HL Deb 01 May 1928 vol 70 cc914-28

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, in the absence of the noble and learned Earl, Lord Birkenhead, I am moving the Third Reading of this Bill. In doing so it will be convenient, I think, if I state at once a matter which will shorten discussion. Your Lordships will remember that both on the Second Reading and on the Committee stage the discussion on the Bill centred almost entirely upon Clause 4 of the Bill, a clause which gave power in certain events for a decision to be obtained from the High Court upon questions of rating law. I have to inform your Lordships that, in view of certain considerations, which I am bound to mention, the Government have authorised me to say that we do not propose to press for that clause remaining part of the Bill. In making that statement, your Lordships, I know, will be indulgent with me if I explain in a few sentences why it is that we have reached that decision, because it would not be right. I think, that any impression should be left that because we have adopted that course the Government recognise that they have been guilty of some of the dire offences which the noble and learned Lords, Lords Merrivale and Hanworth, and I think others of your Lordships suggest. We were told in the earlier discussions that there was some hidden hand which was responsible for some dark conspiracy under which the jurisdiction of the High Court was going, to be ousted and under which the Judiciary were to be made the hand-maids of the Executive. I should like to assure your Lordships at once that those suggestions, so far as the Government are concerned, are certainly not the intention with which the clause was inserted and, in our view, they are certainly not the effect which the clause would have.

As your Lordships may know, under the Act of 1925 a Committee was set up called the Central Valuation Committee, whose duty it is to advise upon certain points of rating law, since one of the purposes of the Act of 1925 was to ensure uniformity in that law. In the course of the performance of that duty they have published from time to time decisions, or rather advice, as to the view they have formed: but they have discovered that there are in the law of rating certain matters which are certainly obscure and with regard to which the practice in different parts of the country has not been uniform. After taking the best advice they were able to obtain, they have felt bound to say that the points to which I refer are points of difficulty and doubt upon which it is not possible for them to express a confident opinion until the matters have been judicially determined.

In those circumstances it was the Central Valuation Committee, and no one else, who were anxious that a speedy and inexpensive means should be provided of obtaining the judicial decision which would guide rating authorities all over the country upon matters of general importance which, without that decision, would remain in doubt and with regard to which no one ratepayer had sufficient interest probably to incur the expense or the risk of fighting the case up to the High Court with the possibility of being taken even to your Lordships' House, and which, therefore, was a point as to which there was no prospect of obtaining any certain decision. It was thought by that Committee to be eminently desirable that power should exist, when the Minister of Health was satisfied that such a point had arisen, to obtain from the High Court of Justice after argument in open Court by parties representing both points of view, the ratepayer and the rating authorities respectively, a decision which would determine the particular question and ensure that uniformity without inflicting the penalty and the risk of expense upon any individual ratepayer. It was with that purpose that the clause was inserted.

I confess it does not seem to me that the provision can fairly be described as one which made the Judiciary subject to or the advisers of the Executive. The hearing would be in Court. Argument would be presented by both sides. And although it is true that the interests of individual ratepayers would be affected by a decision to which they were not parties, that is true of every decision which is given in the High Court I have to-day been hearing in the Privy Council a case raising difficult and important questions as to the liberty of the subject. We shall pronounce a decision which will not bind because it is a decision of the Privy Council, but which will probably guide all the tribunals in the country upon that point and will, therefore, in a sense affect, perhaps, the rights of the subject on a writ of habeas corpus for all time to come. Similarly, any decision which is given by the Court is given without any one excepting the parties knowing that the point is being argued, and without any opportunity to anyone else to intervene and submit his point of view. Yet the decision, once given, remains binding upon the whole country and remains an authority which guides all Courts of co-ordinate or inferior jurisdiction.

It is not, however, for that reason that we have thought it right to drop the clause. But it has seemed to us that there is another matter which is to be considered. Not only is it important that the Judiciary should be independent of the Executive, but it is also of vital importance that the public should be satisfied that the Judiciary and the Executive are independent. We have thought that the undoubted fact that members of your Lordships' House occupying high judicial positions have seriously and sincerely believed that this principle of independence was being infringed, necessarily must arouse doubt and distrust in the public mind and that it was far better that we should abandon the effort to obtain a power of this kind than that we should run any risk of an impression being created, rightly or wrongly, in the minds of the public that there was any connection being established between the Executive and the Judiciary and any infringment of that independence of the Judiciary which is the palladium of the liberty of the subject.

