HL Deb 16 July 1953 vol 183 cc652-6

3.36 p.m.

LORD RAGLAN rose to ask Her Majesty's Government for what purpose surveyors of the Inland Revenue recently made a plan of his house; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, on June 18 of this year I received a notification from the Board of Inland Revenue that on June 24, if that was not inconvenient to me, an official of the Board would inspect my house with a view to its valuation. Accordingly, on June 24, two gentlemen arrived in a car, and stated that they had instructions to make a plan of my house. I offered to lend them a plan of my house, but this offer they politely declined. They then went round the house with a tape measure and notebook, and spent no less than an hour and a half in measuring up the place. I suppose this procedure was adopted under Section 60 of the Local Government Act, 1948, which provides that the official valuer has power to enter any hereditament for the purpose of surveying it and valuing it. But there is nothing in that clause, or elsewhere in the Act—so far as I can find—which makes it necessary to make a plan of a house before valuing.

There are many houses, including my own, in respect of which, in my opinion, such planning is quite unnecessary. But even if it was thought necessary, under the provisions of the 1948 Act, to make a plan of the house—which I do not admit—the situation has surely been changed by the Bill which your Lordships read a second time on Tuesday. By that Bill, the Government changed provisions of the Act. The site of the house is no longer important. In fact, the site is no longer to be considered at all; valuation is to be based entirely upon the rent. For the purpose of ascertaining the rent of any house I should have said that a plan was quite irrelevant. I should have thought that what the Government could have done at that stage was to suspend this planning with a view to doing away with it altogether in the case of dwelling houses when this Bill becomes law. What I should like to learn is, what are the instructions given to the Board of Inland Revenue under the 1948 Act, and what are the instructions they have given to their subordinate offices. I should also like to be told of any instructions that may have been given by the Government to the Board of Inland Revenue since this Bill was drafted. That is the purpose of my Motion. I beg to move for Papers.

3.39 p.m.


My Lords, before the noble Earl replies for the Government, may I add a word or two to show that this is by no means an isolated instance? Some two years ago, two gentlemen from the Inland Revenue Department came to my house in Sussex and said that they wanted to inspect it and to measure it. I asked them why, and they said: "We are from the Inland Revenue Valuation Department. Have you not had a letter from that Department?" I said, "No; I have had no letter." They said, very brightly, "Well, if you have not had it, you will have it very soon." So far, it has not arrived. I am not anxious to receive it, because I expect it will be perfectly futile and useless, oven if it does come. When I offered to provide them, as the noble Lord, Lord Raglan did, with a plan of the house, showing the dimensions of every part of it, they refused to accept it: they set off with their measuring tapes, and spent about an hour measuring up the house.

I fail to see what good purpose anything of this kind can serve. It is true that under the 1948 Act houses built in 1918 or later have to be valued according to the measurements or the estimated cost of construction, but the house to which I am referring was built about 450 years before that date, and clearly those provisions do not apply. I am not surprised that the 1948 Act has broken down and that the whole process of valuation has fallen into chaos, if that is the way in which the Inland Revenue Department go about this business. I am very disappointed, because I was a supporter of the view that we were likely to obtain more expedition and accuracy if this job was placed in the hands of one independent, central Department, and not in the hands of a variety of bodies all over the country who might adopt different standards and arrive at conflicting results. Upon the face of it, it looks as if there is some cause for reviewing the procedure which evidently has been adopted in these cases.

3.42 p.m.


My Lords, I think your Lordships will agree that it is an essential part of the Parliamentary function to watch the manner in which the Executive carry out the statutory powers entrusted to them, and that is particularly the case when it might amount superficially to any form of invasion of private rights. Therefore, I am very glad to answer, so far as I can, any question which the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, may wish to raise in regard to this matter. I think it is common knowledge that we have raised taxes on residential and other property for much longer than 100 years, and it has always been necessary to make some examination of the property. So long ago as 1836, under the Parochial Assessment Act, arrangements were made for property to be examined, and authority was given, if necessary, for entry to be made for a survey or view of the property. Under the Act of 1948, to which the noble Lord referred, those functions were transferred to valuation officers appointed by the Inland Revenue, and that is why two officers of that Department found it necessary to examine the noble Lord's house. Valuation officers are obliged to do two things: first, to carry their authority with them, to show if anyone asks them to do so. I do not know whether they did in this instance, but I take it that they had that authority with them. Secondly, they are obliged to give twenty-four hours' notice, and again, so far as I know, in this case that obligation was fulfilled.


Not in my case. I had no notice whatever.


If the noble Lord wished to bring, his case to the attention of the Government, he should have given notice. It is quite impossible to answer the noble Lord at a moment's notice. If the noble Lord wants to receive an answer—and I shall be only too glad to reply—he must give notice. I should be surprised if any valuation officer of the Inland Revenue did not completely fulfil requirements laid down in the Statute in this respect.

The noble Lord, Lord Raglan, stated that he offered a plan to the officers who visited his house. I am unable to say why it was not accepted. These officers do not seek to make a full survey, in any sense of the word; they merely make a pencil drawing of the outside of a house. so that they can make a fair valuation. The noble Lord stated that this position has been altered by the Bill which is now before Parliament. I do not think that is correct. The new Bill bases valuation of residential property on the 1939 annual valuation, and even for this it may be necessary for the officers to make an examination of property. I am afraid that such examinations are essential, in order that the new valuation lists, which have not been renewed since 1934, should be brought out, as we hope, in the course of the next two or three years. I hope that these officers did not cause the noble Lord more inconvenience than was absolutely necessary in the execution of their duties, and I also hope that he will not be worried again, for decades, if not for centuries, by any similar invasion.

3.47 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say that I have no complaint to make against the officers concerned. They were perfectly polite and, so far as I know, acted entirely in accordance with the law. My complaint is of the complete waste of time in making this plan. They spent an hour and a half in finding out what half a dozen questions would have told them, and I think the answers would have been amply sufficient for all purposes connected with valuation. This survey is very costly and, in my judgment, a complete waste of public money. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.