The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Sir Leslie Thomas (in the Chair
Allason , Mr. James (Hemel Hempstead)
Boyd-Carpenter , Mr. (Kingston-upon-Thames)
Cole , Mr. Norman (Bedfordshire, South)
Crossman , Mr. Richard (Minister of Housing and Local Government)
English , Mr. Michael (Nottingham, West)
Finch , Mr. Harold (Under-Secretary of State for Wales)
Goodhart , Mr. Philip (Beckenham
Hall-Davis , Mr. A. G. F. (Morecambe and Lonsdale)
Hendry , Mr. Forbes (Aberdeenshire, West)
Hobden , Mr. Dennis (Brighton, Kemptown)
Mabon , Dr. J. Dickson (Under-Secretary of State for Scotland)
MacColl , Mr. James (Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government)
Maddan , Mr. Martin (Hove)
Meyer , Sir Anthony (Eton and Slough)
Murton , Mr. Oscar (Poole)
Oakes , Mr. Gordon (Bolton, West
Rhodes , Mr. Geoffrey (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)
Robertson , Mr. John (Paisley)
Silverman , Mr. Julius (Birmingham, Aston)
Smith , Mr. Dudley (Brentford and Chiswick)
Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret (Finchley)
Wellbeloved , Mr. James (Erith and Crayford)
Whitlock , Mr. William (Nottingham, North)
Williams , Mr. Alan (Swansea, West)
Woodhouse , Mr. C. M. (Oxford)
Committee Clerks. [column 3]
STANDING COMMITTEE D
OFFICIAL REPORTThursday, 16th December, 1965
[Sir Leslie Thomas in the Chair]
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That during the proceedings on the Rating Bill the Committee do meet on Tuesday next, Thursday, 27th January, and thereafter on Tuesdays and Thursdays at half-past Ten o'clock.—[Mr. Crossman.]
I have some observations to offer on this Motion and I think that it might both clarify and shorten the debate, and give the Minister an opportunity to consider a specific issue, if you were prepared, Sir Leslie, to accept an Amendment to leave out the words “Tuesday next” .
I am prepared to accept that.
I am obliged. I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Motion, to leave out “Tuesday next” .
The issue I wish to raise is, I think, familiar to the Minister. As he knows, we feel on this side of the Committee that the programme which he has laid down for the conduct of the Bill has given us insufficient time for the consultations we desire to undertake. The Bill, as the Minister has previously said, requires, if it is to be effectively worked by local authorities, their full co-operation and understanding. During the course of the preparation of the Measure, the Minister has, no doubt, had ample opportunity to discuss the matter with the local authorities and the associations which speak for them. We, of course, have had to wait until the publication of the Bill before any such consultation was possible.
I will recall the course of events. The Bill was published on Friday, 26th November, and taken on Second Reading on the following Monday week, therefore leaving only one working week for us to consult either the local authorities in our constituencies or the organisations which [column 4]speak, or claim to speak, for local authorities outside. The Bill having been taken on Monday of last week on Second Reading, we have had since then fewer than 10 days for consultations and the necessary drafting of Amendments in the light of those consultations.
From the point of view of my hon. Friends and myself, this is simply not good enough. We have no desire, as I said on Second Reading, to impede the progress of the Bill. The Minister himself has said, quite sensibly, that he wants to operate it from the beginning of the financial year, in April next. There is ample time, if good sense and good reason prevail, for the Bill to make its progress through the House in time for that to happen. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman knows that to attempt to hustle a Committee or the House rarely pays a Minister in charge of a Bill. We have our duties to do. My local authority is extremely interested in the Measure and has already made suggestions about the earlier Clauses. However, in writing to me the authority has frankly said that it has not had time to consider the later Clauses.
If we are to proceed with reasonable progress—and there is no desire on our part to hamper the Bill's reasonable and proper progress—we need until the resumption of the House after the Christmas Recess for the proper consideration of points to make up our minds on their merits and then to secure the preparation of Amendments in proper form. Surely that is a sensible course which would make for the proper progress of the Bill, instead of trying to push forward next Tuesday.
I say frankly that it is a great mistake for the right hon. Gentleman to make us meet this morning at all. It should have been left until after the Recess, but I will not waste the time of the Committee by crying over spilt milk. The Amendment I seek to move would, to some extent, diminish the inconvenience and inefficiency resulting from the Minister's original error. It would enable us, after reasonable discussion and such Amendments as we have been able to prepare on some of the earlier Clauses, to have the time necessary during the Recess to draft Amendments and consider our thoughts on them in consultation with local authorities and the associations which represent [column 5]them. If, on the other hand, we are to sit next Tuesday, we may well be in some difficulty over this.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman recognises that, with one exception—and that is an issue which the drafting of the Money Resolution prevents us from raising here—this is not an intensely controversial Bill as between the parties. It is a Measure which we all want to see go forward in the most workable and efficient form. If it is to do that, the normal Parliamentary processes must operate. Indeed, I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say on Second Reading that he had in mind one Amendment to improve the Bill.
The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Richard Crossman)
The Minister confirms that. We certainly will have some, and they will have the purpose of improving the Bill.
Although I do not wish to labour the point, we can best improve the Measure if we have proper opportunity to discuss the matters which arise on it with the organisations which will have to operate the greater part of it. That must be sense. If the right hon. Gentleman will accept that here and now, he will find that that will conduce to better progress, rather than if he compels us to push on in the way he has suggested.
I will not at this stage continue at length with this argument. I have put it briefly and in summarised form. I have given the reason why it seems to us that we shall jointly get a better Bill if the right hon. Gentleman does not insist on going on with it next Tuesday but allows us to resume our consideration of the Measure after the reasonable interval of the Christmas Recess.
It might shorten the proceedings if I define the attitude of the Government on this point. I have a great deal of sympathy with the view expressed by the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), particularly in relation to the latter Clauses of the Bill, the rebate side of it, for I agree that that part of the Measure is likely to cause more discussion. However, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have a problem here. It arose last year when we were considering [column 6]rents, with the two Measures and the necessity to get the proceedings moving. I must, of course, consider the second big Bill and the fact that we must get on with that.
I thought that it was sensible to call the Committee together today and to get ahead because, as I say, the Bill is sharply divided in two—the Clauses dealing with instalments and the remainder dealing with rebates. I very much wanted us to get the instalment side of the Bill behind us so that we would have plenty of time to consider the rebate side. As I explained on Second Reading, this side of the Bill, the rebate side, is a rough and ready instrument and needs carefully looking at.
While I appreciate the recognition by hon. Gentlemen opposite of the need to get the Bill operating before next April, I hope that they will appreciate that if that is to be achieved, we must get on with the Committee stage. I think it fair to say that the first part of the Bill, dealing with instalments, has been considered by hon. Gentlemen opposite. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman admitted this, and there are a substantial number of Amendments down to this part of the Bill. I hope, therefore, that we will be able to get on with the first part of the Measure. Naturally, if the right hon. Gentleman says that we can complete the instalment part of the Bill this morning, I will be only too happy.
I suggest, therefore, that the best thing for the Committee is to continue with the Bill. Certainly we do not want to get further than the instalment Clauses before Christmas, for we wish to leave plenty of time, until 27th January, for consideration and consultation with local authorities. If the right hon. Gentleman were to say, “No. Frankly, we must consider the whole Bill, both instalments and rebates, from 27th January” , then I would reply that, in his interests, he should reconsider his view because such a proposal would shorten the time for considering the Bill. After all, I am sure that he does not want the Committee to sit three times a week. If, on the other hand, he says that from 27th January onwards we should sit three times a week, that would be another matter.
I suggest, therefore, that it would be wiser for the Committee to consider the instalment part of the Bill now, in the [column 7]knowledge that there will be ample time, until 27th January, to draft Amendments and have consultations with the local authorities on the rebate Clauses. Accordingly, I suggest that we aim at trying to deal with the first two Clauses and get them finished before the Christmas Recess.
Mr. Oscar Murton
Having listened to the remarks of the Minister, I cannot but think that his outlook on this is wholly unreasonable. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) has already cogently put the points we on this side of the Committee wish to stress. I will only add that I understand that the Parliamentary Bills Sub-committee of the A.M.C. had its main Committee meeting only on Wednesday, 8th December. It does not require much in the way of arithmetic to know that that is only six-and-a-half working days ago.
Bearing that in mind, we, hon. Members of a responsible Opposition, have not had much chance to collect and collate the various ideas which local authorities have and to produce reasoned Amendments following the consideration which those authorities wish to give to the Bill, particularly the second part of it. One of the great advantages of being in power is that one has the benefit of the expert advice and the help of the local authority associations. On the other hand, that is not available to us and it is only right that we should be given a chance to put the contrary view.
I am certain that the average local authority is not necessarily totally in agreement with what the right hon. Gentleman intends should be in the Bill. Basically it is a good Measure. On the other hand, certain points are bound to arise and if we can make it a better Bill, that will be all to the good. As the Bill is drafted, there are, to put it rather crudely, a number of points which do not make sense. We feel, therefore, that our plea that we should be given more time is an important one which should not be overridden.
The last thing I want to do is to be unreasonable. The simple answer is that we all agree that we want the Bill in operation next April. Having looked at the timetable, it seems that [column 8]after the Christmas Recess—that is, if we consider the Bill from 27th January onwards—then, according to my rough reckoning, we would have seven sittings, one in the first week and two in each of the three weeks following.
