STANDING COMMITTEE F OFFICIAL REPORTThursday, 20th May, 1965
[Mr. Grant-Ferris in the Chair] Clause 17.—(Registration Areas and Rent officers in England and Wales.) 10.30 a.m.
Mrs. Margaret Thatcher
I beg to move Amendment No. 30, in page 11, line 18, to leave out subsections (2) to (7) and to insert:
(2) The district valuer shall, within the district for which he is appointed as district valuer, be rent officer for the purposes of this Act and shall, subject to the approval of the Minister, appoint and discharge properly qualified valuers as deputy rent officers to assist him in the exercise of the functions of rent officer.
I realise that we had some discussion which bore on this problem yesterday, and I would point out that, had this Amendment come first and been accepted, a good deal of yesterday's discussion would have been unnecessary. This is a fairly wide Amendment and goes to the root of the Clause. Its purpose is to see that the function of rent officers under the Bill as it now stands is discharged by the district valuer and his department, a department which is already well established, expert in the task of valuation and which already has a staff and officers.
Part of the essence of the Bill is that the rents that shall be payable shall be fair rents, and part of the apparatus of deciding what a fair rent shall be is, in the first place, the definition of a fair rent—which does not concern us under this Clause—and, secondly, the machinery set up to apply that definition to the many cases in practice. The more imprecise the definition, the more important the machinery becomes by which that definition is applied.
Yesterday there were quoted a great many of the Richard CrossmanMinister's views insofar as they have been revealed. Quotations were made from the Second Reading debate on 5th April in columns 47, 48, 49 and 50 of Hansard. I will not repeat those, because I think that the Committee [column 508]is familiar with them. I think that the Minister is the first to realise the importance of the calibre of people who become rent officers, but, of course, if we are to decide whom we shall have, we must also decide what kind of job it is they have to do.
There have been a number of press comments about who shall be the rent officers. The New Statesman of 9th April, 1965, said:
“… can the ‘right’ people make the right assessments in a set-up which leaves so much to individual judgment? It is reasonable to assume that rent officers drawn from widely varying jobs and backgrounds will come up with widely varying ideas of what is a fair rent. … The difference between what an extrade union official honestly thinks is a reasonable rent and what a retired civil servant of the executive grade equally honestly considers fair may be, say, £1 or more a week.”
In the now famous article in The Observer of 28th March, 1965, was the comment:
“This formula simply cannot be applied in practice. … Honest men, acting with all the skill and knowledge which are available, could give answers based on this formula differing by factors of two or three—one man could easily conclude that a ‘fair rent’ is £2, and another could justifiably conclude that it is £4 or even £6.”
If the action which I believe the Minister has in mind could get this very wide variation in what would be considered to be a fair rent, then, of course, the Bill is putting into operation not a legal system but what would, in effect, be an arbitrary system, which is the negation of law. The Amendment is designed to reduce the arbitrariness by getting the expert to do the job of valuation right from the outset.
As I understand the machinery which is to be set up it will consist in the first place of the rent officers, then the rent assessment committees and then appeal from them on a point of law to a higher authority. It is very similar to the system which we had in the Ministry of Pensions and which became known by that terrible name, the Independent Statutory Authority. Of course, this would be a like system in which the first stage would be that of the rent officer. It is my contention, although I do not question the honesty of these people in any way, that they are not capable of doing the job of assessing a fair rent if my idea of what their job will be is the [column 509]correct one. It is here that we have to discuss for the moment exactly what the functions of the rent officer will be.
I understand that it is to bring the landlord and tenant together, but if it is to try to assess a fair rent, the fair rent must be by relation not to the people but to the property. If it is only to resolve a dispute between landlord and tenant I would agree that any sort of honest chap with a good background or anyone with some personal standing could do that, but it would reduce the functions of the rent officer to being a kind of landlord-tenant guidance counsellor. It would make him the resolver of disputes rather than the first stage in the system of assessing what are fair rents, which, as I understand it, must relate to the property and not to the people who, for the time being, are immediately concerned with the occupation of that property.
If the work of the rent assessment committees is to be kept down, it is, of course, vital that whoever discharges the functions of a rent officer should discharge them well and competently. If I wanted help in fixing a fair rent, I think that I would go only to someone from whom I knew that I could get expert advice, not to a kind of honest uncle who would act on the “split-difference” principle. Therefore, one would need to go to someone who was recognised as an expert valuer, an expert in the job which he has to do. Valuation of any kind of property or interest is—I am sure the James MacCollJoint Parliamentary Secretary will agree—a task for experts. There are so many separate factors. We have already had a good deal of experience of disputes over the value for rating purposes and know the particularity with which people go into every factor which might affect the value of their property, and how expert the rating and valuation officers are in dealing with this.
If the cases which come before the rent assessment committees are to be kept down in number, I think that there are two factors which should be recognised at the outset. The first is that the early advice of the rent officers must invoke confidence. If they are in any way experimental and there is a settling-down period, one will get a whole host of cases going to the rent assessment [column 510]committees. The more competent the valuation at the earlier stage, the less work the rent assessment committees will have to do.
In the second place, the decisions must be consistent. I understand from the report of the Second Reading debate that the Minister recognised this. They must be consistent as between similar houses, as between similar kinds of accommodation in different residential property, as between houses, flats or bungalows, and as between different parts of the town. I would submit that this is a task for an expert and not for an amateur, however good and honest that amateur may be.
I turn now to the suitability of the valuation office to carry out this task. I know that I shall be met with the argument that professional valuers are already scarce, and that the Inland Revenue is short of them. If the Minister took a certain course over another Bill which is at present before the House, they would not have so much extra work thrust upon them. If he had taken our advice, there would not be so much extra work to do. According to a Written Answer on 24th February, 1965, there are at the moment about 2,280 valuers on the staff of the Inland Revenue. We know from experience that that department has hitherto been divided into two parts. There are, first, the valuers who deal with rating and valuation and persons known as the Valuation Officers; then there is all the valuation work which deals with valuation for estate duty purposes, for compulsory purchase, for development values and so on.
I understand that those two sections of the Inland Revenue Department are to be integrated so that valuers will do all kinds of work, so that there will be one integrated department for the purposes of valuation. The 2,280 valuers whom I mentioned are all expert and all qualified. In order to be there, they had to qualify in their valuation exams, and in order to be taken on they had to have four years' experience of valuing outside the Inland Revenue, so every one is already an expert. I understand also that they have in the department a scheme for training people in the valuation office under the guidance of fully qualified valuers, which could help enormously to leave the highly skilled [column 511]work to the valuers and to hive off the more routine work to those who have lower qualifications or less experience.
The machinery already exists for expert valuation of the kind which the Bill will require. If the Parliamentary Secretary were to accept this Amendment, he would not need to set up new machinery, a new department or new offices. He would need only to extend the facilities which already exist. That would obviate the need for much that appears in Clause 17; many of the other subsections would be deleted. I most earnestly commend the Amendment to him if what he wants is a fair rent related to the property rather than the creation of a resolver of disputes between people.
Will the hon. Member for Nottingham, Central (Mr. Dunnett) tell me what he has beside him? It has the appearance of some engine which, if he put it into action, might be out of order.
Mr. Jack Dunnett
It is a dictaphone, which is at present inactive.
The hon. Member is not proposing to use it in any way?
Not in this Committee, Mr. Grant-Ferris.
I take it, Mr. Grant-Ferris, that your worry is that the machine might be in order.
Mr. Evelyn King
I rise to support the Amendment, which was moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) in a speech which was, I thought, cogent and almost unanswerable. It is regrettable that the Committee has not had the chance first to discuss Clause 22, because it is impracticable to consider who should best operate this machinery if we do not first pay some marked attention to what the officer—in whatever department he may be—is to do. 10.45 a.m.
There is confusion in the minds of some members of the Committee as to what is to be the function of this official. It would, of course, be possible to appoint a conciliation officer; that is to say, an officer who had the job of examining the living conditions of the tenant, the tenant's wage, the size of the [column 512]family, the hardship from which they might be suffering; taking into account, also, the financial situation of the landlord. He would then try to add all those factors together to get a fair rent which the tenant could reasonably pay, and which the landlord might reasonably expect to receive. That would be possible, although undesirable, and were that indeed the function of the officer, then I would cheerfully accept that such a function might reasonably be carried out by a trade union official, a welfare officer, the local vicar or anyone who has the personality to conciliate.
But we must get it clearly into our heads that this is not the function of that officer. On the contraary, he has to interpret the meaning of Clause 22, which to my mind is a bad Clause. Most of the professional bodies concerned think that it is unworkable, but, whether or not it is unworkable, it attempts to base itself upon points of fact. It is a technical operation to say that under that Clause the value of a tenement is this or that. It has nothing whatever to do with who lives there. Once one assumes that this is a technical operation of valuation, then it is clear to me that the person who ought to have the function of deciding the value should be a person with professional qualifications. It is perfectly true that there may be dilution in this profession. There is a shortage of staff for district valuers, and there are going to be difficulties whatever we do. But there is no greater difficulty in increasing the staff of the district valuer than there is in appointing “quacks” —that is, persons who seek to operate a trade of which they have no knowledge.
My second point is that of administrative convenience. There is already in operation a department which has gained practice in the way it carries out its duties. I have never heard any suggestion that district valuers' departments are anything but efficient. They are of long standing and they have immense expertise in this field. What possible advantage can there be in setting up a rival, unskilled and less experienced organisation than the one which already exists? What possible point can there be in finding additional office accommodation on top of that which already exists for this purpose? What advantage can there be in finding additional staff, [column 513]additional secretaries, additional office apparatus when there is already an organisation which is working well? What possible point can there be in offending the professional associations which feel that they are being overlooked in this matter?