In those circumstances, while from some points of view we regret the decision to which we have been obliged to come, the Minister of Health has authorised me to take such course as I think right to take in all the circumstances, and I have taken the responsibility, as in a sense combining the Judiciary and the Executive, of saying that the Government will not proceed with this clause and will ask the assent of the House that it should be dropped. With those words of explanation, I do not think it is necessary for me to discuss the merits of the other clauses of the Bill because they have not excited any general discussion and they have been considered, of course, already by your Lordships. All I need do, I think, is formally to move the Third Beading and inform your Lordships that when the Amendment which stands in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Russell [to omit Clause 4] is reached, the Government propose to ask your Lordships to assent to it. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)


My Lords, the Lord Chancellor has excellently acquitted himself of the dark suspicion of conspiracy which has been mooted against him and the Government. I never believed in that conspiracy, nor did I believe in the machinery which was supposed to have brought about the present situation. But what I did suspect and what I see very clearly now is the zeal of an administrative body who thought: "Here is the most convenient way of solving all our doubts; we will pass a clause making I he Judges a sort of general legal advisers of the Government on abstract principles and will go to them and get rulings which will be of high authority." I do not believe those rulings would have that high authority. I do not believe they ever would have been recognised as equivalent to judgments of the Courts. Therefore, I think it was a very poor piece of machinery even had it passed But now the Lord Chancellor has spoken, as I say, excellently, for he is not only proposing to withdraw a clause which caused many of in; a great deal of anxiety and caused a great deal of dislike to it on the part of people outside, but he has also emphasised that most important principle that the Judiciary in this country should stand between the subject and the Crown and should be the protectors of the subject in matters in which claims may be made, which may or may not be right but which ought to be adjudicated upon by an absolutely independent and fearless body. I think the course taken is a step in strengthening that which is a fundamental principle of this country, a principle which ought to be departed from in the way of seeking to substitute anything for the ordinary litigation of the country only very sparingly, and I congratulate the Government on having taken a wise decision, although somewhat late in the day.


My Lords, if I may be permitted three or four sentences I shall not exceed that length of speech. I am so gratified by what I think the wise decision of His Majesty's Government upon a question which I thought affected most gravely some of our higher public interests that I do not propose to spend one minute, or any part of a minute, in discussing the method by which His Majesty's Government have arrived at that wise decision. I cannot help thinking if my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack had been in a position to address his mind to the arguments relating to this matter on the several occasions upon which the objections which he now appreciates were impressed upon the Government without any effect, the House would have been spared the discussions, somewhat disagreeable to some of us who felt bound to take part in them, which the House had to listen to upon the Second Reading and in the Committee stage.


My Lords, as the learned Lord Chancellor was good enough to refer to my opposition to this clause, perhaps you will allow me to express my gratitude to him for having dropped it. My gratitude is of such a generous nature that I am not at all inclined to discuss the question whence the temptation came under which the Government fell, "if ever, in temptation strong, they left the right path for the wrong." We may leave it at that. It may be that the temptation came from the Central Committee. I care not. But the temptation came, and they now see that it was a temptation and they have gone back to the right path. I am not speaking for myself alone, for I have had an opportunity of speaking to a great number of Judges on whom would have been laid the task of responding to this irksome and, as I think, dangerous duty. Speaking for them I know they will be very gratified indeed to think that this clause has been dropped.


My Lords, I also am very glad that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has taken the course indicated, which is a very wise course, inasmuch as this clause dealt with a very important question of principle—a principle of far greater interest and importance than any that is involved in the Bill we are considering. I agree with what was said by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Haldane. For the rest I myself feel that we are indebted to Lord Merrivale and those associated with him, who took the opportunity not only of bringing this matter before us but of enforcing it at every possible opportunity. I will only add that I congratulate the Government on a very important decision, one which affects every citizen in this country.


