As amended ( in the Standing Committee), considered.
New Clause 1
Publication Of Accounts
'(1) For the purpose of securing an economic distribution of resources, an authority shall, for each trading activity, including new construction work and/or repair and maintenance work carried out by its own direct labour organisation, keep separate accounts and publish annually a report and accounts which shall show—
(2) The Secretary of State may provide by order for any additional information to be included in the accounts when these are necessary to establish the value for money obtained from any trading or building activity'.—[ Mr. Teddy Taylor.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.This is an important clause which I hope the House will accept. It concerns direct labour departments in Scottish local authorities. A number of hon. Members will be surprised to hear that direct labour departments are not defined as municipal trading organisations, although they carry out a great deal of building work and involve the spending of an enormous amount of ratepayers' money. I am sure that in some cases the work is carried out profitably but in other cases the work is undertaken unprofitably and without a great deal of efficiency. We propose in the clause not to restrict the work of the direct labour departments but to ensure that the truth is told about the amount of money which those departments spend and the extent to which they are competitive and efficient by comparison with private industry. We want the facts to be told about the performance of direct labour departments. We put forward these proposals for a number of reasons. We believe that it is in the interests of all Scottish ratepayers that the details of the accounts of direct labour departments should be known. This does not happen at present. I am sure you will recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, when you were Lord Provost of Glasgow, that in that city trading organisations, such as the transport department, published separate accounts and gave all relevant details. In that way the ratepayers and the council could come to a decision about the effectiveness of a trading organisation. But direct labour departments which spend a great deal of money are not under such an obligation. In the new clause we are trying to remedy that situation. There is a further consideration to be borne in mind. This is a period when the building industry in Scotland faces short-time working because of cuts in public building and in some areas a decline in house-building. Therefore, it is wrong that direct labour departments should expand at the expense of private industry and private contracting organisations. In many cases we have not the slightest idea whether those departments are efficient, effective or in a position to compete fairly with private industry.
The hon. Gentleman has made an assertion that direct labour departments have no idea of what the work is all about. I remind him that they are specialists in this type of work and give ratepayers the best value for money. I do not understand how the hon. Gentleman can make such a statement.
I was pointing out that in some councils the ratepayers are not aware of the performance of these departments. If the hon. Gentleman is correct and the departments are efficient and effective and can compete fairly with private industry, it is in the community's interest that the accounts should be published and all the facts displayed. That is all we are proposing in the clause. We are saying that direct labour departments should publish separate accounts giving full details of their profitability and the work they undertake. The Minister should have no objection to the clause since it is aimed at ensuring that all the financial facts are published.The third reason why the clause is relevant in present circumstances is that in Glasgow we have had a number of reports about grave concern on the part of the elected council in respect of the efficiency and effectiveness of the city's direct labour organisation. Glasgow has a Labour-controlled council and the convener of the housing Department is concerned about the direct labour department. There have been complaints about the lack of proper supervision, outdated procedures and many other factors. Furthermore, the building performance in the city of Glasgow is regarded as deplorable. These are not my opinions but are opinions expressed publicly by the Labour chairman of the housing committee. Therefore, we feel that the time has come for the financial facts to be revealed. It might be argued that some checks already exist. However, the only effective financial check, apart from the work of the various council committees, is the district audit. That is not a comprehensive service and operates only after pro- jects have been completed. This is a matter of concern to Scottish ratepayers. I should like to give one example—and there are not many since it is difficult to get at the accounts. In Glasgow five years ago there was concern about the amount of money spent by the direct labour department on certain jobs. An independent inquiry was commissioned by the housing committee to look into losses of £3 million flowing from a direct labour department project. The inquiry concluded that the procedures in the department
7.30 p.m. Some people argue—I know that the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig), who took a personal interest in establishing such a department in his own authority, takes this view—that the direct labour departments are efficient and effective and can stand fair competition with any private industry. If that is so, it is only fair and just that the departments should publish accounts in exactly the same way as any other trading department. Many trading departments in local authorities publish separate accounts. That is precisely what we are asking for in the clause: that the direct labour departments should be the same as the old transport departments in this respect. In the clause we first specify that there should be separate accounts for new work and for maintenance and repair work. We do so because it would be possible, and there have been indications that it has happened, for a direct labour department to quote an unreasonably low figure for a new building project and recover the money because it has a monopoly of maintenance work given by the local authority. Therefore, it is fair and reasonable that the accounts for new work and maintenance should be separate. Our second requirement is that the financial outcome of the year should be published in the accounts. The third is that for major projects separate accounts of the outcome should be published. Fourthly, we propose that there should be a statement of savings and losses made by comparison with what would have been paid if the job had been given to private industry. Under the Companies Acts firms must publish a great deal of information about all their activities. The clause does not conform strictly to the requirements of those Acts. In some respects we are little tighter. The reason is that whereas firms might regard some information as commercially confidential, the local authority's own department is in a special position of having, in most cases, a monopoly of maintenance work within the major authorities. Therefore, it is only fair and reasonable that they should publish this additional information. People in Scotland are worried about how the rates will go this year. There have been clear indications from some authorities—we had such an indication from the Grampians region only a few days ago—that rates might rise substantially. The House therefore has a duty to ensure that where savings can be made, they are made. I and some other Glasgow Members have our own views about the Glasgow direct labour department. But the clause is not directed against Glasgow in particular. I have had doubts and concern about the maintenance aspect of Glasgow Corporation, and the council itself has expressed doubts about the new work. We simply propose that detailed accounts of a direct labour department should be published so that the ratepayers may know, those who compete with the department may know and the council will have a full picture of the extent to which the department is saving the authority money or losing it. I approach the matter with suspicion and a certain degree of prejudice. I believe that in the long term direct labour is bad business for local authorities. Some Labour Members will take a contrary view, and they are entitled to do so. But, whether we take one point of view or another, there could be nothing wrong, and it could only be helpful and constructive, in a direct labour department publishing separate accounts for its new work and its repair work, and in revealing all. It would be helpful to local authorities and would help direct labour departments to become more efficient than might otherwise be the case. It might be a means of saving a great deal of money for local authorities, and it might help to control the rates burden. The Minister of State and other Scottish Ministers have recently expressed the view that local authorities must carefully watch their expenditure. If we are to take that view seriously, the first step should be to ensure that the ratepayers know the full facts about direct labour departments, some of which spend a great deal of money and some of which, in the instances I have quoted, overspend by a great deal."virtually deprived the council of control over its own finances."
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) said that I agreed with him about certain matters. That was a slightly misleading statement. What I told the hon. Gentleman was that when I was on the Dundee Corporation we started a direct labour department, the first result of which was that it cut the prices of new houses being built for the corporation. The second result was even more interesting. The private firms which had been tendering for those contracts reduced their prices for further contracts by no less than £300 a house. We had the remarkable situation that at a time when prices were rising, they could cut their prices by that amount.The first drawback of the clause is that the direct labour department is to be asked to carry out expensive accounting that would not otherwise be necessary. It has to show not only its own financial results but how they would compare if the contract had gone to unsuccessful tenderers. It is a bit much to expect a direct labour department to have to pay money to work out what would have happened if the contract had gone elsewhere. No other contractor has to do it. Why should a corporation direct labour department have to do it? It would mean unnecessary expense. If other people want to incur that expense, perhaps an independent body such as the Economic League, Aims of Industry or even the Conservative Party, there is nothing to stop them, but why should the ratepayers have to pay for an academic exercise?
Let us suppose that there is a fixed-price tender for a new building project, such as a new school, and the direct labour department puts in a tender for £900,000 and a private contractor puts in a tender for £1 million, and the department ends up with a cost of £1½ million. It is only fair and reasonable that the figures should be published, but there is no way of establishing that without the requirement in the clause.
The hon. Gentleman must be fully aware that at the end of every financial year the corporation publishes accounts, and if the direct labour department makes a loss over the year it cannot be hidden. It is published in the official reports. Therefore, there is no question of hiding anything.The hon. Gentleman is asking for direct labour departments to incur unnecessary expenditure that would cripple them. No large firm with its own maintenance squads would ever dream of going to the expense that the hon. Gentleman suggests, because it would increase the costs of running those squads, and there would be no point in doing it. It would be equally bad for a local authority which carries out repairs with its own repair squads to incur that expense. A second important point is that when they have a lean time private contractors can cut their prices a bit, to keep their labour force and to keep everything ticking over. They can also increase their prices in good times. It is noticeable to anyone else who has had to deal with such matters that there are much higher estimates for house building which will be carried out over the winter period than for house building to be carried out over the summer period. If direct labour departments were forced to do what the hon. Gentleman suggests it might be difficult to justify the exercise. I am sure that if he were a member of any council he would be the first to say "Why is the price much higher now than it was a couple of months ago?" There might be a reasonable explanation. The usual explanation is that it is more expensive to build in the winter in what is termed bad building weather. Local authorities, in carrying out maintenance and repair work, have no incentive to skimp the work because they are not out to make excessive profits. Their only concern is to keep their houses in good repair. A private firm may knock a few pounds off the cost of a repair job, but the council may find that repairs are required two years earlier than if the maintenance had been carried out properly in the first place. Admittedly, an efficient repair might be more expensive in the first place, but many corporations—I do not know about Glasgow, but I know about Dundee—often find that in the long term it is cheaper. Indeed, at the end of the day it is not only cheaper but more satisfactory for tenants. The hon. Gentleman suggested that direct labour departments should not only keep records of all the new work that is undertaken but individually price every major project. The hon. Gentleman is being unreasonable, and is attempting to increase the overhead expenditure of direct labour departments to the point where they are no longer able to compete economically with private firms. When the Dundee Corporation started its direct labour department it guaranteed regular employment all the year round to its workers. Private firms do not guarantee work all the year round. At least, they may do so now, but they did not at that time. Naturally, guaranteed and better conditions for workers must be paid for. We must consider whether it is worth paying extra and giving men guaranteed jobs all the year round, which is what most people get nowadays, or to employ them in the good weather period and to pay them off during the winter as many private building firms do.
The hon. Gentleman said that it would add greatly to expenditure if direct labour departments had to give details of the cost of each major project. Is he seriously suggesting that any direct labour department which completes a major school project or something like that does not know the cost?
Of course it does.
Then why not tell us?
