HL Deb 08 April 1975 vol 359 cc10-64

2.55 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, that the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Hughes.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The Earl of Listowel in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [The valuation roll and revaluation]:


I beg to move Amendment No. 1 as printed. Perhaps I could associate with this Amendment, Amendments Nos. 6, 12 and 16 which are consequential Amendments. They are purely drafting Amendments, the advantage of which is to diminish the number of words in the Bill without altering the purpose. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 2, after (" (Scotland)") insert (" (hereinafter in this Act referred to as "the Assessor ") ").—(Lord Hughes.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

The Earl of LISTOWEL

s: Before I call Amendment No. 2,I should point out to the Committee that if this Amendment is agreed to I cannot call Amendments Nos. 3. 4 and 5.

Lord CAMPBELL of CROY moved Amendment No. 2: Page 2, leave out lines 28 to 39 and insert (" in respect of any entry therein which is incorrect.")

The noble Lord said: I think it would be convenient if Amendment No. 4 which stands in my name were considered with this Amendment. They are alternative Amendments. In the first five clauses of this Bill changes are suggested in the valuation procedures in Scotland. The Scottish Association of Assessors, who have to carry out the work in Scotland, have noted that these changes amount to a substantial alteration of the system, moving to a quinquennial system instead of an annual one. When the Bill was passing through the other place, they were unfortunately too late to put forward the suggestions for amendments which they would like to be made to the Bill. I have received those Amendments, and I see that in some cases they will find themselves operating under a much more difficult system than the present one, unless the Government are prepared to make some changes. If, for one reason or another, the Amendments which are on the Marshalled List are not satisfactory, I hope that the Government will be able to suggest Amendments of their own.

Unless there is a change of the kind set out in Amendments Nos. 2 and 4, the operation for valuation could be upset. It is too late for Amendments to be made in another place, and that is why I am hoping that the Government will be able to respond in your Lordships' House, either at this stage or at a later stage. The proposal is that a right which an assessor in Scotland has at the moment should be continued under the new procedures. At present an assessor has a right to alter a first assessment and to make correcting adjustments between the time when a valuation roll is made up and its entry into force. That is a limited period, and it is only during that period that they ask for this right to continue.

This right has helped assessors to be as fair as they possibly can in Scotland, as between different ratepayers and different districts. The ratepayer still has a right of appeal if he disagrees with the later adjustment. The assessors have to do this job. They are faced with this derogation from what has been a useful function for them in the past, and it means that their method of work will be changed unnecessarily.

This appears to have happened by accident. It is because a procedure which has operated under English legislation is now being incorporated in this Scottish Bill. But I will not go into the details of the English situation and will say only that this procedure has operated in England against a quite different background. Therefore, this appears to have been put in by accident. It is a change which will make the operation much more difficult for those in Scotland who have the task of assessing. I hope that if the Government do not find Amendment No. 2 commendable they will accept Amendment No. 4, or will have some other suggestion of their own in order to meet this situation. I beg to move Amendment No. 2.


I am sorry that I cannot accept either Amendment No. 2 or Amendment No. 4, but not necessarily because these would be inappropriate in the right context. This is a Bill to do the final tidying-up that is necessary for the bringing into operation on 16th May of the reform of local government which was enacted in 1973. There are a number of valuation points in the Bill which it is expedient to cover in connection with this reorganisation, but quite a number of the points which have been put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, are changes in valuation which are not necessarily related to anything which has to be done for reorganisation. They may or may not have merit on their own, but they could be fully evaluated only if we were looking at them in the context of changes in the valuation law generally. The attitude of the Government is therefore that in so complex a field as valuation we ought not to be changing the principles under which assessors work, unless it is absolutely essential that changes should be made because of the new authorities.

As the clause stands at the present time it allows the assessor, during the period of the making up of the roll and its coming into force, to alter it by entering property which has been omitted in error; by entering property which has come into existence or occupation since the roll was made up; to reflect any alteration in value due to a material change of circumstances and to correct any error of measurement, survey or classification, or any clerical or arithmetical error.

The effect of Amendment No. 2 would be to sweep away these specific grounds for alteration, and to substitute power limited only by the requirement that the alteration should be "in respect of any entry … which is incorrect". The second Amendment would add a further power allowing the assessor to alter the roll to ensure its correctness. The Amendments invite the assumption that the incorrectness of the roll is a matter of the assessor's opinion, and in the view of the Government this is a rather unusual power to put solely in the hands of an official. Two equally skilled valuers might on the same evidence ascribe different values to the same property, simply as a matter of professional judgment. In short, there is no absolute criterion of correctness, so the power which the Amendments seek to confer on the assessor must be an arbitrary one.

Nor would the Amendments place any limit on the number of times the power could be exercised. Having altered an initial entry, the assessor might wish to take yet another view of the evidence and alter an entry a second time. It would obviously be unfair to individual ratepayers to place such wide powers in the hands of officials, particularly when these officials are not subject to administrative control, but only to the valuation appeal committee or the Lands Valuation Appeal Court.

When an assessor issues a valuation notice he does so after such researches and consideration as he thinks necessary. If he is mistaken as to the facts, the clause allows him to reassess. If the facts change so as to affect value he may reassess. But subject to that he should be bound by values entered in the roll in the knowledge of the facts, and in the light of his professional skill and judgment exercised when the roll is made up. It could be argued that the wide powers which the Amendments would give would prevent the difficulties and discontent caused when the assessor has to tell a ratepayer that his value is not too high, but the value of a house which he cited for comparison purposes was pitched too low. This may be so, but the price to be paid is the arbitrary increase in rateable value which the other ratepayer would be liable to suffer if the Amendment were carried. With the pressure of revaluation work it is not surprising that the valuations of a few properties should be questionable. If an undervaluation is attributable to any of a fairly broad spectrum of errors it may be corrected under Clause 1(6)(d). But it is better that an occasional error of valuation judgment should go uncorrected, than that assessors should be given complete freedom to vary assessments which they have made in full knowledge of the facts. For these reasons we think that given the purpose of the valuation changes in this Bill it would not be proper for the Government to advise your Lordships to accept these Amendments.


From what the noble Lord has told us, it seems that his objection is that this Amendment would give an arbitrary power to the assessors who are, as he says, officials. But this is a power which they use at present. I would call it more a function; it is part of the system under which they are operating at the moment, and I would ask the noble Lord this question, if I may have his attention. I sympathise with the noble Lord, because I realise that he has to deal with this Bill entirely on his own, and I am in no way critical of his receiving messages, but on this point I should like to have his attention. This is the system under which the assessors are operating at present and, so far as we can tell, it has worked fairly; it has been for the benefit of ratepayers in different properties and in different districts. So when the noble Lord says his objection is that it is an arbitrary function bestowed upon the assessors, does he criticise the system as it is operating at the present? —because in this respect they are not asking for anything more than the function which they have at the present time.

Secondly, the noble Lord said that this is a valuation matter. As I pointed out, the first five clauses of this Bill alter the valuation procedures and this amounts to a very substantial change. But if it is a valuation matter, I presume that what he is suggesting is that this should be dealt with under a valuation Bill rather than a Bill concerned with the reorganisation of local government and its consequences. In that case, can the noble Lord give me any indication of when a Scottish valuation Bill is likely to be coming forward? If we accept what the noble Lord has just said, the assessors have the problem of trying to operate what to them will now be an unsatisfactory system, until the new valuation Bill comes into effect. No doubt the Scottish assessors will read what the noble Lord has said, or will otherwise get a report of it, and it is important to them to know how long they have to operate in what is now an unsatisfactory situation. Adjustments to the procedures are being made in this Bill because of the reorganisation of local government, but the complementary changes in a valuation Bill are not coming forward and the assessors will have no idea when the necessary changes to improve this unsatisfactory situation will arrive.


When the noble Lord comes to reply, could he tell us why it is that this change is necessary? As I understand it from my noble friend, the system which has existed hitherto is to be changed. But why? Is it because it is unsatisfactory in some way or another? It has been running for a very long time, and I do not know that I have heard many complaints about it. What is to be the improvement which will take place under this new procedure?


What the noble Lord said about the present position is true to a certain extent, but not over the whole field. It is true that at the present time assessors are free to alter the roll during a limited period after publication, but it should be remembered that the wide powers in the Valuation and Rating (Scotland) Act 1956 were mainly a bringing forward of the position from the Land Valuation (Scotland) Act 1854. That was at a time when I can say, I think without contradiction at least from any of the people then involved, that they were less qualified than are the assessors today. But even if the present power is exercised sparingly, there is no means of knowing how much resentment it causes. The present power is for a limited period after publication. But what is suggested in these Amendments would not be a limited period, but a continuing one.

If I may refer to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, about there being no dissatisfaction with the situation, if he casts his mind back to the time when he was a member of the Glasgow Corporation, and if I cast my mind back to when I was a member of the Dundee Corporation, we shall remember that the general attitude of the ratepayers when they got a revaluation was that they were totally dissatisfied, because it seldom happens that a revaluation reduces anyone's liability. If in fact only a minority of people appeal against the revaluation, one must not think that in the rest of the cases silence means consent; it just means that other people have decided they would have to put up with it.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, went on to ask when a new valuation Bill might be introduced. I am quite certain that if we were sitting on opposite sides of the Chamber, and the noble Lord had made the statement that I have just made, he would probably use the words that I am now about to use—" at the earliest possible convenient time ". My crystal ball is no more effective in deciding that answer. Obviously, on a new valuation Bill coming forward, there will be the fullest opportunity, not merely for the local authorities and their Association, but for the assessors and anyone else concerned with valuation, to put forward all the points they think ought to be made in considering either the continuation of present procedures or their alteration. But the merit of doing this in a valuation Bill is that one is looking at all these things in the context of valuation alone, and one does not have the complications necessary because of a change in the local authority structure.

So while I have in fact criticised the merits of the proposal because of the very wide power it confers on assessors (in the matter of time, going much beyond what they have at present), in another context if there were other things in a valuation Bill which perhaps qualified or amplified it, it might not be unacceptable. I am merely arguing against it in the context of the present Bill. I would not wish to go further on this complex position than I have at present, without much more briefing.


