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Clause 1—(Establishment And Jurisdiction Of Lands Tribunal)

Volume 463: debated on Tuesday 22 March 1949

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7.21 p.m.

I beg to move in page 2, line 35, at the end, to insert:

"(c) and any jurisdiction conferred upon the county court under section forty-nine of the Local Government Act, 1948."
I suggest that it would be convenient to discuss this Amendment together with the one in Schedule 2, page 15, line 60, at the end to insert
"11 & 12 Geo. 6. c. 26.Local Government Act, 1948.Section 49."
which is consequential upon it.

The object of the Amendment is to make the Lands Tribunal responsible for hearing rating appeals, and therefore, it raises a point of some general importance. I apologise to the learned Attorney-General and to the Committee for putting down this Amendment at such a late stage. I realise that as it was only put down yesterday afternoon there cannot have been enough time for its consideration. I have put it down by way of exploration, or at least of suggestion. I do not wish to be dogmatic in suggesting that this is the right way to deal with this matter. The Attorney-General, when moving the Second Reading of this Bill, said with regard to the Lands Tribunal:
"Its object is to strengthen and codify the statutory arrangements for settling disputes in connection with the valuation of land and to ensure that in all cases where some form of valuation under statute is required—for instance, on the compulsory acquisition of land, on the assessment of the development or existing use value of land, or in regard to the valuation of land for the purposes of Estate Duty—there should be a single and consistent jurisdiction combining legal and technical valuation experience, with an appeal to the High Court …" —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th February, 1949 Vol. 462, c. 41.]
Under this Clause certain types of jurisdiction are dealt with. I shall not weary the Committee by going through them, but it seems to me that possibly there should be added to these jurisdictions the jurisdiction to deal with rating appeals. At the moment, by virtue of Section 49 of the Local Government Act, 1948, rating appeals have been transferred from the courts of quarter session to the county courts. I agree that on the whole the courts of quarter session were not particularly suitable tribunals for hearing rating appeals, but I am not at all sure that the county courts are any more suitable. To begin with, they are greatly over-burdened with work, at least in certain parts of the country, and I do not think that it would be reasonable to expect a county court judge, any more than a recorder or chairman of quarter sessions, to be an expert in matters of rating law.

I suggest that this tribunal would be very much better, subject to two provisos: I think that the hearing of rating appeals should be public, and the cost of such appeals should be kept on a comparatively reasonable scale. It seems that the only advantage of transferring rating appeals to the county courts was possibly to reduce the cost. That matter could be dealt with quite easily under the terms of this Bill. The advantage of enabling this Tribunal to deal with rating appeals appears to me to be not only the negative one, that the county court is not a particularly good court, but also that the powers under the Bill for the composition of the Tribunal and the powers taken for providing flexibility of procedure would seem more suitable for the purpose.

The objection may be made that it is transferring another matter to another tribunal. It would not be transferring it to a new ad hoc tribunal, but simply diverting into this chain of jurisdiction dealing with matters relating to valuation another matter which depends on valuation. I agree that the basis of valuation is rather different in rating matters from that in those matters already referred to this tribunal, but I should have thought that on the whole this tribunal is very well suited to deal with rating appeals. So far as I understand the provisions of the Local Government Act, 1948, those relating to the hearing of appeals by county courts have not yet come into operation, so there would be no question of disturbing a jurisdiction already being exercised by the county courts.

Although I realise that it would be unreasonable to press this view on the Government at this stage of the Bill, nevertheless, I hope that they will consider it, because I think that it would be an improvement on the existing state of affairs if this Amendment were accepted and this jurisdiction were transferred to this Tribunal.

This is an important and interesting Amendment, and I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) for the way in which he has moved it. As the hon. and learned Gentleman has said, Section 49 of the Local Government Act, 1948, was intended to transfer rating appeals away from quarter sessions to which they had hitherto gone to the county courts. That provision has not yet come into operation, and so we have had no experience of how it would work in practice. I would not, however, like it to be thought that the transfer of this jurisdiction from quarter sessions to the county courts will result in the county courts generally becoming overburdened. These are busy courts, and courts which I think are of steadily increasing importance, but I do not think that the transfer of jurisdiction to them which the Local Government Act effected is one likely to result in their being overworked. That, however, is not a reason which I advance against the purpose of the Amendment.