Why do not the private firms tell? Why do they not publish the profits or losses that are made on jobs that they do? Because that information would be valuable to their competitors. If a direct labour department has to divulge information which could be useful to its competitors—we must bear in mind that it is restricted in the contracts for which it can compete—it would be tying a rope round its own neck.Many years ago I suggested that the Dundee Corporation should not tender for certain jobs because it would have to employ more men who would have to be employed all the year round. The reasonable thing was to allocate jobs which would keep them in work. That is better than the method that the hon. Gentleman attempts to justify of cut-throat competition which means that men are paid off in the winter and are left to scrounge for whatever jobs they can find. Men who are out of work in the winter have to be paid unemployment or other benefit. Therefore, at the end of the day it is a good thing for the ratepayers and taxpayers to have these men employed all the year round. In case the hon. Gentleman is in doubt, I am opposed to the new clause.
The hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) put his finger on the difficulty about the employment of direct labour when he said that the direct labour departments guarantee regular work all the year round. If we lived in equitable conditions and local authorities were able to budget on both new work and maintenance for almost the same amount year by year, that would possibly be something to aim for and to feel could be achieved, but, rightly or wrongly, the Government of the day have said that we need to reduce expenditure—on, for example, education building in Scotland—by a very large amount. Is it practical for direct labour departments in Glasgow, Dundee, Fife county or anywhere else to guarantee full employment to their men when the money currently being made available is likely to be drastically reduced?It is much easier to run on a more equitable basis when it comes to maintenance because it is possible to plan programmes forward year by year and to control the amount that is spent on houses, schools, and so on. However, when it comes to the provision of new capital building, I wonder whether it is practical to adopt the thesis developed by the hon. Member for Dundee, West. I think that it would be in the interests of ratepayers for the maximum amount of information on this subject to be published so that they could weigh the pros and cons. It might be that on some occasions they would say "We are happier to pay £x more because we guarantee regular employment", but there must come a time when people will get past the point of no return and will say "This is getting beyond a joke. We cannot go on doing that." If the maximum amount of information is published councillors and ratepayers can make up their minds on the facts before them rather than on the basis that something looks as if it ought to be all right. Therefore, I think that my hon. Friends are right to commend the keeping of accounts and the publishing of information.
For a number of reasons I cannot recommend the House to accept the new clause.I do not wish to get involved in any great discussion about the merits of direct labour departments. Of course, they have considerable advantages, as a number of local authorities have found. Some of those advantages have been described by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig). When a direct labour department is established it is important that the local authority ensures that it works in an efficient way. I certainly support that proposition. However, it is not only misleading, but inaccurate to pretend, as hon. Gentlemen opposite have done, that direct labour departments are inefficient and that competitive free enterprise gives better value for money. There has been criticism recently about the performance of Glasgow's direct labour department. There has been equal criticism about one well-known building contractor who was employed on the Knightswood modernisation scheme. That contractor's performance was so poor in every respect that the contract had to be terminated by the corporation before it was completed. There are many other instances of private builders producing extremely costly results on particular contracts. That is one of the difficulties about accepting the proposition that direct labour departments should not only have separate accounts, but that those accounts should somehow or other produce figures representing the savings or losses compared with the sums which would have been payable to private contractors to carry out the work. Unfortunately this is unlikely to be a practicable proposition. Unhappily, it is rare these days for the final sum paid to any contractor, whether a direct labour department or a private enterprise contractor, to bear much relationship to the original tender price. Because of variations in the contract, increased costs and the rest, quite considerable extra payments are made. Therefore to compare the eventual expenditure of the direct labour department with the original tender by a private enterprise competitor in an attempt to find some meaningful comparison of the performance of the department is unrealistic. There are two main considerations in this matter. The first is whether at the time the contract is let there is a proper comparison between the quotation by the direct labour department and any outside competitors. This is already provided for in existing legislation, because Section 81 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 requires local authorities to make standing orders about contracts of this kind and to include in the standing orders provision for securing competition for such contracts. That provision applies to direct labour departments and private enterprise contractors equally. There is therefore nothing in the present situation which allows the local authority to give contracts to a direct labour department regardless of cost and without taking account of what could be available in the private enterprise market. Therefore, the arrangements for when the contract is let are provided for. If the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) now takes the view that he apparently takes about direct labour departments, that is odd, because his Government did not put a provision similar to the new clause in the 1973 Act. That would have been perfectly appropriate. They took the view which I take now that the provision in the 1973 Act was satisfactory and adequate. My second point concerns the proper accounts of the direct labour department, or any other department of the local authority. For the reasons I have given it is not practicable to produce accounts in the terms provided for in the clause. Of course, I accept that it is desirable that proper accounts should be kept and published. I cannot recommend that we accept the clause as being satisfactory, but I fully accept the general principle of keeping proper books and accounts. As for accounting requirements, a report is to be received from the professional organisation concerned, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, which will deal with the matters covered by the clause. When we have the report we shall consider the views of that body, and since the Secretary of State has the power to provide by regulation for what should be contained in the accounts of local authorities, we shall take account of anything said here which would produce the desired result. It therefore seems sensible to wait for the report of that body. Section 97 of the 1973 Act provided for the setting-up of a commission for local authority accounts, and the controller of audit is appointed under the same section. If the commission or the controller of audit make representations about this or any other matter concerning local authority accounts we shall naturally take them fully into consideration in any regulations we might wish to make. However, we cannot do it by means of the new clause. To sum up, I confirm that where there is a direct labour department, a system in which we see many advantages, we are anxious that it should work efficiently. Secondly, we are interested in keeping local authority expenditure down in the current year. We are also interested in seeing that local authority expenditure is properly controlled and value for money is obtained. A circular will soon go out to local authorities concerning the problems of 1975–76. However, part of what the clause is designed to achieve is already provided for in existing legislation which the Conservatives thought adequate when they were in Government and which we still consider to be adequate. Other parts of the clause are completely impracticable. Other parts may be practicable in view of what is said by the report from the professional body concerned. In so far as those parts are practicable, there is already provision for the Secretary of State to make the necessary alterations by regulation. For all those reasons I hope that the House will reject the clause.
With due respect to the Minister, his arguments are unconvincing. He said that public expenditure should be kept down. One way to do that is to accept the new clause. Surely it is impossible to know whether an authority is getting value for money from a direct labour department unless it knows exactly how much each job costs and whether the department is making a loss. If the department is making a loss, obviously the ratepayers will have to pay more. We wish to safeguard the position of ratepayers as well as to do everything possible to stop costs escalating. We wish to secure economy and efficiency in the general interests of the ratepayers.We believe that direct labour departments could be established as separate trading departments of local authorities and that they should have their own accounts showing the profits and losses. Also implicit in the clause is that new building work should be subject to competitive tender. Such competition would be fair and would mean that the best organisation would get the work. I was interested to hear what was said by the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig). I do not regard the direct labour department as a social service, although in some ways he does. Why
Division No. 98.]
|Beith, A. J.||Farr, John||Kaberry, Sir Donald|
|Bell, Ronald||Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay)||Fookes, Miss Janet||King, Evelyn (South Dorset)|
|Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham)||Freud, Clement||Lane, David|
|Biffen, John||Fry, Peter||Latham, Michael (Melton)|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)||Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)||Le Marchant, Spencer|
|Brittan, Leon||Goodhew, Victor||Lester, Jim (Beeston)|
|Brotherton, Michael||Grieve, Percy||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Grimond, Rt Hon J.||Lloyd, Ian|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Macfarlane, Neil|
|Budgen, Nick||Hannam, John||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)|
|Bulmer, Esmond||Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss||Mather, Carol|
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Hawkins, Paul||Mawby, Ray|
|Carlisle, Mark||Hayhoe, Barney||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Carson, John||Hicks, Robert||Mayhew, Patrick|
|Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)||Hooson, Emlyn||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)||Moate, Roger|
|Corrie, John||Hunt, John||Monro, Hector|
|Dean, Paul (N Somerset)||Hurd, Douglas||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)|
|Drayson, Burnaby||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Mudd, David|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)||Neave, Airey|
|Fairgrieve, Russell||James, David||Neubert, Michael|
should persons who work for a direct labour department be guaranteed work when those who work for private firms do not have that guarantee? We believe it is necessary to look at the whole picture.
I am interested in direct building departments. Let me assure the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) that if I were a building worker I would prefer to be employed by the direct works department of a corporation not because I would be guaranteed full employment but because the work would be regular and the direct building department can put men on inside work during the winter months. That is the difference. The men earn their money.
I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman says. It shows why direct labour departments are constantly expanding. These departments should not be allowed constantly to expand, when they may be working inefficiently and at a tremendous cost to ratepayers. We must look at the whole picture and not just take into account the interests of those who work for direct labour departments. This clause will make for greater economy and efficiency and will be in the interests of local authorities and the ratepayers.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—
The House divided: Ayes 103, Noes 141.
|Page, John (Harrow West)||Sims, Roger||Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)|
|Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)||Skeet, T. H. H.||Townsend, Cyril D.|
|Paisley, Rev Ian||Spence, John||Viggers, Peter|
|Rathbone, Tim||Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)||Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)|
|Rifkind, Malcolm||Stainton, Keith||Walder, David (Clitheroe)|
|Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)||Stanbrook, Ivor||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)||Steel, David (Roxburgh)||Wood, Rt Hon Richard|
|Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)|
|Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)||Stokes, John||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)||Stradling Thomas, J.||Mr. Hamish Gray and|
|St. John-Stevas, Norman||Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)||Mr. Richard Luce.|
|Shepherd, Colin||Tebbit, Norman|
|Allaun, Frank||Gould, Bryan||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Gourlay, Harry||Noble, Mike|
|Atkinson, Norman||Graham, Ted||O'Halloran, Michael|
|Bain, Mrs Margaret||Grocott, Bruce||Ovenden, John|
|Bates, Alf||Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)||Palmer, Arthur|
|Bean, R. E.||Hamling, William||Parry, Robert|
|Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood||Hardy, Peter||Peart, Rt Hon Fred|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Harper, Joseph||Perry, Ernest|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Phipps, Dr Colin|
|Boardman, H.||Henderson, Douglas||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Booth, Albert||Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)||Radice, Giles|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Huckfield, Les||Reid, George|
|Buchanan, Richard||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N)||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Canavan, Dennis||Hunter, Adam||Roderick, Caerwyn|
|Cartwright, John||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Rodgers, George (Chorley)|
|Clemitson, Ivor||Janner, Greville||Rooker, J. W.|
|Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)||Jeger, Mrs Lena||Rose, Paul B.|
|Coleman, Donald||John, Brynmor||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilm'nock)|
|Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||Johnson, Walter (Derby S)||Selby, Harry|
|Corbett, Robin||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Sillars, James|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Kaufman, Gerald||Skinner, Dennis|
|Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill)||Kerr, Russell||Small, William|
|Crawford, Douglas||Kinnock, Neil||Snape, Peter|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Lambie, David||Spearing, Nigel|
|Crosland, Rt Hon Anthony||Lamond, James||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Cryer, Bob||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Stallard, A. W.|
|Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)||Lomas, Kenneth||Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Loyden, Eddie||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Dempsey, James||Luard, Evan||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Doig, Peter||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)||Tierney, Sydney|
|Dormand, J. D.||McCartney, Hugh||Tinn, James|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||McElhone, Frank||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Dunn, James A||Mackenzie, Gregor||Watt, Hamish|
|Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)||Mackintosh, John P.||Wellbeloved, James|
|Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)||Maclennan, Robert||Welsh, Andrew|
|Evans, John (Newton)||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)||White, Frank R. (Bury)|
|Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||McNamara, Kevin||White, James (Pollok)|
|Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray)||Madden, Max||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Magee, Bryan||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Flannery, Martin||Marks, Kenneth||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Ford, Ben||Meacher, Michael||Woof, Robert|
|Forrester, John||Mendelson, John||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||Mikardo, Ian|
|George, Bruce||Millan, Bruce||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Ginsburg, David||Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)||Mr. James Hamilton and|
|Golding, John||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Mr. David Stoddart.|
Question accordingly negatived.
