HL Deb 31 March 1938 vol 108 cc556-9

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this is a Bill to postpone the next quinquennial valuation, which should come into force in 1939, to 1941. Your Lordships will perhaps remember that in 1925 considerable reforms were introduced into the rating machinery of the country by the Rating and Valuation Act of that year. The principal object of that Act was to produce uniformity in the basis on which assessments were made. With that object assessment committees were constituted for districts comprising several rating areas, and county valuation committees were set up to supervise the work of these area committees. Finally, their work was examined by a Central Valuation Committee, representing the whole of England and Wales. That Central Valuation Committee consists of persons nominated by the various associations of local authorities, with a minority of nominees of the Minister of Health. It has the important function of advising the Minister of Health particularly on points affecting uniformity.

I think everybody will realise how important it is now that rates should be levied on more or less the same basis all over the country. In the old days it was not a matter of such importance, but now that the block grant has been introduced the situation is entirely different. Your Lordships know that the loss on derating is made up by the Exchequer and redistributed plus other Exchequer money on a somewhat complicated formula which provides for the appropriate needs of different authorities in the country, and one of the most important items in the formula is rateable value. Considering that some authorities may be administering an income of which up to some 75 per cent. may come in various ways from the Exchequer, it is obviously very unfair if those calculations are made on widely different bases. This process of equalising rating assessments has been spread over a considerable period, and although during it two revaluations have been made, I cannot say that uniformity has been reached. As your Lordships know, the whole system of our rating is highly complicated and has often been criticised, but it is rooted in history, and the problem of substituting something else in its place is very large. As it is working fairly efficiently, and as such a great amount of our social legislation depends upon it, we feel that we must go steadily ahead and eventually reach the equilibrium contemplated by the Act of 1925.

However, steady progress such as we should like remains very difficult, in spite of the efforts of all these various expert committees over this long period. For instance, the Rent Restrictions Act has introduced one abnormal factor into reassessment calculations; the lack of housing which is now being met by various Government measures is another factor, and the variation in the value of building land is yet another. The Central Valuation Committee has been endeavouring, in spite of these difficulties, to do its duty and to procure, as I have suggested, the gradual approximation of all these local authorities to the intention of the 1925 Act. In June of last year they sent out a circular which represented the most comprehensive effort that they had ever made in that direction. The reactions to that circular have been somewhat mixed. Whereas some local authorities have welcomed it, various bodies representing the ratepayers have submitted that if the recommendations of that Committee are put into effect, very considerable hard- ship will arise. In fact, so widespread has that complaint been that the Central Valuation Committee have felt bound to advise the Government to investigate the position. Moreover, they feel that a sufficient time should be allowed to enable this investigation to be made properly. They have therefore recommended the postponement of this coming valuation until 1941, and the Government have accepted their advice.

Of course, I am aware that this decision must mean some dislocation in the plans of local authorities and in their estimates. For instance, in two counties and in part of a third the work of revaluation is practically complete. However, even there, to show that the idea of postponement is not entirely unpopular, I can say that those authorities themselves applied for orders of postponement. Admittedly there are certain unfortunate results of this decision, but I think the House will agree that if the work has been found too much for the rating authorities, it is much better to delay matters rather than to cause unnecessary hardship by forcing through imperfectly considered assessments. We do not think that the money which has already been spent by some of these authorities will in effect be wasted. There is obviously a tremendous amount of detailed work to be done in connection with each revaluation, and a great deal of the work which has already been done in connection with the present scheme will be available for the 1941 assessment. Every extension of building, as your Lordships know, has to be sanctioned under town planning and under the by-laws, and it should therefore be a fairly easy matter to ascertain what new premises require surveying and measuring. Also it must be remembered that this postponement should not interfere with the ordinary work of making amendments in current assessments.

One of the advantages of this postponement will be that thereby all the rating areas in England and Wales will be revalued simultaneously. As your Lordships may remember, London, although it is excluded from the Bill, has always contemplated making its next revaluation so as to come into effect in April, 1941, which is the same date as will now apply to the rest of England. Of course, I cannot make any prophecy as to what the Government will do as a result of this in- vestigation. I can only say that the preparatory work which has already been done and the test valuations which have been made provide figures which will be of great value in enabling them to reach a decision. If the Government had decided to have this revaluation at an earlier date, they would not have had these figures to go on. I can only conclude by saying that this Bill has been considered in another place and has received unanimous welcome there, as indeed I hope it will in this House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Gage.)


My Lords, I am to say that the Opposition Peers have no objection to the Bill at this stage. It only remains for me to thank the noble Viscount for his very clear explanation of a somewhat complicated subject.


My Lords, the county councils are not objecting to this postponement; and might I also accentuate what the noble Viscount has so well brought out: that this revaluation is very badly needed? It is quite worth while giving a little extra time in order that it may be done properly. There is a good deal of feeling now that it works out badly as between county and county, and there are certain counties which are—I will not say systematically, but constantly under-valued. Their rateable value is under-estimated, and according to the present method of Government grants, as far as I have been able to ascertain, by that under-valuation they are able to gain a considerable pecuniary advantage in Government grants. That ought not to be, and if by delaying this matter the Government are able to put the basis of the valuation more fairly than it is put at present, then this delay is very well worth while.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.