§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Strathclyde.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The LORD MERTHYR in the Chair]
§ Clause 1:
§ Valuation areas and authorities and appointment of assessors and stall
§ (5) The Secretary of State shall make regulations prescribing the qualifications required to be possessed by any person appointed to the office of assessor, or by any person appointed under section eighty-three or ninety-three of the Act of 1947 to act as depute assessor, and, except as otherwise provided in such regulations,—
- (a) a person shall not be appointed under this section to the office of assessor; and
- (b) a person shall not be appointed to act as depute assessor, nor, on or after the sixteenth day of May, nineteen hundred and fifty-seven, shall any person act as depute assessor;
§ LORD BURDEN moved, in subsection (5), to leave out "except as otherwise provided in such regulations". The noble Lord said: I beg to move this Amendment standing in my name on the 1264 Marshalled List. During the Second Reading debate, I asked the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, if he would be so kind as to meet me, along with representatives of the staff who will lose their posts when this Bill is passed. I should like publicly to thank the noble Lord for his courtesy and for the patience with which he listened to the case which we had to submit to him. I do not know whether the noble Lord recalls an incident when we were both in another place. I happened to be in the Chair of a Standing Committee when the noble Lord was apparently incensed at what he regarded as the indifferent manner in which the Minister leading for the Bill was treating the Committee. He spoke quite sharply to him and, in addition, said, "Take your hands out of your pockets!" I was in the Chair and did not have to rule whether it was in order or not for a Minister to have his hands in his pockets when he was addressing the Committee. In any case, may I say that now that the noble Lord is a Minister there was none of that attitude—nothing but the milk of human kindness when he was dealing with us.
§ I should like to make quite clear the purpose of this Amendment and also the second Amendment standing in my name on the Marshalled List. There are thirty-four existing local government assessors, twelve of whom are unqualified by examination. That is a large proportion. These so-called unqualified men have served the valuation authorities well in the past. To the local authorities' credit, it must be said that if they had not done so they would not have held their posts for so long. All these thirty-four assessors will lose their appointments when the provisions of this Bill come into operation, and if an examination qualification is laid down by regulation—which is quite possible under the terms of the Bill—one-third of the existing assessors will be entirely excluded from consideration when these new appointments are made by the new valuation authorities. The majority of these men who do not hold "paper" qualifications are qualified by very long experience, having been employed on valuation work for twenty-five to thirty years.
§ I want to make it clear that it is not suggested that these men should be told that they can retain their present employment, nor is it suggested that they should 1265 be guaranteed an appointment in the new service. The sole purpose of my Amendment in regard to the new service is to ensure that these men, who have obviously rendered long and valuable service, should have an opportunity of taking their chance in a fair field, and with no favour, when the new appointments are made.
§ May I direct the noble Lord's attention to this important point? The Amendment follows a precedent in the Local Government (Qualifications of County Treasurer and Town Chamberlain) (Scotland) Regulations, 1948 and 1950, made under the provisions of the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1947. There is another point which I would venture to submit. Why should these new rating and valuation authorities be put in leading strings? These authorities will be charged with carrying out the duties imposed upon them. Cannot they be trusted? Surely the members of these councils are, by long experience, able to judge correctly as between man and man the right person to fill a post. There is no need for any more to be said on that point.
§ May I venture another observation which may perhaps be challenged in some quarters? "Paper" qualifications are not always a final test of capacity and ability. Grim as it is for men and women in their fifties to find themselves suddenly, by an Act of this Parliament, deprived of their old livelihood, I do not urge that as a primary consideration, but I do claim that these men and women who, of necessity, through long experience, are expert in rating and valuation, ought not arbitrarily to be excluded. I yield to no-one in my desire to see that the men and women in the local government service of our country should have the highest professional qualifications. May I say that no trade union, no professional association, has done more than the National and Local Government Officers' Association to foster this outlook among their membership. But justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done. Quite deliberately, I say that if any of these men and women are by regulation prevented from applying for consideration in regard to these new appointments, then they will not only feel that they have been treated hashly and unjustly, but in actual fact that will he the case.1266
§ Let me repeat on their behalf that I am not claiming as of right that they must be appointed, but simply asking that they should be considered on their merits by impartial people. I have tried, so far as possible, to put the position quite objectively, and I hope for some assurance from the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, when he replies that will help to allay what I know and believe, having met these people, are legitimate anxieties as to their future. I beg to move.