The Valuation Roll And Revaluation
I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 13, leave out 'and section 2' and insert ', section 2 and section 5'.This is a drafting amendment. Alterations can be made to the valuation roll under Clause 5 as well as under Clause 2. This amendment makes that clear.
Amendment agreed to.
I beg to move Amendment No. 2, in page 2, line 7, at end insert:
This, again, is a drafting amendment. It is necessary to qualify this paragraph, which at present is in terms which are too absolute."in accordance with the Valuation Acts".
Amendment agreed to.
Alterations To Valuation Roll Which Is In Force
I beg to move Amendment No. 3, in page 2, line 42, leave out "may" and insert "shall".The amendment deals with a point which was raised in Committee. As the Bill is drafted, in both Clause 1 and Clause 2 the changes that may be made in the valuation roll by the assessor are expressed in terms that the assessor may make changes. We wish to retain "may" in Clause 1 because it seems to be necessary there, where one is dealing with a situation before the roll is finalised, that any amendment shall be made in as flexible a way as is possible by the assessor. When we come to Clause 2 and deal with the circumstances in which an amendment may be made after the roll is drawn up and we prescribe the various circumstances in the clause it seems right, on consideration, that we should place an obligation on the assessor—for example, if he discovers an error—to make the alteration in the roll. I said in Committee that I was rather worried about placing an absolute obligation on the assessor for all the matters in these paragraphs because I felt that might impose an unfair or impossible burden on him. I said that I would consider whether we could not discriminate between the various provisions in the clause and make some of them mandatory, and in others use "may". Having considered the matter again it seems to us that we can safely replace "may" by "shall" without imposing unnecessary disabilities. That is the purpose of the amendment. I am grateful to those who raised the matter in Committee. I am glad that I have been able to meet the point.
I am grateful to the Minister for this concession. I hope that he will appreciate the worth of the other suggestions we made in Committee.
Amendment agreed to.
I beg to move Amendment No. 4, in page 3, line 3, at end insert—
The amendment relates to what may appear to be an omission in the provisions requiring the correction of the valuation roll at the hand of the assessor. Under subsection (2)(a) an obligation is now placed upon the assessor to correct the roll where an error has been made. I believe that in times past the assessor's power to make this change was limited to where a mathematical error had been discovered in the course of the calculation of the various factors which made up the gross annual value, whereas if the error had occurred at the instance of the assessor through a fault in survey, for instance, the assessor was unable to make the change. That seems to have been changed by subsection (2)(a), and subsection (2)(b) deals with any other changes which might have occurred"(aa) to give effect to any alteration in the rateable value of any lands and heritages to make allowance for any alterations carried out thereto prior to the time when the roll was made up and which had not been declared to the assessor."
The amendment takes in another instance, one which arose frequently during the time of the last revaluation when I acted as the secretary of a valuation appeal committee. That was where it was discovered, in the course of the proceedings during that revaluation year, that an error had been made, not through the fault of the assessor, but once the roll had been made up, and could not be corrected. It occurred in some disturbing circumstances, because in valuation affairs, in proving that a valuation may be incorrect, it is customary for the appellant to produce evidence of comparison with other properties. He looks at the valuation roll and sees that the house opposite, which he thinks to be the same as his own, has a lower valuation than his, and he therefore says to the appeal committee that his valuation is too high. 8.15 p.m. Frequently, when reference is made to the analysis of the other property, it is found that there is some feature about it which is not similar to the house under appeal. The reason for that is that in the annual return which is made by a householder no reference is made to a change such as an extension—a bathroom, new toilet facilities, or a garage. Ratepayers and appellants cannot understand why those who have failed to make their returns should get off scot free. One of the unfortunate rules was that no change could be made in the valuation until the next period of revaluation which could be five years hence or, in the case of reorganisation of local government, in this instance, seven years. The effect of the amendment would be to allow the assessor, on obtaining information of that sort, to correct the roll. The amendment seems to fit what has been proposed by the Government in an effort to correct some of the disadvantages that have arisen in the past. I assure the House that appellants cannot understand that somebody who has not made a return should profit from his failure to make a return, whereas somebody who has made a return has his valuation increased because of information he has disclosed. It may be argued on behalf of the Minister that the phrase "owing to error" in subsection (2)(a) could take care of the circumstances I have outlined. In view of the law on the subject there may be doubt about whether that construction would be put upon the use of the phrase. The specific circumstances outlined in the amendment could take care of the problem, which frequently arises in practice."since the roll was made up".
I am not absolutely sure that I followed everything that the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) said. Some of the points he made and the wording of the amendment would suggest that he is dealing with a situation more closely allied to what happens under Clause 1 rather than under Clause 2. I am not sure why he has chosen to table the amendment to Clause 2 rather than to Clause 1. The amendment speaks of
That brings the matter rather more into Clause 1 than into Clause 2. The assessor has power, which we are strengthening, to obtain information bearing on valuations. We are amending the appropriate provision in the 1854 Act by the provision in paragraph 1 of Part II of Schedule 6, under which it will be possible for the assessor to call for information bearing on valuations which is likely to result in changes in the valuation. The hon. Gentleman seems to be saying that there should be an arrangement whereby every alteration that is made should be volunteered and declared to the assessor. I have a good deal of sympathy with the hon. Gentleman. This point of unfairness was raised on a number of occasions on Clause 2. I have sympathy with the view that omissions which arise from a deliberate intent by the ratepayer to avoid giving information are very troublesome and unfair to other ratepayers. But the trouble about imposing an obligation to give information on every alteration is that it is difficult for the layman to define a material change of circumstances. If we were to impose such an obligation, assuming that the ratepayers adhered to it, which must be a matter of doubt, a considerable number of additional pieces of information might be given to the assessor which would not be relevant because they would not represent a material change of circumstances. Therefore, he would be bogged down by a great deal of unnecessary information. If we cannot make the obligation which the hon. Gentleman has in mind stick, we cannot accept the amendment, which turns on whether a declaration had been made to the assessor. If a declaration had been made, one provision about the timing of a change would apply and if a declaration had not been made another provision would apply. That could deal not only with an increase but with a reduction in value. It is not therefore simple to get the matter right. We cannot achieve a fool-proof system by writing everything into the legislation. We must give the assessor powers and responsibilities to correct errors and to make changes. We cannot place absolute obligations on the assessor or the ratepayer."alterations carried out thereto prior to the time when the roll was made up".
Does the assessor have powers to incorporate valuations for rateable values during the interval between revaluations?
Yes, he does.We are setting out the powers in the clause in a much more comprehensive way. We provide in Schedule 6 increased powers for the assessors to obtain the necessary information. Therefore, we have gone as far as we can reasonably go to get the matter right and to maintain fairness and equity between ratepayers. I cannot recommend the House to accept the amendment, though I recognise what the hon. Gentleman is attempting to do and I have sympathy with it as a matter of equity. However, he wishes to write into the Bill an equity which is not identifiable.
I am surprised at the Minister's reply. The effect of the amendment is that there should be power to rectify the situation if an alteration is carried out before the property is valued and it is subsequently discovered that it has not been declared. That power does not exist. There is only power to make an alteration if the additions have been made after the property has been valued.It is well known that the assessor annually sends a notice to everyone with a request to state whether any change has been made since the property was last valued. If someone makes a change which clearly involves the property in carrying a higher rateable value but does not declare it on the form, the assessor values it not knowing the situation. It may be a garage, which normally would carry an extra valuation of £8 a year. If the person falsely failed to declare it and subsequently the assessor discovered what the situation was, perhaps because somebody had complained, it is wrong that the assessor should not have the power to do what he would have done had he known about the garage. I have a great deal of sympathy with the amendment, and the Minister should think again about this matter.
I thank the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) for completing the partnership on the amendment. He has put his finger on the point. Inequity results from a false declaration. The person who has made the false declaration benefits, not for one year but for five years. The law is that if the lands or heritages are in existence before the date of revaluation they should be incorporated in the valuation. If any material change occurs thereafter, it can result in the roll being changed. But if no such change occurs the assessor cannot change the roll until five years have elapsed.One can imagine what would happen if a person, having gone to an appeal tribunal, has his case turned down because the assessor points to five similar houses but a mistake had occurred in relation to the example which the appellant chose. The assessor is right, but it is wrong that the person who enjoys that benefit should get away with it. The amendment would take care of that situation. The assessor does not rely simply on the information which comes through the annual return. He obtains information from the dean of guild courts and building regulations about applications which have been granted. But from time to time changes occur in properties which are not notified to the local authorities since the work may have been done privately. Even when the form is filled in, it may be a question not of a false declaration but of inaccurate reading of the form when the householder may be unaware that the bathroom, toilet or whatever it is should be treated as a new subject and be included in the assessor's records and valued. I am prepared to accept that perhaps the phrasing of the amendment is not right, although the Minister did not say anything about that matter. If he does not agree to consider the matter more closely before the Bill is dealt with in the House of Lords, I shall have to force a Division. However, I hope that he will have sympathy with what I am trying to achieve.