May I say that I did not intend to suggest that no one was dissatisfied. I have never known of a rate or a valuation being fixed that did not cause the most deep dissatisfaction to everyone to whom it applied. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes must be well aware that this is the situation throughout the whole of Scotland. We do not like to have valuations placed on us at any time. Certainly there is always dissatisfaction with every valuation. But that does not account for the question that I put first of all, as to what is the real need for doing this. I do not see the need.


s: I may go further than the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, in saying that dissatisfaction aroused when people are asked to pay more money probably spreads over the whole world.


What my noble friend has said reminds us that the assessors of Scotland have to carry out an unenviable and invidious task. That is why they are particularly anxious that they should retain a procedure which helps to produce fairness between different ratepayers, and which is seen to be fair. I understand that in the discussions between the Association of Scottish Assessors and the Scottish Office, it was admitted that there is a problem, and that part of it can be dealt with in regulations by the timetable, which statutorily have to be issued on what is described as the "as at" date. But I will not go into the technicalities of that. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said that a valuation Bill would be "coming forward", in the usual immortal words which the usual channels usually expect. But I think that is of help, because the noble Lord indicated, if I may paraphrase it, that the Government are contemplating a valuation Bill for Scotland, and would bring it forward when practicable. So at least the assessors can see that their difficulties, although made worse for the time being, will come to an end in some foreseeable future. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.18 p.m.

Lord CAMPBELL of CROY moved Amendment No. 3: Page 2, line 37, leave out (" or classification ").

The noble Lord said: This is a very simple Amendment. Here again, the Association of Assessors, who have the task to perform, point out that the word "classification" has no recognised meaning in the context of valuation law in Scotland. They regard it as superfluous, and believe it could lead to misunderstanding, and unless the Government have reason to think otherwise it would be best struck out of the Bill.


Properties may be classified in various ways, and an error of classification might have a greater or lesser effect on valuation, according to its nature. A house might be classified as a guest house, or a private dwellinghouse; or houses may be classified according to their degree of amenity, in so far as this is definable in factual terms. For example, if a house is placed mistakenly in a given amenity level, it is proper that the assessor should have powers to rectify his error as he does if the error is one of special measurement.

Of course I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, when he says that the word "classification" has no particular place in valuation procedures. I would have been obliged to agree with him if he had said that it was a vague term, but I do not think it can be argued that there is any risk that its meaning will be proved to be too wide because, after all, the Amendment we have just spoken on would have given much wider scope than this to the assessor. The previous Amendment was an attempt to widen the powers of the assessor. This Amendment, if it were carried, in fact would narrow the powers of the assessor. In doing what we have, we are drawing a reasonable middle line on this basis, not going too far in one direction, but not circumscribing it too much in another. If there was an objection to the use of the word "classification" as such rather than what it is intended to enable the assessor to do, then, of course, we could not confine it here, because the word appears again in Clause 2(l)(f), and they do not appear to have asked for any alteration there.

I would be prepared to undertake to look at this in the interval; to examine with my advisers whether there is any real fear that the use of the word "classification" could cause any problem in valuation procedures, and, if so, whether there is any way in which it could be helped either by use of a better word or by an attempt to define what "classification" is. That is as far as I can go at this stage. Like the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, I do not like going too wide in these matters; that is why I was against Amendments Nos. 2 and 4. It may be that in seeking to give reasonable powers to the assessor we have taken this one wider than we ought to do. If the noble Lord will agree, I should be happy to have a look at it. I hope he will be content with that assurance.


With that friendly reaction from the noble Lord towards this Amendment, I am glad to ask leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord HUGHES moved Amendment No. 5:

Page 2 line 39, at end insert— (" (e) by entering therein any lands and heritages which the Assessor has directed him under section 5 of this Act so to enter.").

The noble Lord said: With Amendment No. 5 I wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 7 and 13. All of these are drafting Amendments. The assessor of public undertakings is required by Clause 5(2) to direct the local assessor to enter APU valuations in the valuation roll, and Clause 5(4) places the local assessor under a duty to make the entry in the roll accordingly. The purpose of the Amendments is to add this duty to those already placed on the local assessor by Clauses 1 and 2(1) and to remove it from Clause 5, where, logically, it is out of place. I beg to move.


Do I understand from what the noble Lord has said that this is simply moving a part of the Bill from one place to another, rather than second thoughts which the Government have had on the substance?


It is the first of the alternative suggestions which the noble Lord has put.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 2 [Alterations to valuation roll which is in force]:


I have spoken to Amendment No. 6 on Amendment No. 1. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 12, leave out "of Public Undertakings (Scotland)".—(Lord Hughes.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


I have spoken to Amendment No. 7 on Amendment No. 5. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 3, line 29, at end insert— (ff) by entering therein any lands and heritages which the Assessor has directed him under section 5 of this Act so to enter; ".— (Lord Hughes.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

3.25 p.m.

Lord HUGHES moved Amendment No. 8:

Page 4, line 5, at end insert— (" Provided that if the proprietor, tenant or occupier of the lands and heritages has intimated in writing to the assessor the event by reason of which a reduction in value of the lands and heritages is made, or on appeal the value in the relevant entry has been reduced on the ground of a material change of circumstances, the alteration in the roll shall have effect as from the date of the event or as from the beginning of the year in which intimation of the event is made, whichever is the later, or, as the case may be, as from the date of the material change of circumstances on which the appeal is grounded or as from the beginning of the year in which the appeal is lodged, whichever is the later; ").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 8 as printed on the Marshalled List. The purpose of the Amendment is to ensure that an occupier who has appealed or made representations to the assessor about some material change of circumstances—described as "an event"—should receive the benefit of any consequential adjustment with effect from the date of the event or the beginning of the year in which he raised the matter, whichever is the later.

The Amendment thus produces the result that where an intimator intimates in writing an event—for example, the burning down of a garage, or some kind of loss of amenity which reduces the annual value of his property—no administrative or judicial delay in settlement of the matter will affect his right to the benefit of the adjustment with effect from the date of the event, provided that intimation is given during the year in which it occurred. Where the intimation is delayed until a later year—and when I refer to "year" this is the financial year, not the calendar year—the adjustment will be made from the beginning of that year. If there is an appeal, while it is pending the amount of the rates payable may be restricted under Clause 9 of this Bill. This seems a reasonable safeguard for a rate-payer in the kind of circumstances that could arise. I beg to move.


I would ask only why this has appeared at this stage of the Bill, because it seems a reasonable provision and has been explained as such by the noble Lord. Were representations made about this from outside, or is this something which the Government have thought of since the Bill has been through another place?


I do not know and, quite frankly, as a ratepayer I have never thought it necessary to look a gift horse in the mouth. After all, I might get home and discover that my garage has burned down. If I am to have the benefit of this, I do not see that I should find out why I would not have had the benefit if it had burned down last year.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord HUGHES moved Amendment No. 9: Page 4, line 11, at end insert ("; and the date on which any alteration in the roll made under this section comes into effect shall be stated in the roll")

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 9 as printed. This Amendment places a duty on the assessor to show in the valuation roll the effective date of any alteration made in the roll. This is reasonable, because, if it is altered, it could affect the rates which would be payable. Where the date is shown, the ratepayer knows exactly what part he has to pay at one valuation and what part he has to pay at the other one. If the noble Lord asks me why this was not done before, again I do not know, but it seems to me to be a desirable refinement.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 3 [Provisions supplementary to Sections 1 and 2]:


I have already spoken to Amendment No. 10. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 4, line 27, leave out (" Subject to section 5(4) of this Act ").—(Lord Hughes.)


In fact, from my record, it was not one of the Amendments mentioned by the noble Lord, but it appears to be consequential, so I would not wish to raise anything on it.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


The noble Lord is perfectly right. Amendments Nos. 10, 11 and 23 all hang together. I ought to have said on Amendment No. 10 that these are drafting Amendments consequent on the Amendments to Clause 1. I now beg to move Amendment No. 11, with the explanation being retrospective to Amendment No. 10. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 4, line 32, after ("above") insert ("other than an entry made under section 1(6)(e) or 2(l)(ff) of this Act ")—(Lord Hughes.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 3, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 4 agreed to.

Clause 5 [Valuation of public under-takings]:


I beg to move Amendment No. 12. I spoke to this matter on Amendment No. 1.

Amendment moved— Page 6, line 25, leave out ("of Public Undertakings (Scotland) ("the Assessor")")— (Lord Hughes.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move Amendment No. 13. I have already spoken to this Amendment.

Amendment moved— Page 7, line 27, leave out subsection (4).— (Lord Hughes.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord HUGHES moved Amendment No. 14: Page 8, line 10, leave out ("entry in roll in consequence of ") and insert ("valuation as contained in ")

The noble Lord said: This is a slight drafting Amendment. It brings the reference to the content of Section 24 of the Lands Valuation (Scotland) Act 1854 into accord with the content of that Section as amended by paragraph 2(b) of Part II of Schedule 6 to the Bill. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 5, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 6 agreed to.

3.32 p.m.

Lord CAMPBELL of CROY moved Amendment No. 15:

After Clause 6 insert the following new clause:

Valuation of Caravan Sites.

". (1) The annual value of a caravan site shall include the values of all caravans thereon which, except for the operation of this section, would qualify to be separately entered in the valuation roll and the proprietor and occupier shall be deemed to be the proprietor and occupier respectively who would have been entered in the valuation roll in respect of the caravan site.

(2) In this section "caravan sites" and "caravans" shall have the meanings assigned to them by section 29 of the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960."

The noble Lord said: This is a new clause in the terms printed. I start by saying that this is a probing Amendment, and I shall be surprised if the Government are able to accept the new clause in this wording. It raises a subject which has been a rating problem not only in Scotland but South of the Border as well, that of the whole question of caravans; not just, as some years ago, of whether caravans should be rated at all, but also how to treat the many differing kinds of caravans.

It has been accepted that in certain circumstances individual caravans should be rated like other dwellings. I am sure that your Lordships will know of some caravans which are so extensive and well appointed that they have all the attributes of a house; that caravan, in Scotland, has been accepted as a rateable subject, and has been treated like other dwellings. Where it is the permanent residence of its occupier, then it is right and proper that if it is appropriate it should be entered individually in the valuation roll. Difficulties have arisen over caravan sites because often they have a mixture of different kinds of caravans. There may be touring caravans and static caravans; there may be the kind that I have just mentioned, which are the equivalent of a permanent home, on the same site as caravans used simply for holidays in the summer or for short lets. A single caravan may have many occupiers in succession during a single summer season.