Page 3, line 8, leave out ("except as otherwise provided in such regulations").—(Lord Burden.)
I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Burden, on behalf of these men, on the grounds of humanity, reason and justice. Chartered accountants always try to insist that properly qualified men should be chosen for the audit of accounts. They are always saying that you ought to have properly qualified people for the work. I think that they are quite right. But they have never taken the line that people who have given good service and have experience should he ousted to make room for such professional people. The line that they have always taken is that when places fall vacant, these qualified people—people with what Lord Burden very nicely calls "paper qualifications"—should be selected.
The people w whom the noble Lord refers are all people who have experience in the business and have given good service to local authorities. It may be said that there will be so much work to do that they will be found places; but I do not think that that is quite satisfactory. Let me give an example from another walk of life. I once travelled from Newcastle to London with a gentleman who was a Communist, al engineer and a lot of other things besides, and he said how carefully he watched the market so as to move in the direction where employment was going to be easy. On one occasion things were bad and he went to a celebrated engineering firm, the authorities of which said to him, "Yes, we will give you a job and we will give you the rate of wages; but remember, whatever you are told to do, you will have to do it, even if it means sweeping out the yard." He replied, "No, I would not do that. I am a man who works to 1267 a two-thousandth of an inch"—of course, I know people work to much closer measurements now, but this was twenty years ago. I can very well see that a man who has been an assessor in a great county for twenty years, and who is given a subordinate position under some younger man with the necessary paper qualifications, will find his work by no means pleasant when he is taught his business, perhaps, by a young man who entered the profession when he was already grey in it. On those grounds I support the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Burden; I would even support him in the Lobby, because I believe it is so important.
§ LORD SILKIN
This is a problem which confronts every profession at certain times in its existence, and it is from that point of view that I am interested. There comes a time when professions which hitherto have required no particular qualifications are registered, and then comes the question of what is to be done about existing practitioners with no particular qualifications. All precedents are in the direction of taking them in and allowing them to be registered as members of the profession. I imagine, and I should hope, that this will be the position with these assessors.
I see that the Secretary of State for Scotland is taking powers to make regulations prescribing the qualifications. When he has made the regulations they will be subject to the Negative Resolution procedure. I find myself in the difficulty that, though I have no doubt that the regulations will be quite proper ones—and I shall be very surprised if they do not take account of the interests of men who have given their lives to the profession of valuation as assessors, even though they have no particular paper qualifications—I feel that it would be much more satisfactory if we could see the regulations before they are made, or if the noble Lord who is to reply could tell us what is going to be in them. Frankly, I do not feel that the matter is substantial enough to require an Affirmative Resolution. I think it would be quite satisfactory if we could be assured of what the regulations are to contain, and what kind of qualifications Her Majesty's Government have in mind. Or perhaps we could have beforehand a White Paper 1268 or some other document telling us what was to go into the regulations, which we could then discuss if we were not satisfied.
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE, SCOTTISH OFFICE (LORD STRATHCLYDE)
I thank noble Lords who have spoken for the great moderation with which they have put their case. I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Burden, for having come and discussed this matter with me. If I may say so with all deference, we may be rather pre-judging the issue and I will endeavour to tell your Lordships why I think that may be so. The Amendment provides that a person now serving as assessor or deputy assessor shall be eligible for employment as such under the Bill, even though he does not possess the qualifications laid down in the regulations which are to be made. My first observation is that valuations in Scotland under this Bill will be a local authority service. It may go some way to relieve the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, if I tell him that before making any regulations under Clause 1 (5) it is intended to take the advice of the Advisory Council which, your Lordships will remember, is to be appointed under Clause 3. In Clause 3 it is laid down that the Council shall consist of fifteen members of whom not less than eight nor more than ten shall be nominated from a panel of persons nominated by such associations as appear to the Secretary of State for Scotland to represent valuation authorities.