Finally, it is a very odd thing to set up two quite separate governmental organisations to decide a single fact. In the end this is bound to lead to difficulties and may reflect on the district valuers' clerks. We are now in a position where a rateable value has been attached to a property. Whoever attached that rateable value certainly took into account the rent which that property was yielding to the landlord. That having been done once, we are going to get ourselves into the position where a rating officer or an assessment committee fixes a rent quite separate and different from the rent being paid a year or so ago. It is quite clear that the landlord or the tenant is then going to return to the rating officer and say, “When you rated my property it was done upon the basis of that rent. Now another rating officer has come along and changed the rent. Therefore, may I ask that the rates also be changed?” It can lead to nothing but muddle when there are two separate organisations dealing with what is a single problem.
The case I am trying to submit is, first, that it is wiser to use the experts; secondly, that we shall double our administrative difficulties; thirdly, that we are asking an amateur, a “quack” , to deal with a matter for the experts. On that basis, I suggest that this Amendment ought to be accepted by the Committee.
Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop
I hope that the Minister will not accept this Amendment, because, apart from anything else, it is misconceived. I believe that the rent officer has very different duties to perform from those which have been outlined, and the points by the hon. Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Evelyn King) made quite clear why this proposition should not be accepted. It is my view, and I hope the view of the Minister, that the rent officer should be very largely a conciliation officer and should attempt to get agreement between the landlord and the tenant without the matter having to go further.[column 514]
This point of conciliation has been used again and again in Second Reading speeches, but it is used nowhere in the Bill. In fact, the Bill lays down fairly clearly that this is a matter of fact and not of conciliation.
The hon. Member is entitled to his view and I am entitled to mine. I think the whole value of this proposition is that we are going to attempt to get some exchange of view and agreement between the two parties, and the procedure suggested by the hon. Member is certainly not required. No doubt the Minister will confirm this when he comes to reply.
Or, at any rate, when he comes.
We have a Minister here and we are able to have his views.
The hon. Member for Dorset, South gave an airing to his views in the Estates Gazette recently, in a letter which appeared to me to be inviting professional bodies to sabotage this Measure. It is a matter which I think one should criticise very severely, that someone who is not, so far as I know, a member of a professional body should arrogate to himself the duty of telling professional people what attitude they ought to adopt towards a Measure. It would have been rather more acceptable if criticism of this kind had come from a professional member.
I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again, but he is so wildly wrong in what he is saying that he must be interrupted. The views which I put forward are, in fact, the views of the valuers' institution. I received a letter from the President of the Institution thanking me for my letter and informing me that this is an expression which his professional association entirely shares.
It would be far more satisfactory if those views had come from an association member.
Those views came from the hon. Member himself who expressed them in that journal, and in my view he misrepresented the intentions [column 515]of the Bill in this regard. I hope very much that my hon. Friend will not accept this Amendment, because it should be left to the rent assessment committee to perform the task. We should not attempt to duplicate it in the way that hon. Members opposite propose.
Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson
Having listened to the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop), I almost wonder why this Bill is being introduced at all, because he talks about a fair rent and the rent officer as if this was going to be a figure easily agreed between the landlord and the tenant. Yet his other hon. Friends have been telling us and everybody else—not only in this Committee but in the country at large—that the rent structure in this country is out of gear and causing considerable hardship.
I believe that if the rent officer's job is to deal with problems which the hon. Gentleman's friends feel really exists, then it is not going to be one of just of conciliation; it is going to be a very complicated and difficult one. It is also going to be one which will require expert knowledge. Let us take the example of the rent officer who comes up against a big property owner. Are we really to accept that some ex-trade union official, with no expert knowledge of the property market, will be able to deal with a person of that sort? Of course he is not.
I should like to make an even more important point so far as London is concerned. The Minister yesterday told us that it was his intention that London should be one of the first areas to be taken into the scope of this Bill. But he is no doubt also aware that in London we have just had a very large local government reorganisation where new enlarged boroughs are taking on new and enlarged responsibilities. It is my contention that local authorities, in London, at any rate, have quite enough to do at the moment as things are trying to get these new responsibilities going. I would also remind the Minister that by the very wording of this Bill he has confused the local authorities, certainly in London, so that many of them are not at all clear where their responsibility will begin or end. Their attitude in many cases is that they would be delighted to be shot of this problem of rent arrangements. They support what I [column 516]have just said, that this is an expert's problem and that there is no town clerk who wants to be landed with a number of amateur rent fixers round his neck for whom he is in some way going to be responsible. The town clerk has quite enough to do to handle the ordinary services in the borough. Added to this he might find himself with an inexpert rent officer going around and being labelled very largely, by landlord and tenant alike, as an embittered snooper. This is something which the Minister should be careful about. I have drawn attention to this problem on earlier occasions.
We want the good will of landlord and tenant alike in the private rented sector. This is one of the planks of the housing policy of, I hope, this Government, and certainly of the last Government, and I hope that the intention behind this Bill is to make sure that both landlord and tenant alike get a fair deal. The idea is getting around that ex-trade union officials, ex-anybody, any amateur, is going to be a snooper without the real expert knowledge and will go around, perhaps with an anti-landlord chip on his shoulder, or perhaps quite the reverse—a creature of the landlord—and will be fixing rents which will bear no real relation to those which would be described as fair.
All the remarks which I have made so far certainly lead me to believe that this is to be an expert's job. Who should be the expert? I think that both of my hon. Friends have pointed quite firmly in the direction of the district valuer, the Inland Revenue, the chap who is dealing with this problem from day to day, the real expert, the man who understands the value of property; not somebody who goes out from the town clerk's office one morning to look at a particular section of housing in the borough and decides in an arbitrary way what shall be the proper value. 11.0 a.m.
Although we cannot speak about Clause 22, there are so many things which must be disregarded that one wonders just what the rent officer will take into consideration—that is, this inexpert rent officer who will have to keep going back to the town hall to find out more about the properties at which he is looking. My hon. Friends are [column 517]offering in the Amendment the sort of person who knows properties, who understands his job and who has had expert training. I hope, therefore, that the Amendment will be accepted.
I assure the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that from the conversations which I have had with people in local authorities they have no desire to take on this very hot potato. They do not think that they are able to do it because they do not know what sort of people the rent officers will be. In this connection, the Minister talked about the difficulty of recruiting staff. I believe that he is likely to have more difficulty than he thinks—that is, if the staff recruited is to be worth having.
The Minister was at great pains to assure the Committee that there was no direct responsibility between the local authority and the rent officer, but I assure him that the local authorities do not feel likewise. They do not know what sort of people they will get. The Bill is so woolly that no one knows what will happen. Indeed, the local authorities have a nasty feeling that they will be landed with an unpleasant job, with a lot of amateurs bumbling around trying to fix rents, with the result that the local authorities will in the end be responsible. They believe that that would mean the ratepayers beginning to kick up a fuss and——
Mr. Eric S. Heffer
Before the hon. Gentleman proceeds, and since I am intrigued by his constant references to local authorities, will he tell the Committee whether he has authority to talk in terms of all the local authorities? I assure him that he is not talking for the Liverpool City Council.
Of course I cannot talk for them all, but I can talk for those with which I have had conversations.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. James MacColl)
I go a stage further and say that in those local authorities with which I have had discussions——
It would be wrong for me to start discussing which authorities. The hon. Gentleman may have different circumstances to face in Liverpool, but here in London we have a lot of work at local authority level as a result of the re-organisation. The people in the town halls in this city feel that the job of the rent officer will be a burden which will be too heavy for them to carry. Not only do they not know exactly what they will be expected to do about this provision but they also do not feel that the rent officer structure as envisaged in the Bill will result in the setting up of a team of experts.
The district valuer is an expert. He works separately from the town hall. He knows how to value property. There are many conditions and disregards which must be taken into consideration. There is not on one page of the Bill a clear indication of what the rent officer should do when he sets out to fix a fair rent. A lot will be left to his discretion, and I would sooner have the expert's discretion than the discretion of some amateur who is not only inexpert but who will have to keep seeking advice from someone else in an effort to reach the right answer.
Mr. B. T. Parkin
It has become obvious how wise the Opposition were to put up the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) to move the Amendment. She argued her case cogently and with restraint and moderation. Her speech was perfect in construction and was a fine example of the sort of Committee speech which introduces an important proposal. The hon. Lady made that sort of speech with brevity and conviction. After that we have seen how things have deteriorated. We had a few words from the hon. Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Evelyn King) commending the hon. Lady's speech, but now we see emerging what is, I suppose, to be a countrywide propaganda effort on the part of the Tory Party designed to knock this proposal for fair rents, fairly agreed before fair tribunals, before it has a chance to get started.
Consider some of the words that have been used by hon. Gentlemen opposite. Even the local vicar has been called in and, with embittered snoopers, quacks, and talk of ex-trade union officials and others bumbling around. In the same [column 519]category they have placed the very people who might be called upon to perform the task laid down in the Clause. Their words have been a deliberate falsification of the real meaning of the word “conciliation” in these matters. It is more than unhelpful to suggest that the purpose of the rent officer or the rent assessment committee will be to act as a sort of welfare officer to families. I entirely agree with hon. Members who have said that this is to do with properties and not with individual hardships involving certain landlords or families. The Measure is concerned to have conciliation at an early stage—and conciliation involves two sets of people, both of whom we want to see satisfied.
At present we are undertaking different schemes in different parts of the country. We are trying to tackle urban renewal on a more gigantic scale than has ever been attempted. In the meantime we must get the existing stock of houses put into a state of repair so that people can live in them for the next 10, 15 or 20 years. We must reach the situation where the landlord either is willing to stay in business or will sell to the local authority. He must be able to make up his mind and know what is involved. That is the sort of conciliation we have in mind; what a family thinks is a fair rent to pay for a house in a particular area and what the landlord thinks it will be necessary for him to receive before he can do the necessary maintenance and repairs. That is a very different matter from the suggestion of hon. Gentlemen opposite that we propose to establish some kind of welfare organisation.
The words used by hon. Gentlemen opposite have been outrageous. They have been used to suggest that certain types of people have no qualifications. The extraordinary thing is that, in spite of the vested interest argument in favour of professional organisations, it is not the young man who has just passed his examination with first-class honours who is the expert. It is not the man who can remember every page of the law books who is the expert and who will be successful in this work. The expert here is the man who has had some human experience over a number of years—who knows what it is to deal with people. [column 520]It does not matter whether one has a solicitor, accountant, or any other professional; when it comes to some difficult cases, experience of human problems is the all-important factor.