By Clause 2 of the Bill the assessors would continually have the task, under the new system, of endeavouring to trace and then get in touch with occupiers of caravans—some of whom will have occupied the caravan for a very short time—in order to enable the local authority to try to collect rates from them. I think that in our rating system we do not expect people who go into a caravan for ten days or two weeks to pay a separate rate demand, or a portion of it, on a separate individual missive sent to the individual. That is why it has been the practice in some cases for caravan sites in Scotland to be treated as one entity. That is the suggestion in this new clause. Then the caravan owners and occupiers, who may be constantly changing, would answer to the owner or the occupier of the caravan site. At present the owner or occupiers of individual caravans are under no obligation to inform the assessor about their occupation or their movements.

Looking at the other side, because there are two sides to this question, one does not want to place too heavy a burden on the owner or occupier of a caravan site, but he would in any case have to make out bills to individual caravan owners or occupiers for other charges, such as water and electricity, if laid on, and it would not be a particular burden for him also to include an element for rates. I know that problems arise about this. One which immediately comes to mind is how the question of rate rebates would be dealt with, because an individual occupier of a caravan might be eligible for a rate rebate and one might then find that the owner of the caravan site had the task of sorting out the rate rebates of individual occupiers. I see that as a possible burden. On the other hand, if the situation is left as it is at the moment it means that some occupiers of caravans will have to pay rates—usually those who were there for some time—and others will not; some will get caught and some will escape. That is a most unsatisfactory situation.

I should like to draw the attention of the Government to this problem. This is a probing Amendment, but it is an important matter which still needs to be sorted out in Scotland. The attempt to deal with caravan sites as single entities has itself run into difficulties in the courts because there have been adverse findings by the courts. What is needed is legislation to clarify the position for the future. I think that it should be on the lines of the caravan site being dealt with as a single entity; that is the most likely answer to this difficult problem. How-ever, I recognise that there are more subsidiary problems to be settled, such as the rebate problem, and that this new clause as drafted is not in itself sufficient. I hope that it identifies what remains a problem and what could be a cause of great dissatisfaction in the future. I hope that the Government will deal with it urgently.


I have no right at all to enter into a Scottish Bill, but the noble Lord said that many people may occupy a single caravan. Surely the owner of the caravan should pay the rates. If he lets it to others then naturally he gets the rent for which he asks; but surely he should be the person responsible for the rates, just as used to be the case with a private house, when the owner of the house paid the rates and, if it was let, the tenant paid the rent.


I agree. I think that where the summer holiday season is concerned and there may be ten or a dozen different occupiers, not owners, then the owner of the caravan should be the person who pays the rates, and he may pass the amount on in his subletting. But the difficulty at present with such caravan sites is to identify even the owner, because the ownership of the caravan sometimes changes two or three times during the year, and the letting even more often. It is a problem, and the only way in which one can be sure that a fair rate is being paid by every caravan on the site, regardless of the number of times the ownership or occupancy changes, is to proceed on a site basis.

Viscount AMORY

I share the diffidence expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Somers, in having the imprudence to enter a Scottish debate, but I want only to sound one word of warning. Though this may not be necessary, my warning is to show how easy it is to underestimate the administrative cost of collecting a large number of small rate payments from a changing population. Sometimes one thinks that this will be a small matter, but when one takes into account the cost of the official, his secretarial assistance, the cost of Social Security payments for the official concerned and the cost of accommodation occupied by him, the actual amount is far higher than one is apt to think. But anyone who knows local government at the present time will know how expensive each individual task of this kind can be. So I hope that, whatever is decided, it will not impose too great an administrative burden on the officials concerned.


Perhaps I may now say something which I intended to say earlier. I express the hope to the noble Lord opposite that he and his colleagues may take into consideration what has been said today. This matter is of such great importance to Scotland as a whole. The caravan business is growing increasingly. The number of caravans parked all over the country is enormous. It is a growing problem. Therefore I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, will take into consideration what has been said by those who have already spoken.

3.43 p.m.


First, may I say that, as a Scottish Minister, I have never found any occasion to object to our col-leagues South of the Border entering our debates. Invariably, I have found them helpful to me and not to the movers of Amendments. It is no exception on this occasion. I appreciate very much the motives of the noble Lord, Lord Camp-bell of Croy in tabling this Amendment. Undoubtedly, it draws attention to a problem which is increasing and to which assessors have not been able to find an easy solution. Unfortunately, the method suggested could have the effect of causing considerable hardship to individuals.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, spoke of the varying types of "let." He suggested that caravans might be used on sites by some people for years, while others may occupy a permanent caravan for only a few holiday weeks. I shall give another variation: some are very much better off than others. The noble Lord referred to a rate rebate and spoke of the possibility of the site owner having the additional complication of deciding what rebate a person should be entitled to receive. But there would be no rebate. He could do nothing about it, because he would be the person on whom the rate was levied. He would not be entitled to collect any rebate, so he could not pass anything on. But there might well be a number of people on a site who are living there not necessarily because they choose to live in a caravan but because a caravan happens to be the cheapest facility available to them in which to live. And they might well be the people who are most in need of a rates rebate, but they cannot get any such rebate if they themselves are not individual ratepayers.

To a certain extent, the problem will be simplified in so far as the owners of permanent caravans are available. If the rate is levied on them individually at the beginning of the year—with the mandatory provision which is now in the Bill for rates being payable by instal-ments—it would be a far simpler matter to transfer the liability for future instalments to the new purchaser of a caravan. Incidentally, I am told that the difficulties about knowing who are owners is not always as great as the assessors may have represented to the noble Lord. I am told that, at least at some of these sites, there is a situation where, on the sale of a caravan, if a profit is emerging, the site owner wants a rake-off, and he knows perfectly well who is selling and who is buying, so that he can obtain his share of the rates available. But what I have said deals only with the fringes of the problem. It does not deal with the main problem itself. The answer must depend on the Layfield Committee which is currently carrying out a complete study of rating and they hope to submit their Report before the end of this year. This is where we may be able to obtain help. This problem of caravan site rating is one matter which they are considering. The problem may take on a completely different complexion as a result of the Committee's proposals.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for having tabled his Amendment, because if it does not serve any other purpose it would certainly once again direct the attention of the Layfield Committee to the fact that there exists this acute problem and that we are looking to them for help in finding a solution. In these circumstances, therefore, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, will accept that the Government are aware of the problem, that we should like to find the solution to it, but, having set up this excellent Layfield Committee, it would be as well to wait for their expert advice, when it is after all not so far away.


I, too, am grateful for the contributions from the noble Lord, Lord Somers, and also my noble friend Lord Amory. He pointed out that anything which adds to costs and the burden of administration ought, if possible, to be avoided. That, as he recognised was one of the points behind my Amendment. If the assessors have to spend an inordinate amount of their time trying to trace the owners of caravans, when that is only a small part of their total dwellings, this adds to the cost of local authorities, and, therefore, to the burden of rates. Likewise, much time of local authority officials—and, therefore, money—can be spent in trying to collect rates from many individuals. That is certainly a consideration which I hope the Layfield Committee will take into account. If it is proper for them to do so, I shall be grateful if the Government could make sure that this difficulty of caravan rating comes to the attention of the Layfield Committee. As the noble Lord said, this is another case where we are waiting for Layfield. In view of the noble Lord's remarks, however, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clauses 7 to 9 agreed to.

Clause 10 [Collection of rates by housing body on behalf of rating authority]:

3.49 p.m.

On Question, Whether Clause 10 shall stand part of the Bill?


I wish to raise a point on this clause, because I hope that in guidance which the Scottish Office send in circulars to local authorities—where it has been arranged that under this clause a housing authority will also collect rates—it will be made clear how desirable it is that rates and rent should be shown separately, and that separate amounts should be shown as well as the total; otherwise, there can be great confusion. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, knows that in various areas in Scotland in the past householders have thought they were paying only the rent, when they were in fact paying rent and rates combined. They thought the rent was high when, very often, the rates were the larger element. It has been a phenomenon in some areas in Scotland that rates have been high while rents have been low.

If the noble Lord were to say this is always done, then I would have to assure him that that is not the case because I have in my possession—I do not have them with me, but I could produce them —two examples of local authority demands for rates and rents together, which do not make it clear that they are separate amounts or, indeed, what the figures are. That occurred in the late 'sixties and I produced those examples in a debate in another place on this subject to show that it has happened. It can also happen that the print used is so small that the householder does not know that he is paying rates and rent, but thinks that it is only the rent, and he can be under the false impression that he is making a payment related only to his house when, in fact, a large part of the amount is a contribution to, among other things, education and local authority services in his area. I hope that the Government will ensure that this advice is given in circular guidance to local authorities.


I completely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, that it is desirable that where a combined payment is made, the person making the payment should know exactly what it is. As the former chairman of a development corporation I very much appreciate the need for this, because when I was in that position we revised the rents which had the effect of putting them up at intervals of three years, but the tenants' payments went up every year because the rates altered. If it had been a combined payment they would have said— and it was said in many cases—" The rent has gone up again." It is desirable, and I think it will undoubtedly be the case, that where a body other than the local authority itself is the housing body referred to, it will be very careful to make certain that the sums are distinguished. Whether a local authority itself would wish to distinguish between its rent and rates would be a different matter altogether and it might be regarded as an undue interference with the functions of an authority to direct that this should be done. But I certainly have no objection to pointing out the advantages of an occupant knowing how much he is paying in rent and how much he is paying in rates.

Clause 10 agreed to.

Clauses 11 to 13 agreed to.

3.53 p.m.

Clause 14 [Termination of certain existing grants for roads and public transport]:

On Question, Whether Clause 14 shall stand part of the Bill?


I wish to raise again the subject of transport. I referred to this matter briefly on Second Reading and I raise it again now because this clause terminates certain grants sub-sidising transport in Scotland for roads, bus and ferry services and railways. Transport costs have increased sharply in the last year throughout the United Kingdom, but I believe that the impact has been felt most in the rural areas. It has certainly been felt greatly in the rural and more remote areas of Scotland, of which there are really no equivalents elsewhere in Britain. What do the Government see as the effects of this increase? What in their view are the alternatives? Is it a fact, as I presume, that it is intended that this should be completely compensated for by the proposed increase in the rate support grant? I hope that the Minister can explain the position and, if I am right in what I say about the rate support grant, will give an assurance that the grants which are to be removed will at least be compensated for, and perhaps outweighed, by the increase in the rate support grant.