I can give your Lordships this assurance: the attention of the Advisory Council will be drawn to the various representations which have been received on this subject. That includes recommendations made by the Sorn Committee and by the National Association of Local Government Officers, on behalf of serving officers of long experience in valuation departments of local authorities. When the Advisory Council have made their recommendations, it is again the intention of the Secretary of State for Scotland to give interested parties, including N.A.L.G.O. and the local authority associations concerned, an opportunity to submit observations on the draft regulations before they are made. I do not think I can go further than that. Though I have heard pleas such as that made by 1269 the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for the House to be given an opportunity of discussing regulations before, so to speak, they are actually laid, I believe that that would be quite unusual and not in accordance with precedent.
§ LORD STRATHCLYDE
I am glad of that. The noble Lord may be assured on the point. The Secretary of State for Scotland will be guided by advice he receives from the Advisory Council and by observations submitted by interested bodies on the draft regulations.
Your Lordships will realise that it is impossible for me, at this stage, to give an undertaking as to what the regulations may contain. I can, however, assure noble Lords that Her Majesty's Government are fully conversant with the position of serving assessors, and well understand and sympathise with their anxiety. We shall draw the attention of the Advisory Council to their position and ensure that an opportunity is given to all interested parties to comment on the regulations in draft. Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, has said, I hope that it will not be a case of being a sweeper in the courtyard. In view of the amount of work which has to be undertaken over the next few years by the assessors and their staff, it seems probable that it will be possible for the new valuation authorities to employ all, or nearly all, serving assessors in some capacity. I hope your Lordships are reassured by the course which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland intends to take in this matter, and that those who are anxious about their future position may also be reassured by what I have been able to say. If your Lordships are satisfied, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Burden, will see fit to withdraw his Amendment.
§ LORD BURDEN
May I thank my noble friends, Lord Saltoun and Lord Silkin, for their kind support? It is particularly generous support, because it was not possible, at the speed at which we are moving in regard to this Bill, to have any prior consultation. I address that comment particularly to my noble friend Lord Silkin.
1270 I cannot say that I am wholly satisfied with the reply I have received—I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, would not expect that. But that fact does not detract from my feelings. The noble Lord has gone as far as he can now go in this matter, and I believe that we now have his sympathy in regard to these men and women. I am sure that it cannot be his desire, or that of the Secretary of State for Scotland, that men and women in their fifties should be ruthlessly put on the scrapheap if they are capable (mark those words) of doing the new work. As those of us who have had experience of regulations know, the real tug may come in the consideration of those regulations, and I am grateful for Lord Strathclyde's assurance that there will he the fullest measure of consultation in regard to them. Of course, Parliament will not be abdicating its authority, nor will the Secretary of State, to any Advisory Committee. The final decision will clearly be with the Secretary of State and Parliament. Therefore, while I am most grateful for the support which has been given to this Amendment, I think my noble friends will agree with me that the best course for me now is to ask leave to withdraw it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Page 3, line 16, leave out ("unless he possesses the qualifications so prescribed") and insert ("unless he was holding office as an assessor or deputy assessor immediately before the sixteenth day of May nineteen hundred and fifty-seven and was employed in the valuation department for a continuous period of ten years immediately preceding such date or unless except as otherwise provided in such regulations he possesses the qualifications so prescribed").—(Lord Burden.)
§ LORD STRATHCLYDE
Your Lordships will realise that it is not possible for me to accept this Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ Clauses 2 to 5 agreed to.1271
§ Clause 6 [Ascertainment of gross annual value, net annual value and rateable value of lands and heritages]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 6 shall stand part of the Bill?
