HL Deb 25 March 1929 vol 73 cc837-46

[The reference is to Bill No. 39 as first printed for the House of Lords].

Clause 65, page 57, line 26, leave out from ("operations") to end of paragraph (b) and insert ("and whose wages are subject to the provisions of the Agricultural Wages (Regulation) Act, 1924.")

The Commons disagree to this Amendment for the following reason:

Because by changing the basis of assessment as respects a certain class of hereditaments, it would effect an alteration in the incidence of rating burdens; and the Commons do not offer any further reason trusting that the above may be deemed sufficient.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist upon this Amendment.

Moved, That this House doth not insist upon the said Amendment.—(The Earl of Onslow.)


My Lords, I should like to correct a wrong impression which has appeared in some newspapers, who think that this Amendment derates agricultural labourers' cottages. I have one or two newspaper cutting in my pocket. I will not quote them but I should like that wrong impression to be put right. What this Amendment does is to put untied agricultural labourers' cottages on the same footing as the Bill puts farmhouses and tied cottages—that is to say, they are to be assessed for rating purposes at their value to such occupiers. They would not be derated. As my noble friend the Earl of Onslow has just said, this is the only Amendment which has been rejected in another place. The Speaker said that it raises a question of Privilege. He said that of a great many of the other Amendments, and the Minister of Health where it suited him brushed the contention aside. What was the argument which the Minister of Health used against this Amendment? I think my noble friend the Earl of Onslow has used a good many of the same expressions, but I want especially to give the exact words used by the Minister of Health. The Minister of Health said:— ߪ it would introduce an entirely new principle of rating. Instead of saying that a house shall be rated according to the rent which a hypothetical tenant might reasonably be supposed to be willing to pay for it on certain conditions, it would say that a person engaged in a particular kind of occupation should carry about that occupation to whatever 'house he occupied. Then he went on to say:— ߪ it is very difficult to see why it should be confined to a person following one particular occupation. That is exactly what the Bill does as introduced without my Amendment, for it says that a farmer so long as he occupies a farmhouse is to have the house assessed at a low figure. Surely, that is saying that a person engaged in a particular kind of occupation should carry about that occupation to whatever house he occupies, and it confines it to a person following one particular occupation. It is not my idea. It is the Government's own idea. The Bill as introduced said that, a tied cottage was also to be so treated. I have only tried to extend the principle to untied agricultural labourers' cottages because under the Rating Act of 1925 these agricultural labourers' cottages are having their assessments put up to a very high figure in many places.

I speak more in sorrow than in anger at the attitude taken up by the Minister of Health, who refuses to accept my Amendment. I wanted the owners of agricultural labourers' cottages to go on accepting two or three shillings a week rent, or even less, and to continue to let these cottages to agricultural labourers so that the land could be tilled and the flocks and herds looked after. The Bill without my Amendment invites local authorities to value those cottages at what they could be let for to somebody who enjoys an income far in excess of that enjoyed by the agricultural labourer who cannot afford to pay more rent that he does at present. In other words, the Bill invites the owner of these cottages to dehouse the agricultural labourer. I have done my best for agriculture and I am very grateful to all the noble Lords who supported me in my endeavour. The House of Commons has agreed with the Minister of Health. At the moment I do not think that I shall trouble your Lordships with a Division, but before I make up my mind I should like to hear what other noble Lords have to say on the subject.


My Lords, when this matter was dealt with by your Lordships at an earlier stage I was not in agreement with the noble Lord who has just spoken, but with the Government, who, I think, opposed the Amendment that was then brought forward. I think that the Government were right in opposing it, for the reasons which the noble Earl has already stated. I do not think it can be denied that the Amendment which was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dynevor, would have resulted, not only in a new principle, but in a principle that is wholly out of accord with the ordinary principles of rating. I will not touch upon the other suggestions that were made at various times that seemed to me to be out of accord with ordinary rating principles, but this was a particular and specific case. The proposed result, no doubt; was laudable in that we all hope that the agricultural labourer may have his cottage on fair terms. I believe he does so at the present time, certainly in the district in which I live. But that is not the question. If you are going to have the rating altered according to the occupation and the character of the occupier, you introduce a system which really upsets the whole foundation of the ordinary principles of rating, which the noble Lord knows as well as I do.

When this Amendment was before your Lordships, I had an Amendment down, though unfortunately I could not be present to move it, to the effect that, if Lord Dynevor's Amendment were accepted, the principle should be applied to the occupation by workers of all cottages used in connection with industrial works or for industrial purposes. I cannot see why, in a matter of this kind, special privilege should be given to the agricultural labourer, or why the same should not be done for all other workers who are in substantially the same position. I do not want to argue the point at any length. It is obvious, I think, that the statements made by the noble Earl are in accord with our rating principles. I am glad that the matter has been put straight again, and I certainly agree with the arguments that the Government have brought forward.