I rise to support the remarks of my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy, because there is an acute transport problem in rural areas, and if anything were done in this Bill to reduce the assistance that is given by way of grant aid, the problem would become more acute. We know that at present bus services are inadequate and, coupled with a lack of train services, this handicaps those living in rural areas. A particular difficulty faces those living in rural parts of Scotland because, for example, it is difficult to obtain farming help when transport facilities are inadequate. That difficulty will be increased if transport is made even more inadequate and it is important that we should not just take—perhaps "arbitrary" is too strong a word—decisions on transport without recognising that some areas are desperately short of facilities, and that anything which makes it more difficult to run a bus or any other service should be avoided at all costs. Also, let us not forget the need to improve the roads in these areas, especially where there are no train services. I am sure that the Government will be sympathetic and will do their best not to cut the transport grants.


It has been the policy for a number of years to seek to eliminate specific grants where these could reason-ably be brought into the general picture covered by the rate support grant. I wish, first, to confirm that expenditure which has hitherto been the subject of specific grants for transport purposes is now brought in as reckonable expenditure for rate support grant. Obviously, I can-not say that every local authority will get as much under the rate support grant as it formerly had under the specific grant, because although the rate support grant for Scotland as a whole is 75 per cent. of the reckonable expenditure, it varies very much from one authority to another. In fact, there are still some authorities, some of which are, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, mentioned, in the more remote areas, which are, generally speaking, among those with the higher rates of support grant. The noble Lord will remember that when he was Secretary of State for Scotland there was at least one remote local authority whose rate support grant accounted for more than 90 per cent. of its expenditure, and that authority was not getting specific transport grants at that sort of figure. So an authority in that category would be doing better under these proposals, but an authority whose level of rate support grant, because it was a better-off authority, was lower than the specific grant, would be worse off under these proposals.

However, the proposal has been accepted by local authorities generally as being an improvement on the present set-up because, with this responsibility being placed on the Regions, they are enabled with the aid of the rate support grant to look at all aspects of the matter—expendi-ture on roads, on the subsidising of public transport, on concessions for old age pensioners and on any other matters related to transport—and the whole thing comes under the umbrella of the help which they get from the rate support grant. The proposal is, therefore, generally accept-able, but it would be wrong if I did not accept the fact that there may be some authorities which may be receiving less than if the specific grants were continued. But I think, taking the pattern as a whole, that the amount of expenditure which will fall on the Government by making this matter the subject of overall rate support grant at 75 per cent. will almost certainly mean that the Government will be giving a bigger measure of support in this sphere than was the case hitherto.

Clause 14 agreed to.

Clauses 15 to 18 agreed to.

Clause 19 [Amendment of section 201 of Act of 1947]:

On Question, Whether Clause 19 shall stand part of the Bill?


I suggest to your Lordships that this clause should be left out of the Bill. Clause 19 has nothing to do with the rest of the Bill. It is incongruous and objectionable and should be cleanly excised. Its provisions have already been enacted in the Scottish Local Government Act 1973 and they are due to come into force in five weeks' time. Why this repetition and duplication? The only reason is to enable the Government to procure retrospective application to the consequences of actions by certain councillors who delayed implementation of the Scottish Housing Act in 1972. This is the "Caledonian Clay Cross clause," as I described it on Second Reading.

We have no quarrel with the new pro-visions themselves. These were introduced of local government in Scotland, starting by me in the 1973 Act for the new system next month. What is wrong is the intention to apply them retrospectively to the consequences of actions taken over two years ago. Furthermore, it is now clear how this enabling power would be used. The Clay Cross Bill or, to give it its proper name, the Housing Finance (Special Provisions) Bill, shows that the Government intend to relieve offending councillors in England from disqualification. The system is different in Scotland, where disqualification has not arisen. The Government could not treat councillors in Scotland more harshly than the Clay Cross councillors in England, since in Scotland they all eventually carried out the Scottish Housing Act, though they did so late. In Scotland, equivalent exoneration would be to relieve councillors of all or part of due surcharges or of fines imposed by the courts. There is one particular case in which a large fine was imposed on one council.

We recognise that the amounts of money may, in some cases, be too large for individual councillors to be able to pay. However, a reputable way to proceed would be for the Government to propose to Parliament later, at the stage when the amounts due had been deter-mined, what would be the appropriate surcharges in the circumstances. I am sure that Parliament would then deal with that situation practically and humanely. Where failure to cany out Acts of Parliament is concerned, those who decide to flout the law should face the consequences of their action, but should the burden, for an individual turn out to be ruinous, then the Government can in due course ask Parliament to decide on the appropriate alleviation. What the present clause is proposing is a retrospective application of provisions which are due to come into force in five weeks, anyway, under another Act, and to give the Secretary of State for Scotland entire power to decide what to do about actions taken in defiance of laws of Parliament passed two years ago.

This is an enabling clause. It does not, in itself, indemnify in any particular respect, in contrast to the Bill for England and Wales, which does; namely, by cancelling the disqualification of the councillors. But the Government could not carry out that amount of indemnification for the councillors of Clay Cross, who continued to defy the law. and insist on harsher penalties in Scotland where defiance lasted for a certain period but then came to an end.

I repeat that the only reason for the presence of Clause 19 in the Bill is its retrospective effect. Its substance is al-ready about to come into force next month under another Act, at about the same time that this Bill is expected to receive the Royal Assent. Therefore, there can be no reason for the clause other than this retrospective application to the actions of certain councillors two years ago. I ask all noble Lords who believe in the rule of law to support me in pressing for the deletion of the clause.


I should like to support my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy in what he has just said. It seems to me that the question which arises is: when is a law not a law? One breaks the law and then people who are one's friends come to power and they alter the law to one's advantage. I entirely agree with my noble friend in believing that something ought to be done if the monetary penalty is more than the councillor concerned can possibly pay. Something should be done to avoid that, but I should have thought that a much fairer way of dealing with the matter would simply be to disqualify the councillor concerned from serving as a local councillor for a period. That would certainly get rid of the difficulty of his not being able to pay.

This is an extraordinary situation and I do not know that it has a precedent. Is there a precedent for a case where a legal duty has been put upon people who refuse to carry it out and a pronouncement has then been made against them in the courts? Is there any precedent for that being overturned by the succeeding Government, which happens to be sup-ported by those people who have been either disqualified or fined for this action? I think that this is a very serious matter indeed and I hope that the Government may think again about it.


I should also like to support my noble friends Lord Campbell of Croy and Lord Strathclyde. The clause introduces a very unfortunate attitude towards the law and towards the penalties which the law enforces. Nobody likes having to pay fines which are enforced by the law, but we do so because, on the whole, we are fairly honest and because, though the law may be something we do not like, we are all part of the same community and we accept the decision of the duly elected Government of the day.

I have here a list of seven burghs in Scotland which are affected by this retro-spective legislation, if it may be so called, or by the events which led up to the clause which the Government have put into the Bill. I think that it is a bad example and that it is a bad thing to do. I believe that it creates a precedent which none of us on either side of the House wants to see established. I believe that it is a great mistake and I hope that the Government will take the matter quite seriously and will agree to what my noble friend has proposed.


If I may, I should like to take up the last words of the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood. I would say that the Government have taken this matter very seriously indeed. Indeed, if one looks at another part of the Bill, if the Government had, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, been acting in support of people whose friends they were and whom they felt under an obligation to help, they could have done this in a much more devious way. Had the Government wished to be devious in a difficult situation, they could have got themselves out of a great deal of difficulty on another Bill just by refraining from bringing a defect in legislation out into the open as they are doing in this Bill.

In this case the situation is not as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has very much over-simplified it. He referred to councillors who had been fined. There was only one local authority in Scotland where that took place—in Clydebank. But there were many authorities who did not immediately implement the 1972 Act, and the amount of money involved was very much greater than the money in-volved in Clydebank. The total involved was over £4 million in lost rents, but only £1.4 million of that is covered by the interim reports from the auditors. So with regard to the authorities who have lost some £2.6 million of rents, there is nothing in this Bill, or in the existing legislation, which enables anything to be done with them. Because the auditors have not reported, no action is being taken in respect of any of these authorities. Therefore we have the situation that the Secretary of State has, first, removed from his consideration the greater part of the people concerned be-cause the auditors have taken no action. What reason the auditors may have had for this is a matter for their professional judgment, but obviously there have been two standards of decision taken by the auditors, which have landed certain of them before the Secretary of State.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, again referred to this—as he did on Second Reading—as the Caledonian Clay Cross. It was certainly a nice phrase, guaranteed to hit the headlines— and it did. But there is no parallel between what took place in Scotland and what took place in Clay Cross. As the noble Lord himself indicated, the situation in Scotland was totally different. Therefore I do not know how he can refer to anything in Scotland as being a "Clay Cross", when in fact nobody "did a Clay Cross" in Scotland. However, it was an interesting phrase to use.

The noble Lord went on to argue that because the Housing Finance (Special Provisions) Bill which the Government had introduced in another place removes the disqualification incurred by Clay Cross councillors, though not the surcharge which was imposed upon them, it must therefore be the purpose of Clause 19 to remove the liability of Clydebank councillors to surcharge because of the fine imposed on that council by the Court of Session. Clause 19 has nothing what-ever to do with Clay Cross, of which there is no equivalent in Scotland, and it has very little to do with the Housing Finance (Special Provisions) Bill which had been framed against a totally different procedural background. I therefore propose to confine my remarks to Clause 19 itself and to the Scottish situation with which it is intended to deal.