Do hon. Gentlemen opposite consider that that would be a sufficient number of sittings in Committee to deal with the whole Bill, both the instalment and rebate parts of it? I appreciate the necessity for hon. Gentlemen opposite to have time to consider the latter parts of the Bill with the local authorities and, as I pointed out, that time will be available until 27th January. I would rather the Committee pressed on now and allowed plenty of time after Christmas for a full discussion of the rebates. Thus, we could deal with the less controversial part of the Bill now because I have no desire to cut down the time of the Committee or to force hon. Members to sit three times a week.
I am not being unreasonable. I am merely trying to seek the convenience of the Committee. If it is the feeling of the Committee that we cannot start discussing the question of instalments until 27th January it will lose the Committee two whole sittings. That seems a lot of time to lose. I have seen some extremely good Amendments, raising the question of instalments, and I think we can get some useful work done on the first part of the Bill. But if the Committee is convinced of two things—first, that the Bill is to be operative on 1st April, and that it should be possible to get from Committee to Report in due time for that and secondly, knowing all that, hon. Members prefer to sacrifice the sitting before Christmas and have very few sittings afterwards—I would seriously consider it.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the tone of his second speech, but I do not understand why he talks about losing two sittings. We are meeting this morning. I am not proposing to move that we adjourn before one o'clock. If the right hon. Gentleman will study the effect of the Amendment—it is for you to rule, Sir Leslie—it is that we should continue our debate this morning, and I would hope in those circumstances that the discussion should go straight on to the Amendments to Clause 1. We should [column 9]not then waste any more time discussing when we should sit. We would not sit next Tuesday but we would go back to the right hon. Gentleman's proposition to continue on Thursday, 27th January. I cannot tell the right hon. Gentleman how many sittings we shall need for a proper discussion of the latter part of the Bill. We ourselves do not know, until we have had these discussions—which so far this timetable has denied us—what Amendments we shall in the meantime desire to table.
We are not looking around for wrecking Amendments; we are seeking Amendments to improve the Bill. We shall put down only those Amendments which, in our judgment, and in the light of the advice we have, will improve the Bill. It is not the case that we have had time even properly to cover, by way of Amendments, all we want in Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill. I hesitate to say anything about Clause 2 which is a Scottish Clause, and, no doubt, the right hon. Gentleman will observe similar caution on that matter, leaving it to his able assistant and the Secretary of State for Scotland. On Clause 1, I should point out by way of example that we attach great importance to the point which we seek to raise on Amendment No. 5, in page 1, line 16, to insert at the end “(ii) any charity” . Information has reached me that the form in which that Amendment has very hastily been put down is not appropriate. I cannot say that we can get this right by next Tuesday but I am sure we can do so by the time we come back after the Christmas Recess. It is not an unreasonable calculation.
This Amendment raises quite an important point, as the right hon. Gentleman will realise, though I am told we have got it wrong in form. The right hon. Gentleman has been in opposition—he may be in opposition again—and he knows the limitations, particularly when one is up against a very strict drafting timetable. We want to be able to deploy these points and we do not wish to lose the chance. If we are able to raise the matter we may be able to persuade the right hon. Gentleman about it. But we have to get it right. We can get it right by the time we come back after Christmas, but I do not think we can do so by next Tuesday. I do [column 10]not want to underrate the abilities of my hon. Friends in these matters—they are very efficient—but they need technical help and it is not very easily obtained at the weekend.
I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman, following very much the tone of his own observations, that he accepts my Amendment to the Sittings Motion, that we go straight on this morning to a discussion of the first Amendment to Clause 1, then rise at one o'clock or such time, Sir Leslie, as you think fit, and then come back to get on with the Bill on 27th January. That will mean the right hon. Gentleman will not have lost two sittings but will have lost one, plus such time as is necessary to get this particular matter with which we are dealing settled. It will mean that he will make some progress and that he will not have to come back on 27th January with the whole Bill dislocated. Let us make such progress as the Committee can reasonably make.
Mr. Forbes Hendry
I did not intend to take part in this debate this morning. I believed it would have been impossible to reach Clause 2, in which I am particularly interested, but I was horrified to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that he hopes to reach Clause 2 by next Tuesday. This creates a completely impossible state of affairs. I first learned that I had been selected to sit on this Committee the day before yesterday, and I immediately got in touch with my local authorities and the local authority associations to get some instructions and to find out their point of view.
Mr. Julius Silverman
Mr. Forbes Hendry
Yes, advice—not instructions. That is a very important thing for a pure amateur in these matters, such as I am. After all, I must accept the peculiarly Scottish point of view on this sort of thing. I would have been unable to get any advice or instructions on this subject in two days.
I have been handed a letter from the Association of County Councillors in Scotland, which discloses a terrible state of affairs. It would appear that this association has been in communication for some time with the Secretary of State for Scotland with a view to ironing out certain possibilities. This correspondence seems to have started in September [column 11]and to have dribbled on through October. I am informed that the Association wrote to the Secretary of State on 22nd October, 1965 raising very pertinent points and that since then it has had no communication whatever from the Secretary of State for Scotland except for a formal acknowledgement dated 25th October, 1965 from his private secretary, saying that he would show the letter to the Secretary of State for Scotland at the first opportunity. Since then there has been complete silence.
If the Secretary of State is so diligent in attending to his correspondence that it takes a matter of six weeks to reply to a most important and searching letter from the Association, what chance is there of my getting any information on the subject in two days? This is Thursday. Tomorrow is the last working day of the county councils before next Monday, which is the earliest I could possibly get any instructions on this subject to enable me to deal with this matter on Tuesday. Therefore, I am placed in a completely impossible situation, and if the right hon. Gentleman has any intention whatever of reaching Clause 2 it is going to be impossible not only for this Committee but for the local authorities in Scotland. I undertake to consult with the local authorities and the local authority associations in Scotland to try to ascertain their views on this very important matter at the earliest possible moment, but it is physically and mentally impossible for me to do so before next Tuesday.
Let me disillusion the hon. Gentleman. I have no intention to intervene in Scottish affairs in this sense. If he really believes that, he knows me very little. My main concern is Clause 1. The hon. Gentleman will have his lucubrations on Clause 2, and a full morning's disquisition by the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames and my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary on Clause 1 today. I said that I wanted to suit the convenience of the Committee if it is felt worth giving up the whole of the next sitting. If there is a clear understanding that after doing this, and, in order to get through in time, we have to sit three times a week or very late—if that is what the Committee prefers I take very seriously what the [column 12]right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames has said about the Opposition's desire and determination to get the Bill through and working on 1st April. We must give time not only for this Committee stage but for all other stages of the Bill. That is on the clear understanding that we will work together. I am prepared to say that if we are going to meet three times a week, if necessary we will do it. There may be something to be said for this suggestion.
I gave way to the right hon. Gentleman in the expectation that he was going to ask me to elucidate something. I did not expect a separate speech.
I must confess I thought the hon. Gentleman had finished.
I thought the hon. Gentleman had concluded his oration.
He had only begun.
I take the greatest exception to the right hon. Gentleman addressing me from a sitting position in the middle of my speech. I was trying to explain that it was impossible from the physical and mental point of view for Clause 2 to be dealt with by next Tuesday. I am looking forward to hearing the disquisition of the Parliamentary Secretary. He and I, no doubt, will have a very pleasant time together on Clause 2, but it is impossible for this to occur next Tuesday if Clause 1 is to be finished today. The Minister seems to think we should be forced willy nilly to discuss Clause 2 next Tuesday without any adequate preparation whatever.
I am interested in what the right hon. Gentleman said about his desire to get the Bill going by April. I cannot see any need for the Bill to be finished by April, even if the right hon. Gentleman wants it to be finished by April. From my reading of the Bill, there is to be no action on Clause 1 or Clause 2 until next September, certainly in Scotland. To give up one day immediately before Christmas seems to cause no hardship either to the Minister or to anybody else. I ask him to take a reasonable point of view and at any rate, to adjourn the Committee if Clause 2 is likely to be reached.
I rather hope that the Minister, in his intervention, gave [column 13]an indication that he was going to take a reasonable view. At least, I am an optimist. I only want to prevent any misunderstanding arising between us. The right hon. Gentleman said that, in his judgment, this might involve sitting three times a week, which is a highly inconvenient procedure. I can accept no responsibility for that. That is the right hon. Gentleman's responsibility. He is in charge of the Bill, and if, in his judgment, and we get to a certain stage, it is necessary to have three sittings, no doubt he will take the responsibility of moving a Motion to that effect, and we shall take the Motion on its merits. I want to make it quite clear where we stand. The one thing I dislike intensely in these matters is any misunderstanding. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to do what seems most reasonable in this situation. Having started this morning, we are not accepting that it will be necessary for there to be three sittings a week.
The right hon. Gentleman agrees with me. That is clear, and on the record. No doubt, he will bear in mind that we have not pushed this to the extreme point of seeking to adjourn this morning's sitting, though some of my hon. Friends, no doubt, will think that that would have been the right course. I would suggest to the Committee, in the light of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, that the best thing would be to accept the Amendment which I have moved and then, subject to your judgment, Sir Leslie, to take the first Amendment.