The remarks that have been made about members of local authorities are absolutely outrageous. Of course the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. McNair-Wilson) has not had any official negotiations with any local authorities. He has no status to have any, and it was wrong for him to suggest that he had been in negotiations with local authorities when he had obviously not.
I did not mention the word “negotiation” . I said that I had had discussions with members of local authorities.
No. The hon. Gentleman said that he had had discussions with local authorities, which is a different matter. Naturally, he has had discussions with members of local authorities. He no doubt said, “How best can we crab this Bill?” [Hon. Members: “Oh” .] That is the tactic. Hon. Gentlemen opposite did not vote against the Bill on Second Reading. Indeed, they announced that they wished that they had thought of it before the election. They stated that they were in favour of the principles involved. Despite all that, they now wish to crab it in detail by making it impossible to attach any dignity to the job of the rent officer.
If the hon. Gentleman is going to adopt that tone he should, in fairness, as a necessary preliminary, withdraw the word “negotiations” which he wrongly attributed to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. McNair-Wilson).
Certainly. The word the hon. Gentleman used was “discussion” . But will the right hon. Gentleman, in turn, admit that his hon. Friend said that he had had discussions with local authorities? I hope that it was a slip of the tongue on the part of his hon. Friend, because such discussions with local authorities could not have taken place.
It would have been better if the words of hon. Gentlemen opposite had been more carefully thought out before they used them, particularly their references to the sort of qualifications that arise [column 521]from human contacts on the widest scale—the knowledge of how people live in their homes and the knowledge of homes which may look very much the same from outside but which can be very different—in amenities and the capacity of people to withstand the effects of overcrowding, disrepair and so on—from the inside. I very much regret the tone which has been adopted by the Opposition in this matter.
I listened carefully and sympathetically to what the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley said. Like many of my hon. Friends, I feel that it would be splendid if we could get the sort of balanced, experienced, professional opinion of the kind she indicated—that is, if it were available—so that it could give ready consultation and exercise opinion in difficult cases. I hope that that will in due course emerge, but the picture of the debate since the hon. Lady spoke is a very different one. I hope that my hon. Friends will resist the Amendment.
Mr. David Mitchell
I was astonished to hear the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) contradict himself so frequently in so short a time.
“… the payment by the local authority to Subsection (3, a) refers to rent officers and deputy rent officers of remuneration and allowances in accordance with scales approved by the Treasury” .
I am concerned about that provision because the present national scales which apply throughout the country for various jobs and professions are disconcerting in that they bear no relationship whatever to the pay scales which are needed in different parts of the country. For example, when one is in competition for labour in areas like London and Birmingham, where there is a great labour shortage, one cannot obtain the services of a man on a pay scale on which one can obtain a man of comparable quality in the country areas.
Mr. Julius Silverman
On a point of order, Mr. Grant-Ferris. Are we considering pay scales now?
I will call the hon. Member to order as soon as I think he is out of order.
I understood that the Amendment was designed to delete subsections (2) to (7). I am talking about subsection (3). [column 522]
The trouble arises because the Treasury tries to arrive at what it regards as a fair average and then arranges a pay scale which might be adequate to secure the quality of man one wants in the country districts but which takes no account of the competition for labour in some of the cities. The areas in which there is the highest demand for labour happen to be those in which the housing shortage is the most serious and in which men with the highest qualifications are needed. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will accept that there should be different pay scales for different parts of the country and not one national Treasury scale.
I was amazed at some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Paddington, North about rent officers. He attacked my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. McNair-Wilson) for what he had said, yet the hon. Member for Paddington, North went on to speak about properties. He confirmed at the beginning of his remarks the excellence of the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) when moving the Amendment. He then said that it was a question of deciding just what was a fair rent. From there he went on to talk about the human approach being necessary on the part of the rent officer: the experience of people as human beings and the capacity of people to withstand the effects of this, that and the other. Each reference is a reference to the people, the tenants, the individuals concerned, not the property. So one finds shining right through the whole of the thinking of hon. Members opposite that the job of the rent officer should be to deal with the people and the personal circumstances. 11.15 a.m.
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way especially in view of the fact that he is making a somewhat aggressive speech. What I was trying to say was that the knowledge of the professional valuer is not enough in itself until the people have been seen living in their homes, and the best qualification for a rent officer must be acquaintance with the maximum number and greatest variety of homes possible as seen from the inside. I must not go too far with this interjection but I think [column 523]this also includes—and it is not necessarily weighted one way or the other—the way people vary and their treatment of their own homes. The rent officer must be able to say if a house is in a terrible condition that it is in part the tenant's own fault and there is no justification for reducing the rent. It is knowledge of the way different people in different kinds of society live inside their homes that is the real qualification.
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the intervention he has made and the further indication he has given that he is concerned with the people in their homes and that this should have some influence on the rent. Quite obviously, when considering what is a fair rent for a property the people living in the property have nothing whatsoever to do with it.
This only confirms the speech which was made a little earlier by the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) about the conciliation mission of the rent officers. Conciliation, again, is dealing with people, conciliation between the landlord and the tenant, and we know perfectly well the trade union approach on these matters—that is, that if one wants to have a wage claim of so much one puts in for twice what one is after, splits the difference and that is what one will get. If there are going to be these conciliation officers as rent officers a situation will be created in which they are going to say: “All right, what is the difference between the amount suggested by the tenant and the amount asked by the landlord? We will split the difference and agree on that.” The conciliation officer, the rent officer, will presumably be considered good if he succeeds in achieving a high percentage of conciliation and a small number of cases that have to be referred for further inquiry at a higher level. Therefore, the case for suggesting splitting the difference as a basis for the new rent is strengthened. But that is not a basis for a rent. The reason why I and many of my hon. Friends did not vote against the Bill on Second Reading was that it provided for a fair rent, not for splitting the difference between the ideas of the landlord and the tenant.
I should like to go back to the question of whether the district valuer is or [column 524]is not the right person to make the valuation. I must admit that I was astonished to hear the Minister give his reasons for refusing this during the Second Reading. Here we have a qualified district valuer who, with his office, has already carried out a valuation for rating purposes of all the properties in the area, so that already a large amount of the work which would have to be done by the rent officer has been carried out by the district valuer's department.
Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that the district valuer does not, in fact, examine each particular house and that in many cases he determines the valuation of whole blocks of property? Surely this is quite separate from what we are seeking in the Bill?
I will come to the point made by the hon. Member because it bears some slight resemblance to the point made by the Minister during the Second Reading debate in rejecting this suggestion. I am saying that the district valuer has already carried out a survey of the property, he has his records and he knows a great deal about it; he and his staff are already familiar with much of the work that has to be done by the rent officer. But now we come to the reason which the Minister adduced during the Second Reading debate for not accepting this point of view, and it must be said straight away that the fact that the Minister obviously felt some difficulty about this was stressed by his going out of his way during the Second Reading to try to rebut it. I must say that I thought he rebutted it in an extremely weak fashion.
Two reasons were advanced by the Minister. The first was that if the basis of the 1963 valuation were used it would be out of date before it started. But that, of course, is really nonsense, firstly because if the rent officer fixes the rent, that, too, will presumably be out of date after 12 months, before it starts, and therefore, this applies equally to either basis. So, presumably, there is going to be with this system some method by which rents can be reset. With inflation as it is gathering momentum under this Government, to something in excess of 5 per cent. a year, it is inevitable that a fair rent now will not be a fair rent in 12 to 18 months' time, so presumably one [column 525]must have some system of adjustment in order to get a fair rent.
Why should it not be a fair rent in 12 months' time?
Because in 12 months' time the cost of building repairs, maintenance, decorating, plastering and so on will have gone up by 5 per cent., 6 per cent., or 10 per cent. That is the sort of figure one is likely to see with the inflationary actions of the present Government. So what is a fair rent——
The hon. Gentleman says “nonsense” , but we have already seen the sharpest rise in the cost of living and the cost of this sort of work during this Government's period of office.
That is because we are trying to overcome the difficulties the Conservatives left.
There is no denying that the policies of the Government, one after another, by increasing taxes have put up the cost of living and have added to the pressure of wage demand. One can well understand any trade unionist saying he is not prepared to sit down and see his standard of living fall without putting in a wage demand. So the cost of labour, repairs and maintenance is rising. I therefore think it fair comment that even if the rent officer fixes a rent now, in 18 months' time that will no longer be a fair rent for the property in question.
If I am right in saying this, it makes complete nonsense of the Minister's statement that the first reason for rejecting the district valuer is that he will be out of date before he starts. Either system will be out of date with this Government before it starts, so that argument does not apply. One can use it as a baseline and allow a 5 per cent. increase for the first year on labour costs and 10 per cent. for the second year, or whatever it may be, until one arrives at something related to the rise in the cost of repairing and maintaining property, thus obtaining a fair rent.
The second reason the Minister adduced for not——
Mr. Eric Lubbock
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves this point, does he not think that if we made use of rateable [column 526]values, or some other figure, as a criterion, allowance could equally well be made for the increase in the cost of building and labour and for some sort of interim increase between two valuations, which might be five years apart?
When I said I felt one should use a baseline, this was very much the thought I had in mind—that one would, in fact, start with a baseline and make adjustments as costs rose and affected the fair rent as between landlord and tenant of the property concerned.
The second thing the Minister said during the Second Reading debate as a reason for refusing this idea—I may not have got him exactly verbatim, but it was something to this effect—was that in many areas and many cases the Government feel that fair rents are in fact similar but there are a number of properties where this is not the case. I accept this as perfectly true, but may this not be because of a mistake in the valuation of the property, and is that not a very strong reason for saying that one should increase the staff of the district valuer's office, put this additional work through it and let him go back again and make a proper valuation of the properties on which he made a mistake on the first valuation? It is not in any circumstances an argument to say: “We accept that the district valuer has made a mistake, but propose to do nothing about it” . Here is a golden opportunity for doing something about it when it is needed.