I do not know where in Clause 19 noble Lords opposite find retrospection. The interim reports to which the clause is specifically made to apply are about losses which local authorities are said to have incurred according to what, in the opinion of the auditors concerned, was the negligence or misconduct of the persons named in the reports. If conduct amounted to negligence or misconduct at that time, Clause 19 does nothing to make it otherwise. If there was a loss, Clause 19 does not diminish it. If there was a liability to surcharge in the event of the report being upheld, Clause 19 does not extinguish it. The sole change made by this piece of legislation is to confer on the Secretary of State a duty to have regard to all the circumstances of the case and a power to modify the amount of surcharge, or to abstain from making it. Since the need for that power arises out of the situation we inherited from the previous Administration, we have thought it proper to insert in the clause a date which makes explicit our intention of dealing under the new power with all interim reports arising from the non-compliance by some authorities with the Housing (Financial Provisions') (Scotland) Act 1972. I can see nothing wrong with that. By putting this pro-vision into the 1973 Act—the Local Government Act—the then Administration made it possible that if any of the new authorities elected after 16th May do something of this kind, the Secretary of State will be able to take all the circum-stances into account to decide whether they should have to pay by surcharge for the whole amount involved; or whether they sould be surcharged for a modified amount; or whether they ought not to be surcharged at all.

If it was considered that this were a desirable amendment to make for future authorities, where the offence might be exactly the same as the one committed by the existing authorities, then quite frankly I can see nothing wrong in deal-ing with the existing authorities on the same basis as that on which the new ones are to be dealt with. Let me re-mind your Lordships of the amounts. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, and, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, also spoke about the possibility that the people concerned might not be able to pay the full amount of the surcharge which would have to be levied on them in terms of the present law. It varies from about £3,000 to £15,000 per councillor, without any relation to the obduracy of the particular council. Some authorities refrained for a fairly short time from operating the law. Others held out for a much longer period. But as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, said, every one of them eventually implemented the law. So the period varies enormously, but it was not necessarily those authorities who held out for the longest time who will be involved in the largest possible surcharges. What-ever view we make take about the rule of law and the proper consequences of opposition to any particular enactment, the result produced by allowing the report and surcharge procedure to run its course under Section 201 of the 1947 Act clearly would have been impracticable and unsatisfactory.

Does anyone believe that at the end of the day operating the existing law will save the ratepayers of Scotland any j money at all? In most cases no money will be recovered from the councillors, because if a surcharge is made for the full amount, when the attempt is made to recover the money—with all the costs involved—the councillors will be rendered bankrupt. The consequences of bankruptcy will be to impose a disqualification. Therefore it is quite obvious that we shall not get anything other than a fraction of this money. This can be obtained much more simply by giving the Secretary of State the power to take all the circumstances into account and to surcharge an amount which could be reasonably expected to be recovered in the circumstances of the case, so that the money is got at the least possible expense to those concerned.

If the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, is more interested in extracting the last pound of flesh from the councillors concerned, we could go to Section 201 and place the Secretary of State in the position that he may have to say that the full surcharge has got to be made. The noble Lord has his remedy for that. He says, let there be a Bill of indemnity at the proper time, but it would not be a Bill of indemnity—it would be a whole series of Bills of indemnity, because the question could not arise until we reach the position of the individual councillor. That would be when he was in the process of being declared bankrupt, or had been declared bankrupt. When we were considering off-shore oil installations and the changes in relation to inalienable land, reference was made in the course of the debate in your Lordships' House to interfering with the procedures of the courts and taking powers away from the courts. A Bill of indemnity would in certain cases have the effect of saying that certain councillors who had been declared bankrupt were by an Act of Parliament declared to be no longer bankrupt.

I cannot think of any greater interference with the rule of law than that proposal would contemplate. To have a whole series of bills, each one of which would have this effect would seem to me to be the most nonsensical way of dealing with this situation. If there were any possibility that the present procedures could be carried out without unfairness or hardship, and that it would result in a recovery of funds to the ratepayers, then I would certainly accept that the present law should continue unchanged. But what I am quite certain about is that no Secretary of State for Scotland is going to make a complete fool of himself, as would be involved in adhering to the existing principle of going through the farce of surcharging a railway guard or a school teacher for the sum of £20,000, and then expect anybody to feel that he had acted unreasonably when the procedure of bankruptcy took place. Neither I nor any of the Ministers in the Scottish Office have ever advocated—and do not at this stage advocate—the breaking of the law. Obviously, at any given time there are laws which people dislike and there are laws which a great number of people may dislike at the present time; but in a democracy there are methods of dealing with this properly. These people in most cases were well-meaning, totally misguided and, in some cases, stubborn in the extent to which they carried out their misguided conduct; but I think that it would be totally wrong to do what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, is suggesting should be done.

I do not intend to speak at much length on this matter, because I recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has made up his mind in advance and that the Committee are going to divide on this. I have not asked my friends to be whipped on this. I know very well that this is a matter of pure political argument and has nothing whatever to do with the merits of the case. I know, therefore, that in due course your Lord-ships will take this clause out of the Bill, and I am certain that another place will recognise that it would be a piece of stupid folly to allow that to continue. Therefore I rest in the hope that another place will have more sense in this matter than is likely to be displayed here on this matter.




Would the noble Lord be kind enough to say how I am out of order?


Is the noble Lord suggesting that your Lordships' House is not going to show any sense in this matter? It seems to me to be a very odd reflection on this House.


Not at all! In the first instance, I did not say that your Lordships would not show any sense; and even if I had said that, it would not have been out of order. What I said was that I hope that the other place would show more sense. If English means any-thing, that simply means that the degree of sense to be exercised on this matter in this House is less than what I would expect to be the case in the other place. If the noble Lord is attributing less intelligence to this House than I am imputing, then he is to be brought to order and not I.

At the end of the day these things have to be decided on a logical and reasonable basis. I suggest that it is totally wrong that the Secretary of State should be asked to rely upon Section 201 of the 1947 Act and to treat it in exactly the same way as previous Secretaries of State did in matters where the amounts were not nearly so great but where the principle was the same. When local authorities in Scotland, for limited periods, defied the Government of the day in connection with milk charges, Section 201 was not invoked to bring about a surcharge. No surcharge was made under these provisions. No surcharge was made on the Dundee Corporation following a rents provision earlier on, because it was decided then that to apply Section 201 would not be a reason-able way of dealing with the situation. I submit that it would not be a reasonable way of dealing with it in the present situation; particularly when more than half of the councillors involved are those whose offence is the same as those who have been reported by the auditors. I therefore think that the Secretary of State should be given the measure of discretion in relation to these councillors that he will have in the case of any councillors who are in Office after May 16th.

4.25 p.m.


I do not think I should have reacted to this if it had not been for the speech that the noble Lord made in defence of it. All I know about this case is what I read and heard on Second Reading and what is happening now. But the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, must recognise that there is much more to this than the actual payment of money and whether or not people can afford to pay. The rule of law is involved here. He said that it was not retrospective action that was being taken; but in explaining his opposition to my noble friend's proposition of removing the clause, he said that this would be putting people who had done something in the past in the same position as people who might do it in the future. There may be good reasons in logic for wanting to do that; but it is retrospective action on behalf of the Government.

His other argument was that if the law as it was when this fine was imposed remains, it would send people bankrupt. Is the noble Lord suggesting that all the people who are sent bankrupt because they have to pay fines imposed on them should have retrospective action taken, and they need not have to fulfil their obligations? When operating the tax laws many people are sent bankrupt because of misdemeanours which have been found out and for which they are fined. This is the beginning of something which would be stupid in terms of trying to run a sensible, commonsense Government in relation to these things.

Nor do I think he ought to resist my noble friend's suggestion that the Minister should decide what he wants to do under the existing Acts and then explain it to Parliament before he does it. I quite understand that under the circumstances, it would be a good thing for the Minister to be able to take account of all the circumstances and give a decision which may ameliorate the hardship that the size of these fines brings about. It may be that that would be sensible, but let the Minister explain to Parliament what it is that he has decided and why he has decided it. Let him explain how he arrived at the decision which may be imposed and which may be better than the existing situation. But I do not think it is a good thing, in trying to run this country or any other country living under the rule of law, to give these powers lightly. It is all very well for the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, to say that this has no relation to Clay Cross, but the juxtaposition of the two must not be ignored if one wants to be sensible in these matters in terms of public reaction. There is too great a similiarity between the situations for ordinary people who do not delve into the matter not to be able to say that it looks as if they are the same. I believe that Parliament has a duty to face up to any misapprehensions that people may have.

I would suggest that this clause ought to be withdrawn and the Minister ought to be prepared to ask in a more detailed form for the responsibilities that this clause as it now exists would give him; but to use those responsibilities when he explains to Parliament what judgment he has come to and what conclusions he recommends. Finally, I am rather sad that the noble Lord referred to the milk precedent, which bears no relation at all to this situation. We know that, as regards the milk precedent, powers had already been given to the Minister to make these decisions, as is the case in many instances in legislation we pass through both Houses. There is no relationship at all to wanting deliberately to bring about this retrospective legislation in order to do what may be the proper thing; but in doing it, if you are to undermine respect for the law, that is much more important than the size of the fine, which can be dealt with in another way.


I must come back, because I spoke too soon in relation to interventions of Peers from South of the Border. I cannot say that the last contribution was intended to be helpful to me. I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Denham, who had been so susceptible to my use of the word "sense" did not feel it necessary to call his noble friend to order when he described the Government action as stupid. Obviously, it is not what is said; it is who says it that determines whether one is in order in this House in the mind of the noble Lord. It is not necessarily a very good way of maintaining order in this House that one should differentiate between the two sides of the House. That is by the way.

The noble Lord, however, unfortunately showed that in thinking of these matters in English terms he put himself out of proper consideration because he was not comparing like with like. When he says that, if the Secretary of State wishes to exercise discretion in these matters, he should, in doing so, come to the House to explain what he is proposing to do, this is what could be done if Clause 19 remains in the Bill. It can-not be done if it is taken out. The Secretary of State has no discretion in the matter and therefore he cannot come to the House and say, "This is why I am proposing to exercise a discretion", because if this clause is taken out there will be no occasion for him to do so.


My noble friend suggested he should take the powers under a separate application to the House, and that is what I am suggesting, too.


But that is not what the noble Lord suggested. The noble Lord suggested an Act of indemnity. I pointed out that the Act of indemnity would relate to a particular councillor or group of councillors who had been dealt with at a given time. There might be three, four, 10 or 20 separate Acts of indemnity. We would have to have a whole Session of Parliament devoted to indemnify Scottish councillors.