My Lords, may I in a word or two join in the thanks which are being offered to the Lord Chancellor for the wise withdrawal of this clause. In the events which have happened it is not necessary that I should refer even in a word to the feelings which the clause excited in the minds of His Majesty's Judges of the King's Bench Division. It was without exception the worst clause of its kind which has ever appeared. I say that having in mind Section 29 of the Local Government Act of 1888, and Section 70 of the Local Government Act of 1894. The first of those sections led to two abortive cases which were afterwards overruled. This was a proposal to convert His Majesty's Judges into departmental solicitors. I am glad that the proposal has been withdrawn, and as it has been withdrawn I would venture to hope that the Lord Chancellor may now turn his mind to the many cases in the past—I hope there are not going to be many eases in the future—in which a different method is employed, I do not say by a hidden hand, but by what is obviously a concerted endeavour to subtract from the Law Courts important decisions, and to get those decisions made, behind the backs of the parties interested, by a Department or a Departmental Committee. I join in the congratulations which have been offered, and in the circumstances refrain from saying much that otherwise I should have had to say.


My Lords, I do not intend to take part in a debate which has been entirely confined up to now to lawyers except to say that I do think lawyers might sometimes consider the interest, of suitors. Here is a provision put into the Bill with the object of saving expense to unfortunate ratepayers, and the only thing which the great lawyers can think of is whether some special theory of law and of administration is complied with, and they do not think of those interests which are so acutely felt by the suitors. I do not contend for a moment that the noble and learned Lords are not right in their contention. They probably are. They know far more about it than I do, but I do say it is a most singular circumstance how very difficult it is for poor people to get justice in this country because they cannot really afford it on account of the enormous expense. The expense is growing every day, and the result is, I am quite sure, that there is a great failure of justice to the suitor. Whether that is unavoidable I cannot say. It may be so, but I do wish when great Judges address themselves to your Lordships on this subject, that they would take into consideration that, side of the case.


My Lords, since it appears to have been decided to take the discussion now it would perhaps be more convenient if I said now what I had intended to say when I move the omission of the clause. I am very grateful, as I am sure the whole House is, to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack for the withdrawal of this clause. It was a case where, I think it is not, incorrect to say, practically the entire feeling of the House was against the clause because there were great dangers involved. It is possible that on a fight the Opposition would have succeeded this afternoon, but it is infinitely preferable that the Government should have withdrawn the clause voluntarily and that, in addition, they should have recognised what I regard as the most important principle underlying this matter, and that is the mixing of the Judiciary and the Executive, or, as the noble and learned Lord has said even the apparent mixing of the Judiciary and the Executive.

I think the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Salisbury) was perhaps a little hard upon lawyers. All those in this House who occupy distinguished judicial positions have at one time or another had clients, and many clients, who were suitors, and they are quite accustomed to considering the interests of suitors. It is not a fact that they lose sight of the interests of suitors, but they are inclined to think, with their experience, that a clause of this sort does not ultimately make for their interest, and that the difficulties which it involves are really greater than the problem which it solves. I should like to repeat what I said when I attacked this clause. I have very great sympathy with the desire to obtain some sort of binding and useful decision for the purpose of producing uniformity and, if the Government can think out some way of doing it that would be satisfactory, I need hardly say I should be the first to support them. I am as anxious as the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Salisbury) that that should be done, but I do not think this is the way to do it, and I think it would be a little difficult to devise. One knows the difficulties and if it can be done by all means let it be done. Do not let the noble Marquess suppose, as I am sure he does not, that those who oppose the clause are without sympathy with what was in the mind of those who originally framed it. I do not think it is necessary to say more than again to express pleasure that the Government have seen their way to omit the clause in response to what was obviously the feeling of the House.


My Lords, I am one of those who on the Committee stage of this Bill put down an Amendment that this Clause 4 should be omitted. I had intended to propose alternative words, but, as your Lordships are aware, the debate was confined to the question whether Clause 4 should stand part of the Bill. I was quite ready to have it amended, but Clause 4, as it stands in the Bill, would never have done. I looked upon it at the time, and I look upon it at this moment, as a very mischievous clause and I am very glad to hear that the Government have withdrawn it.