For these two reasons I hope that the Minister—and I am sorry he is not with us—will look again at the arguments he advanced during the Second Reading—which seemed to be very weak and showed so clearly that he had a feeling he was on weak ground here—and will give consideration to the Amendment which my colleagues have put forward.
I assure the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) that just because I am supporting this Amendment it does not mean that I am intending to crab the Bill. No one is more determined than I to see it on the Statute Book as quickly as possible, but I want to see it there in the most workable form and I really think this Amendment is one of the most constructive we have had during the Committee [column 527]stage, for three reasons—expert knowledge, speed of operation and costs. There is this body of people already in existence with great experience in housing. They do not need to be appointed; they are already on the spot. Although it might be possible to find equally good people elsewhere, I fear that it would lead to long delays.
The hon. Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Evelyn King) might have exaggerated a little in his description of the type of the person who will be appointed by the clerks, but, nevertheless, it is inevitable that there should be a variation between one registration area and another and that some good and some bad people will be appointed. I am sure that this would lead to a great deal of discontent as between adjacent authorities. It depends a great deal on the town clerk being able to find the right type of person in his area, and that will not always be possible and is one of the reasons why the Minister, in the course of yesterday's sitting, would not give us an assurance that the provisions of Part II of the Bill would be brought into operation throughout the country within six months. He confessed quite frankly that in some areas it might be difficult to obtain the right kind of person.
On the question of humanity, I think first of all that it is an insult to district valuers to say that they are inhumane people. Secondly, one must bear in mind what sort of humanity they are expected to exercise. The hon. Member for Paddington, North implied, although he did not say it in so many words, that rent officers needed humanity because they had to take into account the circumstances of the tenant in determining a fair rent. I remind him that the Secretary of State for Scotland in his Second Reading speech in winding up made it absolutely clear that this was not so. He said:
“We are trying to put a value upon a property which should not be related to the means of the individual concerned.” —[Official Report, 5th April, 1965; Vol. 710, c. 160.]
So I think that disposes in the main of the humanity argument which the hon. Gentleman was advancing, although I would say that the rent officer must have a great deal of tact because he is the first person to bring the landlord and the tenant into contact with each other. [column 528]Regarding the speech of the hon. Member for Dorset, South, who said that there was no provision for conciliation in the Bill, he will find in Schedule 3, paragraph 7, that the rent officer has initially to bring the landlord and tenant together in cases where they cannot agree to submit to him what the fair rent should be. Therefore, he has to be to some extent a diplomat in trying to arrive at a fair rent as between the parties concerned in order not to have an enormous number of cases being referred to the rent assessment committees, thus perhaps overwhelming them. 11.30 a.m.
I would also draw the attention of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the fact that in this conciliation procedure, if I may use that word—although it does not appear in Schedule 3—both landlord and tenant are entitled to be represented
“by a person authorised by him in that behalf, whether or not that person is of counsel or a solicitor.”
It is, therefore, important that the rent officer should have enough expert knowledge of these problems to be able to listen to the arguments of learned counsel and help the landlord and tenant in resolving their differences.
I need not say any more about the speed of operation. It is obvious that since this expert body of men already exists it will enable the Bill to be brought into operation much more quickly than would otherwise be possible.
On the question of cost, I would remind the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that his own Financial Memorandum says that these proposals are likely to cost £1¼ million in England and Wales and £200,000 in Scotland. If he can tell me that the Amendment will not involve some economy on that enormous sum I shall be very surprised. It is obvious that, since the premises are already in existence—whereas under the Government's present proposals local authorities will have to find new offices—since secretarial help is available in the offices of district valuers, and since, in many cases, it may even be possible to combine this work with existing work, in which case there will be no need to appoint additional personnel, the Amendment will involve a saving of money. On all those grounds I appeal to the hon. Member to accept it.[column 529]
Mr. James Allason
The Government's resistance to the Amendment has given the impression that the views of valuers and local authorities have been misrepresented in order to press the case. There are three chartered bodies concerned with valuation. I have here a copy of a memorandum which the Incorporated Society of Auctioneers and Landed Property Agents sent to the Minister. Under the heading “Rent Officers” it reads:
“The Society is particularly apprehensive at the suggestion, derived both from the White Paper and from the debate on the Bill's second reading, that the rent officers will be an army of amateurs. The Society regards it as essential that they should be persons versed in the professional skills of valuation. Moreover, it considers that the rent officers should not be appointed by, or come under the protection of, the local authority, since such appointments should be seen to be free from the influence of any sectional interest, real or imaginary. It is preferable that rent officers should be appointed by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and be attached for administrative purposes to the local offices of the District Valuer and/or Valuation Officer. This argument is reinforced by the arrangements which have been made for the appointment of rent officers in Scotland.”
That deals with the argument that no reputable opinion of valuers is in favour of the Amendment.
As for local authorities, I can speak as a Vice-President of the Association of Municipal Corporations. That body definitely dislikes the idea of valuers being associated with local authorities. I notice that in our proceedings yesterday the Minister said:
“I think it true to say that in the A.M.C., where they are very loyal, they accepted it, some with more and some with less enthusiasm.” —[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 19th May, 1965, c. 492.]
The A.M.C. would definitely prefer to opt out of this arrangement. Of course it is prepared to operate it; it would be intolerable if it were not. But it would prefer not to be responsible for rent officers.
Surely the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that that association has ever expressed a view about the appointment of valuation officers. It has expressed the view that it would prefer the Minister to make the appointment himself, but it has not expressed a view as to whom should be appointed.[column 530]
I do not think that I suggested otherwise. But the A.M.C. does not wish to have this responsibility, and the Amendment meets this request in producing a workable alternative. It seems to me that under the present proposals there is bound to be an association with local authorities. People will think that if a county council appoints a rent officer his decisions will be those of that county council. People will tend to complain about the county council and will run to their county councillors, although we know that that will be no good.
In the minds of all those concerned there will be the feeling that there is this association with local government, just as there is now a feeling that the Inland Revenue is to blame for rating valuation. Everyone says, “What can you expect of the Inland Revenue, anyway?” , whenever he is discontented with his rating valuation. There is, therefore, a strong case for this responsibility being taken away from local government.
Yesterday the Minister said that it was only a question of the power of appointment by the clerk of a county council, or whatever borough councils there may be in London, but the hon. Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman) interrupted to say that it also involved selection. That is the operative part of the whole matter.
I said “The allocation of work” .
Unfortunately, I was not present at the time, but I read the Official Report, and the hon. Member is quoted as saying, “Except for the selection.”
No—the allocation of work. What I said was probably not properly heard by the shorthand writer.
Regrettably, I was not in the Chamber at that time, and so I had to rely on the Official Report Nevertheless, it is clear that an invidious responsibility will be placed upon the clerks of county councils or borough councils.
I also note that the Minister said that the rent officers would work from the town halls. That again seems to be rather strange. In the case of a county, are the rent officers to work in the town [column 531]halls of the boroughs, and are they to be county council officials or semi-officials? I do not see how that will work.
This is a very constructive Amendment. It will save a great deal. It will save the Minister's having to make a scheme such as is provided for in subsection (3), and it will save a whole page of the Bill, because we shall not need Clause 18 either. For those reasons of economy, which have also been referred to by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), and for many other reasons, this is an absolutely first-class Amendment.
Dame Joan Vickers
I want to say a few words to try to elicit from the Parliamentary Secretary exactly what qualifications the Minister is looking for in the rent officers. The whole Bill stands or falls by this Clause. If it is not worked out satisfactorily, the Bill will be a complete disaster. I am asking for elucidation because it was not made clear by the Minister in the Second Reading debate what qualifications will be required.
On 5th April he said:
“I shall advise the county clerks and town clerks how to select them” —
that is, the rent officers. What advice has been given to the town clerks with regard to selection? The Minister went on to say:
“We may well be discussing this.”
Has it been discussed with the clerks? He then said:
“I did not find, when discussing the matter with them, that there was much doubt about the kind of people we could get and the kind of background.”
I would very much like to know what kind of people the Minister is thinking of, and what their background will be. He went on to discuss the question of housing and public health inspectors. Both these types of official have committees behind them. They never make definite decisions themselves. They refer them to the chairmen of their committees. I gather that they will now be responsible to the town clerks, who are already very busy persons and who are unlikely to have much knowledge about the details of the action that they will be likely to have to take.
The Minister also said:
“There are, fortunately, a great many people today with a wide knowledge” —
[column 532]he did not say of what—
“and understanding of these things.”
What are “these things.” ? This job needs definite qualifications, and it is extremely important to put the matter on a practical business basis. The Minister went on to say:
“They may be getting on in life, or retired, and would like a half-time job.” —[Official Report, 5th April, 1965; Vol. 709, c. 50.]
Is this going to be a half-time job? I should have thought that in London, anyhow, it would have to be a full-time job. It seems to me that this problem is being approached in a purely amateur way, whereas the job that is required to be done needs to be carried out by an extremely professional person.
These officers will be appointed by the town clerks, and will be responsible only to them. This will be very difficult for the town clerks. They have many responsibilities, and this will be something of which they will probably not have had any knowledge or experience before. How will they know what type of person they must select for the job? I would have thought it was very unfair to put this responsibility upon them.
If we do not get from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary a definite statement about the actual qualifications needed for these individuals, how many hours they will be expected to work each week, and what reports they will have to make, we shall be left in the air. It will be very unsatisfactory if we are merely to work on the lines of the statement already made by the right hon. Gentleman in the Second Reading debate without any further definition of the type of person that he is considering.
Since no definite proposal has yet been put forward about the qualifications required in respect of these individuals, it seems to me that the Amendment is really constructive and helpful. It will enable us to have the help of people who possess the qualifications which I would have thought the Minister had in mind, and who already have the necessary officers, who could get to work straight away. In most cases these officers are not very pressed. They have been pressed in certain areas, especially in cities, but their work is not so strenuous as it was. Here we have a very good machine, which could be very effective, run by people [column 533]who are quite qualified by their training to do the job.