I rise to make a few remarks on this clause because I think it is important to have clarity; it is for no other reason that I am raising this point. It may be that I am particularly stupid, but somehow it seems to me that by Clause 6—and I do not think this is at once apparent—the concession given to owner-occupiers in the Housing (Repairs and Rents) (Scotland) Act, 1954, which was given after due consideration both in your Lordships' House and in another place, is removed, and the owner-occupier, who now has the benefit of a rating concession on, I think I am right in saying, 80 per cent. of the money spent on his repairs, will lose that. So far as I have been able to find out, this is intimated only in the Seventh Schedule of the Bill. It seems to me strange—I may be wrong, of course—that no mention is made of this fact in Clause 6, which I think is the relevant clause. If the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will tell me whether I am right or wrong, just to clarify the position, I shall be grateful. Before I resume my seat I should like to thank the noble Lord for having the Committee stage tonight. He has agreed to this for our convenience and, I do not doubt, at his own inconvenience.
§ LORD STRATHCLYDE
The concession to which the noble Viscount has referred is in respect of increase of rent of 40 per cent. which was granted under certain conditions under the Act of 1954. I would just say to the noble Viscount that we are moving on to a completely new system of valuation, which will come into operation in 1961, and the concession to which he has referred will, of course, not apply in the new circumstances which will then come into being.
§ On Question, Clause 6 agreed to.
§ Clause 7:
§ Provisions relating to agricultural lands and heritages and dwelling-houses occupied in connection therewith
(4) The gross annual value of any dwelling-house which—
(c) is suitable in character and size for such use in connection with those lands and heritages.
shall be determined in accordance with the provisions of subsection (2) of the last foregoing section, on the assumption, however, that it could not be occupied and used otherwise than as aforesaid.
(6) Where such a dwelling-house as aforesaid is occupied—
(b) in connection with any agricultural lands and heritages situated within the counties to which that Act applies, being lands and heritages the area of which does not exceed fifty acres or the rent of which does not exceed fifty pounds per annum and which are occupied by the owner or tenant thereof.
the net annual value and the rateable value of the dwelling-house shall be the gross annual value thereof less an amount equal to fifty per cent. of such gross annual value.
§ 6.35 p.m.
VISCOUNT STONEHAVEN moved, in subsection (3) (c), to leave out "and size". The noble Viscount said: This Amendment gives me a certain amount of uneasiness. My purpose in moving it is to safeguard the genuine case. I say "genuine" because I have no intention of encompassing anything to the benefit of someone who is, if I may so put it, trying to work "a racket"; that is to say, the man who purchases or owns a large house with ten or twelve acres of agricultural land surrounding it. I do not want to try to give him any benefit at all. I am concerned with the genuine cases. The clause deals with provisions which shall have effect regarding agricultural lands and heritages and dwelling-houses occupied in connection therewith for valuation purposes, and subsection (4) begins:
The gross annual value of any dwelling-house which—
(a) is occupied in connection with agricultural lands and heritages"—
three conditions are laid down in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of the subsection, which have to be complied with before it can be assumed—
that it could not be occupied and used otherwise than as aforesaid.
I am nervous about the last condition in paragraph (c), which reads:
is suitable in character and size for such use in connection with those lands and heritages.
§ I know of several cases in point—two in particular in my own county. The farm in the one case is a farm of about 150 acres and the farmhouse is Fiddes Castle. There is no other building so it has been used as a farmhouse for a long time. If it were ruled out on account of size I think it would be unfair. Then there is another case, that of Auquhirry. There the farmhouse—and there is no other house available—is the old Dower House to Dunottar Castle. What. I am nervous of is that if the words "and size" are to be the controlling factor, places of that sort—and I believe that there are probably thirty or forty more such cases in Scotland—might be prejudiced. I have discussed this matter with my noble friend and I desire him, if he will, to give us an assurance that the drafting of the Bill as it stands will give full protection to cases of that sort. I repeat that I do not want to protect the person who might seek to abuse the provisions of the Bill. I beg to move.
