rating machinery to the rest of the country, and not to allow London manufacturers to be penalised. Another purpose is to provide necessary adjustments in the scale owing to the Rent Restrictions Acts. I am only voicing the opinion of the majority of members in the other House when I say how thankful we are to the Government that they have introduced this Bill on a matter which affects the interests of so many individuals and the great manufacturers of London.
§ LORD MERRIVALE
My Lords, I do not desire to detain your Lordships with any detailed observations on the general scope of the Bill. As an old ratepayer in London, I desire to say that I agree with my noble friend who has just sat down as to the advisability of the changes proposed in the Bill, but I hope His Majesty's Government will seriously consider whether Clause 4 serves any really useful purpose. It is practicable at the present time for litigants to go to His Majesty's Courts to decide questions where the facts are agreed, at a small expense which really bears no unreasonable proportion to the importance of the matters involved. Anybody who knows anything about these rating authorities knows that if the facts are not in question and the parties are agreed and they want to know the law about the facts, they can do it at the present time. That is not what this clause was proposed for; at least that is what I suspect. I believe this clause is intended to lend the cloak of judicial authority to administrative proceedings. I think it is intended to give the sanction of the opinion of the Judge who has not heard the arguments of interested parties to views which are held by the Departments which are concerned in rating. It is to be borne in mind that assessment has a great deal to do not only with rating but with what we call the King's taxes. The original decision about all these matters of valuation is made by the assessment committee, and it is accepted by the authorities who collect the public revenue. That, however, 637 is a side issue. I am quite sure that those who favour this Bill do not intend to prejudice the taxpayer in any such manner, but there is a danger that this clause would forestall the ratepayer who was desirous of having a decision upon a matter in which he was concerned and would make the Judge the spokesman of the Department upon a case stated by the Department. As far as that is concerned, those who had much regard for public rights, apart from administrative power, in this country fought out the issue as long ago as the time of the Stuart Kings. It was decided then that it was not advisable that the Judiciary should be involved in the proceedings of the Executive.
I hope His Majesty's Government will seriously consider whether we cannot secure every reasonable object, every useful object which is in view here, by making a simple code by which interested parties may come to the Courts when there is a dispute and have decision upon it, by providing special facilities in respect of costs where one litigant or the other is unable to bear the burden of the costs, and by taking care that they do not put themselves in the position of preventing the ratepayers or taxpayers, who from time to time have a grievance, from coming to the Courts with the assurance that the matter has not been decided in advance upon an ex parte statement by interested persons.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
My Lords, I seldom admire my own profession as much as when, so to speak, I experience them in the mass. We have to-night had the advantage of many carefully considered arguments proceeding from Judges of the highest consequence and position. My only trouble is the complete impossibility of discovering any common ground, any intelligible or valuable principle that has proceeded from any of them, or of reconciling them even with one another. We have had, I believe, the advantage of several orations on the subject. I have been reminded of nothing more closely than of the occasion when I was a member of the House of Commons, and was strongly supporting the Court of Criminal Appeal Bill. That Bill was most vehemently resisted by the legal profession. A very humane member of that 638 profession, my friend Mr. Rawlinson, formerly the member for the University of Cambridge, produced about eighteen Amendments opposing it. He opposed on every ground, including the interests of prisoners, of whom about forty per cent. have since received the beneficial and merciful attentions of the Court of Criminal Appeal. I am not here tonight as any special advocate, certainly not as the artificer of this clause, but as one who has tried more or less to master the more elementary features in the logical presentation of a Parliamentary case, I must confess to some slight bewilderment in this matter.
The Master of the Rolls is a very distinguished lawyer, and a very old friend and colleague of mine. He tells me that in the presentation of concrete facts there is salvation. Though I am certain that my political nomenclature is very old-fashioned I was under the impression that all facts were concrete and that was their principal distinction from abstractions. I am sure I am entirely out of date in this matter also, but if any facts are corrigible, if we are to pursue the language of the political philosophers, they might be capable of plain exposition. Then I thought, if I may say so with great respect, that his argument was slightly inconsistent upon another point. He called the attention of the House with perfect truth to the fact that under the Vendor and Purchaser Act it was possible to put forward a very concise proposition, which I suppose would be exposed by a statement of facts, in order to obtain the decision of the Courts. With equal truth he pointed out that it did not exceed the rhetorical resources of our profession within a comparatively few lines to put forward a case suitable for the decision of the Courts. I should have thought that if it were possible to put forward, as it is undoubtedly possible, and as the experience of thirty years has shown, within the space of a concise formula, a proposition under the Vendor and Purchaser Act, if it is possible to do that, as universal magisterial experience shows it is possible to do, then I confess to some difficulty in understanding what great problem and difficulty and danger underlies this clause.