Several Noble Lords: Nonsense!


It is not nonsense! This is the advice that I have been given from the people who would have been advising the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, if he had been in Office, and who presumably gave the Secretaries of State advice on the matter on milk. The noble Lord said that it was not a question of money. But the only difference between milk and the powers in the Act to reform housing in Scotland was the amount of money involved. The Secretary of State on that occasion, and on a previous one, exercised the only discretion which he had under Section 201, not because of the amount of money which was involved, but because, having taken the circumstances into account, he considered that he could properly decide to make no surcharge. If he had felt that instead of surcharging for £100 or £200 or £20 he would have surcharged for only £5, he could not have done so. The Act, as it stands, says all or nothing. Although the principle was exactly the same, authorities had not carried out the law laid down and the then Secretary of State decided it was proper not to make any surcharge at all. It applies to people North of the Border as well as South, and it is better for people to be fully acquainted with the facts before intervening.


Perhaps I ought to speak again soon after the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, because he clearly missed some of the words I used in moving that this clause should be deleted. Those words were carefully chosen and I am sorry that he did not note them. I was not suggesting—and he was apparently putting these words into my mouth—that individual councillors should be surcharged £20,000. He gave that as an example. I specifically stated the opposite, that if the surcharges when arrived at, were such as to be ruinous to an individual councillor, then of course we would not expect them to be followed through. I was not charging the Government with being devious; far from it, the Government are being only too obvious in what they are doing here.

Secondly, I also made it clear that the situation in Scotland is entirely different. Every time I have spoken on this subject I have made that clear. Of course it is different and it is not as bad. That is another important part of my argument. Although the councillors at Clydebank were fined by the court a figure of £20,000, if I remember rightly, they did not go on defying the Scottish Housing Act. They ended their defiance. The Clay Cross Councillors did not do so— they continued. If they are to be pardoned to some extent, in as much as their disqualification is to be ended, then certainly the Secretary of State for Scot-land, in using discretion here, must pretty well let off the councillors in Scotland. That is clear from the publication of what I call the Clay Cross Bill, the Bill for England and Wales.

The noble Lord has put words into my mouth which I did not utter. This clause would not be in this Bill if it were not for the fact that certain councils in Scot-land behaved as they did two years ago in failing to carry out the Scottish Housing Act. That is the reason why the clause is there. I made no reference to a succession of indemnity Bills—I do not think anything like that is necessary. What I said—and the noble Lord seems to have missed this—is that when the surcharges and fines have been brought to a conclusion, the moment when this goes to the Secretary of State and when, under the clause as drafted, he will have discretion to do as he likes, the Government ought to come to Parliament with proposals or recommendations as to how the surcharges or fines might be alleviated. Parliament could then decide, in the same way as we would expect them to decide in the case of English councillors in a similar position, what should be done; not necessarily that any individual councillor should be bankrupted, or that this large amount of money should be paid back—we know that is impossible. We do not think it right that this clause should be slipped into a completely inappropriate Bill to deal with something which happened two years ago. To say that it has no relation to Clay Cross is wrong. This is the Scottish counterpart. The systems are entirely different. What happened in Scotland was not as bad; none the less, it is the counterpart of the Clay Cross Bill in England.

My noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls pointed out that this is a question not of money but of how Parliament should deal with a situation where its laws have been flouted. It is clear from statements made in another place that there are a number of Members of the Labour Party who are most unhappy about the action being taken under the Bill for England and Wales and its equivalent here. I do not know whether that has anything to do with what the noble Lord said about his side of the Committee not being whipped today. It is rather surprising; he must have known—


We are not being whipped today, because I do not believe in putting my colleagues to unnecessary trouble. It would be a waste of time asking for a whipped vote in this Committee, when I knew in advance that noble Lords opposite, irrespective of any-thing which was said, would divide. In the ordinary course of events, whether we have a three-lined whip, a two-line whip or no whip at all, the composition of this House is such that when the noble Lord on the Front Bench opposite asks his noble friends—and I hope I am not interrupting a private conversation on the Front Bench opposite—to follow him into the Division Lobby on a political Motion, we know what will be the result. It is because of that, and not because of any doubts I had regarding what my noble friends behind me would do, that I did not ask for a whip on the Bill. I should be totally astounded if any noble Lord on this side of the Committee did not follow me into the Division Lobby; but I did not ask for anybody to come here specially for the purpose of forming part of the minority.

3.38 p.m.


I am sure that we are all very grateful to the noble Lord for his explanation and expansion of his earlier remarks. But my point is that this is not a political issue. This is a Constitutional issue and a Parliamentary issue.

Several Noble Lords: Oh!


Certainly, members of the noble Lord's Party opposite in the country and in another place have made it clear that they are most unhappy about the action which the Government are taking in this clause and in the Bill for England and Wales.


If I may interrupt the noble Lord again regarding the justification for that remark, I can say that, so far as I know, no one in my Party has made any representation to any Scottish Minister on this matter; and certainly no one has made any representation to me about being unhappy. I should like to know why the noble Lord says that members of the Labour Party are unhappy about what is being done in the Scottish Bill.


I was thinking of a certain Member for an English constituency—who, of course, I would not quote in this place—who has made it perfectly clear in the other place, as have others outside the House, that they are unhappy about this retrospective effect, because it is wrong that councillors should not face the consequences of their actions as they were at the time when they took those actions. The noble Lord referred to the milk situation. That is different. I am speaking about Scotland in this case; I am not familiar with what happened in England and Wales as I have not looked it up. But in Scotland all the local authorities very quickly carried out the law regarding milk. I was able to use Section 201 as it should have been used in that case. There was no question of surcharges. There were some misunderstandings about exactly how the law should be carried out. But all the Scottish local authorities were carrying it out within a very short space of time, and therefore I was able to make sure that there were no surcharges in that case.

But that is entirely different from this housing question. I will not go into the merits because we debated them quite recently in connection with the Scottish Housing Bill. But there was open defiance by certain councils, and in particular by the Clydebank Council. It is clear that Clause 19 has been inserted into this Bill incongruously in order to allow the Secretary of State to take the same sort of action as will be taken in regard to equivalent councillors in England and Wales. We believe that is wrong, and that at the end of the day this situation requires the Minister concerned to decide what his recommenda-tion to Parliament should be and then to go to Parliament, which will, I am sure, deal with this matter not only humanely so far as the individual councillors are concerned, but also practically, without a succession of Bills, as the noble Lord has suggested. I therefore ask my noble friends to support me in pressing this Amendment.


I think my noble friend Lord Hughes is wrong in thinking that this Chamber has already made up its mind. I have much more confidence in your Lordships than that. I believe it is right and proper for this Committee to consider these matters carefully and thoroughly, and to decide what is in the best interests of the whole community.

This clause deals with how local councillors carry out their business. I think it has always been the hope and the intention of Parliament that local councillors should be free and untrammelled in reaching their conclusions. If a local councillor is subject to penalties because he does something he believes to be correct, true and proper, then I believe we are entirely subverting local councils if we deny them that right. I believe it is proper that a local councillor should reach his decision because he believes that what he is doing is right. If it so happens that in doing that he breaks some law or renders himself liable to some penalty, then surely that ought to be subject to further survey by the Minister. It seems to me that is all this clause proposes. It proposes that if a councillor has done something which apparently is against the law, or apparently makes him liable to some heavy penalty, the Minister is entitled to look at the conditions and say: "I do not think this penalty is appropriate, because it could result in this particular councillor being subjected to an unendurable penalty merely because ho has done something he believes to be right."

Is that really what we want? Do noble Lords on the Opposition Benches want to destroy local government or to take steps which would make it absolutely punitive for a local councillor to carry out certain things he believes to be right? While we may all take risks, they should be commensurate with the possibility of our meeting them. That is what this clause says: that the Minister is entitled to look again at the position and decide whether a penalty is right or wrong. I personally find nothing wrong with the clause; on the contrary, I find it utterly admirable. It seems to me that this policy ought to be written in throughout our legislation; in other words, that there should be no penalty imposed which it is beyond the power of the individual to pay. I cannot really understand why my noble friend thought that members of this Committee would dream of voting against this clause.

Viscount AMORY

I would like only to give a courteous reply to the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, who is always so courteous himself, and say that the attitude of many of us on these Benches may be summed up in one sentence. We think it is the duty of members of local authorities to carry out their functions in accordance with the provisions of the laws as they stand.


If I may introduce an Irish note into a Scottish matter, I think that we should oppose this clause because we should be opposed to future retrospection. Although ignorance of the law does not excuse, I feel it can lead to forgiveness. While I am sure a merciful line should be taken, this should come in separate legislation. I believe it is wrong to say for the future that what is proposed in the Bill should be allowed. Therefore

I would support the Opposition in feeling that we should reject future retrospection.


If I may intervene very briefly, the noble Lord has over-looked something which both the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, and I have pointed out; namely, that for the future it is unnecessary to do anything. The law is already changed as from 16th May, and what we are proposing to do is to make the same change up to the 16th May.

4.48 p.m.

On Question, Whether Clause 19 shall stand part of the Bill?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 49; Not-Contents, 92.