Mrs. Margaret Thatcher
I do not think we ought to get to the end of Clause 1 this morning. It is not a simple Clause by any means. In view of what my right John Boyd-Carpenterhon. Friend said in his earlier speech, we ought to stop before we get to the Amendment dealing with charities.
I would accept that it would be unreasonable to assume that we would get Clause 1 before the end of this morning. There is a lot of interesting stuff in it.
Amendment to the proposed Motion agreed to.
That during the proceedings on the Rating Bill the Committee do meet on Thursday, 27th January and thereafter on Tuesdays and Thursdays at half-past Ten o'clock.
[column 14]11.0 a.m.
There is a Financial Resolution in connection with the Bill. Copies are available. I call the attention of Members to the fact that as a general rule, unless it is a very special occasion, I shall not accept manuscript Amendments. Clause 1.—(Right to pay rates on dwelling in England or Wales by Instalments.)
Sir Anthony Meyer
I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 6, at the beginning to insert:
(1) This section shall not apply in respect of a rating authority which has in operation a provision for the payment of rates by not less than ten instalments in any one year provided that such provision is as beneficial to the person referred to in the provisions contained in the following subsections of this section and shall have been approved by the Minister.
I am certain that the Government will accept this Amendment. We all recognise that the payment of rates by instalments inevitably throws a certain additional burden on local authorities; a burden because it involves additional machinery for the collection of the rates, and a further additional burden because it results either in additional interest payments or in loss of interest, in that rates which otherwise come in in a lump sum at the beginning of the period are by the instalment system spread out over that period. This is the price which must be paid to confer a very real advantage on individuals. I mention this in passing. It is not a reason for opposing the system of the payment of rates by instalments, but it must be recognised that the system imposes a burden on local authorities.
The system proposed in the Bill for the payment of rates by instalments is, as I am sure the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will admit, a far from simple system. I confess that I am not very practised in these matters, but I have read through Clause 1 a good many times—Heaven forbid that I should have to read through Clause 2—and I think I understand Clause 1, but it is very hard to keep it in my head.
The object of the Amendment is to remove the necessity for the adoption of this very complicated procedure in cases where local authorities have already made [column 15]satisfactory arrangements for their ratepayers to pay by instalments. The procedure laid down in the Bill imposes an obligation on the individual ratepayer to give notice to the local authority of his desire to pay his rates by instalments. The fact that this is a very complicated procedure is important in this case. It it not as if technically the onus is being put on local authorities, which could be expected to understand and apply this procedure. The onus is being put on to the individual. It is therefore important that we should not unnecessarily burden the individual with having to take the initiative in cases where perfectly satisfactory arrangements are already in operation.
As my right hon. and hon. Friends have pointed out, there has been very little time for consultations about the Bill. The only information which we have is from a sample poll carried out by the Institute of Municipal Treasurers and Accountants of about half the local authorities. According to this sample poll, about 40 per cent. or 44 per cent. of local authorities already operate systems for the payment of rates by instalments. I can verify that in my own constituency—this is about the only point on which I have had time properly to consult my local authority—Slough Borough Council makes provision for the payments of rates by ten monthly instalments.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) said on Second Reading, we want to probe the matter a little in Committee, because the remarks made on this point by the Minister on Second Reading left room for a good deal of ambiguity. Although the Minister was pressed, not only by my right hon. Friend but also by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), to put this beyond all peradventure, the opportunity was not taken at the end of the debate by the Under-Secretary of Scotland to elucidate it. Therefore, we have only the Minister's remarks at the beginning of the debate to go by, when he said this:
“I think that I gave the assurance in my speech that anything which is better than what we suggest would be accepted.” —[Official Report, 6th December, 1965; Vol. 722, c. 59.]
The Minister does not there say that anything which is as good as what the Government suggest would be accepted.
My first probe is this. Is a system which provides for the payment of rates by 10 monthly instalments as good as what is contained in the Bill? The Bill as it stands would not only invalidate the schemes operated by those local authorities which provide for payment by 10 equal instalments—that is, as good as the Bill. It would also invalidate schemes which provide for payment by 12 equal instalments—in other words, better than the Bill. I understand that the Minister's own constituency operates a scheme of 12 equal instalments and, further, employs the very simple and effective device of printing on the back of the rate demand a small form to be filled in merely asking to pay rates by 12 monthly instalments. This is a very much better system for the individual to adopt than that envisaged by the Bill, under which the individual must make a separate formal application to pay his rates by instalments. He would also presumably have to have some understanding of the highly complicated procedure laid down in the Bill to enable him to claim this right.
I very much hope that the Government, by accepting the Amendment, will show their readiness to implement the rather vague words used by the right hon. Gentleman, that the Government would accept anything which is better than what is provided for in the Bill. Indeed, I hope that the Government will go as far as our Amendment goes and say that they will accept anything which is as good as what is laid down in the Bill.
Mr. C. M. Woodhouse
I hope that the Minister's brief on this occasion is headed with the magic word “accept” and not with the word “resist” . I hope that he will agree to make this concession, not simply as a reward for or acknowledgment of meritorious conduct by local authorities in the past, though in a sense it could be so taken, but as a matter of practical convenience. As my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Sir A. Meyer) said, some local authorities, perhaps a quite high proportion of them, already operate instalment schemes. My hon. Friend gave the figure of 44 per cent., but that bare figure [column 17]does not tell us what sorts of local authorities, or how large they are, or how big a proportion of the country's rate revenue they account for. Nor does it tell us what sort of schemes they are operating on their initiative.
I should be grateful if the Joint Parliamentary Secretary could fill in the background for us to some extent by answering a few factual questions about this practice. First, how many local authorities have instalment schemes? Secondly, what type of instalment schemes are they? Thirdly, how many variants of instalment schemes are already in operation? Fourthly, would the Joint Parliamentary Secretary tell us among which categories of local authorities—counties or boroughs—such schemes are prevalent and to what extent there is uniformity among local authorities that operate such schemes? Finally, is such uniformity as there may be among local authorities in the schemes they operate purely fortuitous, or is it the result of consultation and imitation of the practice of one authority by another?
Subject to the Minister's answers to these questions, I should like to know whether he feels—and, if so, why—that there is any reason to enforce a uniform system throughout the country by Statute. On Second Reading his right hon. Friend paid what I would not be so discourteous as to describe merely as lip service to local democracy. Surely the essence of local automony, if Parliament believes in local autonomy, is the right to conduct local affairs in the ways best suited to local conditions and in the ways which experience has taught members of local authorities to approve and adopt, provided that there is no departure from the general principles laid down in the Bill. It would be best left that way, unless there is any overriding reason for change, not simply out of indifference or resistance to improvement, but because it will be much easier for individual local authorities to continue and, if necessary, to expand a system which they are already operating and which is already in working order than it will be to scrap an existing system and start afresh.
The Minister already proposes by the Bill to impose heavy new burdens on local authorities, and particularly on the staffs and officials of local authorities, which are likely to entail in any case [column 18]the recruitment of considerable numbers of extra staff, and probably to make that necessary at very short notice if the Minister is successful in getting the Bill through Parliament within the time limit he has in mind. Therefore, anything, however marginal it may seem to the Minister, which could mitigate that burden deserves serious consideration. It certainly will mitigate the burden if the Minister is prepared to allow local authorities which already operate this practice to build upon and expand their existing system, rather than imposing on them a new uniform practice merely for the sake of uniformity. The onus is surely on the Minister to show good reason why he will not do this, if he will not do it, but I very much hope that he will.
Mr. A. G. F. Hall-Davis
I add my support to what has been said for the Amendment, particularly in the short term view. The Bill will cause a considerable additional burden of administrative work for local authority staffs. This will arise mainly from the operation of Clause 3 and not from this Clause. The work will be particularly heavy in the early stages.
It should be borne in mind that the work involved in administrative changes is always greater than expected when initially discussed. That has been my unvarying experience. One always underestimates the additional work that will be incurred. If local authorities could be confident that, in appropriate cases, they could continue with the existing system of instalment payments without having to make changes or additional notifications to ratepayers, this would ease the early stages of the Bill's operation.
The Minister should think particularly in terms of the first year when considering the Amendment. He says that he wants the Bill in operation by 1st April. I am sure that we all support him in that. But if he is to make that date we must look very carefully at everything affecting the administration of the Bill.
The Amendment would also ease the path of ratepayers. We have talked up to now about the administration but this will be a complicated Bill for the ratepayers, particularly the elderly, to understand. If they could be told at an early date that [column 19]they will not have to follow new procedures or fill in new forms or give new notices, I am sure that this would be appreciated by the ratepayers as well as local authority staffs.
This morning on the radio there was a report from the Ministry of Labour Manpower Study Group emphasising that there will be a shortage of about 400,000 clerical staff in 1970 in this country. That reinforces the view that we should be very careful, in considering legislation, to ensure that we do not impose additional burdens, however slight, on the administrative machinery of Government and local authorities.
Some of these additional tasks may appear to be comparatively slight and not to involve a great deal of work. But when one is actually dealing with this sort of administration in the office, there invariably emerges more burden on the staff than is appreciated. It is the additional straw that breaks the camel's back. That may be a truism but it is very apt when considering administration. Very often it is the extra work which can throw the administration into confusion. I hope that the hon. Gentleman feels able to accept the Amendment and help clear the path for a rapid and smooth execution of some of the more complicated clauses.