Page 11, line 1, leave out ("and size").(Viscount Stonehaven.)
§ LORD MATHERS
I accept at once Lord Stonehaven's protestations that he is not seeking to work any tricks by moving this Amendment. but I would ask the noble Lord who is in charge of the Bill to be very careful lest he should strengthen the impression—I fear it has already been created—to which I made reference in the Second Reading debate. There is apprehensiveness in connection with this Bill, and I should not like to see anything done by your Lordships with this Bill in Committee that would go any length at all to justify the fear, the suspicion, the apprehension, that this Bill is becoming any more a landlords' Bill than it is at the present time. That observation of mine perhaps applies more particularly to the Amendment which the noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, is seeking to make at Clause 17. I have no right to talk about that now as we have not come to it, but I do wish to utter a word of warning to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, in order that the Government may not be put into greater difficulty with this Bill than they have been in getting it to this length.
I should like to say a word in support of my noble friend Lord Stonehaven. I think the answer to 1274 the noble Lord, Lord Mathers, is that when an Act of Parliament is seen to work aright, the apprehensions that may have preceded its coming into operation quickly evaporate. Having been trained rather unwillingly in my youth in an, accountant's office where I had to deal with inland revenue matters for farmers. I know that, whatever improvement or repair is ordered by a local authority, the inland revenue inspector always thinks, there is an element of improvement in it for which the occupier should pay. In the case put forward by my noble-friend I can see a zealous inspector saying that it might have been used as a farmhouse but it has half a dozen rooms too many and the farmer will have to pay for it. He is already paying for it because he has a house too big for him.
There is another side of this matter. I live in a part of the world where the benevolent hands of various Governments during the past 200 years have completely changed the character of the countryside, and all over the country there are farmhouses which were built at a distance from their steadings and which were partly country dwelling houses and partly farms. In consequence of the social changes that have taken place, in a large number of cases these have become deserted and farmhouses have been built near the farm buildings, where the farmer wants his house to be, to watch his interests there. The usual fate of these houses is to be divided into two and made into farm servants' houses. Generally they make good and commodious houses and that is the proper thing to do. But now we come to this question of size. It may be that a farm servant is living in the whole of one of these houses. Are we going to be told that it is too big for a farm servant? I do not like that kind of thing.
If noble Lords looked into the legislation of the past, they would see that I am not altogether without reason for apprehension. We have had legislation saying that farm servants' houses shall not be counted as perquisites where there are so many persons in any given room. That was justified by a remark in Section 105 of the Report on Rural Housing in Scotland, where the following extraordinary statement is to be found:In many areas farmers have for years preferred to employ workers with small families 1275 and we do not think that the application of the overcrowding standard will substantially worsen the position of workers with large families in these areas.That is so contrary to the nature of farmers anywhere and to the generally accepted argument, that when the Report appeared I "chased up" some of the people responsible for it. I received the explanation that they were allowed to put in so many things in the Report, without controversy, if their opponents were allowed to do the same, and as a result that got into the Report. I do not like the idea that anybody should come along and say that these houses are too big or too small. Farm servants in this country are fortunate in having large families. I think that they and the farmers are probably the most prolific people in Scotland and have far larger families than anybody else. I do not like the idea of applying these standards of size to buildings of this kind.
§ LORD STRATHCLYDE
I hope that what I have to say on this Amendment may dispel the uneasiness which is felt by the noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, and the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun. In regard to what the noble Lord, Lord Mathers, had to say about this being a landlords' Bill, I would not call it that. I would call it a Bill for the benefit of Scotland. I am certain it will be of great benefit to our country in the long run. The purpose of the paragraph which it is proposed to amend is to secure that a house which receives the benefit of agricultural valuation shall be suitable in character and size for use with the agricultural land in connection with which it is occupied. This is consistent with the way in which the existing law of unum quid valuation of agricultural lands and houses is applied and with a recommendation of the Sorn Committee.