With permission, I should like to say a few words in reply.The amendment is directed to the date on which the alteration can be made. In the amendment the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) is proposing a different date from that which would be applied in terms of the clause generally. I thought that the purpose of his amendment was specifically directed towards the date on which the change should apply rather than to the circumstances of the change itself. I hope I have made that clear. I was directing my argument to some extent to the point the hon. Gentleman was making, which has been clarified by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig), who takes a very close interest in these matters—as Ministers know to their cost from time to time. I think that the point that is being made is already covered by Clause 2(1)(f). If it is not covered there, I think that it is covered by subsection (1)(a), which refers to
but which were not included because of error. The point made by the hon. Member is, as it were, that unless the error is taken up before the roll is complete, the assessor will not have a chance to make an alteration at all, if there is an omission, until the next valuation. I am almost certain that that is not so and that the wording in paragraphs (a) and (f) covers the point. If the hon. Member will agree to withdraw the amendment—in any event it is not properly drafted; I think that it is directed to a slightly different point from the one he wishes to pursue—I shall look at the wording of Clause 1 and see whether the point he makes is covered. If it is not covered, I agree that there is a deficiency in the clause and I shall try to put it right at a later stage of the Bill. My advice at present, however, is that it is covered. If the amendment is withdrawn, I shall be very glad to write to the hon. Member and to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor)."lands and heritages which were in existence … when the roll was made up"
With regard to the Minister's suggestion about the clause, I am a little worried that we might not find a solution here. On page 4 subsection (2)(d), there is reference to the timing arrangements for subsection (1)(f). It says that the change should have effect as from the date of the erroneous entry or the beginning of the year, whichever is later. Therefore, is it the date of the entry and not the date of the event?While we are grateful to the Minister for his assurances, I do not think that we shall find a solution there, but as he has given an undertaking to the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) that a change will be made, this is a satisfactory solution.
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move, Amendment No. 5, in page 3, line 23, at end insert—
This amendment relates to another problem which has arisen in relation to valuation court procedings. I confess at this stage that the particular district for which I was secretary to the appeal committee was that of Renfrewshire, which has a very substantial reputation for obtaining large numbers of appeals every time there is revaluation. I think that the hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Robertson), who is in the Chamber at present, would rush to confirm this. What happened in the 1971 revaluation was that there were a certain number of appeals taken against the basic level of valuation. The basic level is the notional rental which a particular property might fetch according to a scale relating to the type and class of property, its age and its environment—in fact, in relation to any given property which the assessor might fix. Basic level is one of these things which, if overturned, could affect the valuation of premises throughout the area of valuation authority. This happened in Renfrewshire in 1970–71. There was an appeal taken against basic level in Dunbartonshire as well, although, eventually, that did not lead to any change in valuations. To give an idea of the problem, there were about 29,000 individual appeals in Renfrewshire, and large numbers of local authority houses were also affected. Indeed, it was the local authorities in Renfrewshire which took two out of the four test cases which resulted on basic level. The local authorities were successful on basic level in overturning the valuations which had been made by the assessor, so that there was a general reduction. But, in terms of this amendment, I want to point to one of the practical consequences of such a large number of appeals that were lodged. People in the county knew that there was to be this general appeal against basic level. Because of that, encouragement was given by various organisations, as well as by the Press, to people to mark appeals. The intention was not to mark an appeal affecting an individual house in relation to the amenities that that house had, the area in which it was located or any lack of amenities which might affect it, but more to gain the benefit of a local authority test case. Many people tied their cases to the local authority test case, but there were others who, for reasons of their own, perhaps, did not get around to appealing, and who were, perhaps, satisfied that in relation to the area in which their house was situated or its capacity, it was fairly valued. They did not mark an appeal. As a result, they did not get their benefit for the following year, after the Lands Valuation Appeal Court, in the fullness of time, got around to making a decision on proof taken before the appeal committee. If there had been some sort of arrangement whereby basic level could have been automatically adjusted in the event of a major change taking place as a result of the decision of the valuation appeals committee of the area, or of the Lands Valuation Appeal Court, that would have saved a tremendous amount of trouble in organisation and administration in relation to unnecessary appeals—unnecessary in a sense—which were lodged. But the assessor had to regard all such appeals, and two things resulted. First, there was a waste of effort because of the need to appeal. Second, those who did not go to the trouble of appealing did not get the benefit of a valuation. It was only later, in the next subsequent year, that that lower value was passed on to those who had neglected, probably for very good reasons, to appeal in the first instance. Therefore, in terms of the amendment, power should be given to provide for some holding of the position empowering the assessor to give effect to any alteration in the rateable value of any lands and heritages, whether or not an appeal is pending. This gives a degree of flexibility. It means that those who have not marked an appeal are not necessarily disallowed what their neighbours are obtaining. This was probably a very special case. Certainly it did not occur anywhere else in Scotland. But it could have occurred, particularly in Dunbartonshire. If basic level cases can be taken in the future, the same problem may arise in any area. We should take advantage of this Bill to make sure that this gap is covered.'(ee) to give effect to any alteration in the rateable value of any lands and heritages whether or not an appeal under the Valuations Act is pending with respect thereto, in order to achieve uniformity of valuation with any other lands and heritages in the same valuation area with respect to which an appeal to the Lands Valuation Appeal Court has been determined'.
I hope that I can convince the hon. Gentleman the amendment is not necessary, because the point that he makes is already covered by the Bill. As Clause 2 stands at present, an alteration is to be made where that is due to any material change of circumstances. Under the amendment that I have already made to make that a mandatory responsibility of the assessor, there is no discretion allowed to him. He has to make a change now due to a material change of circumstances which comes to his notice.If the hon. Gentleman will refer to the definition in Clause 35 of "material change of circumstances" he will see that that includes any relevant decision not only of the Lands Valuation Appeal Court but of the valuation appeal committee as well. Therefore, in any case in which a decision was made, as it were, on a test case, where the particular valuation concerned raised considerations which were absolutely analogous to all the other houses and properties concerned, the case having been decided, that would be a material change of circumstance and the assessor would then be under an obligation, under the provisions of the clause, to make the corresponding changes elsewhere. Therefore, there would be no need for the various matters to be covered by individual appeals and no discrimination between those who appealed and those who did not appeal.
The Minister has misunderstood the situation which I described. A material change of circumstances is usually a case which can be presented in the year following that in which the change has taken place. I shall paint the picture of an appeal marked at the beginning of September. That is taken before the valuation appeal committee at any time within the following six months. Perhaps it is not then decided for eight to ten months by the Lands Valuation Appeal Court in Edinburgh.Anyone who has failed to mark an appeal in 1970–71 will not receive the benefit of the material change which has occurred until 1971–72. That was the exact circumstance in Renfrewshire where the committee took a decision to reduce the valuation of local authority houses for which an appeal had been marked by local authorities, and those of many thousands of other properties which had had appeals marked in relation to the local authority test case. The appellants in respect of the other houses, for which no appeal had been marked for 1970–71, had to come back in 1971–72 and show that there was a material change of circumstance. There was an appeal in relation to certain houses in the Williamwood test case, which substantiated, through the action of the Land Valuation Appeal Court, that there was a spread of benefit which would extend to other houses in the country. Even if it is not necessary to go to the length of the Lands Valuation Appeal Court, under the Williamwood case, it is necessary for us to try to cut out the unnecessary holding appeals in the year of the revaluation. If we do not do so, people must put in a holding appeal for revaluation, otherwise they lose one year's reduction, which can be unfair to them and cause a tremendous amount of trouble to the assessor and to the valuation appeals committees, which are flooded out with appeals.
I understand the point made by the hon. Gentleman. My main answer is still correct. The appeal decision is based on a material change of circumstances, which then attracts the mandatory provisions of Clause 2. The hon. Gentleman may agree that that is so. However, in the case of persons who make the appeal, the reduction in the valuation will commence from a date which may be earlier than that which will apply in the other cases which are affected by the definition of material change of circumstances, including the decision of the appeal committee or the Scottish Lands Valuation Appeal Court.However, I do not think that that is the circumstance. The intention is that we should make the date of the change the same for all the properties concerned. If we have not achieved that, I shall look again at the matter. But I believe that that is what we have achieved with the Bill as at present drafted. If I am wrong, I will inform the hon. Gentleman and consider whether we should put down an amendment in the other place. The hon. Gentleman's amendment is defective and will therefore not do the job which he has in mind.
I had not intended to press this amendment because I realised that this was a special case. However, I am happy that we have now broached the question with the Minister and that he has agreed to look at the matter again. When he does so he will find that there are good grounds for action, although it is a specialised case.I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move Amendment No. 6, in page 3, line 29, leave out:
This point was raised in Committee and it shows that the time spent in Committee was not wasted by the Opposition, which felt that the provision regarding the deletion from the rule gave too much discretion to the assessor and that the scope went wider than necessary. This amendment deletes the words'the assessor considers to be' and insert 'are'.
and inserts the word "are" which makes the provision more definite, since it makes it clear that the assessor is not a free agent in a matter of this kind but is bound by the general law on valuation, which was always the intention."the assessor considers to be"
We are grateful for this further indication of the Minister's flexibility. I am glad that he has accepted the Opposition's point.
Amendment agreed to.
Valuation Of Public Undertakings
I beg to move Amendment No. 7, in page 6, leave out lines 36 to 43 and insert—
'(c) value any lands and heritages which—
(i) were in existence on 16th May 1975 and which, owing to error, were not included in the roll made up by the Assessor for the year 1975–76 and which he is required under any enactment to value, (ii) have come into existence at any time between 16th May 1975 and the beginning of the first year of revaluation thereafter and which he is required under any enactment to value, (iii) were in existence on 16th May 1975 but which by or under an enactment have first fallen to be valued by the Assessor at any time between that date and the beginning of the first year of revaluation thereafter.
(2) The Assessor shall direct the assessor for any valuation area ("the local assessor") containing any lands and heritages which the Assessor has valued or revalued under subsection (1) above to enter those lands and heritages in the valuation roll.'.
With this, we are to consider Government Amendment No. 8.