It must be realised from a study of the Clause that the ratepayer has to give notice in writing of his intention to pay by instalments and that the rating authority has to send him a detailed statement about those instalments. I think that it is the view of the A.M.C., according to contacts I have, that the procedure for operating this system is fairly complicated and onerous. Local authority treasurers believe that a considerable extra burden of work will have to be undertaken. Surely, therefore, it cannot be sensible, where an acceptable scheme is already in existence, to insist on changing it at once. We should not create additional confusion for local authorities by changing well-established schemes to fit in with the scheme that the Minister wishes to have.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. James MacColl)
I recognise that this is bound to be a diffi[column 20]cult problem because, when we start a universal compulsory plan where a large number of local authorities have been doing the same sort of thing voluntarily, it is difficult, especially in the early stages, to have a smooth transition from one to the other.
The Amendment in its present form is not one that we could accept because it would increase the difficulties of transition. It would involve a local scheme going to the Minister. He would have to examine it to see that it had 10 instalments in the year and would have to be satisfied that it was beneficial to the people referred to—as beneficial as the statutory scheme. On that basis he would have to judge it.
The difficulty about that is that this would not only put a great burden on the Minister in having to vet all these things but would create complications because the schemes vary a great deal. The fact that they are voluntary and discretionary means that quite often they offer different facilities to different people. There is no sort of uniformity about it.
I do not believe that we should start off by holding up everyone, so that they do not know where they are nor whether they are to go on with the statutory scheme, while the Minister vets various schemes submitted to him. This would simply hold up the transition. I was asked how many local authorities had schemes. I have not any more evidence than the I.M.T.A. survey. What that amounted to was that about 40 to 44 per cent. probably have fairly comprehensive schemes and that almost all have various kinds of instalment schemes.
I did not quite hear what the hon. Gentleman said. Do I understand that almost all local authorities have some kind of scheme?
I was saying that according to the survey of 103 local authorities, to which the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Sir A. Meyer) referred, some kind of instalment payment is allowed by practically all in that sample. These may range from comprehensive schemes in some cases, such as house-to-house collections every week, to the ratepayers being allowed to pay in two bites, which technically is an instalment scheme.
It is not just a question of the number of instalments. If a scheme is to be as [column 21]good as the proposed statutory scheme it must cover at least five points. First, it has to be of 10 monthly instalments spread over the year evenly—in other words, it is no use paying 10 instalments in six months, for that would not be reasonable.
Secondly, the instalments have to be equal in amount. We could not have a substantial cash down payment and then the instalments tapering off. Thirdly, it has to be open to people to enter in the middle of the year if they want to, and thus pay over a shorter period than the full year. Fourth, it must allow a ratepayer to re-enter the scheme after he has lost his rights through lapsing. Where a person has failed to keep up his instalments it must be open to him to come back in. Finally, in subsection (8) there are limitations on the rights of recovery under the Distress for Rates Act, 1960, which would not be included.
There are quite a number of technical points to be looked at before we could be satisfied that a local scheme would be as good as the statutory scheme. The main point is the question of notice. I appreciate the feelings of irritation among local treasurers who, having worked a satisfactory scheme, find themselves having to write to their ratepayers asking them to fill in a particular form of notice before they can continue under the statutory scheme. But I do not think that that will be necessary. It is perfectly possible for a local treasurer, when he sends out the rate demand, to attach a note saying, “I am assuming you want to go on with the arrangements which we have already. If you do not want to, I will work you in on the scheme” . Treasurers could meet the requirement in that way, and I do not think that there could be any challenge to them if they did that.
On the general idea of keeping existing schemes going there is no quarrel between us. The Clause begins:
“Without prejudice to any power of a rating authority to make provision for the payment of rates by instalments …”
We recognise that many authorities have been carrying on such schemes and that there is a lot to be said for letting them carry on with well-established schemes as long as those schemes are working well and are not open to serious criticism. [column 22]
The initiative of starting a statutory scheme is with the ratepayers serving the notice. If ratepayers, for example, are enjoying a scheme of weekly collection, there is no reason why they should not go on enjoying its benefits. My difficulty at the moment is that I do not quite see how, without causing delay and uncertainty, we could move, from the general idea of having extensions or elaborations of voluntary schemes that local authorities have the power to operate, to saying that they can contract out of the statute and that their schemes can take the place of the statutory scheme. It would be difficult to do that in an Amendment. That is my present view but I am not shutting my mind.
Mr. Julius Silverman
What is the meaning of the beginning of the Clause—
“Without prejudice to any power of a rating authority to make provision for the payment of rates by instalments …” ?
As usual, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman) asks a question. There are authorities having power, for example, to operate schemes which cover not only domestic ratepayers but commercial ratepayers as well; therefore, some authorities have local Act powers—although if challenged by my hon. Friend, I am afraid, I cannot name one. I feel that this is a general protection of a right.
Does not this do in general terms what the Amendment asks should be done?
I believe it does, in general terms, but not absolutely specifically.
Would not the powers arising here mean definitely a legislative power, an Act of Parliament, and not just a kind of vague right?
No, it means that a local authority can do anything which is not ultra vires—the opposite being intra vires—within its powers. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is not fully with me on this, but it is possible for a local authority which is already operating a scheme to go on doing so. This does not at all limit the extent of its powers. At the same time, however, the ratepayer is given the right [column 23]to the benefit of a statutory scheme if he so wants. The argument, therefore, is on whether or not the right of the individual ratepayer to serve notice claiming the statutory right, as in this Clause, should be taken away from him in cases of contracting out. I believe that it would be very difficult to manage that, but I see no reason at all why schemes which are operating on a voluntary basis and are accepted by the ratepayers should not continue.
When the hon. Gentleman uses the term “accepted by ratepayers” , does he mean accepted by the majority of ratepayers, or could the action of one individual ratepayer necessitate the introduction of a statutory scheme in lieu of a voluntary one?
If a ratepayer serves notice, then he will have the right to claim the facilities provided for him in this Clause. I do not think there can be any doubt on that.
If one ratepayer exercised this right, would the consequence be that merely that one ratepayer would be entitled to the benefit of the Clause, or would a previously discretionary scheme have to cease?
It would not upset the apple cart. We may get the one “awkward” —in inverted commas—ratepayer who wants his full rights under the Clause, but that would not immediately mean that all those having weekly collections would lose that facility simply because a new scheme has been brought in. It would mean only that the ratepayer would have the right reserved for him under this new Bill.
If the existing scheme is as good as or more beneficial than the statutory scheme, why disturb it?
It was for that reason that I used the word “awkward” in inverted commas. One never knows, because people have odd views about their rights, and a ratepayer might wish, for some reason, to make his borough treasurer “sweat” . My view is that the best course is to preserve this right for the ratepayer, as in this Clause, while allowing voluntary schemes, where they are satisfying everyone, to continue. There [column 24]may be occasions when a ratepayer says, “I may want to come into this new scheme. What is it all about? Is it a better arrangement for me than the one already operating?” Then a few words with the borough treasurer may convince him that it is not. I feel, therefore, that the difficulty is not as great as it may appear on paper and that the Amendment would slow things down.
The hon. Gentleman said earlier that it might be necessary for local authorities to send out a notice saying, “We have a scheme running and we deem that you wish to be in it.” Does the hon. Gentleman withdraw that, or is it still his point of view that it will be necessary in order to continue the voluntary scheme?
No, it would not be necessary in order to continue the voluntary scheme because the local authority has power to do that. I was making the point that while its scheme may be roughly comparable with that which has been introduced, there may be cases where it feels it wants to go over to a new scheme, and sees the difficulty; but it would not have to do that.
I wish to get clear the significance of what the Minister now says. He appeared to argue that the Amendment was not necessary because the effect which it was desired to achieve was already achieved under the Bill; in other words, where a voluntary discretionary scheme was generally accepted and acceptable, it could continue unaffected, but a ratepayer wishing to exercise his statutory right under the Bill would be able to do so. Am I right in understanding the Minister's argument to be that the Amendment is actually unnecessary because all that it sets out to achieve is already provided in the Bill?
As I understood the Amendment, it wanted to provide for contracting out of the Bill so that a local authority which had satisfied the Minister would not have obligations under the Bill. My reservations were that first, it is not just a question of the form of instalments but involves people coming in and out of the scheme, and the question of protection under subsection (8) about limitation on the [column 25]rights of enforcement of rates collections; and therefore it seemed it would be unwise to contract out.
A second point which I will not stress, looking at the spirit of the Amendment rather than its wording, is that it would lead to a great deal of delay because of the need for all these schemes to be looked at by the Minister. I feel, therefore, that the best way is to carry on with the scheme being available, at the same time allowing voluntary schemes to continue without statutory effect.
Mr. Norman Cole
In his last words the hon. Gentleman spoke of allowing voluntary schemes to carry on side by side with a statutory scheme if the ratepayers and the council so adopt. As one of my hon. Friends said this morning, many things are initiated by Government Bills without people realising the amount of administration that is involved. I feel the Parliamentary Secretary is being very optimistic. I cannot conceive that if a scheme is embodied in a statute in due course, any voluntary scheme at all will go on in this way in the future. One thinks of those local authorities which may find that the district auditor has certain queries—because this is not the only subsection in this Clause; there are others about discretion; and I can see that local authorities will prefer to adopt the statutory scheme under the Bill rather than continue with their own scheme in existence with the possibility of some impatient ratepayer who may want to get another scheme for some reason known only to himself. If we really want this Amendment to be effective we must put it into the Bill, for unless it is in it will not work in practice.