I wonder whether your Lordships would permit me to quote two relevant passages from paragraph 61 of the Report of the Scottish Valuation and Rating Committee. There it is said:It would of course be necessary, as part of any proposal for the separate valuation of agricultural houses, to provide that the valuation should reflect the fact that the house could only be occupied in connection with agriculture.This beneficial provision, of course, should only be applied to genuine farmhouses and should not apply to the exceptional case of a 1276 residence situated on a farm but out of all proportion to it in size and character.This subsection in the Bill was amended in another place to give more precise point to the Sorn Report, which I have just quoted to your Lordships, and also to the existing law as interpreted by the courts.
I understand that the leading authority on valuation in Scotland is Guest on Valuation. What Guest says on page 160 is this:There are three conditions which must be satisfied before the dwelling house of an occupier of agricultural subjects of any kind is entitled to be de-rated as a unum quid along with the land. They are:I think your Lordships will see that paragraph (c) which it is sought to amend is merely carrying over the second of the conditions I have mentioned to the new circumstances which are proposed in the clause. In any case of dispute about whether the house was in fact suitable in the past, the occupier will be able to appeal in the first instance to the Valuation Appeal Committee and then, by stated case, to the Valuation Appeal Court. I hope that I have been able to relieve the noble Lords who have spoken on this subject and who feel strongly on it, to some extent, at least, of their anxiety and uneasiness. In view of the fact that this is merely carrying forward something from the existing law to the new circumstances, I trust that it is acceptable to your Lordships.
- (1) that the house is on the subjects or so near to them that it can be held to be part of the same subjects;
- (2) that the house is of a character and size which are suitable to the subjects; and
- (3) that the house is occupied by the occupier of the land as such.…"
The noble Lord has reassured me, and I think that even if there were a case of hardship, the benefit that is conferred by this Bill far outweighs any difficulty. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT STONEHAVEN moved, in subsection (6) (b), to leave out "situated within the counties to which the Act applies." The noble Viscount said: I have put down this Amendment in order to be reassured that there is no real hardship arising to the unlucky crofter who is not in the crofting county. What I am 1277 not clear about comes lower down in the clause. The peoples in the crofting counties have a deduction from their gross annual value of 50 per cent., on which the rates are then levied. Is that value subject to the deductions shown in the First Schedule, or is 50 per cent. the total deduction applicable? If the case is that the total deduction applicable is 50 per cent., then the corresponding reduction in the vast majority of cases would fall into the category of a 40 per cent. reduction for repairs, which makes a difference of only 10 per cent., which is negligible, and I would not press the Amendment on that ground. If the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, can reassure me on this point, I will withdraw the Amendment. I beg to move.
Page 11, leave out line 18.—(Viscount Stonehaven.)
§ LORD STRATHCLYDE
This Amendment would extend the special crofters' rating concession to small landowners throughout Scotland. Your Lordships will realise that crofters and the crofting counties have always been regarded as a special case, and concessions to them are consistent with the policy that, has been followed by Parliament over a period of years. I would say to your Lordships that it seems clear, at least to me, that the distinction can be justified in the matter between the Highlands and the rest of the country, having regard to the special conditions in the Highlands. I would say, further, that if this concession were extended to include the whole of Scotland, then obviously something more would have to be done for the crofter communities In any event, the Government are not satisfied that the concession could be justified in the case of smallholders in other parts of Scotland, whose position is in no way different from that of smallholders in many parts of England and Wales, who receive no special concession. In these circumstances, I am afraid that I have to resist the Amendment. I regret that I did not quite follow the noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, in his mathematical exercise, but I should be pleased to discuss it with him on another occasion.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 7 agreed to.1278
§ Clause 8:
§ Subjects to be excluded from valuation roll
§ (2) No sewer shall be entered in the valuation roll for the year fiat commencing after the passing of this Act, or for any subsequent year.
§ (3) The foregoing subsection shall have effect in relation to any manhole, ventilating shaft, pumping station, pump or other accessory belonging to a sewer as it has effect in relation to the sewer.