My Lords, I would not have said a word in this debate had it not been for the reproach which the noble Marquess the Leader of the House levelled against the Judges. I have taken no part whatever in regard to the resistance of this clause, though I quite understand why it was that those who opposed it did so. I desire now only to say that my objection to it was this: that it tended very much to destroy that trust, in His Majesty's Judges which is felt when they come into any kind of relation with litigants or possible litigants in their Courts. Ever since the Act of Settlement put the Judges into that independent position which they have ever since occupied they have been trusted by the whole of His Majesty's subjects. I do not think any one who has not been a Judge, as I long was, can realise how complete is the confidence of ordinary people in the absolute independence of His Majesty's Judges and in their certainty that the Judges do sympathise with their position, do feel for them as litigants, and that they have, ever since the Act of Settlement at all events, been determined that whether against the Crown or any other powerful person, the poorest, the humblest, and the weakest of His Majesty's subjects shall receive help from His Majesty's Judges.

Therefore I think that it did require that some one who has occupied that position should say that it is a delusion to suppose that His Majesty's Judges have not as much sympathy with the people who come before them as have the Ministers or Departments of State. This was resisted, I am certain, by the Judges who have spoken because they felt that it would have led to a diminution of that trust in His Majesty's Judges which has been their proud possession now for many centuries, and if it had not been that a word had been said against them by the Leader of the House, which I think regrettable, I would not have troubled your Lordships with a single observation.

On Question, Bill read 3a.

Clause 1:

Application of s. 24 of principal Act to London.

1.—(1) Section twenty-four of the Rating and Valuation Act, 1925 (in this Act referred to as "the principal Act"), which provides for the valuation of hereditaments containing machinery and plant, and any order made by the Minister of Health thereunder shall apply for the purpose of the making or revision of valuation lists under the Valuation (Metropolis) Act, 1869, as they apply for the purpose of the making or revision of valuation lists under the principal Act.

(2) If and so far as, regard being had to the extent, if any, to which in the making of any valuation list in force at the commencement of this Act account was taken of any plant or machinery in or on any hereditament, the application of the said section and order affects the value of that hereditament as appearing in the valuation list, effect shall be given to such alteration in value in the supplemental list which is to come into operation on the sixth day of April, nineteen hundred and twenty-nine, or if the authority concerned think fit, in a provisional list made before the said date:

Provided that any such provisional list shall, for the purpose of giving effect to any such alteration, have operation from that date only (and not from any earlier date on which a copy of the list is served on the occupier of the hereditament), but for the purposes of paragraph (1) of section forty-six of the Act, of 1869 alterations shown in any such provisional list shall be deemed to have taken place during the twelve months preceding the said sixth day of April.

EARL BEAUCHAMP moved to add to the clause:— Provided that the overseers shall serve upon the occupier of every hereditament affected by such alteration in value the notice required by Section 9 of the Valuation (Metropolis) Act, 1869, notwithstanding the fact that the gross or rateable value of such hereditament may not be raised by reason of such alteration.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, the Amendment which I have put on the Paper has none of the interest which attaches to the Amendment which your Lordships have been discussing. It concerns no matter of principle but a very small matter of detail. I am not sure that the words which I move to insert are the best words which would carry out the object I have in mind, but those of your Lordships who have followed the proceedings on this Bill will realise that the object of Clause 1 is to extend to London the provisions with regard to the rating of machinery which a recent Act applied to the rest of the country. This can be done in two ways, either by supplemental valuation or by provisional valuation. If it is done by provisional valuation then notice has to be served upon everybody concerned in the case of a decrease of any valuation. If, on the other hand, it is done by supplemental valuation, then no notice need be served upon the various people concerned.

It may be that they find that their machinery is valued at something less. It may be only £1 less when they thought it ought to be £50 less. I take that as an example. The local authority is not hound, if it proceeds by this method of supplemental valuation, to make any communication at all to the people affected. Therefore, unless they go to the church door and look there, they will be unaware that they are being affected at all. It would, therefore, I think be very much more convenient if the local authority were obliged to make a communication to people who are in any way affected at all. After all it is not an unreasonable request, I think, that people who are affected, whether by increase or decrease in valuations, should be made aware of what is being done in regard to their properties. I confess, as I said earlier, that I do not feel sure that my own words are the best, and if there is in any quarter of the House a desire that they should be altered I shall be only too willing to agree.