In the Allen Report, paragraph 249, it is stated that the published details of rate collection for the period 1962–63 showed that some 281 of the 785 rating authorities included in the return permitted some of their domestic ratepayers to pay by 10 or more instalments; so that it appears that some 281 local authorities already do, in principle, what we are seeking to do under the Bill, and have the same number of instalments as this Bill seeks to include.
This is not so. Most of these authorities do not give the ratepayer a general discretionary right to pay by instalments. Very few of these 281 [column 26]authorities, in fact, give a general right of payment by instalments.
Would it not be very simple for authorities to use the existing scheme, permitting payment by 10 instalments to all, merely taking away the discretion? The principle of the scheme as it operates is for payment by 10 instalments. There may be differences in detail as far as forms of notice and cancellation are concerned. The essential point is collection by 10 instalments, and the mechanics for operating that scheme already exist in a considerable number of rating authorities. Would it not be much simpler from their point of view if they were allowed to contract out? The James MacCollhon. Gentleman said it would mean an enormous amount of work for the Richard CrossmanMinister, but, as we know, he would not do it for himself and it would not mean anything like the amount of work involved in making a planning appeal or contracting out of National Insurance. There is already a very good precedent for the contracting out principle, and at least one Government Department already knows how to work it.
The hon. Gentleman then turned to certain other schemes of house collection, collection of rates by instalments. I would not say that a house-to-house collection or a system whereby a ratepayer can purchase 2s. 6d. stamps is tantamount to, or could be called, payment by instalments within the meaning of “instalments” in this Bill. That is more a scheme whereby a local authority offers ratepayers certain banking or savings facilities, and those could continue under the Bill. Those could and do sometimes run side by side with an existing scheme allowing payment by 10 distinct instalments. But I think it is muddling the issue to liken the provision of those facilities to a system of collection of rates by instalments. Under such “banking” facilities a local authority is not invoking its right to issue a rate demand for the whole amount and enforce it; it is enforcing payment over a longer period of time, rather than by separate and distinct instalments.
On the point raised by my Norman Colehon. Friend, it seems to me that each of these 281 local authorities—and there may be more by now because those figures are a little out of date—will have to take a view [column 27]as to how many of their constituents, electors or householders would be what the hon. Gentleman has called “awkward cusses” .
I did not use that term. The hon. Lady is putting her own vigorous language into my mouth.
The local authority would have to consider how many of those people would choose to invoke a statutory right as against the right they would already have to ask their local authority to commit them to pay by 10 instalments under the existing scheme. If they take the view that a large number of people will be likely to invoke their statutory right, they will have to change the schemes anyway. As my hon. Friend said, it is most unlikely that two instalment schemes will be running side by side, although I admit that one may have an instalment scheme and a banking scheme running simultaneously.
If the Richard CrossmanMinister and his Department have done their work they will have a considerable amount of research into the operation of these 281 rating schemes. They will know roughly what kind of schemes there are and how far they fall short, if at all, of the statutory scheme. If the James MacCollJoint Parliamentary Secretary would give us the benefit of the Department's researches on this we might be in a better position to judge the validity of his reply. For these 281 authorities it may be a great deal better for them, and the amount of rates they charge, to allow their existing schemes to go on, because the changeover to a new scheme would undoubtedly incur some expense. Would the Minister therefore give us some more facts, bring the figures up to date and say how much work has been done on the existing 281 schemes?
Is not the Amendment a rather large sledgehammer to crack what is a very small nut? The Bill does not take away from a local authority its right to continue with its present instalment scheme, for it states:
“Without prejudice to any power of a rating authority to make provision for the payment of rates by instalments …”
The Bill simply gives the right to any domestic ratepayer who is dissatisfied [column 28]with a local authority's scheme to make application to pay rates in accordance with the statutory scheme. In any case, if an existing scheme is as good as, or better than, the statutory scheme, it is obvious that only a few awkward individuals will apply for it to be changed, and, that cannot cause a great deal of work to the local treasurer.
I suggest, therefore, that the Clause be left as drafted rather than our trying to create a provision whereby local authorities would contract out of the statutory scheme altogether, with all that that would involve. It would, of course, involve every scheme being vetted by the Minister to ensure that it was as good as the statutory one. Why is it necessary to impose this burden on the Minister? Why go to all this trouble because one or two awkward individuals might make application in this way and since the local scheme will go on in any case?
It will not go on.
I always respect the observations which the hon. Member for Birmingham Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman) makes on Bills of this type, but in saying that when a few individuals exercise their statutory right under the Bill the local authority will nevertheless go on with its own scheme, does he not consider that most local authorities would, in the face of such applications, take the easiest course and cancel their existing voluntary schemes?
That is precisely the point the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) was making. She asked how many awkward cusses there were. If there were a lot the hon. Gentleman would be right. However, if an existing scheme is as good as, or better than, the statutory one, the local authority would not change the basis of its scheme simply because half a dozen awkward people made application.
That is just the point. If there are six or seven people applying this year there will probably be a great many more next year because the Bill will receive a great deal of publicity. Therefore, at the beginning the local authority will take the view that it should disband its present instalment scheme and tell all the people using it that, for reasons beyond its control, it is being changed for [column 29]another scheme, with all the expense that that would involve. That is the practical view of what, in fact, will happen at local authority level.
I do not think so. Why on earth should an existing scheme be changed if it is as good as the statutory scheme? Why not leave it to the local authorities to decide?
If a local authority wishes to retain its present scheme it will do so. The local treasurer will say, “I do not mind if a few people make application. The scheme goes on for the rest of the ratepayers.”
Having said that, I now take issue with the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley on the question of the schemes which are now in existence. I suggest that very few of them are really comprehensive and apply to every ratepayer.
The Bill does not apply to every ratepayer.
I should have said every domestic ratepayer. If, therefore, a local authority were to try to apply its existing scheme to every domestic ratepayer it would, of course, be a different sort of scheme from the one at present operating.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman) criticised the Amendment on the score that every scheme would have to be referred to the Minister for his observations, and he went on to quote the beginning of the Clause, which states:
“Without prejudice to any power of a rating authority to make provision for the payment of rates by instalments …” .
I suggest that if that is as it is meant to read, the Minister will have to examine each existing scheme in any case. I would be obliged if the hon. Gentleman would correct me if he thinks that that is not the right interpretation.
It is not my interpretation of the subsection. I do not believe that it would be necessary for the Minister to vet every voluntary scheme.
I understood that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary was still trying to convince us of the validity of the stand which he took and that he [column 30]was going to give us the further information for which he had been asked. I appear to be in error on that.
James MacCollHe does not have it.
As my hon. Friend says, the hon. Gentleman obviously does not have that information.
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole) was right about the substance of this matter; that is, that unless we can insert in the Bill the right for schemes approved by the Minister to go on in lieu of the scheme set out in the Clause, we are signing the death sentence of existing local authority schemes.
I do not believe that any responsible local authority will continue to run its own scheme on the precarious basis that it may have to abandon it at any moment and introduce the statutory scheme if people object to the present one continuing, even though it be only a small minority. This is a fair criticism of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, who has great experience in local government—that by adopting the attitude he has adopted he is putting local authorities in an impossible position.
The Government come forward with a proposal, apparently universal in effect, and then the Joint Parliamentary Secretary says, “Despite that, you can go on with your own scheme and that will be all right unless anybody objects” . One cannot conduct a serious and controversial matter like the collection of rates on that basis, and the hon. Gentleman, from his experience, knows that only too well.
With respect to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman), the point is not whether the words at the beginning of the Clause:
“Without prejudice to any power of a rating authority …”
do or do not provide adequate legal basis. From the practical point of view, I find it difficult to envisage any local authority going on with its own scheme unless the Government are prepared to give it cover for that scheme in the way we suggest in the Amendment.
Nor do I agree with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Aston in his suggestion that of those local authorities which operate schemes of this sort, very few give [column 31]comprehensive cover to all domestic ratepayers. I had hoped that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary was going to enlighten us on this point. If he does not know, then it is a rather serious reflection on the attitude of the Department in coming forward with advice to reject the Amendment without knowing how many fully comprehensive schemes there are. I can tell the Joint Parliamentary Secretary of one—the Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames—to which I referred on Second Reading, and I have no doubt that there are others. It is for the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, and not for me, to inform the Committee of the number of such schemes. It is a pity that he is not able to do so.
I have been trying to puzzle the exact number out of the confusion of the different practices which exist. Local authorities are more flexible in this matter than hon. Gentlemen opposite seem to realise. They adjust their schemes according to local needs and that is one reason why I believe that they will go on doing that, particularly with the schemes in operation.
I have been looking at the statistics available from the sample and it would appear that only about 5 per cent. to 7 per cent. of the ratepayers are covered by schemes operating six payments. In the 6 to 11 payments bracket it would appear that 70 authorities have schemes such as that, while 54 authorities allow 12 payments. They vary. Some allow 12 while others allow a smaller number of payments.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite should realise that they are not the watertight, streamlined schemes which they seem to think exist. They are so flexible that in many cases local authorities adopt different schemes to suit different problems. As I pointed out, it would seem that in a lot of instances those schemes will not be affected by the statutory reservations in the Bill.