I would have thought that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee wanted qualified persons to do the job, and that if the Minister really wants a decent syllabus, with qualifications and hours of work laid down, he would accept the Amendment, because it would assist in the operation of the Bill. 11.45 a.m.
Mr. Cranley Onslow
I would support what my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) has said, and, in particular, agree with the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Mitchell). I think that there is a difficulty here between the two sides of the Committee. There seems to be considerable confusion about the precise role of the rent officers and what they are to do. There seems to be an idea on the other side of the Committee that we should appoint a number of kindhearted amateurs who would wave a wand and fix everything——
The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Dr. J. Dickson Mabon)
That is not our idea. That is the hon. Member's idea of our idea.
I am glad to hear that this is not the Minister's idea, but it seems to have been indicated that this was the idea.
The more that the personal, human element is brought in, the less likely it is that we shall have a really workable scheme. If rent officers are led to believe that the future of their jobs depends on the number of rent agreements which they succeed in registering, this will be a tremendous premium on them to strive for success, to persuade them to go out of their way to prevent landlord or tenant going to appeal. It may be worth considering that the consequence may be that the tenants will suffer, because a rent officer might indicate, quite fairly perhaps, that the cost of an appeal—for which, so far as I know, there is no legal aid provision—could be considerable, with the provision for legal representation.
This might deter one party or another from deciding to disagree with the rent officer. The officer's natural inclination might be to strive to get agreement. As [column 534]soon as he gets a reputation for bias in one direction or another, his function becomes useless and even dangerous. Every case thereafter can be expected to go straight to appeal. I think that this would be very unfortunate. Is it not worth getting it clear in our minds that the rent officer's powers extend only to what is agreed? He will really be a registrar, rather like a registrar of births, marriages and deaths, who does not fix them but simply records them.
I think that terminology has let us down here, and I hope that the Minister can find some other title than that of “officer” . I suppose that we ought to be grateful that it is not “operative” . We have been led astray on this. The Minister himself is in confusion, because in col. 205 he said that the rent officer will fix a fair rent. He will not fix a fair rent. He may register it, where there is agreement, but he will not fix it. If there is to be any fixing, it will, presumably, be done by the assessment committee or by voluntary agreement between the two parties. The rent officer will not fix it; he is simply an agent who writes it down. We do not need to get all worked up——
Surely this matter is dealt with under Schedule 3, which says on page 33:
“After considering, in accordance with the preceding paragraph, what rent ought to be registered or, as the case may be, whether a different rent ought to be registered, the rent officer shall, as the case may require,—
(a) determine a fair rent and register it as the rent for the dwelling house;”
He determines it, but it is not a final act——
Dr. Dickson Mabon
The hon. Member is quibbling with words.
Hon Members opposite may regard this as a quibble, but unless we get clear what we are trying to discuss, and the need for professionalism, which was stressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley, when assessing, we shall get into the most dreadful muddle. It is very important that we do not create an atmosphere in which it is thought that good will on both sides—which is possibly less frequent than one might wish—would enable the whole matter to sort itself out. If this is to work fairly and efficiently, it is essential [column 535]that those charged with the business of bringing landlord and tenant together and everything which flows from it should be professional and command confidence from both sides, which is what every professional merits.
I think that there is something to be said for the view that the debate has been somewhat handicapped by the fact that we have been discussing the Amendment before we have looked at Clause 22 or the Third Schedule. If one looks at those, one gets a clearer idea of how the whole operation is likely to work. I should not have objected to taking the Third Schedule together with this Clause. However, we have had to take it as it comes.
Without going into too much detail on the later stages of the Bill, I want to try to put the case specifically in relation to this Amendment. Before I forget—forgetfulness is likely to be my gravest sin in this matter—I would answer the point made by the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Mitchell) about scales of salary. Scales of salary of a Government servant—whether a valuer or a rent officer—will be fixed on a scale by that formidable body, the Treasury. That does not mean, either in the case of a rent officer or that of a valuation officer, that there cannot be variations in the scales—at least, I imagine not. That is not a matter which is in distinction between the two.
The hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) asked a specific question with which I wish to deal before going on to the general points. She asked about the hours of work and so on of the rent officer. As I see it—this is one of the needs for flexibility—this will vary very much from place to place and, perhaps, from time to time. Although there is a backlog of frozen rents to be thawed, and work will be generally fairly heavy, one hopes that in time it will decrease. A test of the Bill's effectiveness will be how quickly the work decreases. I do not think that one makes many hostages to fortune by saying that in London the job would be full time plus. In other words, there will be a number of officers in London in each borough and they will be working very hard.
Probably that may be true in the great cities, but in other places, in smaller areas, it may be possible to have a sharing of [column 536]the duties of a rent officer, either having a rent officer covering two different areas or a rent officer doing other work as well as covering the area.
There has been a good deal of emphasis—with some justification—on the fact that we have talked about retired people. I think that it would be a pity if one got the impression that the job of rent officer was one for someone who was “over the hill” . It is, obviously, a job calling for very great qualities and stamina, but it is also a job in which experience is of more value than the actual level of qualifications which one has gained in professional exams. In other words, this is the kind of job in which, if one has been around a long time, one will be more effective than if one simply has hard paper qualifications.
I have been around quite a long time and I have had quite a lot of experience of human nature and of revenue cases, but I do not think that I could fix a fair rent for a property.
I do not want to anticipate the results of the next election in the hon. Lady's case. I should like to think that she would be available for employment of this sort, and I would short-list the hon. Lady and certainly her hon. Friend the Member for Devonport. I have paid tribute to the hon. Lady's vigour and energy, and I hope that I will not be thought to be suggesting that she is getting long in the tooth, but the hon. Member for Devonport has the kind of approach and qualities and ability to be pretty tough where necessary, which would make a success of this job.
I should like to come back to the general course which the debate has taken. The hon. Member for Finchley deployed the case for the Amendment most effectively. She made the best case which could be made for it. She did it with moderation and with understanding. I am almost tempted to fall into the trap of borrowing a phrase of hers for future use. I would not feel that “landlord-tenant guidance counsellors” is not a very good phrase instead of “conciliation officers” , when considering the functions of the rent officers. She could not have liked the remarks of the hon. Member for Lewisham, West [column 537](Mr. McNair-Wilson) about “bumbling amateurs and quacks” . When one thinks of the contribution which has been made by the lay members of pensions tribunals and similar bodies for many years——
Would not the Joint Parliamentary Secretary agree that the comments which have been made about these part-time officers, even by hon. Member of his own party, have led people to believe that they could be bumbling amateurs? This is my point.
I think that the hon. Member for Finchley knows the answer to that——
My hon. Friend mentioned pensions tribunals. Would he also mention furnished lettings tribunals, where laymen have to deal with precisely this sort of problem?
That is a tribunal.
A tribunal, of course, is a multiple body. I do not often get shaken by seeing Conservatism in the raw—I am used to it—but this attitude to voluntary work is not one I should expect to find from the party opposite. The whole of our judicial system rests on the contributions which are made by amateurs. Many of us who have served on the judicial bench have been called bumbling amateurs by dissatisfied people who have appeared before us. That is part of the operation.
I want to look, first of all, at the administrative problems in the Amendment before looking at the other reasons for rejecting it. The hon. Member for Finchley made it clear that we are talking at the moment about two sorts of people. There are the district valuers whose job it is to fix values when public bodies acquire property. They are employed to do that independently. If their value is not accepted, there is a dispute, and eventually it may go to the Lands Tribunal. In the nature of their work, they are not primarily concerned—although this arises on acquisition of housing property—with the day-to-day problems of landlord and tenant. They are dispassionate people. They are there to value property on acquisition. They are not the people to whom one goes to talk or to argue. One point is accessibility——[column 538]
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary says that the district valuer is a dispassionate person. Surely this is exactly the quality we want in someone who is arriving at a fair rent for a property, not merely arriving at something which is convenient to two people. 12 noon.
I am coming on to that. I am merely engaged at the moment in explaining the work of the district valuer, and explaining that it is distinct from the work of the valuations officer who is specifically concerned was valuations for rating purposes. It is quite true that at the moment there are proposals to integrate the two services but that has not yet been completed by any means; it is in its comparatively early stages. But if it is difficult for the London boroughs to undertake this work because of their problems of integration, it is much more difficult for a service in the valuation field which is engaged in the difficult operation of integrating two types of people doing different jobs. It is certainly not the time to put on to them a third job which is much more complicated, difficult and exacting. Nor is it quite right to regard the work done by the valuation officer as if it were utterly removed from criticism.
The hon. Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Evelyn King) has made fair criticism from time to time about valuation and many people do not quite understand why their property has been valued for rating in the way it has been. I certainly would not think that the valuation departments have succeeded in getting a uniform system. I do not think that they have succeeded in getting standardised valuation and so on, but that is not their fault as their job is very difficult. But it would not be right to think of this as a machine which is working so smoothly and so completely without criticism that it could easily be speeded up and expanded. In fact, the service is hard pressed, it has a great deal more to do than it can cope with and it is likely to have more work to be both in the field of rating and in the field of acquisition. By the very nature of their work these people are not in direct touch with the ordinary person very much. It is important, whatever else one says about him, that the rent officer should be someone who is in very close [column 539]touch with people and who is used to dealing with individual people. There are practical difficulties. Even if this were as perfect a system as has been suggested, it would still be difficult to carry it out at the moment, but I do not think that on its merits it is a good thing to do.
Without going into too much detail about rent officers, I want to say something about this side of the problem. It is not really correct to think about problems in black and white. Either this is a scientific problem of applying objective tests which give an answer on grounds of professional expertise, or it is entirely a job of social work where people of good will can get a result. Life in general is a mixture of those two things, and it is a mixture in rent fixing as much as in anything else. As regards the phrase “splitting the difference” , which was tossed at us, we really want to have rent officers who will split the difference in order to arrive at a rent. An awful lot of people have split the difference in negotiation, and the history of the acquisition of land by a public authority shows that quite often there are cases where the district valuer has to go one way and the advisers of the vendor have to go the other way. They avoid going to the Lands Tribunal by splitting the difference and reaching a result which is just within the margin which each thinks is tolerable. Without meaning any disrespect to the county court, I think the same thing could be said about the work of a county court judge who has to arbitrate under the 1954 Act between the views of two people who come forward with opinions about valuation. So to some extent the element of compromise and the element of splitting the difference are likely to arise, whatever kind of person is employed as a rent officer.