I am sorry that these amendments are so lengthy. They are intended to achieve a comparatively simple objective, and they are mainly of technical significance.We provide in Clause 5 that, in cases where valuations are made by the Assessor of Public Undertakings, the valuations so arrived at shall not be provided for on a separate roll but shall be entered into the local valuation rolls. We have to provide for the period between the last valuation and circumstances which may arise before the next one. Basically, therefore, we are making provision for this interim period. Amendment No. 7 makes provision for the assessor to continue to make his valuations after 16th May 1975 until the next revaluation—for example, for new properties coming into existence—and the timings of all these are the same as in the other circumstances of the ordinary rolls that we provide for in Clause 2. The effect of Amendment No. 8 is to introduce five new subsections. Subsec- tion (4) attracts the same dates as those attracted by the other changes in Clause 2. Subsection (5) limits the right of appeal of the proprietor, tenant or occupier of the subjects valued by the assessor. Once the period for appealing against directions is over, appeals will be competent only upon a material change of circumstance. Subsection (6) deals with the machinery for appeals. Since the normal machinery for appeals and complaints to the local valuation committee does not apply in the case of valuations made by the Assessor of Public Undertakings, the subsection disapplies the normal appeals procedure. Appeals in these cases go straight to the Lands Valuation Appeal Court. Subsection (7) empowers the making of regulations so as to facilitate the modernisation of the office of the APU and his staff and the financing of his unit. The Assessor of Public Undertakings is in an odd position. He is not quite a civil servant; he is a quasi-civil servant. His salary and expenses are paid by the local authorities. It is a rather unsatisfactory situation. Here we are providing that he shall be absorbed into the Civil Service. I have just said that his expenses are defrayed by the local authorities. I should have said that they are defrayed by the undertakings in respect of which he carries out valuations. We are getting rid of that provision and bringing him basically within the Civil Service. Some of this procedure will be done by regulations. Subsection (8) provides that the regulations under subsection (7) will be subject to negative resolution. I hope that that is a reasonably clear explanation of what appears to be a complicated amendment.
I have one brief question on Amendment No. 8. Subsection (6) reads:
There is the possibility that a private trader or resident may take the view that something has been included in such a direction which should be not be included. We discussed the question of the gas and electricity boards having houses which would not be included in general valuation. Why should this provision be written into legislation? We can understand that if an appeal is not competent, the valuation appeal committee will say so, but why should this provision be written into the Bill? It seems that the subsection is unnecessary and it could, if it had any effect at all, be rather unjust. It is more than likely that no person would have any valid complaint or appeal to a valuation appeal committee against a direction under this clause, but why do we have to insert this provision in the clause? I am genuinely puzzled. If it means anything I think that its meaning is rather unjust. I fancy that it will have little effect and, therefore, it should not be included."Notwithstanding anything in any enactment, no person may complain or appeal to a valuation appeal committee against an entry in the valuation roll made in consequence of a direction under this section."
I am sorry that this is a complicated amendment. We are dealing with the valuation of statutory undertakings—for example, nationalised industries—rather than individual persons. Therefore, the circumstance would not arise that an individual householder, for example, would be likely to be appealing against the valuation made by the Assessor of Public Undertakings even if his particular house were included in the valuation. The valuation would relate to the nationalised industry or the statutory undertaker concerned. As these are special valuations, the provisions have never allowed appeals to the local valuation appeal committee.Valuation appeals are dealt with by the Lands Valuation Appeal Court, and that is preserved. There is no question of taking away the right of appeal in any way or of changing the right of appeal. We are making it clear that there is no appeal in these cases to the local valuation appeal committee, but the appeal remains open to the Lands Valuation Appeal Court. We have to make this provision explicit because the valuations are not to be kept on a separate roll kept by the Assessor of Public Undertakings. The valuations are now to go on the local valuation roll. Because they go there they do not attract the normal appeal procedure as that is not relevant or appropriate to the matters which are involved in formulating valuations. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no reduction in the right of appeal and that the right remains as it is at present.
With the leave of the House, I wish to ask a question. The kind of situation that I am envisaging is when a private householder wishes to give comparisons before the valuation appeals committee. Suppose that he looks at one house which he thinks is an appropriate comparison and then finds, either because of policy or because of an error, that this house, which may be owned by the gas or electricity board, has been included in the gross figure of the undertaking valuation. Is he not therefore entitled to complain to the valuation appeal committee? If not, to whom can he complain?This is an unlikely situation, but the subsection covers an unlikely situation. Perhaps the Assessor of Public Undertakings has said that an office of the electricity board, which is included in the building or headquarters in a local authority area, should be included in the total and not valued separately. This might apply to a showroom, for example. Suppose I wanted to quote the valuation of that office but was told by the assessor that it was included in the global figure. This is something about which a ratepayer is entitled to complain to someone. To whom does he complain, and would not this subsection remove that right to complain? The Minister has said that the undertaking can appeal only to the Lands Valuation Appeal Court, but what about the individual who wishes to quote such an instance? Is it not fair and reasonable that he should be able to complain to someone or some committee?
Houses will not be included in the formula valuation at all and will therefore be valued in the normal way by the local assessor. Whether they are owned by the gas board, the water undertaking or any other undertaking will not make the slightest difference. They will be on the normal roll and can be appealed or quoted in evidence in the normal way. The same applies to showrooms and other commercial premises. They will not be included in the formula valuation, so the normal procedures will apply, whether at the instance of the nationalised undertaking or of any person. We are dealing only with matters which are included in a formula valuation.Of course, a formula valuation which may relate to gas works or power stations or water undertakings is a total valuation. I am not absolutely clear whether anyone other than the undertaking itself has a right to appeal, but, whether it does or not, the appeal will be on the basis of the valuation of the whole undertaking with the necessary exclusions that I have mentioned. Unless there are individuals in Scotland running their own massive power stations which are being valued by the local assessor, it is highly unlikely that they will want to complain or to quote in aid the formula valuation for another power station which is dealt with by the Assessor of Public Undertakings. If that were the situation, which is highly unlikely, the appeal procedure would still apply, but the appeal is not to the local committee—which is all that I said in the first place.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment made: No. 8, in page 7, line 16, at end insert—
'(4) Any entry made in the valuation roll—
(a) where the valuation has been made under subsection (1)(b)(i) or (c)(i) above, shall have effect only as from the beginning of the year in which the entry is made; (b) where the valuation has been made under subsection (1)(b)(ii) or (c)(ii) above, shall have effect only as from the date when the lands and heritages to which the entry relates came into existence or as from the beginning of the year in which the entry is made, whichever is the later; (c) where the valuation has been made under subsection (1)(b)(iii) or (c)(iii) above, shall have effect only as from the coming into effect of the enactment by or under which the Assessor is required to value the lands and heritages, or as from the beginning of the year in which the entry is made, whichever is the later; (d) in pursuance of a further direction given under the proviso to subsection (2) above, shall have effect only as from the date of the event by reason of which the further direction is given or as from the beginning of the year in which such direction is given, whichever is the later.
(5) Without prejudice to section 24 of the Lands Valuation (Scotland) Act 1854 (appeal against entry in roll in consequence of direction) and subject to section 26 of that Act (right of appeal to be forfeited where refusal to answer call by Assessor for books and writings, etc.), the proprietor, tenant or occupier of lands and heritages which are included in the valuation roll in consequence of a direction under this section may at any time while the roll is in force appeal to the Lands Valuation Appeal Court against the entry in the roll but only on the ground that there has been a material change of circumstances affecting the value of the lands and heritages since the entry was made:
Provided that appeal under this subsection shall be competent only where the proprietor, tenant or occupier has given notice in writing to the Assessor before lodging the appeal of the material change of circumstances.
(6) Notwithstanding anything in any enactment, no person may complain or appeal to a valuation appeal committee against an entry in the valuation roll made in consequence of a direction under this section.
(7) The Secretary of State may make regulations providing for—
(a) the payment of remuneration, pensions, allowances, gratuities to, or transfer values in respect of, the Assessor and his clerks and other officers, and the manner in which such payment is to be financed; (b) the terms and conditions of employment of the Assessor and his clerks and other officers; (c) the amendment or repeal, with or without savings, of any enactment which is inconsistent with or superseded by the regulations.
(8) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (7) above shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.'—[Mr. Millan.]
Levying Of Rates
I beg to move Amendment No. 9, in page 8, line 11, at beginning insert:
This is basically a drafting amendment. The general rule is laid down in Clause 7(1) that rates are to be levied according to the rateable value in the valuation roll, but there are certain properties which have been entered on the rolls but for which rates are not levied—for example, churches, church halls and a number of others. This provision relates to rating relief for charities and the rest. The amendment is needed to make it clear that what we are saying does not override the other enactments which provide for these various exceptions or exclusions.'Subject to the provisions of any other enactment'.
Amendment agreed to.
Collection Of Rates By Housing Body On Behalf Of Rating Authority
I beg to move Amendment No. 10, in page 10, line 36, at end insert:
The purpose of the amendment is to provide for arrangements to be made by a housing body for the payment of rates. The amendment seeks to make the matter much more explicit since the provision as drafted is not as clear as it might be. The amendment makes two changes. First, it makes it clear that when such an arrangement is made the ratepayer is bound to pay his rates not to the rating authority but to the housing body concerned. Secondly, the amendment provides for rates to be subject to the same instalment arrangements as those which apply to rents. In normal circumstances, under Clause 8 ratepayers will be able to pay their rates by 10 instalments. The provision seeks to make clear that where an arrangement is made a tenant will not be asked to pay rates in one lump sum. The amendment will meet the convenience of tenants who wish to make one payment in respect of rent and rates and not separate payments at different times.'on the occupiers of lands and heritages let by the housing body, and where such arrangements are made the rates shall be payable to the housing body by instalments along with payments of rent.'
We cannot understand why the Secretary of State should take it upon himself to decide how and when rent and rates should be paid. Surely this should be a matter for local authorities. If the Government are giving complete power to local authorities to decide rent levels, why cannot the Government be consistent and give local authorities power to say when and how rent and rates should be paid? Surely local authorities are the best people to take into account the wishes of local people. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will look at the matter again.
In regard to rents, arrangements can be made by local authorities to meet the convenience of those concerned. On the subject of rates, we are providing in Clause 8 for the pay- ment of instalments. We are not leaving the matter to the local authority but we are providing that rates shall be paid in instalments. It would be inconsistent if, to reduce ratepayers' burdens, we were to introduce provisions for payment of rates by instalments and were not at the same time to safeguard a number of other people who are tenants of housing bodies. If we did not give the right to pay rates by instalment to the general body of ratepayers, we could not under the clause safeguard a large number of people who will be tenants of housing bodies, either the local authorities or the other bodies defined in the clause.What we are doing is utterly consistent with what we are doing in Clause 8. It is a protection for tenants in case the local authority does not wish to give them the benefit of the payment of rates by instalments.