I do not know what authority the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has for saying that. I should have thought that his knowledge of local government would enable him to know that local authorities would feel that they were being put at risk if they did not operate the statutory scheme. Thus, the [column 32]hon. Gentleman's information does not take us any further. Indeed, he is, certainly intellectually, on the horns of a dilemma.
I pointed out that in almost all cases the schemes permit about 10 instalments.
Is that really so?
That is what the sample says.
It is only a small sample.
We can perhaps speak best of our own constituencies. Kingston-upon-Thames allows not 10 but 12 instalments, which more than meets that point.
As I was saying, the hon. Gentleman is in the dilemma that either there are a large number of satisfactory schemes which would have the Minister's approval, in which case there might result a great disruption in the operation of local government in this respect, or that there are only a limited number of schemes, in which case his argument about the great burden on the Ministry is clearly misplaced because it would not be a great burden. In any event, not to have fuller information than we have been given suggests that the Department has not given proper consideration to the facts arising out of the Amendment. When we raised the matter on Second Reading I was led to believe, by the sympathetic nature of the Minister's intervention, that some concession was at least under consideration; certainly that there was chance for it, notice of the difficulty having been specifically drawn to the Minister's attention.
Therefore, I am bound to say I find this extremely disappointing, and I feel that it is essential to press for the inclusion of statutory cover for local authorities who desire to continue their own schemes. I accepted on Second Reading, and I accept now, that none of these schemes should be allowed to continue in lieu of a statutory one, unless approved by the Minister, as having broadly the same beneficial effect as the scheme in the Clause. That is a proper concession to make.
I re-echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley said, that the concept of contracting out is not a new one [column 33-34]or one which efficient Departments find difficulty in handling. I do not think the Parliamentary Secretary is being fair to his own great Department in suggesting that they could not handle it, and handle it expeditiously. Why not do what his right hon. Friend the Minister of Public Building and Works did in respect of restriction on building—allow applications for approval to be put in on a provisional basis now, and announce that local authorities who, after the operation of the scheme, want to continue their own schemes should submit their schemes to him for approval and deal in that way with the time factor to which the Parliamentary Secretary appeared to attach so much importance?
May I refer to what was said to me by the borough treasurer of my own constituency. He said:
“I have read Section 1 of the Bill with dismay because of the great complexity of administration which it involves. It is tremendously more complicated than our simple effective arrangements. I am sure it will confuse the public and will add to the cost of rate collection, making an unnecessary demand for skilled staff which are already scarce enough; and with all the facilities provided by Section 1 are less liberal than those offered by my own council.”
No doubt, other well-run local authorities will say the same. The Parliamentary Secretary knows that the cost of administration and the shortage of staff in local authorities create serious and growing problems. Another Measure before us is going to add substantially to that situation. It would be out of order, Sir Leslie, and I should incur your displeasure if I enlarged on that point, but the Committee is well aware of it. Why, therefore, do this in adherence apparently to the demand for a universal system? Why not make the concession which we ask for in this Amendment? I must press for something to be put in the Bill. I do not press for our own wording. This Amendment was put together very much against time, but I think it would achieve its purpose, and the Parliamentary Secretary himself in his previous intervention did not really dispute that fact. I would not press the Amendment now if he would say that he would put into the Bill something having broadly the same effect, but if he is merely going to stonewall on the massive departmental brief which I see he has in front of him—and I am glad to see that he is deleting a few lines from it——
Do not let me discourage him; let him go on deleting them. If he is going to say, “We are going to impose by statute a universal scheme” and then pass the buck to the local authorities and let them take what risks there may be in continuing to operate their own scheme, that is not good enough and we shall have to press the Amendment.
Question put, That those words be there inserted:——
The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 10.
Division No. 1.]
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. J.
Hall-Davis, A. G. F.
Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)
Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher
Finch, Harold (Bedwellty)
Hobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town)
Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson
Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
I beg to move Amendment No. 3, in page 1, line 9, after “rent)” , to insert:
“is the owner who pays the rates or” .
I think it will be convenient if we take with this Amendment, Amendment No. 6, in line 16, at end insert:
“(ii) any owner of a hereditament which is the subject of such direction or agreement as aforesaid” .
The Committee can vote, of course, on Amendment No. 6 at the appropriate time.
That would be a convenient course, Sir Leslie.[column 35]
I should like to declare an interest as a landlord who pays his rates in advance and then collects them by monthly instalments from his tenants. This Amendment is not tabled for the benefit of landlords in my position but for the benefit of treasurers. When this Bill takes effect, if a tenant cares to take over all the liabilities of rates he will be able to pay by instalments, as at present, and the landlord will not be involved in paying rates in advance. The landlord would find it beneficial to himself and it would not be in any way onerous to the tenant. The net result would be that the treasurer would be——
Order. I find it very difficult to hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying. There are so many private conversations going on at the same time.
The treasurer would be inundated with a series of demands to take part in the scheme, and a whole series of separate rate demands would have to be sent out to individual tenants, whereas now they are sent out in bulk to the landlord. It is much more convenient for the treasurer to deal with one landlord rather than a lot of tenants. The landlord might be induced to continue to operate the present system if the treasurer were able to offer a 2½ per cent. rebate, but unfortunately 2½ per cent. rebates have to be offered to all ratepayers besides the domestic ones—commercial and industrial ratepayers. Although very few local authorities operate the 2½ per cent. rebate for prompt payment, they expect prompt payment from their big ratepayers, with industrial and commercial premises. If the treasurer offered 2½ per cent. rebate this would reduce their income very considerably. It seems desirable to give this option to landlords.
There are other Amendments—which, no doubt, may be accepted by the Government—which might allow a 2½ per cent. rebate to domestic ratepayers. If that proposal were adopted, this Amendment might not be important, but I think on the whole it is well worth giving the option. It seems quite fair that it should be given to the landlord who has to pay rates on behalf of his tenants, just as much as to the tenant who himself does it. [column 36]
Turning to Amendment No. 6, I must confess that I am on ground of which I have no personal experience, and, as I am not a lawyer, I must have recourse to my system of stating what I believe the law to be and then asking the Parliamentary Secretary to be so good as to contradict me on my reading of what is in Section 11 of the Rating and Valuation Act, 1925. As I understand it, in the case of rateable values up to £25, where the rating authority so decides, owners may get 10 per cent. rebate for paying rates in advance of collection. In addition to that, there are further rebates to cover various possibilities. One is the case of the landlord who agrees to pay, whatever happens to the property, whether it is vacant or occupied. He gets a further rebate of 15 per cent. Alternatively he may say, “Whether the property is occupied or not, whether or not I collect the rent from the tenant, there is a rebate of 7½ per cent.” Where the rates are only to be payable when the rent is paid, and it is impossible to recover the rent from the tenant, equally the rates are not recovered either. In that case, merely in order to compensate the landlord for collecting the rates from the tenant by weekly collection, there is a further rebate of 5 per cent.
These, of course, are rateable values up to £25 where there is a weekly rent collection, which of course is quite an expensive thing to do. It means employing a rent collector to do so. Therefore, this is an alternative Amendment. Obviously if Amendment No. 3 is accepted by the Government, Amendment No. 6 is quite unnecessary. But if the Government do not take the liberal view which one would expect them to take on Amendment No. 3, if they resist it and then win even by one vote, we fall back on Amendment No. 6 where it seems that these cases should not necessarily be excluded from this particular scheme, though I must confess that I have no practical experience of it and it may be that I have described it entirely incorrectly.
I support my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason). If these words are not inserted, we can expect a rash of landlords to divest themselves of a duty which is not at present incumbent upon them; that is [column 37]the collection of, and accounting to local authorities for, the rates of their tenants. This is not a duty laid upon them statutorily, either in respect of a weekly tenancy or any other form of tenancy. This will not only react to the inconvenience of local authorities. In many cases it will react to the detriment of the tenant. Whereas the tenant has been used to paying the rate element in his gross rent weekly out of an ordinary budget, he will suddenly find himself, as often happens to be the case, responsible for a payment, at the very best, 10 times a year of a sum which in these days is substantial.
I should here declare an interest, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead did. I have a concern in these matters, both personally and for a company. I speak with some knowledge, because in some of these cases the rates are paid directly by the tenants. In another case they are paid through the rents which are paid to me.
This is an obvious omission from the Clause. I do not think it is a deliberate omission. The Clause would be improved by the insertion of these words and the Government's original intention would be met in the general overall picture they intend to produce by the Clause. I hope that these words to cover the position of landlord and tenant will be accepted by the Government.
On Amendment No. 6, I want to correct something said by my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead. I do not think he was right in saying that, if the Government accept Amendment No. 3, that will necessarily cover all the purport of Amendment No. 6. Under paragraph (b) any hereditament which is
“the subject of a direction or agreement under”
the 1925 Act is deliberately excluded. The effect of Amendment No. 6 is to put such people back in parity with those affected by Amendment No. 3. In other words, anybody interested in property, whether as landlord or as tenant, of which the rateable value is less than £25 would automatically be put back into the meaning of the Clause. This would not necessarily follow from the adoption of Amendment No. 3, because that would still leave the prohibition in paragraph (b), which prohibition is to a large extent invalidated by Amendment No. 6. [column 38]
All the remarks I made on Amendment No. 3 apply with each greater force to Amendment No. 6. By the very nature of things, those living in property rated at £25 a year are even less likely to wish to pay their rates, even in 10 instalments, as distinct from 52 as at present. Anything which applies to Amendment No. 3 will apply with even greater force to these rather smaller dwellings. I hope that the Government will accept both Amendments or will write in words implementing the purport of the Amendment, because that will improve the Clause.