§ VISCOUNT STONEHAVEN moved, in subsection (3), after "any" to insert "sewage disposal works". The noble Viscount said: I have put down this Amendment for the sake of clarity. I do not think it is completely clear from Clause 3 whether small sewage disposal works are considered as "other accessories" belonging to a sewer, or not. Of course, the large profit-making sewage disposal works of large towns, such as Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, could not possibly be called an "other accessory"; but a small sewage disposal works for forty, fifty or fewer houses on a housing estate might possibly be deemed to be an "other accessory." Perhaps the noble Lord could make clear whether this is or is not so. I beg to move.
Page 12, line 37, after ("any") insert ("sewage disposal works").—(Viscount Stonehaven.)
§ LORD STRATHCLYDE
I do not think any kind of sewage disposal work could be considered as an "other accessory", but the argument, which I think will be generally accepted, is this. Sewers are unproductive, and for the most part they are situated within the area of the local authority to which they belong, so that the payment of rates becomes more or less a matter of a local transaction. I would say to your Lordships that no suggestion has been made that sewage disposal works should be exempted from rates. They may, as the noble Viscount has said, be both expensive and valuable. There is another point, which is that they may well be in a different rating area from that of the authority to which they belong—there is an example of that as between Glasgow and Clydebank. To exempt them from rating might, therefore, create difficulties as between one local authority and another.
1279 Furthermore, in preparing this Bill the Government had the assistance of a Working Party on which the local authority associations were represented, and it appears to me to be rather late in the day to open a matter which came within their purview, and which during the passage of the Bill has never previously been raised. In view of what I have said—that I cannot for a moment think of any kind of sewage disposal works which could possibly be considered as an accessory, and the other matters to which I have referred—I hope that the noble Viscount may see fit to withdraw the Amendment.
This seems to be a matter that has not been raised before. It is not a matter that I should like to raise on my own, and therefore I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 8 agreed to.
§ Clauses 9 to 15 agreed to.
§ Clause 16 [Transference of liability for owners' rates and consequential reduction of rents]:
§ On Question: Whether Clause 16 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ LORD MATHERS
This brings us to the rating part of the Bill. There has been much concern about the fact that the Sorn Committee proceeded to its task (I hope that I am not out of order in making this observation), which was a formidable task, without full authority to deal with the general rating position. We have been promised that at some time in the future there will be a more comprehensive review of rating in Scotland, but the feeling is, as I have said, that this Bill may be the precursor of something much more important, and that the changes which are being made by this Bill may simply be clearing the way for other things which might not be so readily acceptable. While there has been a great deal of discussion of this Bill, and some objection to what is in it, I am quite sure that, generally speaking, there is a great deal of approval for what is done by it. But could we have some assurance—I know that I am asking almost for the impossible—that the groundwork for a 1280 new advance which we have here will not place occupiers, once they are saddled with the burden of rates, in a worse position than they are at the present time, while by this Bill the owners of the houses which are rented will be relieved of their responsibilities? If anything could be said to give comfort in that respect, I am sure that it would be valuable in getting this Bill accepted by the public in Scotland.
§ LORD STRATHCLYDE
I do not think I can say anything in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Mathers, except to refer him to what I said in my Second Reading speech on this particular matter. The noble Lord knows that the Bill makes provision that when the owner's rates go down there will be a reduction in rent. So far as future legislation is concerned, I am afraid that I know nothing about that matter.
§ Clause 16 agreed to.
§ Clause 17 [Liability to charge of owner of unoccupied lands and heritages]:
With your Lordships' permission, if you will not consider it discourteous, I do not propose to move any of my Amendments to Clause 17, which really form all one Amendment. I have discussed the question with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and he has convinced me that the clause is not so bad as I thought, and as many people who have been pressing me have thought.
§ Clause 17 agreed to.
§ Remaining clauses and Schedules agreed to.
§ House resumed Bill reported without amendment.