The approach which we make to the work of the rent officer is neither of saying that this is purely a problem of fixing a rent as a job of social work, without any regard to the value of the property, nor of saying that it is something which is a completely professional job in which there is no need for an element of compromise or for a knowledge of human nature and willingness to try to get agreement between two people. The hon. Member for Lewisham, [column 540]West (Mr. McNair-Wilson) put this point when he said, striking an attitude and almost shaking his fist at me——
— “We want the good will of the landlord and tenant in the private sector.” That I entirely accept. It is one of the major motives behind this Bill, that one needs to overcome generations of distrust and fear which have bedevilled the relationship of landlord and tenant. Therefore, it is not simply a question of fixing a rent which seems reasonable and handing it down to the parties and saying, “Take it or leave it.” It is perhaps a problem of getting a tenant who is frightened to accept that this is, in fact, a reasonable rent which is being asked; of getting a landlord who thinks that he is being swindled by the tenant, who he thinks is not being fair about various points, to see the other point of view and of getting the two parties to agree rather than fight to the bitter end. In essence, that is the problem of conciliation. It is not primarily and essentially a problem of the mechanics of valuation.
There are the other cases. It has been asked whether we really think that these “bumbling amateurs” are going to stand up to the great property companies. There are certainly going to be cases—and they are the kind of cases which come out starkly in the Milner Holland Report—where there is a complete lack of any hope of reaching an understanding between the two sides. There may be a property company which has all the resources of skilled professional advice in order to squeeze out the maximum possible rents. There may be all the elements of exploitation and the desire to get the maximum out of a scarcity situation. In those cases, it is most unlikely that the rent officer will settle the matter. What will happen is that he will determine what he thinks is a fair rent, and almost certainly those cases will go to the rent assessment committee, which is to be the focus of the professional skill.
If we had a Utopia in which people had the qualities of the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley and the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport and several more thrown in, it would be an admirable thing to have those people [column 541]doing the rent officer's job. But the essence of responsible administration is to use the reserves of skill in the most effective way, and the most effective way to use those reserves is on the rent assessment committees. My right hon. Friend is most anxious that the standing of the rent assessment committees should be of the very highest, and that the skill on them should be very high. That is where the major clashes between the two sides will have to be fought out. That is where the general responsibility will be for preserving uniformity of rents.
Essentially, the job of the rent officer is to work where he can to get agreement, as was said by my right hon. Friend in the Second Reading debate. Are we really being told today, in this generation, that to say to two people, the landlord and tenant, who have to live together and who are at cross-purposes, “You are not understanding each other's point of view. You would do very much better to settle this and reach an agreed rent, rather than go to the rent assessment committee” is a sort of socially denigrating job, a job for “bumbling amateurs” , and a job which should not be done? If that is the difference between us, I think we are right in saying that the real problem over the whole field of relationships is not the problem of exploitation, bullying and brutality, although it is there; it is not the problem of technical failure to calculate what are fair rents; over a very wide field it is the problem of people who are afraid of each other, who distrust each other, and who have been brought up with the tradition of hostility towards each other. They are people who do not see the other person's point of view. That problem has to be solved.
The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) asked why, when we have this ready-made scheme, we should not carry it on. My answer is, first, that we do not have a ready-made scheme. We would put an enormous strain on the resources of the present valuation departments, and, therefore, we would make worse all the present problems of recruitment by the fact that we would have to have skilled and qualified men, instead of this rather wider selection which we have in mind. Secondly, there is the problem of accessibility. We want to have the rent officer in a place where [column 542]people can go to him naturally, rather than in a place which requires a tremendous effort to reach. If I asked hon. Members how many of them knew where the offices of their district valuer were, I think not many would pass that test, I am quite certain that the average run-of-the-mill tenant, and, indeed, the average small landlord, does not have the slightest idea where the valuation officer lives but they do know the town hall. Therefore, it is right that this should be linked with the town hall where a person is accustomed to getting information, so that, although the rent officer is quite independent of the town hall in the sense of having any policy laid down for him, he is a town hall figure who is readily accessible.
As a result of the Local Government Act, the town hall to which may tenants and landlords will go is miles away.
The hon. Gentleman had a side dig there. My town hall in Paddington is having a main road shoved through it. I am not defending the London Government Act, but I am saying that people will get used to the fact that the town hall is the centre of their area.
Would the hon. Gentleman move out of London for one second and tell us which town halls he is referring to in the counties?
Where is the town hall for Dorset?
The rent officer in a place like Dorset, I assume, would be available according to the amount of work in the town where there was a need for his services. That is a matter which can be worked out in the scheme by the county clerk. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman sees something odd about that.
With great respect, the hon. Gentleman referred to the town hall as if it were the centre. Dorchester is the capital of Dorset. That may be 30 miles from where the person in difficulty lives. There is no question of a town hall there.
But the point is that the chief rent officer will have his centre from which he conducts his operations. Either he or his deputies can, if necessary, it on circuit. After all, the county hall is [column 543]at present the centre of education, the centre of welfare and the centre of some of the major social services. Therefore, it is not really the remote place which is suggested.
Mr. Oscar Murton
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary talks about the county hall being the centre of education and of welfare. Those are, of course, delegated functions. That brings us right back to the original discussion.
Is it intended that in such districts there should be rent officers? Are we to have any rent officers in Surrey? If so, will they be resident at the county hall, which is not in Surrey any more? 12.15 p.m.
My right hon. Friend said yesterday that the general question of consultations was being considered so that the best answer could be secured. I am at present directing my remarks to the general principle of accessibility. I have pointed out that a rent officer or his deputy should be available in each place to meet landlords and tenants. How much delegation there should be and how much time should be spent in one place by each officer are the sort of matters which must be considered when the county clerk prepares the scheme; and presumably he knows the areas sufficiently well to make provision for these things.
I ask the Committee not to support the Amendment, partly on the ground that it would not be practically effective to have this work done by valuers—because there are not enough of them and because they are, in any case, over-worked—and partly because the nature of the job is primarily that of trying to achieve agreement between, and supplying information to, landlords and tenants, and having the patience to deal with people who are perhaps upset, on the defensive or fearful. These are the sort of qualities which are required. They may be available in the valuation officer but we believe that they are available in many other people as well.
Dame Joan Vickers
Is the Joint Parliamentary Secretary aware that his right hon. Friend said yesterday that advice would be given to county clerks on the selection of people for this job. What [column 544]advice have they been given and what qualifications will be necessary? Can the Joint Parliamentary Secretary give any further details?
My right hon. Friend did have consultations with the local authority associations about the general idea of the set-up but the detailed conversations about particular areas and other matters will begin—and some of them are already in their early stages—although they cannot be finally decided, until the Bill comes into operation. I think that enough has come out of our discussion to indicate the sort of questions which the county clerk should be asking himself when looking for people for this job.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary's speech reminded me of the old adage, “Do not shoot the pianist, he is doing his best.” It is certainly true that it is the very best of advocacy to make something of a very bad case, and we all appreciate that that was one of the handicaps under which the hon. Gentleman has been labouring this morning. There are others. One such handicap, to which he referred, is that those who drafted the Bill have so arranged it that we must discuss the qualifications of the job before we come to the things which determine the job.
The right hon. Gentleman must be aware that we have, in other cases, altered the order of discussing the Bill. There is no reason, if the right hon. Gentleman desired it, why that could not have been done on this matter.
Although it is easy, as we did on Clause 1, to bring in the Schedule, to start altering the order of Clauses and to take them out of order would be an unusual proceeding and might have repercussions. However, I do not wish to make a lot of this. I merely mention it because difficulties are created as a result of the layout of the Bill. Far more serious matters must be considered, particularly the effects of the speeches of some hon. Gentlemen opposite.
I do not know what was the matter with the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) this morning. He is usually a good tempered, reasonable, knowledgeable and indulgent hon. Gentleman, but today he made a violent [column 545]onslaught on my hon. Friends, saying that they were trying to “knock” and “crab” the Bill. I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider the nature of our discussion in Committee. We happen to take the view that to man these jobs—the importance of which has emerged very much this morning—with people without technical qualifications will cause the Measure to work badly, will cause hardship, inefficiency, delay and injustice. I do not ask the hon. Gentleman necessarily to share that view, but he must accept that it is our view. That being our view, surely we are entitled—indeed, bound—to argue, as we have done, that instead of putting in people without any technical qualifications—the phrase “amateurs” is offensive—we should put in people, with technical qualifications.
I appreciate that. I was submitting that it was a serious thing to attack the status of a rent officer before we had begun to appoint him; to deter the possibilities of recruitment to that important job by the accumulation of phrases. The most offensive part of my speech was a selection of quotations from speeches made by hon. Gentlemen opposite. I selected such phrases as “snooper” , “quack” , “the job might as well be done by the local vicar” , “any ex-trade union official could do it” , and then there were references to people “bumbling around the borough” .
I do not share with the hon. Gentleman the suggestion that “The job might as well be done by the local vicar” is offensive.
Dr. Dickson Mabon
For a technical job like this?
If the Minister of State knew as much as I do about the social work that is done by the clergy of the established and other churches he would not consider the phrase “It might as well be done by the local vicar” an offensive observation. The clergy do a great amount of unpaid social work, probably more than other sections of the community. So the hon. Member for Paddington, North can take that phrase out.
I did not put it in. One of his hon. Friends did.[column 546]
The hon. Member for Paddington, North, must agree that that phrase could not be regarded as offensive.
The hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) totally misunderstood the phrase. I did not say what the hon. Gentleman said I said I opened my speech by saying that in certain circumstances—considering the social and human problems that might arise—the local vicar might be of great assistance in this work. That is an entirely different matter.