May I attempt to correct my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole)? The words of Amendment No. 3 are
“is the owner who pays the rates or”
and then it would go on “is the occupier of” . It is not “is the owner of who pays the rates of or” . The “of” clearly qualifies paragraphs (a) and (b) from line 11 onwards. It does not qualify “is the owner who pays the rates” . That would be the owner of any domestic premises, as I understand it.
I ought, before speaking again, to declare a modest interest as a modest landlord. I do not wish to take sides between my hon. Friends the Members for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) and Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole), who are in some difficulty about the exact meaning of Amendment No. 6. In all honesty, would it not be sensible to prevent the disturbance of an existing system and to allow to go on what does in fact go on, where certain landlords have been in the habit of accepting rates by instalments on behalf of their tenants and paying them themselves on the due date? It is desirable to avoid in any legislation causing unnecessary trouble to those who are least able to cope with it. All complexity should be kept out of it. All confusion should be kept away from it. I strongly recommend the Government to allow this system to continue and to accept the Amendment.
There are two broad groups of people who might come under these Amendments. One is the owner-occupier. He will always be the resident occupier and therefore he will be covered already. I do not think there is any dispute about him. [column 39]
The argument is about the landlord who is not resident on the premises but who collects the rates and pays them over to the local authority. I did not quite follow the development of this argument. I did not see how he was worse off under the Bill than he is at present. I can see how he would not be better off, but I cannot see why it is assumed that if the modest landlord like the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Murton) wanted to go on collecting as before he could not continue to do so. I do not think that this will interfere with it.
For one thing, there will be a great deal of publicity about the desirability of paying rates by instalments. This will draw modest landlords' attention to what “mugs” they have been in the past to pay the rates in advance and collect them from their tenants subsequently. They will think about this. They will find that they have a remedy. There is the other point that owing to its complications this will increase the rate burden. The landlord will find that he has to pay a little more in rates as a direct consequence of this Measure.
The landlord can still go on exactly as before if he wants to.
The simple answer is that the landlord has no rights under the Clause to elect to pay the rates by instalments. Is that or is that not so?
I will come on in a moment to what are the landlord's rights.
Mr. Julius Silverman
He has no new rights.
There are two types of case where normally the landlords collect rates on behalf of the local authority. In some cases this is a compulsory arrangement—not £25 as the hon. Members for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) and Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole) said, for once in agreement although wrong. Usually they disagree in being wrong. In this case it is now £56, though it is possible for local authorities to operate it at a lower rateable value limit if they want to. Under the law the rateable value limit is £56. [column 40]
In cases where there is a compulsory arrangement, the landlord gets a 10 per cent. allowance. It would not be easy merely to bring him into the instalment provisions, without somehow altering the 10 per cent. allowance, because otherwise he would be getting it both ways. He would be getting the 10 per cent. allowance to make up for him being a “mug” , as the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead put it, and at the same time he would be paying by instalments. It would be impossible to look at this except in conjunction with altering the compounding allowance.
The other cases are where the compounding arrangements are by agreement. There there are three different levels, according to the risk involved, at which the allowance is fixed. If no allowance is made for voids and the landlord pays the rates whether or not the house is empty, he undertakes then to ensure that the council gets a regular income from the hereditament. There is an advantage to the council. The landlord then gets the full allowance of 10 per cent. If he pays only while the house is occupied, he receives only 7½ per cent. If he acts as a mere agent collecting rates and does not carry any risk, he gets only 5 per cent.
I can say from my small experience in this field—not as a modest landlord, but as a modest alderman—that in the only cases in which I have seen argument about this the two different points of view were put. It is true that the compounding landlords thought that it was not worth their while to do it, that the bother of doing it was not covered by the allowance. They wanted a higher allowance. The local authority was not keen on seeing an extension of the arrangement, taking the view that rates were rising and the percentage on the rates collected was increased because rates were increasing, whereas work was not increasing. I think that the voluntary compounding arrangements broke down in those cases.
The Bill is designed to deal with the problems of the domestic ratepayer living in his own home. To bring the landlord into the picture, when he is already covered by compounding arrangements, would not be justifiable and I could not advise my hon. Friends to accept the Amendment. [column 41]
Perhaps the James MacCollhon. Gentleman can help us a little further on some of the details. The kind of case I have in mind is that of a very modest landlord indeed—a spinster lady, now a pensioner, who purchased in her earlier years two small houses to bring her an income during retirement. Each of these houses was £1 in rateable value within rent control in Greater London. I do not, therefore, think that they would be covered by the compulsory compounding arrangement.
She collects a weekly sum from each tenant. It is called rent, but in fact they are both very much better off than she is and complain when what they call the “rent” goes up, although, in fact, it is the rating element which has gone up. As the landlord, she has to pay a lump sum in rates in advance and has to collect back that sum from tenants who are very much better off than she is.
I thought the Bill was to help relieve people in financial embarrassment from paying their rates in a lump sum. Undoubtedly, this lady is in financial embarrassment compared with some of our modest landlords in this Committee. It just so happens that she is an owner and therefore, as the Bill stands, will not be entitled to take advantage of the instalment system. She should be able to do so. I know another case, that of a widow who has a very substantial tenant in similar circumstances and the same general principle applies to her.
I am anxious that owners of that kind should be able to pay their rates by instalments. I think that the hon. Gentleman will tell me that, as the Clause stands, they could not be allowed to do so unless the Government also accepted our earlier Amendment. There is thus both a technical and a genuine case for accepting that Amendment.
I already suffer from one of the features that have been mentioned—that landlords, particularly of flats, are now making new leases or agreements with tenants whereby the tenants will be responsible for paying the rates. As a modest tenant of the kind of modesty we have in this Committee, that will not bother me unduly. I shall take advantage of the instalment system. But there may well be tenants who are even more [column 42]modest than I am and who will go from paying rates weekly, in effect, to paying them by 10 annual instalments.
Drawing on my experience of another Department, in which I was tutored very ably by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), I know how many people still have a weekly budget. Indeed, that is why pensions are paid weekly. These people would suffer under such an arrangement. Thus there are two very good reasons for either accepting our Amendment or offering to reconsider it in the light of what we have said and of the evidence that we can adduce.
What are the Joint Parliamentary Secretary's reasons? We have just heard a clear, explanatory speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher). Why should those who are owners of property in a small way not have the right to pay by instalments. I dare say that big landlords and the property companies do not mind paying the rates by lump sum, but why should an ordinary person who is collecting the rates with the rent every week be left out? In many cases, as my hon. Friend pointed out, they are worse off than many of their own occupiers. Why the distinction? Is it political? Is it prejudice?
I thought that this omission was not deliberate, but apparently it was. The hon. Gentleman blinded us with science about compounding and valuation. I am not concerned with all these niceties. Nor are many of these small owners of one property or perhaps two at the most. Their reaction will be to give notice to the tenant—and that notice need not be many weeks—that he himself will have to pay the rates. The tenant will then have to make application and at best he will be able to pay by 10 instalments.
Each instalment could, say, be £4 10s., whereas, included in the weekly rent, the rating element would amount to 15s. or 18s. Thus, the rent will of course go down, but what happens if tenants do not put the money for the rates behind the clock on the mantelpiece every week? The fact is that landlords do a great service to local authorities by collecting the rates with the rent and, therefore, they should be allowed the privilege of paying the rates by instalment as well. [column 43]
I believe I am right in saying that many local schemes allow owners of property to pay in this manner. The great demerit of this proposed statutory scheme is that it will leave out landlords. I hope that we shall press this Amendment to a Division. It is very improper that a large but decreasing class of people—no doubt, that pleases the Government—many of whom are retired with very small incomes, should be inhibited from the benefits of this Clause, which is supposed to be designed to help owners of property.
I would like to return to the subject of the Rating and Valuation Act, 1925. I understood the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to say that 10 per cent. discount was allowed and that it would take care of that aspect. However, on the alternative, the voluntary side, I do not know whether he meant that the same thing applied. Did he mean that the 5 per cent. discount for collecting the rates from the occupiers would apply because the landlord paid in advance?
I suggest that 5 per cent. is actually the cost of collecting the rates. Normally, the charge is about 6¼ per cent. on the cost of the rent collected by weekly collection. If the landlord is collecting £2 a week in rent, he will pay 6¼ per cent. of £2 a week. If he is collecting £3 5s. a week, of which £1 5s. is rates, he will be charged 6¼ per cent. on £3 5s.—i.e., he is being charged by the rent collector on the rates. Thus, this 5 per cent. certainly will not in any way compensate the landlord for paying in advance. I submit that it is not intended to do so.
In the other case, it is self-evident that landlords should be allowed to fall into line because they are undertaking greater risks, although, in these days, there is less of a possibility that people will default on their rent than there was in 1925. Therefore, perhaps the landlord would be wiser to take the alternative course. But we are not concerned here with amending the 1925 Act. I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would indicate whether he intends to suggest that his remarks about direction, which we accept entirely, are also intended to cover voluntary agreements.