7.30 p.m.

We have had little time to give thought to this proposal which is not one of complete simplicity. There are certain difficulties and complications in regard to it. It is certainly a proposal which, if I may say so, is worthy of careful study, and study which I should have to undertake in consultation with my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor, the Minister of Health and probably with other Departments which may be concerned in these matters. As the hon. and learned Gentleman will appreciate, it has not yet been possible to complete that study: indeed, it has hardly yet been possible to commence it. But I do give the undertaking that, if the hon. and learned Gentleman felt inclined to withdraw his Amendment at this stage, the Government would give most careful consideration to the proposal it makes, and would be prepared to formulate a view upon it when the Bill gets to another place. I am afraid that I cannot, for manifest reasons, undertake to deal with it on Report. We shall require a little time to think it over, and while I cannot, of course, commit the Government in any way to the view they may eventually take about the matter, we shall give it the most careful consideration with a view to indicating in another place what our conclusion is.

While my hon. and learned Friend considers the suggestion put before him by the Attorney-General, I should like to add a few words of commendation to the arguments so lucidly and eloquently put forward by my hon. and learned Friend. I was one of those who were fairly closely concerned with the passage through this House of the Local Government Act, and I think it is probably true to say that most of those concerned with that Measure as it went through this House were somewhat tepid in their support and acceptance of the transfer of the jurisdiction for hearing rating appeals from quarter sessions to the county court. It was not that hon. Members were particularly reluctant to see rating appeals transferred from quarter sessions; but there was, I think, a measure of doubt as to whether the county court could, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered the ideal tribunal for dealing with rating appeals.

At that time, of course, it was not open to anybody to suggest the alternative now put forward by my hon. and learned Friend, since at that stage there was no Lands Tribunal. Although I fully appreciate that, as the Attorney-General has said, this matter requires investigation from various angles, it would appear at first blush that this tribunal has all the qualities which make it a proper tribunal for the hearing of rating appeals, and has, in particular, specialised and expert knowledge which it will be able to bring to bear upon them. Therefore, I think it right that the Com- mittee should be appreciative of the action of my hon. and learned Friend in bringing forward this very helpful and constructive suggestion.

First, 1 wish to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) for his support and for the arguments he has adduced on behalf of this Amendment. When moving the Amendment I said that I was not seeking to be dogmatic about it, and, if I may say so, I think it extremely reasonable that the Attorney-General should want some time -to made the necessary inquiries into the matter. I do not complain of the way in which he has received this Amendment. I thank him for his promise to look into the matter, and on the undertaking he has given, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

I want to draw attention to one very important feature of this Clause. I do so because of what I consider to be the somewhat derogatory remarks passed this morning in the Scottish Grand Committee about the duties—

The hon. Gentleman knows that no remarks made in a Standing Committee can be referred to here until that Standing Committee has reported to the House.

Well, it is a matter that has been dealt with so often, when it is suggested that the Scottish Grand Committee is somehow subordinate to this House.

The Scottish Grand Committee is a Standing Committee of this House, and none of its proceedings can be referred to until that particular Bill has been reported back to the House.

Perhaps I should not have mentioned what has happened today, but on previous occasions when the Scottish Grand Committee has met it has been said, time and time again, that because such-and-such a matter is concerned with important questions which have already been decided in this House, the Scottish Grand Committee is not the place to discuss it or to make decisions. In this Clause we find a very important presentation of the relationship between the Scottish Grand Committee and this House, because subsection (1) refers to

"(a) a tribunal for Scotland, to be called 'the Lands Tribunal for Scotland'; and
(b) a tribunal for the remainder of the United Kingdom."
That is the correct relationship: Scotland, and then the remainder of the United Kingdom; and if Members of the Scottish Grand Committee, and particularly those responsible for the Government, will take note of that, we shall probably have a better opportunity of taking decisive action in the Scottish Grand Committee in determining what shall be done in this House.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.