Ailsa, M. Harris of Greenwich, L. Popplewell, L.
Beswick, L. Henderson, L. Segal, L.
Blyton, L. Houghton of Sowerby, L. Slater, L.
Brockway, L. Hughes, L. Stedman, B.
Bruce of Donington, L. Jacques, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Buckinghamshire, E. Janner, L. Strabolgi, L. [Teller.]
Champion, L. Lee of Newton, L. Summerskill, B.
Cooper of Stockton Heath, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Crook. L. Lloyd of Hampstead, L. Wallace of Campsie, L.
Davies of Leek, L. Longford, E. Wells-Pestell, L.
Douglass of Cleveland, L. Lovell-Davis, L. Wigg, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. McLeavy, L. Willis, L.
Gaitskell, B. Maelor, L. Wilson of Radcliffe, L.
Gordon-Walker, L. Melchett, L. Winterbottom, L. [Teller.]
Greenwood of Rossendale, L. Milford, L. Wootton of Abinger, B.
Hale, L. Pannell, L. Wynne-Jones, L.
Hamnett, L.
Aberdare, L. Elliot of Harwood, B. MacLeod of Fuinary, L.
Airedale, L. Emmet of Amberley, B. Mancroft, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Erskine of Rerrick, L. Margadale, L.
Allerton, L. Essex, E. Merrivale, L.
Alport, L. Exeter, M. Mersey, V.
Amory, V. Ferrers, E. Molson, L.
Amulree, L. Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Monck, V.
Arran, E. Glenkinglas, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Balerno, L. Goschen, V. [Teller.]
Balfour of Inchrye, L. Greenway, L. Moyne, L.
Balniel, L. Grenfell, L. Newall, L.
Belstead, L. Gridley, L. Northchurch, B.
Berkeley, B. Grimston of Westbury, L. O'Neill of the Maine, L.
Boothby, L. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, Powis, E.
Brooke of Cumnor, L. L. Radnor, E.
Brooke of Ystradfellte, B. Harmar-Nicholls, L. Rankeillour, L.
Cairns, E. Harvington, L. Roberthall, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Hawke, L. Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Howe, E. St Aldwyn, E.
Cork and Orrery, E. Hylton-Foster, B. St. Davids, V.
Cottesloe, L. Kilmarnock, L. St. Helens, L.
Cowley, E. Kimberley, E. St. Just, L.
Craigavon, V. Lambert, V. Selkirk, E.
Crathorne, L. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L. Sempill, Ly.
Daventry, V. Long, V. Sharpies, B.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Lonsdale, E. Strang, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Lyell, L. Strathclyde, L.
Dundonald, E. Macleod of Borve, B. Tenby, V.
Teviot, L. Vernon, L. Ward of North Tyneside, B.
Thurso, V. Vivian, L. Wigoder, L.
Tranmire, L. Wakefield of Kendal, L. Young, B.
Trefgarne, L.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Resolved in the negative, and clause disagreed to accordingly.

Clauses 20 to 34 agreed to.

Clause 35 [General interpretation]:

4.56 p.m.


I spoke to Amendment No. 16 when dealing with No. 1. I beg to move Amendment No. 16.

Amendment moved— Page 28, line 27, at end insert ("" the Assessor" means the Assessor of Public Undertakings (Scotland); ").—(Lord Hughes.)


I beg to move Amendment No. 17 as printed. As there may be more than one valuation appeal committee for a valuation area, it is necessary to ensure that the decision of any such committee can be a relevant decision in terms of the definition of "material change of circum-stances". This is what the Amendment accomplishes, and I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 28, line 33, leave out ("the") and insert (" a ").—(Lord Hughes.)

Lord CAMPBELL of CROY moved Amendment No. 18: Page 28, line 35, after ("situated") insert (" and a change in annual output of minerals ").

The noble Lord said: This Amendment proposes that where minerals are concerned the previous year's output should be the criterion for assessing annual value. This would mean reverting to the system which operated in Scotland before the 1956 Act. It is also the system which is operating at present in England and Wales. But I understand that the courts have now pronounced in Scotland that a change of output is not a "material change of circumstances"—the magic words used in the Bill. There is to be no alteration between five-year revaluations unless there is a material change of circumstances—the formula used in the Bill. This could produce unfair results. Assessors and mineral undertakers in Scotland would, I understand, prefer the system proposed by this Amendment.

If I may give one example, there can be fluctuations in the working of mineral sites. If, taking one year or two years, road works of considerable magnitude are undertaken in an area, there could be a great demand for certain minerals, and then there could be a falling away for the next two or three years with perhaps very little working of a quarry. The new arrangements in this Bill which I have mentioned—no alteration between the five-year revaluations unless there is a material change—can lead to unfairness as between the different mineral under-takers, and we hope that this change will recommend itself to the Government. Again, as with earlier Amendments, if the Amendment itself does not seem to be suitable, I hope that the Government will improve it and produce one of their own at a later stage.


I agree right away that this Amendment is designed to achieve a more realistic assessment of mines and quarries, which are particularly difficult subjects to value. If they cease production, they have to be taken out of the valuation roll altogether; then they have to be put back if they are restarted. Equally, their output can fluctuate markedly in a short space of time. I think that the point to which the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, referred is the decision in 1958 of the Lands Valuation Appeal Court. In the Cloybank case, which is not related to the previous discussion although there is some similarity of names, they rejected a submission that an increase in output should be treated as a material change or circumstances. The Amendment seeks to establish that it should be so treated. It may be felt that this will ease the task of the assessor because he will be entitled to keep a running check on the output and, there-fore, on the valuation of a mine or quarry, instead of regarding the valuation as fixed until the next revaluation or until it goes out of production. However, this would place mines and quarries in a position different from that of any other subject valued by the assessor and would alter the principle which will apply to everybody else, that values, once established, should stand for the quinquenninum.

This is not a change which should be made in a hurry. I am not saying that it is a change which should not be made, but I am certainly saying that it is not a change which we should make in a hurry. As the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has quite clearly indicated, it has nothing to do with reorganisation; it is a change in valuation methods. But the mining industry has not been consulted about it. It is a view which the assessors have put forward and there has been no opportunity to consult the industry about it.

May I point out, however, that there is an alternative approach to the matter. In Schedule 1, paragraph 7, mines and quarries can be valued according to formula instead of by conventional methods. These are all pointers towards not making the Amendment as it stands but rather for reviewing the position after the Layfield Committee have submitted their Report towards the end of this year. As I said earlier, in the reconsideration of valuation methods and principles there are a number of Amendments which might be desirable, but in relation to valuation we ought only to be dealing with those Amendments which are relevant to the local authority reorganisation on 16th May. To amend in advance of other things would have to be very care-fully considered, because it is at least doubtful whether the Amendment as it stands would be workable. If the matter went to the courts, we do not know how they would construe "annual output". Would it mean the output at any given time, expressed as an annual rate? In fact, output from a mine or a quarry can vary from month to month; it could vary, even, from week to week. If the assessor, having complained about the additional responsibilities that may be placed upon him, has to keep a running check on that kind of thing, the resultant situation could be very difficult.

I accept that it is a very tricky situation. It may well be that better methods of dealing with the matter in order to be fair both to the mine owner or to the quarry owner or operator and to other ratepayers require something different from what is possible at the present time. Once again, I think this is a matter where. to quote the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, we should be justified in waiting for the Layfield Committee.


I am grateful to the noble Lord for his explanation of the Government's attitude towards this Amendment. Clearly they accept that there is a problem to be looked at. I only hope that we shall not have to wait a long time after the Layfield Committee have reported for anything to be done. However, in view of the sympathetic attitude of the Government, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I beg to move Amendment No. 19 as printed. It is a technical Amendment which is designed to make it clear that the Local Government Scotland Act 1973 and other similar enactments are to be treated as valuation Acts. The 1963 Act contains a substantial block of important valuation provisions, but that Act is not explicitly declared to be a valuation Act. Unless corrected, this would have serious consequences else-where in the Bill. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 29, line 2, leave out (" and the Acts amending that Act") and insert (" the Acts amending that Act, any other Act relating to valuation ").—(Lord Hughes.)

Clause 35, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 36 agreed to.

Clause 37 [Short title, commencement, construction, savings and extent]:

Lord CAMPBELL of CROY moved Amendment No. 20: Page 29, line 26, at end insert (" Provided that the provisions of section 2(1)(d) shall not be brought into operation before 1st April 1976.").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 20. There have been representations, of which I am sure the noble Lord and the Government will be aware, that in its rating effects Clause 2 should not come into force until April 1976. However, it is paragraph (d) of subsection (1) of Clause 2 which is the main cause of difficulty. This is the paragraph which gives effect to alterations in value due to material changes and circum-stances—again that magic formula to which I referred in our earlier discussion. I hope that the Government, who should be fully aware of this, can make a move on it. This Amendment is probably the one best designed to bring it into effect. Two of the largest of the new Regions in Scotland, which will be new authorities in May of this year, are very concerned about it. Therefore, I hope that the Government will be able to accept this Amendment in principle, even if they may not be able to accept its wording.


Although this is a view which has been put forward by the Assessors' Association, there has been no general support for it in Scotland, if one takes into account the number of regional authorities which are concerned. Undoubtedly, however, it is the case that the Strathclyde Region and the Lothian Region, who probably represent nearly three-quarters of the ratepayers in Scot-land, are concerned about the burden which it would place upon them. There-fore, while I cannot accept the Amendment, because it may be difficult to incorporate it as it stands, I am prepared to state that it is the intention of the Secretary of State that the commencement date for this part will be 1st April 1976. The Act makes provision for different commencement dates for different sections. Therefore, the noble Lord can be assured that the point which he wishes to make, to which he speaks on behalf of both of these regional councils and the Assessors, will be fully met by that undertaking.

It is desirable that we should not lay down in the Bill that there will be varying commencement dates and then pro-vide that one particular commencement date shall not be before 1st April 1976. Because of the peculiar way in which these provisions are worded, it would almost imply that everybody else would have a commencement date before 1st April 1976, and that is not necessarily the position. It may well turn out that that is what it is, but it is not necessarily what would happen. I can certainly undertake that this will not be brought into operation before the date which the noble Lord has mentioned.


I regard that as a very clear interpretation and a statement which I am sure will be wel- comed by those who were worried about the date of coming into effect of this sub-section, because the noble Lord has made it palpably clear that the effect of this Amendment will be carried out without it being inserted in the Bill. He mentioned that there had not been representations from many local authorities, but of course the two which he has mentioned are large and the others will also benefit (even if they have not raised the point) from the time which they will be allowed by the intention of the Government as just stated. I am grateful to the Government for having seen the point of this Amendment, and I now beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 37 agreed to.

Schedules 1 and 2 agreed to.

Schedule 3 [Borrowing and lending by local authorities and certain of their funds]:

5.11 p.m.

Lord HUGHES moved Amendment No. 21: Page 45, line 35, leave out ("any enactment") and insert ("that Act").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 21 as printed. This Amendment corrects a drafting error. Paragraph 27 of Schedule 3 disapplies the general borrowing paragraphs of the Schedule from local housing bonds issued under the Housing (Scotland) Act 1966 (which are secured against property as well as revenue), but the paragraph refers to the power conferred by "any enactment" to issue local bonds. The Amendment corrects this reference to make it clear that the disapplication relates to the power under the 1966 Act. I beg to move.

Schedule 3, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 4 agreed to.