I do not think I want to go into the personal case raised by the [column 44]hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher). It is always unwise to discuss a case in the abstract. She knows that my door is always open to her, and if she wishes to come and discuss the case with me, I will be glad to give her an accurate and definitive answer about the position. I understand, however, that the landlord she mentioned would not be within the levels of rates for which there would be compulsory compounding. If that is so, this lady is under no obligation to collect the rates. It is purely a voluntary arrangement. If she feels that the burden is too much, then the best thing for her to do is not to collect the rates.
And put more work on the tenants.
We have already been told that council tenants should pay their own rates and should know exactly what is going in rates. There is something to be said for the view that tenants should pay rates. I would not necessarily think it a bad thing if they did.
I come now to allowances. If one compares the 5 per cent. minimum allowance on compounding agreements with the 2½ per cent. allowed for discounting from payment, it is not a bad discount. It has some value. If it does not have value, landlords will withdraw from the work which they do by agreement. The difficulty is that while the point is covered by the compounding arrangements, it would be quite wrong also to cover it by instalment arrangements because it can be negotiated between the local authorities.
There is no need to stop the local authorities from giving better terms if they wish. A local authority cannot, however, increase the compounding allowance, but it can make arrangements with a landlord to accept instalment payments. That would mean more work for the local authority. If a local authority finds that there may be a substantial withdrawal by landlords from these arrangements, it will be free to make allowances for payment by instalment. Here, however, we are dealing with the legal duty of local authorities to accept instalments in cases where it might be quite unnecessary. The hon. Lady asked whether my right hon. Friend's mind is shut on this matter. It is not shut. If there is substantial evidence that our view is wrong we shall reconsider, but, as advised at present, we do [column 45]not think that this Amendment is necessary.
The James MacCollhon. Gentleman will correct me if I have the wrong impression. I understand that compulsory compounding refers to hereditaments of a rateable value of £25.
No, £56. This is not absolutely accurate, I think, but I believe that this is the maximum the local authorities may have at the lower level for their own purposes if they wish.
As I was starting to make that point, I had before me Section 11 of the Rating and Valuation Act, 1925, which I trust the hon. Gentleman has with him as he has indirectly referred to it. Section 11 says:
“The rating authority may by resolution direct that, in the case of all hereditaments in their area … which belong to a class to be defined in the resolution by reference to rateable value … the owners thereof shall be rated instead of the occupiers.”
There is a footnote to my edition—which is at the back of Ryde on Rating—which indicates that the rating authority may direct up to a rateable value of £56.
This is not compulsory; it is permissive, and it seems to me that a tricky position will develop between the compulsory compounding of £25 and the permissive action of the local authority up to a rateable value of £56. It may be that a number of those to whom I have drawn attention are within that particular band, which is a wide one, and some landlords, it would seem, may be able to pass on their burden to the tenants, while in other cases, where the local authority has directed that the owner shall be rated under the powers in this particular Section, landlords may not pass on the burden to the tenant.
Up to £56.
The hon. Gentleman says up to £56, but up to that figure the local authority may direct. If it has never directed then, it says, the rating authority may by resolution direct—not that it has to do so. If the authority has directed, then the landlord of the tenant will be in a worse position than where the local authority has not directed. Will the hon. Gentleman deal with that [column 46]point or withdraw what he said before and reconsider the point put before him?—because I do not feel that even he has had time to consider the details of the Bill.
I believe that town clerks, most of whom are solicitors, after reading this Bill will feel as I feel after hearing this debate, that the owner-occupiers are left out of the provisions of this Section.
The right hon. Gentleman must not say that. Owner-occupiers are not left out. I said that quite specifically at the beginning of my speech.
I am afraid that was a slip of the tongue. I did not mean owner occupiers; I meant owners of property, as I mentioned before. If a town clerk finds that owners of property are clearly omitted from this Clause and the whole of this part of the Measure, does the hon. Gentleman really believe that a local authority, having adopted this statutory scheme—about which they will have no option—will go outside and adopt its own voluntary scheme or allow an owner of property to pay by 10 instalments or more? I will tell the hon. Gentleman what town clerks will do: they will stick absolutely to the scheme, and if the scheme does not include owners of property then they will be out in the cold; and, as my hon. Friend says, where a local authority does not adopt a higher figure than the statutory minimum of £25, owners of property will have the worst of all possible worlds and get no benefit at all under this Bill.
Is not the Parliamentary Secretary going to reply to these arguments? Is it his line—which would bear unhappily for our future discussions—that after there has been a great deal of reasoned argument he sits mute and does not attempt to deal by argument with the points raised but prefers to rely on his majority, however precarious?
I have already made two interventions and I thought perhaps the Committee might be getting a little weary of my voice.
I can sum up the position in a sentence: if a local authority thinks that it is advantageous in its area, it can work compounding agreements at any level up to £56, not at £25 or £56.[column 47-48]
That is accepted.
Therefore, it can fix the level according to what it considers to be the needs of its area. Where it does so, in a compulsory agreement the landlord gets 10 per cent. In other matters if he wants to collect the rate he can agree with the local authority to collect it by voluntary agreement, and he can withdraw by voluntary agreement. I would have thought that that is reasonable flexibility. A third point is that where a local authority feels that it will be helpful to encourage landlords it can make other voluntary arrangements for collection if it wants to do so.
Question put, That those words be there inserted.
The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 9.
Division No. 2.]
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. J.
Hall-Davis, A. G. F.
Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)
Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher
Finch, Harold (Bedwellty)
Hobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town)
Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson
Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
The next Amendment is No. 4.
I do not know whether the Parliamentary Secretary feels that it is worth while continuing at this hour.
It might be helpful to hear the case for this Amendment. I want to be sure that I understand exactly what it means, and it would be helpful if I could be given time to consider whether I can meet it.
The Parliamentary Secretary needs every possible help. I will not press the matter.
I beg to move Amendment No. 4, in page 1, line 12, to leave out “mainly” and to insert “partly” .
Paragraphs (a) and (b) provide that occupiers of domestic or mainly domestic property or any property which is not classed as a dwelling house, but is used mainly for residential purposes, except occupiers living in compounding property, may, if they give notice in writing, elect to pay rates by instalments. The existing paragraph (a) as at presented drafted in line 12 leaves us open to some doubt as to the kind of building that is envisaged here. I believe we could all agree that it could be interpreted as relating, for example, to one kind of building that comes readily to mind, the block of flats on the ground floor of which are situated one or more shops; [column 48]but the word “mainly” excludes specifically one class of property which we feel should be included.
I believe that this is the point in which the hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary is interested. That is the small flat above the little lock-up shop on the corner, that delightful kind of shop where those of us who are improvident will go, perhaps on Saturday night, for cigarettes or on Sunday morning for a tin of corned beef which we may need for ourselves or for our dog.
One may buy only perishable goods on Sunday.
There may be a lady living upstairs in accommodation let off from the shop, who could be hardly done by under this argument, because one has to assume, in order to apply the Clause, that the superficial area of the property above the shop would have to be larger than the shop itself. To my mind that would apply rarely, if ever, since it could only happen if there were commodious premises upstairs with some lock-up shops below. To use the word “mainly” in this case would be nonsense.
There is another possibility, a category of private dwellings which exist in series over a parade of shops. In these modern parades which one finds in the suburbs, it does not always follow that the accommodation above the parade is necessarily let to the tenant of the shop. Some is, [column 49]and is used for stock; but sometimes it is not. A tenant of a shop may be a person of some substance who may not wish to live over the shop. He may have a pleasant house outside the town and may decide to let the upper part to one of his assistants or some single person. There, again, this wording would not make sense because a small property let over a large shop in a parade would obviously not be of similar rateable value. Therefore, one could not argue that it is let mainly for the purposes of a private dwelling house. We suggest that “partly” would be a better word.
How is one to judge? Is one to elaborate this theme by suggesting that the rateable values of all the flats above a parade of shops should be compared with the rateable values of all the shops below them? Even if it is a large parade of shops with three storeys it is quite impossible for the aggregate rateable value of all those properties to come anywhere near the aggregate value of the premises below. For this reason it would be very much better if the Parliamentary Secretary, on behalf of the Government, were to accept this Amendment. We consider it to be eminently reasonable, and a common sense Amendment which should commend itself to the Government. I [column 50]hope that the Parliamentary Secretary now fully understands the position and that he will at a suitable time reply to it.
The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Dr. J. Dickson Mabon)
One minute to go!
Did the hon. Gentleman wish to speak?
Dr. Dickson Mabon
No, I wish only to commend the hon. Gentleman for deploying his case so well. He has one minute to go.
I have very good eye-sight.
I wish once more to recapitulate——
I hope the hon. Gentleman will not be repetitive.
—and to say that we commend this Amendment with all sincerity to the Government.
It being One o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
Committee adjourned till Thursday, 27th January, 1966, at half-past Ten o'clock.
The Following Members attended the Committee:
Thomas, Sir L. (Chairman)
Mabon, Dr. Dickson
Meyer, Sir A.
Robertson, Mr. John
Silverman, Mr. Julius
Smith, Mr. Dudley
Williams, Mr. Alan