My Lords, I supported my noble friend Lord Dynevor when this matter came before your Lordships before, and I should like to support him again. For my sins I am a member of the local authority in my own county, and your Lordships will remember that, under the Rating and Valuation Act, 1925, we had to get to work and try to carry out that Act according to what we thought were the intentions of the Government. The Minister of Health appointed a Central Valuation Committee to try to bring uniformity throughout the country, and all the counties appointed county valuation committees to receive hints from this Central Committee and to follow them out in the various counties. I happened to be Chairman of our valuation committee. We considered this question of the derating of agricultural cottages. The rating authorities and the assessment committees wanted a lead on the matter, and we thought it was our duty to give it. We passed a resolution, and sent it round to them, that we considered that it was the Government's intention that both tied and non-tied cottages should be valued on the same lines. That has been done and, if the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Dynevor is cast aside, we shall have to alter the whole of our opinion, and we shall look pretty good fools. We have tried our best to carry out what we thought were the intentions of the Government in the Act of 1925, and to see that they were carried out throughout our county. Personally, I hope that my noble friend will go to a Division, and I shall certainly support him.


My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Dynevor, I very much regret that His Majesty's Government have not seen fit to accept this Amendment, and I regret it the more because I do not think that there is any more fervent admirer of this Bill than I am. There is one point on which I should like to address your Lordships. Noble Lords who sit on this side of the House believe in individual ownership, and so, I understand, do His Majesty's Government, who, I would remind your Lordships, even introduced a Bill during the present Parliament to enable agricultural labourers and people in that sort of occupation to own the cottages in winch they lived. It seems odd to me that, by refusing this Amendment, the Government should have thought it right actually to fine those men who have carried out the facilities given them by the former Act.


My Lords, the noble and learned Lord who leads the Opposition said just now that he could not understand why the principle which my noble friend Lord Dynevor endeavoured to have applied to these cottages should not be applied to every employee in any occupation. The reason, of course, is obvious. It is that the Government have interfered with freedom of contract as regards the agricultural labourer. They have not allowed his employer to bargain with him regarding his wages and the rent of his cottage. That is taken out of the employer's hands, or at least a maximum is fixed, and a very low one, and consequently it appeared to us on perfectly good grounds that, since the Government have done this, the valuation of the labourer's non-tied cottage should be treated as we proposed. I confess that I do not agree with my noble friend entirely. I think that an alteration of the principle of the Rating Act, is rather a strong measure to endeavour to introduce into this Bill. I think that, sine, the principle of valuation has been laid down for so many years, we are bound to stick to it. I voted with him the other day in the hope that it might be possible to make some alteration in the Rating Act of 1925 which would meet our proposal. Since this is, if not impossible, at least very difficult, my personal view is that we ought not to press this Amendment to a Division.

But there is another point that I should rather like to raise. I refer to the Speaker's dictum that this is a question of Privilege. If it is a question of Privilege, I do not know why we are discussing it. We cannot alter anything and, if the Government accept the Speaker's dictum, it is no use our discussing this matter at all. But I should really like to know whether the Leader of the House does agree that this is a question of Privilege, because it seems to me to be spreading Privilege rather wide. Are we never to be allowed to amend a Valuation Bill? That is really what it comes to. I should rather have liked, if I had had time, to look back at the debates on the Act of 1925 and to see what line was taken in this House when it went through; whether we had introduced any Amendments, and if they were accepted by the House of Commons, and if so, why the present Speaker should differ from his predecessors. It is a point I think worthy of consideration, because the Privilege of this House as regards an important question like valuation is a safeguard to the people of this country, and I do not think we ought to sacrifice our rights without some protest.


My Lords, as my noble friend has appealed to the Government upon the question of Privilege, I will ask your Lordships' leave to say a word. The question of Privilege, as all of your Lordships know, is in a most unsatisfactory position, and many of your Lordships, I am quite sure, including my noble friend who has just sat down, have on many occasions entered protests as to its interpretation in another place. I have done the same thing myself, and one of the things which I had hoped would have been achieved, had it been possible two years ago to have carried those principles of reform of this House which were then debated, was that the question of Privilege would have been put upon a much stronger footing, and, among other things, this very question of rating would have been taken out of the purview of Privilege altogether. But that did not happen, and I do not want to go back to that question now.

I have not looked the matter up, but speaking right off I do not think it would be fair to say that the distinguished public servant who is now Speaker has gone further than his predecessors in this matter. This House has repeatedly not accepted the decisions of the House of Commons in what were considered to be the extreme assertions of Privilege. There is one circumstance, however, which has to be borne in mind. The House of Commons has always treated Privilege as applying to expenditure or the raising of money from the taxes on a different footing from expenditure or the raising of money from the rates. That is to say, although the House of Commons has asserted its Privilege in both respects, yet it has been much more often willing to waive it in the case of rates than in the case of taxes and if your Lordships will carefully study the proceedings of last Friday in another place, you will find that on several Amendments—I think Lord Dynevor stated so—they did waive Privilege in respect of Amendments on this particular Bill.