The Minister has not understood the point my hon. Friend made. The clause says that if there is no agreement between the Secretary of State and the rating authority as to how the job should be done, the Secretary of State should determine how it should be done. The Minister is now adding to the clause the provision that in every case rent and rates shall be paid together.What happens if a local authority takes the view, which obviously the Minister does not share, that it is more for the convenience of tenants that they should pay their rent in a particular way and their rates in exactly the same way as other people are required to do under Clause 8, namely in 10 monthly instalments, and not with the rent? Will the Secretary of State prevent them from so doing under the clause? The Minister must be aware that some local authorities are concerned that if people pay rent and rates together they are often not aware of what is the rent part and what is the rate part. Many people will say "I pay a rent of £30 a month" whereas on inspection one finds that the rent is £15 a month and the rates are £15 a month. It is inconsistent that the Government are using as their main argument in the Bill that they want to give freedom to responsible local authorities, whereas they are not prepared to give this freedom. A local authority may well take the view that it is in the best interests of its tenants that they should pay their rent monthly, weekly or yearly, and pay their rates in exactly the same way as other people under Clause 8, namely, in 10 payments direct to the city collector. The Minister has said that the provision will be for the convenience of tenants. Who is he to say what is convenient? The local authorities are in a far better position to decide. What is the position of a local authority that comes to the conclusion that it is in the best interests of everyone in its area, is a matter of convenience and economy, and benefits its tenants, that tenants should not pay their rent and rates together? Does the amendment mean that it will be prevented from implementing that decision?
Will my hon. Friend clarify one or two points? First, will he make it absolutely clear that the provision applies to all dwelling houses, to all occupiable houses? Secondly, is he aware that we have been having difficulty with the Scottish Special Housing Association over the payment of rates and rents? A group of tenants in Airdrie who were unable to pay rates in large instalments asked to be allowed to pay by the addition of several instalments a year. We received a reply to the effect that where tenants have difficulty in paying rates they may negotiate with the representatives of the Association as to how rates should be paid, and over what period of time.It is obvious to me that those in the lower income groups must find it difficult to pay rates in large instalments, and would prefer to pay them fortnightly or monthly. Will the provisions in the Bill be obligatory on the Association, as well as other housing authorities and house owners, to ensure that rates and rents are paid regularly on a reasonable basis, to avoid the burdens and economic difficulties that large instalments cause to those in the lower income groups? Will my hon. Friend also clarify the position of the local authorities, because we are confused? We received a letter from the going-out or standing-down authority, the Lanarkshire County Council, saying that rates would no longer be payable through bankers' orders. When I refer to rates, I include rents. This is a convenient way of paying rents and rates for working people. It prevents them from having to stay in and lose work when the rent collector comes or having to travel late at night after work or on a Saturday morning if the office is open to pay rents and rates fortnightly or monthly. Yet the Lanarkshire County Council has issued this notice which has been signed by the Lanarkshire County Council factor. Will the provisions allow some discretion or understanding whereby local authorities and tenants can arrange the best and most convenient means the payment of rents and rates?
Order. The hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey) is going far beyond the purpose of the amendment by raising a matter which would arise on the debate on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill." I must rule him out of order on the matter that he is developing.
We are discussing how rates should be paid.
Order. We are not discussing the Bill at this stage. We are discussing a particular amendment.
The amendment raises the whole question of the payment of rates. I think that I am entitled to ask my hon. Friend to clarify the position. I shall not need to make a speech in the debate on the clause if my hon. Friend replies to this point when he answers other hon. Members.
I should like to speak briefly in support of the amendment.The Government appear to be strangely and surprisingly inconsistent in their approach to this amendment compared with their attitude on the Housing Rents and Subsidies (Scotland) Bill to an amendment tabled by the Opposition which suggested that a tenant in receipt of supplementary benefit should, if he wished, be allowed to pay his rent direct. That proposal, which most of us thought to be reasonable as it depended on the wishes of the tenant, was bitterly attacked by the Government as an abuse of the freedom of the individual and a restriction on his right and responsibility to determine his own payments and obligations to the local authority. Here, however, irrespective of the wishes of either the tenant or the local authority, the Government are directing an arrangement to take place between the tenant and the housing body or local authority which neither might wish or which might be inconvenient to them. Will the Minister indicate why a completely different approach is justified by the Government on two Bills which they have brought forward, both of which affect the freedom of the individual tenant?
I think that I have quite enough to deal with on this Bill without going back over the arguments on supplementary benefit regarding the previous Bill to which the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) has referred.My hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey) asked what we are trying to do. In Clause 8 we are providing for the payment of rates by instalments, not at the discretion of the local authority. We are making it mandatory that rates should be paid by 10 equal instalments. It seems extraordinary that, because that might be inconvenient for housing bodies and, therefore, they should be allowed to make arrangements other than the general provision in Clause 8, we should nevertheless leave these other arrangements and deny to local authority and SSHA tenants the right to pay rates by instalments at all. That would be an extraordinary situation. It would mean that we were singling out one class of ratepayer and denying him rights that are available to other ratepayers under Clause 8. 9.15 p.m. Therefore if we are to allow the arrangements under Clause 10 to override those made under Clause 8, we have to make the necessary safeguard that the right of the ratepayer to pay rates by instalments shall not be overridden. That is the purpose of the amendment. It provides that where those arrangements are made rates can be paid along with rent. That will be mandatory but not in the sense of the Secretary of State intervening or approving any agreement. It will be mandatory because if the amendment is accepted it will be written into the Bill, just as we have written in the earlier provisions in Clause 8. I was asked what would happen if the local authority and the tenant both wanted the tenant to pay his rates by 10 instalments under Clause 8. The answer is that the arrangement would not come under this clause. But we must not allow the local authorities to override the general principle that ratepayers should be able to pay their rates by instalments. I do not believe that a local authority would want to do that. If the Opposition do not like Clause 8 they have had ample opportunity to do something about it in Committee and now on Report. If they support the clause, it is extraordinary that they should be proposing that its advantages should be denied to council tenants. I cannot accept that.
The Minister has not even begun to understand our point. I hope that between now and the next stage of the Bill he will endeavour to do so. Clause 8 provides that every ratepayer can pay his rates in 10 instalments a year. Arrangements can be made for a local authority or housing body to make different arrangements, subject to the approval of the Secretary of State where there is a failure to agree. Now, however, the Minister is seeking to bring in the further qualification that where such arrangements are made rates should be paid with rent.I cannot understand why the Government want to do that. Many tenants simply do not know how much rates they are paying, because they think that what they are paying is all rent. Perhaps a local authority might take the view that it would be in the interest of its tenants that they should be fully aware of the amount of rates they pay by paying them separately to the city collector and paying the rent directly to the housing manager. The Minister is unwilling to make a concession on this point, and he has not justified the requirement to have rent and rates paid together. He has not even begun to understand that argument. I therefore hope that he will study what we have said before the Bill goes to the other place.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment Of Section 201 Of Act Of 1947
I beg to move Amendment No. 13, in page 14, line 19, at end insert—
This is a rather narrow amendment dealing with a major point considered in Committee. It relates to Clause 19, the most controversial clause in the Bill. That clause gives the Secretary of State powers, if he so desires, retrospectively to wipe out any surcharges to which a housing authority or its councillors may be liable. In Committee we had a long discussion about the merits of this clause. We took the view that it was an affront to democracy, particularly in the circumstances, when Scottish local authorities had defied the law. They had done this knowingly and with the support of elements of the Labour Party. We suggested that in the circumstances, particularly in places such as Glasgow and Clydebank, the actions of the Labour Party had led to the undermining of law and authority. This is an action which the Labour Party will live to regret. We tried to discover the financial effect of the measures taken by some local authorities. We were astonished to find that, because of the delay in the implementation of the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1972, which was the basis of the illegal action, the tenants in Glasgow and Clydebank were paying a higher monthly rate than they would have paid if the councils had obeyed the law. That was a strange situation, bearing in mind that some local councils had opposed the Act on the basis that the level of rents charged under the Act would impose severe hardship. On the other hand in an answer given to me by the Minister on 7th February he appeared to disclose that, despite the fact that tenants in Clydebank and Glasgow were paying more in rent, the total amount of money they had paid since the introduction of the Act was less than would have been the case if the Act had been strictly complied with. These figures appeared to show the amount which ratepayers in those areas had lost in consequence. In Glasgow it seems that the sum involved up to the end of the freeze on 15th May was about £1·1 million and in Clydebank £100,000. Can the Minister clarify, once and for all, what amounts have been lost by these ratepayers as a result of the illegal action? The amendment relates only to fines. We say that while we cannot accept some of the monstrous arguments put forward by the hon. Members for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Lambie) and Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing) on the question whether the Secretary of State should have these powers, even if we were to accept those arguments—and I doubt whether we could—we see no justification why the ratepayers in any community should be called upon to pay the fines imposed on local councils because of their evasion and defiance of the law. This is the situation which could arise unless this amendment is approved. Under the 1972 Act Clydebank could have increased the rents in October 1972. It did not do so. There was a great demonstration and defiance of the law. In February 1973 it was fined £5,000. At the time there was a great campaign conducted by certain elements in the West of Scotland. I understand that a substantial sum was donated from the fighting fund of Upper Clyde Shipbuilders. I am sure that would not have pleased many people who gave money to this fund thinking that they were saving the shipyard and the jobs there. Instead some of the money was used to support rebel councillors in Clydebank. There were donations from trade unions such as the NUM which at the time was explaining that its members did not have enough to live on. It seems that this £5,000 was largely covered by voluntary donations from these worthy bodies. On 8th November a default order was imposed with respect to the second phase of the rent increase. Once again Clydebank defied the law. A fine of £20,000 was imposed on 14th December 1973. By this time the effects of the Act were becoming clearer. Three out of every 10 tenants were getting rent rebates, the average rebate amounting to £75 per annum. At this stage even the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders Fighting Fund and the National Union of Mineworkers had rather lost sympathy with the silly councillors of Clydebank who were making asses of themselves. So no voluntary donations were forthcoming. The sum of £20,000 had to be paid one way or the other. In January 1974 the council decided to pay, and there were no voluntary donations. It would be the final insult to the ratepayers of Clydebank and of Scotland as a whole if there were to be any question of the fine imposed on the authority because of law breaking by 11 out of 21 of its councillors being paid from the rates. I therefore hope that the Minister will accept that this is a reasonable amendment. We are moving into rather troubled times in which there will be a substantial increase in unemployment. We could argue about the reasons for this. There will be some civil disturbances as a consequence. We are moving into a very testing time for Scotland as a whole. In these circumstances, when there will be many temptations to break the law on the part of ratepayers who feel aggrieved and on the part of unemployed people who feel aggrieved, the obligation on the Government is to ensure that we have respect for the law. However, the Labour Party has done the very opposite. It has encouraged defiance of the law, and in opposition not only did it encourage defiance of the law but it promised to sort it out—'This subsection shall not apply in cases where reports relate to fines imposed by the courts on authorities'.