I do not wish to waste the time of the Committee. I merely wish to get it into the head of the hon. Member for Paddington, North, that if we see the risk of this kind of thing happening if unqualified people are appointed, then there is a risk of what the hon. Gentleman wants to avoid happening and prejudice being aroused against people who will no doubt be well intentioned but who we have no reason to believe will have the qualifications to do the job.
Here I come to the even less fortunate observation of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. He made the astonishing statement that our criticisms showed the attitude of my hon. Friends towards voluntary work. This is not voluntary work. If the hon. Gentleman will look at the Clause and the Schedule he will see that this is paid work. The hon. Gentleman must learn to distinguish between voluntary work done for nothing by people often with very high qualifications, and paid work done by people who, in this case, will be without qualifications. There is a considerable difference between the unqualified practitioner who receives his reward or fees and the voluntary worker, in many cases highly experienced, who receives nothing.
Dr. Dickson Mabon
I think that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that he is being unfair to my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. My hon. Friend was arguing in the context of people who do work and who are paid for it but who should be paid a great deal more. In a way these people do their work as a vocation. I used to work was nurses and I never believed, and I still do not believe, that they were well paid. They do not necessarily do their work [column 547]for the money they receive. I regard a job of that kind as a voluntary occupation. There are a great many other examples of this in public life.
I am not sure that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will be grateful for his colleague's attempt so interpret his mind. There was ministerial solidarity in former Governments. If what the Minister of State said is to be the interpretation of what the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said, then it appears that under this Government voluntary work consists of doing a paid job for which one is not paid enough.
Dr. Dickson Mabon
The right hon. Gentleman should not sneer at this. He is being unfair.
I commend that interpretation to the representatives of the trade unions in the Committee.
I regret that the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) is not in his place, because it was obvious from his speech that he knew nothing about the arguments involved in this matter. He went out of his way to say that our Amendment would have been better had it had the support of the professional and expert bodies concerned. Obviously, the hon. Gentleman would not have said that had he not been wholly ignorant of the fact that a number of these bodies have made representations to the Minister and to members of the Committee. For example, the Valuers Institution sent a memorandum to the Minister containing these words:
“The proposal that the appointment of Rent Officers should be the responsibility of the Town Clerk is received with concern. In view of the specialist nature of the appointment it is felt that such responsibility should be in the hands of those who have experience in the specialist work. It is, therefore, recommended that Rent Officers be appointed by and come under the control of either the District Valuer or the Rating Officer.”
One of my hon. Friends has already quoted, so I will not weary the Committee with further quotations, the views of the Incorporated Society of Auctioneers and Landed Property Agents, which said that it was particularly apprehensive at the suggestion and regarded it essential that rent officers should be persons versed in the professional skills of valuation. The Rating and Valuation Association made this representation: [column 548]
“Too little credit is given for the unobtrusive achievements of rating officers, many of whom have had great experience of helping landlords and tenants who for years have sought official guidance on their rent problems. It would surely make greater sense to use the abilities of rating officers and their staffs as conciliation officers” ——
I hope that the Minister and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary are listening carefully to this.
The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Richard Crossman)
We are both listening carefully.
I am delighted at the right hon. Gentleman's versatility.
In a subordinate capacity, since the Joint Parliamentary Secretary is subordinate to his right hon. Friend, to that degree I am delighted at his versatility, too. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary was full of this conciliation point in his speech, as well as the argument that trained professional men were rather less suitable for this than amateurs.
I said, first, that it was not possible to carry this work on the existing number of valuation people, because of the shortage of them, and, secondly, that many of the qualities required were not essentially restricted to valuers.
In that case, what I am saying is relevant to one part of the hon. Gentleman's argument. I will come to the other part later. I am making this quotation from the representations made by the Rating and Valuation Association because one of his hon. Friends suggested that our proposal does not have the support of the professional and expert bodies concerned. To resume my quotation, the Association stated:
“It would surely make greater sense to use the abilities of rating officers and their staffs as conciliation officers—their official status, knowledge, experience and impartiality commends this course, supplement their establishments so that the quality of their main duties as well as these supplementary duties does not suffer, and assist the Minister of Housing and Local Government to achieve his objective of avoiding building up an unnecessary bureaucracy for rent conciliation duties. Moreover, the existence of rating officers in sufficient numbers to serve counties, county boroughs and London boroughs will [column 549]allow the Minister's plan to introduce his rent review machinery in stages and, where the immediate need is greatest, with the minimum of administrative difficulty.”
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary cannot just brush aside the views of as respected a body as the Rating and Valuation Association, which is just as well informed as he as to the staff problem to which he referred in the first part of his intervention, and, indeed, makes a suggestion to cope with it. I do want to get it clear, particularly in view of the argument of the hon. Member for South Shields that not only is it their, as our, sincere belief that this is the right way to deal with it but it has the support of eminent and respected professional opinion of a wholly non-political character outside. I really think the Committee must feel bound to weigh this.
I think the Joint Parliamentary Secretary was less than happy in his description of the duties and qualities he would expect of rent officers. They were apparently to combine the qualities of my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) with many others. They were to be dynamic, energetic people—not “over the hill” , to quote the expression he used. It looks as if there has been some change of view over this on the Government side because his right hon. Friend, when asked on the Second Reading whom he intended to appoint, said:
“There are, fortunately, a great many people today with a wide knowledge and understanding of these things. They may be getting on in life, or retired, and would like a half-time job.” —[Official Report, 5th April, 1965; Vol. 710, c. 50.]
That does not tie up with the Joint Parliamentary Secretary's concept of young, dynamic, active people, and it looks as if there is a certain contradiction of view inside the Government as to the type of person they are really after.
I shall not remain Joint Parliamentary Secretary very long if my right hon. Friend hears this odd gloss of what I said earlier. The point was that I emphasised the importance of experience and, therefore, the value of having people who were not just newcomers. The phrase I used was “people who had been around a long time” . In answer [column 550]to the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers), who asked whether only retired people would be concerned, I emphasised that it was desirable that rent officers should be people of stamina and energy to do this very arduous job. I thought that was perfectly clear.
That is exactly what I am saying, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman when he reads in the Official Report what his hon. Friend said to compare it with what he said about people who want a little part-time job. Quite clearly, the Government have not thought this out, have not considered what these people are to do, and I think the hon. Gentleman's argument about conciliation and splitting the difference was a quite extraordinary one. It is a great deal easier to split the difference sensibly if one happens to have some technical knowledge of the technical subject concerned. Surely it is the experience of all of us that valuation officers constantly carry on negotiations and settle assessments by agreement, by splitting the difference, over and over again. Indeed, if they did not, the right hon. Gentleman's system of valuation appeals would be even more clogged up than it is at present, and, in case the right hon. Gentleman does not know this, it is, in fact, extremely clogged up in many parts of the system already.
So as regards the argument about splitting the difference—I think the expression was “a social approach” —it surely comes back to judging what is a fair rent. The Third Schedule puts on these men and women the duty of determining a fair rent, and that is not a job which can be done effectively without knowing something about the highly complex problems of property valuation—all the factors of the age of the property, its location—and things of this kind really cannot be done efficiently without technical and professional knowledge.
It really is quite extraordinary that the hon. Gentleman should try to reinforce his argument by saying that even rating assessments are not universally applauded. Has the hon. Gentleman thought this out? If the Inland Revenue, with a nationwide organisation, a national system of [column 551]appeals, employing trained men, is unable, as the Joint Parliamentary Secretary suggested, to get a completely satisfactory level of relative assessments for rating purposes throughout the country——
The right hon. Gentleman is filibustering.
Really! The right hon. Gentleman comes in well after noon, after we have had an interesting debate, and then when I am trying to reply to his Joint Parliamentary Secretary he says “He is filibustering” . The right hon. Gentleman himself is doing something of that sort; he is certainly not helping the proceedings of the Committee. If he is not going to attend most of our debates he had better not attend any of them.
To get back to my argument, if the system is unsatisfactory, or not perfectly satisfactory, even when operated by trained men on the basis of a nationally organised service, with appeals to make possible rectification of wrong decisions, what hope has the hon. Gentleman of getting fair decisions and lack of undue complaints with a system under which the first decisions are taken by unqualified men, the system of appeal is highly limited and there is no national organisation of the service? The Joint Parliamentary Secretary has really given us our case. As a leader writer in The Times said at the time of publication of the Bill, this is going to give rise to every sort of anomaly and injustice, because, I beg the hon. Gentleman to believe, assessing a fair rent is difficult for trained men; trained and expert men can differ on this and it really is an impossible job for untrained amateurs. If the right hon. Gentleman does not take our warning now but insists on using his majority, such as it is, to force the Bill through on this basis he will learn this only after he has done a lot of harm to people throughout the country and to his own reputation as an administrator.
The job is really a straightforward one, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary says, but we have not got enough people to do it. I am not sure how that argument marries with the view he was arguing in most of his speech that they were the wrong people to do it anyhow and others [column 552]could do it just as well. But is this really so? The argument that because the rating and valuation office is reorganising it could not do the job at this time is very weak. It is no argument against its taking it over after the reorganisation and having on interim organisation meanwhile. Nor is it an argument against this that the reorganisation will result in increased efficiency of operation and staff. I do not know of any important outside bodies which have not advised the same course as I am advising or have said that this is beyond the capacity of the valuation offices—with, of course, some measure of recruitment, some redeployment of staff. There is a great advantage—and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman appreciates this—in an organisation that already exists, on the ground, on a national basis. It is a great deal quicker, easier and more efficient to expand an existing organisation than to create a new one from scratch dotted about in town or county halls throughout the country——
They are doing a different job.
Is it so different? One of the jobs they do is assess rateable values, and rateable values, as the hon. Gentleman no doubt knows, are determined on the basis of a reasonable rent. That is a simplification; I could explain the whole valuation system to the hon. Gentleman but I do not think it necessary. It is based on a notional rent.
Not a reasonable rent—a market rent.