Therefore rating is on a different footing, and personally I am not prepared to accept the extreme doctrine of Privilege laid down in the House of Commons. It was, if I may venture to say so, by my wish that my noble friend Lord Onslow, in arguing his case to your Lordships just now, did not put it upon the ground of Privilege at all, but upon the ground of merits, which of course he is very well qualified to argue. I would rather not approach this question upon the ground of Privilege at all. I think it is true that if the Privilege issued had been involved the decision that your Lordships might take would be a much more serious matter than otherwise it would be, but, speaking as one of your Lordships, and for the moment as Leader of this House, I should be very sorry to accept the extreme doctrine of Privilege laid down in another place. I do not think I ought to say more than that, and I hope your Lordships will not insist upon your Amendment.


May I ask the Lord Chancellor, before he replies, whether, as the question of Privilege is not raised in the Commons Reason for disagreeing with the Amendment, we should take any notice of the Speaker's dictwm?


My Lords, I am asked directly to deal with this matter. Of course you are not bound to accept the reasons given in another place although you may acquiesce in the rejection of your Lordships' Amendment, but I do not think it is quite accurate to say that the question of Privilege was not intended to be covered by the Reason given by the Commons for not accepting this Amendment—the question of Privilege is the ground on which they proceed. At the same time, as the noble Marquess has just said, because we do not insist upon our Amendment it by no means follows that we accept the doctrine of Privilege as laid down in the House of Commons by the Speaker on Friday last. I do not think that the doctrine as laid down goes any further than the doctrine as laid down by previous Speakers. On the other hand, that doctrine has not always been accepted by your Lordships' House, and there is no reason why we should accept the doctrine, although we may be willing, as we have been in the past, to acquiesce in the rejection of our Amendment. It is perfectly open to us, if your Lordships are good enough to take the advice of His Majesty's Government, not to press the Amendment. We can do it, not on the ground that we acquiesce in the view of Privilege, but on the ground that in the particular circumstances we do not wish to press the extreme issue.

The noble Lord, Lord Dynevor, seemed to think that I was going to answer his question. I had rather hoped that his point had been met by Lord Onslow, but I am quite willing to answer. I think that his argument goes to the historical basis of this clause. He said that the clause as it stood introduced a new principle of rating—namely, that premises are differently rated according to occupation. Your Lordships will remember how it is that this clause comes into the Bill at all. It comes in as a consequential provision, and it is a provision consequential upon the repeal Of the Agricultural Rates Act, 1896. Under that Act, for the first time partial de-rating was given to agricultural land, and that necessarily entailed that, in the case of agricultural land, buildings and land should be separately rated. It was feared in 1896 that this might in volve an increased rating upon farm buildings. Obviously that was not intended by Parliament, and accordingly a provision appeared in Section 5 of the Act of 1896, providing that where a farm and farm buildings were being separately rated, and the buildings were being used in connection with agricultural land, they should still be rated as farm buildings, and not upon any other basis, preserving the status quo ante.

Since 1896 it has been the usual practice—I think almost the universal practice, certainly the usual practice—to treat the question of farm buildings as covering cottages of the farm used in connection with them. And therefore in this clause, when the 1896 Act is repealed, the Government desired to make it clear that that advantage was still retained, and that farm cottages on a farm should continue, while used in connection with a farm, to be rated as such, and not to be rated on a higher basis. They were not therefore introducing for the first time any new principle of rating; they were merely seeking to preserve with regard to the buildings on a farm, including the cottages, a principle which has been always the law and which had been the subject of express enactment when for the first time it became necessary to separate the land and buildings, as was the case in 1896. It is because my noble friend's Amendment passed from that, and for the first time introduced a separate rateable value, not merely for farm land and buildings but for any cottages used in connection with land, that we really do think that he is mistaken in saying that he is not introducing a new principle. He really is in this Amendment seeking to introduce a new principle of rating. That is a very tall order in connection with a Bill which does not deal largely with the principles of rating, but only with the relief to certain named industries, including agriculture, with regard to rating.

I hope that that answer is clear to my noble friend and to your Lordships. I would venture to add my appeal to that of my noble friend who has spoken before me that your Lordships will not see fit to press your insistence on this Amendment to a Division, and create an unfortunate issue with the other House on a Bill which is of great importance, and the loss of which would, I think, involve very great misfortune to those very agricultural interests which, I know, my noble friend has so much at heart.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at twenty-five minutes before six o'clock.