No, we did not.
I wish the Minister of State had served on the Standing Committee and had heard the speeches made there by some members of the party of which he is a member. He would be just as ashamed as I am of some of the scandalous remarks made by some of his colleagues. If the hon. Member had heard the outrageous speech made by the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire I am sure that he would have wanted to dissociate himself from it, as did hon. Members on this side.We want the Government to uphold the law and to promote a respect for it. Instead of that, elements within the Labour Party and some of their extremist allies encouraged defiance of the law and promised to sort everything out when the election—in which they hoped to be successful—was over. There is this provision in Clause 19. In Committee the Government succeeded after a furious battle in which we were grateful for the moral support of the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick). I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is not here tonight. He made an outstanding speech in Committee. His speech had the support of every one of us on this side. Not only was his speech outstanding, but he had become convinced by the arguments which we advanced on Second Reading. Unfortunately, on Second Reading the Scottish National Party supported the Government. Between Second Reading and the Committee stage a change of mind occurred. This was a triumph for democracy. In Committee the hon. Gentleman pointed out that the Scottish National Party regarded it as shameful for the Labour Party and the Government to carry on in this scandalous way. I am glad that tonight we have not one but no fewer than five members of the Scottish National Party who will stand up with the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party for democracy and for upholding the law of the land and not stand for those who are undermining the law, who are making an ass of the law, and who are bringing the law into disrepute. I want publicly to say how greatly I appreciate the fact that a party which I have criticised in the House in the past has the guts to change its mind on an issue like this. Its members have the guts to see that they have made an error of judgment and principle. They changed their minds between Second Reading and Report and they now say "We were wrong. We are now prepared to stand for support of the law and for authority." At a time when everything is going wrong with the country—
With the Tory Party.
Not with the Tory Party. If the hon. Gentleman insists on making such narrow political points we shall not make any progress.At a time when so many things are going wrong with the nation, it is encouraging to me as a democrat that the Scottish National Party, which has emerged as one of the leading Scottish political parties, is prepared to change its mind, to admit that it is wrong, and to stand firmly for authority. I thank it for so doing. I appreciate the fact that the Scottish National Party Members have turned out in strength to support this change of policy. This is a very serious matter which goes to the root of the parliamentary process and respect for the law. Would it not be utterly shameful if there were any question of the ratepayers of Clydebank having to pay a £20,000 fine because of the scandalous and outrageous defiance of the law by 11 out of 21 councillors? There has been a change of heart by the Scottish National Party. I hope that there will be a similar change of heart by members of the Labour Party, most of whom have respect for law and democracy as being the basis of their political convictions. Let us see a similar transformation and let us insert the amendment in the Bill. Then the people of Scotland, and indeed Britain, will look to the future with more hope and more optimism.
I speak against the amendment. It is a bad amendment, and it was tabled with a bad intention. It is plain from the speech of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) that its purpose is to sabotage, at least in part, Clause 19 of this excellent Bill. Throughout the passage of the Bill, hon. Members opposite have picked on Clause 19 and made it a class battleground. They opposed it with extremist language on Second Reading. They opposed it in Committee. Now they propose this squalid little amendment to get a bit more publicity for their type of class warfare.I thought at first that the hon. Member for Cathcart was merely trying to ingratiate himself with his new leader so that he could get a wee bit of promotion over the head of the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith). But this ploy appears to have been unsuccessful. He scurried around trying to obtain statistics from all over the place. He accused the Minister of State of possibly misleading the House. Despite his juggled statistics and arithmetic acrobatics, it is clear that if anyone was mis- leading the House it was the hon. Member for Cathcart. On Second Reading the hon. Member for Cathcart stated:
It is clear from the reply to the hon. Gentleman's Question on 7th February that that is not the case. The amount of additional rent payable from 1st October 1972 to 27th January 1975 by tenants in Glasgow would have been £125·25 and in Clydebank £125·25 if the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act had been implemented in 1972. In fact, the additional rent payable was £111·52 and £104·92 respectively. Perhaps the hon. Member for Cathcart would explain who was misleading the House with statistics. It is obvious that the hon. Member is merely attempting to resurrect the skeleton of the 1972 Act. I wonder whether he and his hon. Friends will ever learn the hard lesson. That battle has been fought and won. It is past. Yet, despite the fact that the Opposition lost it and we won it, they do not appear to have accepted the hard facts of life. They show no feeling of repentance. They are displaying their usual intransigence and conducting this warlike confrontation. The whole purpose of the amendment is to try to force certain councillors to end up in gaol. They are not content with having the Shrewsbury pickets in gaol. They would like people such as Clydebank councillors to be in gaol, too. That is the sort of confrontation policies they are after by the amendment. Although Conservative Members have been foolish and intransigent over this matter, at least they have been reasonably consistent—which is more than can be said of hon. Members of the Scottish National Party. The whole behaviour of the Scottish National Party over the Bill has been distinctly schizophrenic. That is one point on which the hon. Member for Cathcart might agree. On Second Reading the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) supported Clause 19 and appeared to support it in its entirety. He said that in general he accepted it, when referring to the powers to be given to the Secretary of State. Yet in Committee, the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) used words such as "obnoxious", "dishonest", and "an outrage", when referring to the same clause. It would appear that, as usual—just as on education, defence and many other issues—the Scottish National Party has a different policy in different constituencies. If the constituency represented by a particular Member of that party was traditionally a Labour constituency, the party has a policy to suit the former Labour voters. If the particular constituency that a Scottish National Party Member represents was formerly a Tory constituency, that Member adopts a different policy to suit his electorate. Scottish National Party Members remind me of that character from classical mythology called Janus, who is often depicted by classical artists as having two or possibly four faces, facing in as many different directions. I am sure, however, that the Scottish people will soon see through this two-faced or multi-faced attitude and be able to discern the differences between a party with consistent policies and a party which seems to consist of a tartan rag-bag of pseudo-politicians with pseudo-policies which contradict each other. The truth is that Clause 19 as it stands can bring to a successful and welcome conclusion one of the sorriest chapters of the whole history of local government in Scotland. Hon. Members should welcome the clause as it stands and resist the amendment. Those who are opposing the clause are merely reminding the electorate of the strong-arm, jackboot tactics which were used as a result of the Tories' Rent Act of 1972, when they attempted to force Scottish councillors, against their will and against the wishes of the Scottish people, to implement a bad Act. I commend the clause as it stands and I ask hon. Members to resist this horrible amendment."because of the defiance of the law by the rebel councillors in Clydebank and Glasgow, and no doubt in Denny and other places, the tenants in them have paid and are paying more rent than they would have paid if they had conformed to the Conservative Act".—[Official Report, 20th January 1975; Vol. 884, c. 1170.]
I am grateful for the amount of attention which the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) and the hon. Member for West Stirling- shire (Mr. Canavan) have devoted to my party. The only trouble is that tonight both of them could have spent more time looking at the essential issue, which is the Clydebank issue. On Second Reading I said that Clause 19 was a realistic assessment of the situation. That is still my view.
It is still the view of my party.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Speaker! This is intolerable, and—
Order. I had to ask an hon. Member last night whether she felt quite well. I hope that I do not have to do the same again tonight.
Is the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) now saying that the Scottish National Party supported this on Second Reading and opposed it in Committee, and that he is now supporting it again? How can we treat the SNP seriously? After this, no one could take the SNP seriously.
My hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) made a characteristic speech which does not represent the views of the Scottish National Party. If the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) accorded to others the degree of freedom he claims for himself, he would have contributed more to our debate.The controversy over this clause has led to some hon. Members taking extreme positions. Some hon. Members are interested only in getting their pound of flesh out of the situation at Clydebank. This is not a black-and-white political issue. It is one of the grey areas which have to be examined carefully. The Clydebank situation is a mess. It has arisen because of the intransigence of the Clydebank councillors. The situation was brought about by the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1972, which was deeply resented by the people of Scotland and which was pushed through by an English Tory majority which had little consideration for the traditional housing practices north of the border. If there had been a Scottish Assembly in 1972, no piece of legislation such as that would ever have been enacted in Scotland. Against that background, it is not surprising that memories should run deep. I do not say that that is any justification for defying the law. Feelings were strong, and the attitude of the Conservative Government contributed to that situation. I do not wish to go too deeply into the question of political realignments. I am a social democrat. I hope some day to sit on the same benches as members of the Labour Party in a sovereign Scots Parliament. Some hon. Members have voted in favour of a surcharge of £20,000 being placed on councillors. That would weaken local government and make people think twice about entering local government. The situation in Cumbernauld is more interesting, because that issue has been put to local opinion. The local council held a referendum and asked the people whether they wished the council to go further or to stop, and it obeyed the decision of the people of Cumbernauld. It is a pity that that procedure was not followed in Clydebank.
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that of a total of 10,000 potential voters only 516 people voted?
I agree that the number was small. However, the council agreed to abide by the results of that referendum.I do not accept the Conservative amendment. An attempt has been made to squeeze the last ounce of cheap political advantage out of the situation. I can see nothing in the clause which does not allow the final decision to be made by the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State must have regard to all the circumstances of the case, and it seems reasonable that he should look at the means of the persons involved in deciding whether the surcharge should be imposed in full or in part—in other words, to review the situation properly at the local, grass roots level. We have heard a lot of humbug from Conservative Members. Their 1973 Act used virtually the same words and for virtually the same reasons because, in terms of surcharging, the 1947 Act imposed a straitjacket on any Secretary of State and there had to be some loosening of the bonds and restraints. There has to be some regard for the individual in a corporate charge of £20,000. Above all there has to be some consideration of the ability of the individual to pay. At the end of the day, I wonder whether the hon. Member for Cathcart would go so far as to say that people's possessions should be sold in order to satisfy what is pure dogma on his part.