There is another form of words which I would venture to read as follows:— Provided that the authority concerned shall serve upon the occupier of every hereditament affected by such alteration in value the notice required by Section 9 of the Valuation (Metropolis) Act, 1869, notwithstanding the fact that the gross or rateable value of such hereditament may not be raised by reason of such alteration. Your Lordships will see that the effect of the Amendment put in that way would be to bring it more into line with other legislation. Therefore, it may be preferable, but the matter is so technical that I should not like to express an opinion as to which may be the better. In order to put myself in order, however, I will move my Amendment in the form in which it stands on the Paper.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 18, at end insert the said proviso.—(Earl Beauchamp.)


My Lords, I hope that this Amendment will not be pressed too far, because, although I sympathise with its object, I venture to think it may not have quite the result which is desired. As the noble Earl has pointed out, the object of Clause 1 is to ensure that ratepayers in the Metropolis shall have the benefits of the relief afforded to machinery in the year 1929 instead of in the year 1931, which would otherwise, apart from this clause, have been the earliest date. It might well have been thought right to provide that those ratepayers who have machinery and who thought they were entitled to relief by virtue of these provisions should give notice to the local authorities. That, of course, has not been adopted. Instead of that the burden has been placed upon local authorities of preparing supplemental or provisional lists in which the reduction shall be inserted. If the local authorities proceed by means of supplemental lists they will have to get the supplemental lists out by June 1, so that the time available to them for the preparation of these lists is very limited. Of course, when a supplemental list is published not only has public notice to be given but it has to be posted at any rate at churches and chapels, so that everybody may have an opportunity of seeing it. The noble Earl suggests that unless notice is given to every individual whose machinery is affected there may be people who get an inadequate reduction and who will not know anything about it.

I venture to think that if this Amendment were accepted there would be a grave danger, because the owners of machinery would then rely no doubt upon geting a notice of a reduction in order that they might, see whether it was adequate, and if it so happened that they were left cut altogether, which is a much graver matter than being put in at an inadequate figure, they would find that they had not had any notice of the fact that their names had been omitted until it was too late, and the result would be that they would have been misled into a false sense of security. Time, as I have said, is very short for local authorities, and the provision that we are making in the Bill as it stands is the provision that for nearly sixty years has been the provision applicable to supplemental lists. I venture to think, therefore, that it is not unreasonable that we should continue the same procedure in this case, especially as, if we were to insist upon the individual notice being given, we should not only put a heavy burden on the local authority but might also very easily cause considerable risk of the individual ratepayer being misled.


My Lords, I heartily agree with the remarks of the noble and learned Lord that the Amendment would introduce a system that might create difficulty. The procedure as regards supplemental lists is perfectly settled. If I understand the Bill aright, it says that these alterations in the rating of machinery may be made in the supplemental lists. I sincerely hope that the machinery that has been in operation since 1869 and that is familiar to all people who are interested in rating questions will not be altered.


My Lords, in view of what has fallen from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack I will not press my Amendment, but I would ask whether he would object to the other form of words that I have suggested as an alternative and which is in entire harmony with the notice required by Section 9 of the Act of 1869 and makes its provisions apply to the present Bill.


If I properly understand the words which the noble Earl read to me—and I have not had an opportunity of looking at them—his Amendment appears merely to substitute "the authority concerned" for the overseers. I do not think that this would meet the point of difficulty that I found in accepting his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Decisions of doubtful points of law.

4.—(1) If on the representation of the Central Valuation Committee, made after consultation with such associations or bodies as 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, and the High Court after hearing such parties as it thinks proper shall give its opinion on the question.

(2) The Central Valuation Committee may appear as parties on the hearing of any such case for the purpose of supporting any contention with respect to the question at issue and may, if they think fit so to do, contribute such amount as they think proper towards the costs of any persons appearing on the hearing for the purpose of supporting the contrary contention.


My Lords, I beg to move to leave out Clause 4.

Amendment moved— Leave out Clause 4.—(Earl Russell.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Bill passed, with the Amendment, and returned to the Commons.

House adjourned at twenty-five minutes past five o'clock.