A rent that is reasonable in the circumstances, laying down who pays for repairs, and so on, and based on rents actually ruling. This is an extremely important point because I do not think the Committee or the Joint Parliamentary Secretary have appreciated that in determining a fair rent it is not the job of the rent officer or the rent assessment committee to take into account the personal circumstances of either landlord or tenant. We received a specific assurance on that from Secretary of State for Scotland when winding up on the Second Reading. Therefore, the job that has to be done of determining a fair rent is very close to that which the rating and valuation offices are doing [column 553]already. If they did it it would be possible to prevent this Measure causing great confusion in the rating system, because if a notional rent has to be taken into account in determining the valuation, then the task is going to be extra-ordinarily difficult if somebody else determines the actual rent for that property. In fact, we have had no explanation as to how that is to be handled, and it is one of this Minister's main responsibilities that the rating system should work.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that if the fair rent is less than the rateable value this will result in wholesale applications for reduction of the rateable value?
I have no doubt it will, and I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for making this point. Any alert tenant will just do that.
Surely there would be no reason for that. If it were found that the rent should be lower because the value of the property was considered to be lower, that would indicate some error in the rating assessment and there would be nothing wrong in an appeal?
I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has taken the point. At the moment the assessment is made by the valuation offices. He is proposing that fair rents should be fixed by rent officers who are not valuation officers. The likelihood of two different men—one professionally qualified and the other not qualified—coming to different decisions is very great. But, as the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) reminded us, this fair rent being determined by the rent officer must at least put in issue the assessment for valuation, in respect of which rent is the most important element. I think the right hon. Gentleman now has the point.
Surely this has a different basis entirely. The rating officer makes a valuation on the basis of the market value, which is the scarcity value. The whole basis of Clause 22 excludes scarcity value; therefore the basis is different.
But if on a large number of houses of the same category in an area a rent officer comes to a decision [column 554]on the basis of a totally different rent from that taken into account when making the valuation, that must surely be ground for challenging the existing valuation. It must be so, as the hon. Member for Orpington said, and I am sure people will take this up.
I think this is an important point, although it is rather off the strict point of the Amendment. I believe there would then be an appeal to the rent assessment committee by one side or the other, so that it would then be assessed by experts. Although it is true that the rent officer may well make a first judgment which differs in some way, if he does there is provision here for appeal to the rent assessment committee.
I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman for being away but I think he is being just a little unfair. We regard it as important to put the expertise of which he talks into the rent assessment committees. I came in as this was being explained, and I want to repeat it. This is the essence of the disagreement between us. We think it most important. There is a very strictly limited number of valuation experts in this country; very few people seem to be trained to this job, and there is a most extraordinary shortage of all kinds. We want to put all we can into the rent assessment committees. Then, at the first level, we want to have the kind of first appraisal which I suggested, in a non-judicial, non-forensic atmosphere, in which we have mainly the registration of agreements before the appeal cases are taken to the rent assessment committees. That is the structure. That is the difference between us. We think that this expert knowledge is in short supply and that it must be all concentrated in the rent assessment committees, and that on each panel there must be at least one person who is experienced in valuation. 12.45 p.m.
I take the right hon. Gentleman's points, and will deal with them separately. First, he refers to the rent officer as conducting proceedings in a non-judicial, non-forensic atmosphere. But in the Third Schedule of his own Bill provision is made for representation whether by a solicitor or counsel or any other person. He cannot assume that the atmosphere will be non-forensic.[column 555]
We hope that it will be.
Whether it is judicial will depend on the people appointed. Concentration of technical talent in the rent assessment committees has a certain amount to commend it. It is a very important point, and when we reach that part of the Bill we shall want to know how this is to be secured.
But there was a danger in what the Minister and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said about this. If the first body that is to make the determination is to be an amateur body, is not the right hon. Gentleman risking swamping rent assessment committees with appeals? Will the system work at all unless a large proportion of people either agree their rents or take the rent officer's decision? If these officers are to carry weight and authority with the people with whom they discuss these matters, and if, as I hope will be the case, these proceedings are conducted mainly in a non-judicial and non-forensic atmosphere, we may hope to reach the position in which the parties will say to the rent officer, “What do you think is a fair rent as between us?”
People are much more likely to do that if the officers before whom they are appearing know more about the subject than they do—if the officers are technically qualified. A person consults a qualified medical practitioner and accepts his advice with much more confidence than he accepts the advice of an unqualified practitioner. One of the things which worries me about the right hon. Gentleman's intervention, which was very helpfully meant, is that he seems to be contemplating a volume of appeals to assessment committees, because there is not enough authority and knowledge in the tribunal of first instance to ensure that the majority of cases will end there.
There is some confusion here. I am sorry to press the right hon. Gentleman, and I do not allow his expression of irritation to annoy me. We are all subject [column 556]to that, especially when we have not heard all the arguments. Either these bodies will be respected and the great majority of their decisions will be accepted, in which case there is a chance of the system working, or they will not be respected in the way in which ordinary people respect professional men with professional qualifications, in which case a great many appeals will go to the only level at which the right hon. Gentleman says that he will provide professional talent.
It comes back to this: what evidence has the right hon. Gentleman that he cannot find professional men for these jobs? Has he had statements from the professional bodies? How does he reconcile his view with that of the Incorporated Society of Auctioneers and Landed Property Agents, the Rating and Valuation Association, and the other body that I quoted? Has he the authority of the professions for saying that it is impracticable because there are not enough people available? If the right hon. Gentleman had heard his Joint Parliamentary Secretary's speech he would have understood why we press the point.
Two-thirds of that speech was directed to pointing out that we did not have professionally qualified men. That could not do anything but leave us with the feeling that sufficient effort has not yet been made to investigate the possibility that enough professional men can be found, and found quickly. Since we are left with that suspicion we must press the right hon. Gentleman. We regard this as a crucial Amendment to this part of the Bill, and indeed, to the Bill itself and to the Minister's ultimate reputation as an administrator
Question put, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 13, Noes 12. Division No. 20.]
Allaun , Frank (Salford, E.)
Blenkinsop , Arthur
Dalyell , Tam
Dunnett , Jack
Finch , Harold (Bedwellty)
Hazell , Bert
Heffer , Eric S.
Jeger , Mrs. Lena (H'b'n&St. P'cras,S.)
Mabon , Dr. J. Dickson
MacColl , James
Parkin , B. T.
Rogers , George (Kensington, N.)
Silverman , Julius (Aston) [column 557]
Allason , James (Hemel Hempstead)
Blaker , Peter
Boyd-Carpenter , Rt. Hn. J.
Cole , Norman
King , Evelyn (Dorset, S.)
Lubbock , Eric
Mitchell , David
Murton , Oscar
Onslow , Cranley
Page , R. Graham (Crosby)
Smith , Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)
Vickers , Dame Joan Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.
I am glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman is now in focus again after his unfortunate experience yesterday. To some extent we are now in focus again, because we have heard some very interesting discussions on a certain Amendment, and the matter has now been resolved. That brings us back to what was said yesterday by the right hon. Gentleman, namely, that he would look very carefully and precisely at an Amendment which I raised on that occasion, concerning non-county boroughs with populations of 60,000 and over.
Before I pass on, I ought to mention that in the Official Report there was something which I my have said by a slip of the tongue. I said that the borough of Poole represented half the population of Dorset. In fact, it is 29 per cent. But that does not alter the main theme of my plea for the borough of Poole and for other non-county boroughs.
Dr. Dickson Mabon
It would be wrong if, from this side of the Committee, we did not congratulate the hon. Member upon not exaggerating quite as much as usual.
The Minister was also kind enough to say that he would consider the question of eight large urban district councils. With that assurance, we can pass on and leave that part of the Clause to the Minister. In due course, no doubt, something will come of it.
Subsection (2) provides that in each registration area there shall be a scheme, after consultation with the local authority, providing for the appointment by the clerk of a certain number of rent officers. We have heard much discussion this morning about the type of individual who would be suitable for the job, and have been assured by the right hon. Gentleman that preliminary discussions are taking place with the town and county clerks involved as to the type of person [column 558]who will be chosen. But the more that I have heard from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary about this matter the more I am worried for the Minister and for the success of his scheme.
There is still a certain confusion—I may even say woolliness; I do not mean that offensively—about the type of person who is to be chosen. During the Second Reading debate the Minister said that a considerable number will come from the professions and, not least, from the trade unions. He said that there was a great shortage of professional people who were likely to be available for this work, because he wished to save them for the second stage—the assessment committees. In addition to the trade unions, he referred to those who are getting on in life and who are retired and would like a half-time job.
On a point of order. Is not there a rule, Mr. Grant-Ferris, with regard to repetition? We are now having an argument which was made at considerable length in our discussion of the Amendment.
I was getting worried about the way in which the hon. Member was progressing. One must not go too much into details of Amendments on the Question, “That the Clause stand part of the Bill.”
I apologise, Mr. Grant-Ferris. I was working up to a comment that I wished to make on the point. If there are to be inexperienced persons—and it is obvious that there will be—we must be careful not to appoint those who may, in their own little worlds, turn out to be little Hitlers.
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that some trade union officials in the building industry are extremely experienced in building construction and also in valuation, and would be most useful as rent officers?
I am quite willing to agree with that. I was not addressing my remarks to members of trade unions; [column 559]I was addressing them to anyone who might be recruited by the Minister.
Subsection (3) contains provision for remuneration and allowances on scales approved by the Treasury. We have heard that the Treasury will approve these scales, but we have not been given any specific indication what those scales will be. Will there be any positive differentiation between the London boroughs and the county areas in respect of payments made to rent officers? Will payment [column 560]depend upon the degree of responsibility and the work that is undertaken, or will there be a flat rate? Will the payment be based on any experience which the officer may have?
It being One o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
Committee adjourned till Tuesday, 25th May, 1965, at half-past Ten o'clock.
The following Members attended the Committee:
Grant-Ferris, Mr. (Chairman.)
Allaun, Mr. Frank
King, Mr. Evelyn
Mabon, Dr. Dickson
Page, Mr. Graham
Rogers, Mr. George
Silverman, Mr. Julius
Smith, Mr. Dudley
Vickers, Dame Joan.