§ 3.18 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE, SCOTTISH OFFICE (LORD STRATHCLYDE)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Strathclyde.)
§ LORD GREENHILL
My Lords, I do not wish to say anything that will hold up the passage of this important Bill— indeed, I think the sooner it appears on the Statute Book the better for Scotland as a whole. At the same time, there is one point, and one point only, upon which I should like to make an appeal to 307 the noble Lord the Minister of State for Scotland, and that is the recommendation made by the Sorn Committee about the payment by the Exchequer of 50 per cent. towards the cost of setting up the valuation machinery which will become necessary under this new Bill. I am aware that when this matter was raised on the Committee stage in another place the Secretary of State said—and I now quote from Column 164 of the Report of the debate which took place on the 6th March of this year:I make it clear that if the Commissioners of Inland Revenue had the job it would be cheaper because the cost would he carried by the Exchequer grant and the general taxpayer. I do say I can hold out no hope of its being paid by the Government. or of 50 per cent. being so paid if the matter were retained in the hands of local authorities. It had always been a local authority function and it was the Government's view that if local authorities preferred to retain those functions they would have to continue to pay. I said there was the alternative of the Inland Revenue.The noble Lord will be aware that in their Report the Sorn Committee tabulated four reasons why, in their view, it was necessary and important that this matter of machinery should be proceeded with. With your Lordships' permission I will read out those four reasons, in order to make clear their importance—they appear in paragraph 83 of the Report:The solution that we recommend to this question is:(i) that provision should be made in administrative schemes to be prepared by local authorities for the employment of full-time qualified assessors with adequate staff in all parts of Scotland; (ii) That local authorities unable reasonably to support such appointments by themselves should combine; (iii) That a Central Advisory Council or Board, including local authority representatives, should be appointed by the Secretary of State to assist him in the supervision of these arrangements and (iv) that an Exchequer grant of 50 per cent. should be payable by the Secretary of State on the cost of approved valuation staffs and their expenses.I believe that I voice what is a quite definite feeling among members of assessors' staffs in Scotland when I say that, owing to the fact that under this Bill they will all terminate their employment on the passing of this Act, and new appointments will be made of qualified assessors' staffs of a smaller number of valuation areas than at present exist, and also because existing valuation areas have 308 the feeling that they are being put to a good deal of trouble and expense, and see no hope of recovering any of the expense which they will incur, there is a real danger that there may be a hold-up in introducing this new machinery.
It seems to me that if we are to ensure the smooth running of this very complicated machinery which is to be set up there should be some form of encouragement from Her Majesty's Government, at least to the extent recommended by the Sorn Committee. One knows, of course, that the amount of collected rates meets only about one half of the total expenditure of local authorities, the remainder, or the greater part of it, being money paid by the Exchequer in the form of grants and so on. Her Majesty's Government have already been in the habit of paying 50 per cent. of the cost of preparing electoral registers, and therefore I fail to see how Her Majesty's Government can say, as I believe they have said, that now to make a 50 per cent. Exchequer grant towards the cost of the assessors' set-up would be creating a precedent. I respectfully suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that in fact Her Majesty's Government are already doing this with the electoral rolls, so that they would not be creating a precedent. Even if they were, however, the advantage to the Exchequer through the effect upon equalisation grants resulting from this better system of valuation in the long run would result in a saving to the Treasury, so that there would be no loss. At the same time Her Majesty's Government would be encouraging the new assessing area groups to go ahead with the setting up of their administrative machinery without this feeling of obstruction or annoyance.
I know that in this House, because of the somewhat antiquated view that your Lordships cannot be trusted to spend public monies and that that must be left wholly to another place, one cannot move an Amendment which would involve payment of monies, but I would ask that, so far as he can, the noble Lord should bring before the Secretary of State the representations that I have submitted, to see whether, by some means or other, even at this late stage, he cannot persuade those in charge of the purse strings to meet this very small additional expenditure and thereby, in my view, help to 309 smooth the running of this new and valuable piece of administrative machinery.
§ 3.27 p.m.
§ LORD STRATHCLYDE
My Lords, the noble Lord who has just spoken raised this question on the Second Reading debate, and at that time I replied, in the words of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, that in view of the choice that had been given to local authority associations and the choice they had made between continuing the service as a local authority service or having it transferred to the Inland Revenue, I did not see why, when they chose that it should remain a local authority service, the Treasury should be involved in paying a grant in that connection.
The noble Lord has to-day stressed the advisability of paying such a grant in order to smooth the work of setting up this new scheme. I cannot possibly believe that local authorities, which are highly responsible bodies, would endeavour in any way to hold up the working of an Act of Parliament which has received great support both in this House and in any other place and which is admittedly of very great value to Scotland. Therefore I do not think that argument hears much weight. There is nothing that I can add to what I have previously said in regard to the representations of the noble Lord. As he has said, the matter was fully considered in another place, and the reply of the Secretary of State has been quoted by the noble Lord. I cannot hold out any hope that at this date it would even be possible to make any alteration in the Bill as it now stands, although I. will, of course, see that the representations which he has made this afternoon are conveyed to my right honourable friend.
§ 3.29 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, I am very glad to note the last comment of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that the representations of my noble friend Lord Greenhill will be conveyed to the Minister. I fully agreed with the recital of the financial restrictions upon your Lordships' House but I do not agree with my noble friend Lord Greenhill in regarding those restrictions as antiquated. In fact, those of us who have seen their relevancy do not wish to be placed in the category of those who take that view. The point raised by 310 my noble friend, in what seemed to me a reasonable speech, would be a great help, in that if there is to be delay through inadequate arrangements for the appointment of the new assessors, because of finance, or if only a limited number of candidates come forward on what local authorities can offer, then perhaps the representations of Scottish local authorities might at least be considered by Her Majesty's Government.
§ LORD STRATHCLYDE
My Lords. The point with regard to limited numbers of candidates coming forward does not, I think, arise, because, so far as can be seen at this moment, the question is rather one of sufficient openings for the number of gentlemen already in post. It may be that they will not all have the necessary qualifications. I do not think that the question of delay on the part of local authorities should be given any weight in this argument, because I am sure that no responsible body such as a local authority would act in any way contrary to the will of Parliament.
§ On Question, Bill read 3a, and passed.