Schedule 5 [Matters not subject to investigation]:

On Question, Whether Schedule 5 shall stand part of the Bill?


One of the matters which is not called to be dealt with and cannot be investigated under this Schedule is of course connected with the administration of the Commissioner himself, and I wondered whether the noble Lord could tell us—I am sorry if this is rather short notice for him—if there is a remedy for those who wish to complain about the administration of the Commissioner and his staff or others connected with his activities.


I am not certain that there is any provision in legislation for complaints against the actions of the Commissioner. After all, this is not the first time that we are having a Commissioner. We have a Parliamentary Com-missioner and a Commissioner for the Health Service, and presumably there are people who, if they get what they think is the wrong decision, will arrive at the conclusion that they have a right to complain about it. I think perhaps it would be carrying the right of the individual too far if we were to have a Commissioner to inquire into possible maladministration by other Commissioners because there would be no end to it. He himself would be regarded as having acted badly in that context, so—


Perhaps I can give the noble Lord a little time to consider it.


This was one I had not thought about, but the answer is that if the Commissioner behaves so badly as for it to be obvious that he himself is guilty of maladministration he could be removed by Her Majesty for mis-behaviour.


I am grateful to the noble Lord for making that point, because this Schedule exempts the members of his office who might be complained about, and I am sure the Committee would be interested to know that if the Commissioner himself were thought to have committed some misdemeanour (which I am sure is most unlikely) he would be removed. But the question is whether the Central Government Commissioner, for example, has jurisdiction to look into complaints concerning the administration of the secretariat, and so on, of the local government Commissioner.

Schedule 5 agreed to.

Schedule 6 [Minor and consequential Amendments]:


I spoke to Amendment No. 23 when I moved Amendment No. 5. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 49, line 33, at end insert— ("(c) after the words "such valuation" there shall be inserted the words "as contained in the direction ".")—(Lord Hughes.)

5.17 p.m.

Lord HUGHES moved Amendment No. 24:

Page 53, line 39, at end insert—

"The Teaching Council (Scotland) Act 1965 (c. 19)

28A. In Schedule 1 (constitution of the Council)—

  1. (a) in paragraph 1(1)(b) for items (i) and (ii) there shall be substituted the following item—
  2. (b) in paragraph 4(1) for the words "paragraph 5(3)" there shall be substituted the words "paragraphs 5(3) and 5A";
  3. (c) after paragraph 5 there shall be inserted the following paragraph—

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 24 as printed. The purposes of this Amendment are to enable the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities—that is the new local authority body in Scotland—to appoint four members to the General Teaching Council for Scotland in place of the two members appointed by the Association of County Councils in Scotland and the two appointed by the Scottish Counties of Cities Association; to provide that any person, who has been appointed to the General Teaching Council by those Associations and who is holding offices on 16th May 1975, should go out of office on that date; and to ensure that any person appointed to the General Teaching Council by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities in respect of the cur-rent period of office of members of the Council should hold office only until 31st January 1979. There is nothing to pre-vent the Convention, if it so wanted, appointing the same four persons to the Council for the remainder of the current period. It is understood, of course, that not all of these people may wish to be re-appointed. I beg to move.


Am I right in thinking that the reason for the introduction of this Amendment at this stage of the Bill is the coming into existence of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and its establishment fairly recently? I believe it is the single Convention which is to take the place of the four local authority associations in Scot-land, representing at present the cities, the counties, the burghs and the districts —districts in the old sense. Can the noble Lord tell us the present position of this new body? I was trying to get in touch with it fairly recently and I found that it had not yet got an address although its officers had been appointed.

The four previous local authority associations in Scotland have no doubt carried out functions which were extremely important for Scotland. They were able to represent the local authority bodies of the four categories in their dealings with the Government and in many other fields. Am I right in thinking that there is simply to be this one Convention taking the place of all of them, including the old district councils association, and can the noble Lord tell me whether this new Convention will be in operation on 16th May when local government starts in Scotland, or whether indeed it has already started? I can understand the difficulties in that the same individuals may well be carrying out their duties still in the old authorities—the four of them —Until 15th May, but clearly there will be a difficult hiatus period which all of us would wish to be as smooth as possible. If one wanted to get in touch with the Convention, is it already in operation? If not, will it be in operation immediately after 16th May?


I cannot give the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, an accurate answer. A meeting is taking place today. A decision was taken earlier in the year after very prolonged consideration by members of the three different types of authorities—the Regions, the Districts and the Islands Councils. Eventually, they arrived at the conclusion that their interests would best be served by having a single authority. They decided to carry on the name of the oldest of the groups of local authorities, that name being "Convention". The chosen title is, the Convention of Local Authorities. They appointed their Secretary some time ago. If I am correctly informed, the new Secretary is the man who had hitherto been the Secretary of the County Councils' Association.

Invitations were then sent out to the various authorities inviting them formally to apply for membership of the Convention. When making my round of meetings with regional councils—the last one took place yesterday at Lothian—I was informed that a meeting is taking place today at which the Convention will form-ally come into existence with its member-ship known. When I say that I cannot give an exact answer, I do so because I do not know whether the meeting took place this morning or this afternoon, or whether it is still in process. However, I have no doubt that as from tomorrow-it will be possible for Government Departments and others interested to make the necessary contact with the Convention as an operating body.


While being grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, and thanking him for giving us this latest information, I cannot resist congratulating the new body on retaining the ancient description of "Convention".

5.23 p.m.

Lord HUGHES moved Amendment No. 25:

Page 56, line 37, at end insert—

("46A. In section 125 (school and college councils), after subsection (3) there shall be inserted the following subsections— (3A) Notwithstanding any rule of law, a person in minority shall be eligible to be appointed as a member of a school or college council. (3B) Without prejudice to the entitlement of a member of a school or college council who is also a member of a body to which sections 45 and 46 of this Act apply to receive allowances under those sections, an education authority may pay to any member of such a council—

  1. (a) in respect of his attendance at a meeting of the council, or
  2. (b) in respect of the doing by him of anything approved by the authority, or anything of a class so approved, for the purpose of, or in connection with, the discharge of the functions of the council,

The noble Lord said: This makes two separate additions to Section 125 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 which deals with school and college councils, by adding two new subsections to it. Both of these additions are designed not to make substantive changes, but to clarify the original intention. The first new subsection (3A) is designed to remove a doubt about the power of education authorities to appoint persons under the age of eighteen as members of school or college councils. These councils are a new concept in the Scottish educational system, designed to discharge management and supervisory functions given to them by the education authority. Their membership is largely unprescribed, but in view of the purposes for which these bodies have been created, education authorities have been recommended by the Secretary of State to consider, among other things, the advantages of appointing pupils. It is understood that most of them intend to do so.

The new subsection (3B) confers explicit power on local authorities to pay out-of-pocket expenses and, if necessary, loss of earnings allowances to members of school and college councils who are not members of the authority. It is clearly desirable that there should be a statutory basis for such payments. As I indicated, this is not a question of making new provisions, but of making it clear that what was intended can be carried out. In fact, there has been doubt about the position of a minor in Scotland. This makes it quite clear that a pupil can be appointed.

Lord HUGHES moved Amendment No. 26:

Page 57, line 24, at end insert— ("52A. In Schedule 23 (amendment of enactments relating to planning), in paragraph 2(b) for the words from "a general" to the end there shall be substituted the words" an islands or district council".")

The noble Lord said: Section 182(2) of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 amends the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 by requiring the functions of local authorities under Part I (except Section 24) of the 1960 Act to be functions of islands and district councils. However, the 1960 Act was also amended by paragraph 2(b) of Schedule 23 of the 1973 Act, to change the definition of "local authority" to mean a general or district planning authority within the meaning of Part IX of the 1973 Act. This contradiction in terms arose because of an Amendment made to Section 182(2) of the 1973 Act at the Report stage in your Lordships' House, whereby the present wording, "functions of islands and district councils" was substituted for the former "district planning functions". Unfortunately, no consequential adjustment was made to paragraph 2(b) of Schedule 23, and this Amendment removes the inconsistency.


Amendment No. 27 is a simple drafting Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 57, line 27, after ("effect") insert ("and paragraph 9 of Schedule 1 to that Act is hereby revived ").—(Lord Hughes.)

5.27 p.m.

Lord HUGHES moved Amendment No. 28:

Page 57, line 30, at end insert—

("The Housing (Scotland) Act 1974 (c. 45)

54. In section 3 (conditions for approval of applications for improvement grant), in subsection (2)(c)(ii), for the words "last authenticated prior to" there shall be substituted the words "in force on".")

The noble Lord said: In connection with Amendment No. 27 I should per-haps have said that, although it was a simple drafting Amendment, by error there was removed from the Bill pro-visions which gave, among others, the National Trust and local authorities the right to Parliamentary procedure. If we had wanted to be devious on this, we could have saved ourselves a great deal of bother on the offshore oil Bill, because the National Trust had lost the powers. But this was not the intention of Parliament, and the Amendment which we have just made corrects the situation. It is not right that Parliament should legislate by error.

Coming to Amendment No. 28, the purpose of this Amendment is to amend the definition of "rateable value" in Section 3(2)(c)(ii) of the Housing (Scot-land) Act 1974 to take account of the repeal in the Bill of Section 12 of the Lands Valuation (Scotland) Act 1854 which provided for the authentication of the valuation roll. I am quite certain the explanation is not clear, but that is all the story I have. I beg to move.


While I shall not raise points on this Amendment, or on what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, in introducing it, I must add my own observation that I think it was prudent of the Government to ensure that that provision did not disappear in error. I say that because I am perfectly certain a ton of bricks would have fallen on his head from both the National Trust and the local authorities. The error would have been spotted before long.


I am not so certain that that was the case. The error was spotted in the office. But I am quite sure that our attention would have been drawn to it.

Schedule 6, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 7 [Repeals]:

Lord HUGHES moved Amendment No. 29: Page 58, line 4, after (" 5 ") insert (" 9 ").

The noble Lord said: This Amendment repeals Section 9 of the Lands Valuation (Scotland) Act 1854 which confers a right of appeal against valuations. This right is now contained in Clause 3(2) of the Bill, so Section 9 may be repealed. I beg to move.

Schedule 7, as amended, agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with the Amendments.

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