The noble and learned Viscount, who has thought deeply upon these problems, says he suspects the genesis of this 639 Clause 4 is to be found in some provision with which at an earlier stage in my career I was myself engaged in the Constitution of the Dominion of Canada. I assure the noble and learned Viscount that he very greatly underrates the aid of general data. If he will throw his memory back through legal history to the days of those jurisconsults of Rome upon whose teaching I believe he was nurtured or on which at any rate he deeply browsed, he will remember that alone of any technical class of lawyers in civilisation they claimed the right of founding conclusions upon general data. He will remember also that Sir Henry Maine very justly observed that in those cases where the data can be multiplied the means of evolving a general rule are enormously increased. I assure the noble and learned Viscount this is not the first case in which scientific jurisprudence has admitted of such a system.
My noble and learned friend Lord Carson, who, I think, has left the House, said: Take the case of John Jones. He is not a party to this case. A decision is taken against him in his absence. He is not even a party to it, but nevertheless he is bound by it. It appears to have escaped the analytical attention of my noble and learned friend that every legal decision is given in somebody's absence. You do not invite all the possible litigants in the world because you are going to decide a leading case. Nobody in the world has a right to claim that he shall be heard before a decision of the High Court or the Court of Appeal or the House of Lords is taken. You either have the luck to be able to put your own case if you are concerned in that particular matter, or you have not. Take a very interesting decision given by my noble and learned friend Lord Merrivale the other day into which delicacy prevents me intruding too deeply. It had something to do with hotels. It might be that another man who was not concerned might have strong views on the question. His interest might have been deeply engaged in a decision contrary to what I am sure was the entirely right decision, knowing his discretion, of my noble and learned friend. But he has no right to say, "I object to that decision because I was not party to it." Of course he was not party to the decision unless he had the, misfortune to be 640 brought into it. There never has been such a rule laid down as that a decision cannot be given affecting X because X is not cited as a party. He is affected by it in any event, but he has no grievance because he did not happen to come before the Court.
I am asked whether it is contemplated that appeal should end with the High Court. It is contemplated that it should end with the High Court. That is a matter which may very usefully be made the subject of discussion at a later stage of this Bill. Indeed, in much recent legislation the question has arisen as to whether or not it is desirable that particular activities of litigation should be ended with the High Court. I myself hold no strong views. Where the resources of the parties afford appeals I am a sufficient admirer of our hierarchical legal institution to desire that they should have the advantage in the last appeal of your Lordships' consideration. That is a matter which may very properly be made the subject of a debate at a later stage, but I do not think that justice is done to this clause, whether it be good or whether it be bad, when a suggestion is made, as it was made, by my noble and learned friend Lord Merrivale, that somehow or other Judges were to be made the instruments of administrative direction. I confess that astonished me. My noble and learned friend is very well aware of the admirable qualities and the independence of his colleagues. My noble and learned friend knows, none better, how impossible it would be to attempt to give an administrative direction to any Judge upon the Bench.
What is proposed in this clause? The clause says:—If on the representation of the Central Valuation Committee, made after consultation with such associations or bodies is appear to them to be concerned, it is made to appear to the Minister of Health that a substantial question of law has arisen in relation to the valuation of hereditaments or of any class of hereditaments for the purposes of rating and that, unless that question is authoritatively determined, want of uniformity or inequality in valuation may result, the Minister may submit the question to the High Court for its opinion thereon…I am the last person in the world to say that these words have been chosen with the last particles of drafting inspiration. 641 I did not draft them myself; but, at the same time, I think I can see quite plainly their general meaning. Their general meaning is: Does a certain set of facts raise a problem of law?
I was astonished that Lord Parmoor should suggest that a substantial question of law depended on whether or not £1,000 was involved in the case. He is as well aware as I am that a substantial question of law may arise whether the issue is one of 5s. or of £5,000,000. What is a substantial question of law is a topic that requires no considerable elucidation among lawyers. When we are dealing with the question whether the proposal is good or bad let us at least see that we are dealing with the actual proposal and not with some simulacrum of it. Naturally the proposition is that, where the authorities who are specially concerned in these matters feel that in the interests of uniformity some decision which will guide all similar eases ought to be reached, they shall be able to go to the High Court. Let your Lordships dismiss absolutely from your minds the idea that there could or would be any influence exerted by the Administration over the Judges. If you can put into a, short formula an issue under the Vendor and Purchaser Acts, as the Master of the Rolls reminded us that you can, in the form of a case stated, and if in many other matters which go to the Courts you can provide formulas which present facts, I confess to feeling some difficulty in understanding why it is impossible that it should be done in a rating matter.
I have pursued this argument only because, having kept myself so far away from lawyers, it is a great pleasure to me to meet them in such large numbers in discussion here. I could not resist the opportunity of improving my mind by these technical discussions. It is not the purpose of the Government to ask your Lordships to consider this matter on the Committee stage with any precipitancy. We all realise that the matters raised on this debate are of real importance and the Government will not ask the House to consider them on the Committee stage until after the Easter Recess. As I have already intimated to your Lordships, any matters that are raised when that stage is reached will at least be considered very attentively by his Majesty's Government.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.