What about the ratepayers?
I am sorry that the previous amendment was not selected. When the Secretary of State is having due regard to the situation, they should be regarded too. However we cannot punish people; we cannot squeeze money out of them that they do not have. The right of individual councillors is the same as that of any criminal brought before a Scottish court. The court has regard to the means of the individual to pay. It is rotten justice if a Scottish councillor does not have the same right.The Minister has conducted Clause 19 through this House in a quiet and responsible way. With the exception of my hon. and maverick Friend the Member for Argyll, he has the support of my party.
I want to take up the arguments of the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) and of my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan), urging the Government to resist the amendment. I want also to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on getting a better deal for his defaulting councillors than the Secretary of State for the Environment got for his in England and Wales.In view of recent events in the Tory Party, I am surprised to hear Conservative Members criticising people who disobey the law. Both on the Floor of the House and in Committee I have been challenged to say publicly whether I thought at some stage that people should be willing to stand up and be counted on this issue. In my view, on a matter of principle which does not affect me as an individual but which affects groups of people collectively, I am prepared to stand up to oppose the law if I believe it to be a vicious law aimed at the people whom I represent and which was imposed on those people by a minority party and a minority Government in their own country. As I say, in view of the recent history of the Conservative Party, I am surprised that the Conservatives have not changed their policy and decided to support the arguments which my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire and I have been putting forward continually during this debate. After all, the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) would not have been elected leader of her party if it had not been for the fact that in the early part of the century women were prepared to stand up, to be counted and to break the law. They were prepared to oppose the Government. They were prepared to oppose the male chauvinist pigs who superimposed the law of the country upon them. They were prepared to come to the Central Lobby to take part in riots. They were prepared to go to Downing Street to take part in riots. They were prepared to go to prison. In certain conditions they were prepared even to die for what they believed. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) must recognise that a woman is now leader of his party because others were prepared to break the law. It may be that he does not recognise that fact because he has not got a job. But I am surprised that the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) has allowed himself to be led up the garden path. He has received a job, as a result of a democratic process in which people are prepared to stand up and be counted and are willing to break the law. I put it to the Conservative Opposition that they should do the same as the Scottish National Party. They should say that the hon. Member for Cathcart no longer represents the view of the Conservative Party in Scotland, despite the fact that he still wears two hats when he goes canvassing. He wears his bowler hat in the Tory areas and his Keir Hardie cloth cap when he goes into the Castle-milk estate. In spite of that, he still does not have a seat in the Shadow Cabinet. This is a matter of principle. The position is that 51 Scottish Members out of 71 support the clause. We cannot say that 52 Members support it because the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) defected from the policy of the Scottish National Party. I believe that I am to blame for that. I taunted him and called him a Tory. He could not stand it any longer, so he had to make a speech to show that he really was a Tory. I am glad that the rest of the Tories in the SNP are supporting the Government on this issue. As I have said, 51 Scottish Members representing Scottish constituencies out of a total of 71 support the clause. This is the majority opinion of the people of Scotland. It was just unfortunate that in 1972 the United Kingdom was ruled by an English majority. Scotland was ruled by a minority of English Tory Members who enforced their will and policies on the Scottish people. In the circumstances it is right that we should place the name of the SNP councillors involved in Clydebank and Cumbernauld upon the roll of honour along with Labour colleagues and people from all parties who resisted the attacks of the Tory Party. I hope that the Government will resist the amendment and that we shall continue go forward sweeping the decks in Scotland.
I had not intended to speak tonight because this is the third occasion on which this matter has been debated during the passage of the Bill. I, for one, had sympathy with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) in his fit of apoplexy tonight. I was rendered speechless, and then in the next moment I was moved to speak, due to the remarks of the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) on behalf of the Scottish National Party.Like other Members who served on the Committee we listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick). The hon. Gentleman represented the SNP in Committee. I draw the attention of the House to what the hon. Gentleman said in Committee on 4th February 1975—namely:
Apparently the hon. Gentleman knows his Scottish history better than some other hon. Members. He continued:"The clause gives the Secretary of State for Scotland the almost unheard of discretion of casting aside what has been the law. He can change the law as it applies to certain people. We all know our Scottish history. I suggest that the sort of powers that the Secretary of State will be given are similar to the disgraceful powers once wielded by the Lords of the Articles in the old Scottish Parliament."
The hon. Gentleman said that it was not just a question of policy or grey areas, as the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire suggested, but a question of policy. He the said:"It is not just a question of the discretionary powers that are to be given to the Secretary of State. There are other broad matters of principle involved."
He ended quite simply by saying:"Before moving on to those matters I am saying that it is particularly obnoxious that such discretionary powers should be given to a Secretary of State for a purely political purpose."
I and my colleagues have always stood firm on the question of retrospective legislation. We, too, opposed the Tory Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act, but we accept that the law passed by Parliament is the law of the land. Once Governments start changing the law in retrospect, we are on a slippery slope. I am sorry that the speech of high principle by the hon. Member for Argyll has been cast so lightly aside by the speech of his hon. Friend that we have heard tonight."This is a dishonest clause, and, further, it is an outrage. It is anathema to anyone who has any feeling of natural justice. I strongly recommend all hon. Members who have decided to support this clause to reconsider and, to use the parody of the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Lambie), to remember that we are Scotsmen and that Scotland has always had, more than most countries, a high regard for the rule of law. Let us not destroy that high regard by destroying the whole basis on which laws are founded."—[Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee, 6th February 1975, c. 108–10.]
I do not want to follow too closely the speech of the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Lambie). I heard that speech in Committee, I did not particularly like it then and I liked it even less tonight. He said that 51 Scottish MPs supported this proposal. That does not mean they are right. I would not mind if 70 were in favour of it. I still could not accept it.I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) that we should always stand for the rule of law. If we do not stand for upholding the law, how can we expect people outside to do so?
What about the suffragettes?
The hon. Member may give give that example, but the point is that this law was passed, under a Conservative Government. Whether it was a good law or not is not relevant. It was passed by the House of Commons. It was wilfully disobeyed in England by the notorious Clay Cross Council and in Scotland by the equally notorious Clydebank Council. That was wrong. They broke the law. We must at all times be seen to uphold the law.I was therefore bitterly disappointed in the speech of the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid). Although I disagree with the Scottish National Party on many issues, until now I had always thought that it believed in upholding the law. I was shattered to hear the hon. Member proclaim on behalf of his party—some of his hon. Friends would wish, I am sure, to dissociate themselves from him—that it was in favour of the action taken by the Clydebank councillors and others. The people of Scotland will not easily overlook that kind of statement. No longer should the SNP move around Tory constituencies in the guise of Tories and Socialist seats in the guise of Socialists. As long as they uphold that sort of view, there is no mistaking the side of the House on which they should be sitting. I was disappointed that the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire should have dissociated himself from his hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) because I, too, admired the latter's speech in Committee. It was a brave speech, against the party line which had been given on Second Reading.
As a member of the Committee, the hon. Member should recall that the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) at no time said that he was speaking against the party line. We understood that he was speaking for his party.
The hon. Gentleman is correct. We did assume that, but the SNP seems to have variable opinions on this matter. We are not sure which is the party line. We shall see in the Lobbies tonight. The people of Scotland will no doubt note on which side they vote or whether they abstain.In any event, I support the amendment and I hope that the House will seriously consider what it is doing. Let us from now on make it a rule to support the rule of law. If we do not like the law, we should try to change it by democratic methods.
I was fascinated by the suggestion of the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Lambie) that, because there had not been a majority for the Conservative Party in Scotland, in some way this made the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act much less important than they would otherwise have been. On the same basis, no doubt he will have compassion for the people of England who, but for the Labour majorities in Wales and Scotland, would not have to suffer the iniquities of the present Labour Government. No doubt they will have the same sort of problems and our hearts go out to them.It was perhaps appropriate that the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) and the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire spoke with a single voice—[Interruption.]
It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
That the Local Government (Scotland) Bill may be proceeded with at this day's sitting, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. James Hamilton.]
Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
I was saying that it was appropriate that those two hon. Gentlemen should speak with a single voice. Both the Labour Party and the SNP seek to uphold the breaking of the law, disrespect for the law and support for those who would flout its observance. However, it shows that there is a difference of view among the members of the SNP. Indeed, the initials could stand for the phrase "Sorry No Policy".I was impressed to see eight members of the SNP present this evening—[An HON. MEMBER: "They are Tories".] I thought that we were about to have a personal testament from each hon. Member in that party saying whether they agreed with the common party view or dissociated themselves from it. It was unfortunate that there should be criticism of one of their colleagues who was not present, the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick). It is clear that in Committee the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson), as his party's Whip, was seeking to establish that the representatives of his party would support the policy of the SNP. However, no doubt the members of that party want to be all things to all people. The SNP has acted disgracefully in this matter and they will not be allowed to forget their behaviour. The important point which is involved in this amendment is the question of principle. The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire mentioned suffragettes. It is unfortunate that he should lower the glorious reputation of the suffragettes and try to bring them to the same base level as the people with whom we are dealing in this debate. There is one important and fundamental distinction between the action taken by the suffragettes and what was done by the councillors at Clydebank and Clay Cross. The suffragettes not only broke the law for a principle but were prepared to pay the consequences of that disregard of the law. They were prepared to pay the consequences and, furthermore, they did not expect to ask ratepayers and taxpayers to bear those consequences for them. The basic objection to this provision and the purpose of the amendment is that those who sought to break the law should now be made to suffer as a result of their action. However, they are not prepared to take the consequences. There is a clear option open to the gentlemen in question. We are not talking simply of defiance of the law, they eventually came before the court. It was made clear to them that, having taken the view that it was a matter of principle, it was then open to them to obey the law and if that happened no further action would be taken. Having made that declaration of principle, they refused to implement the law and were fined. They did not consult the ratepayers whom they represented, nor did they resign and submit themselves to re-election in order to discover whether they had the support of the ratepayers. Instead, they were prepared to go ahead in that situation for many months, and at the end of the day when they found that they were in difficulties they came to Labour Members and asked them to assist. They now expect ratepayers to get them out of the mess. We cannot be expected to have any respect for people who act like that. It is wrong and improper for the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire to bring the suffragettes into disrepute by suggesting that there is a comparison. We are concerned not with the initial breaking of the law, however bad, but with whether people who break it are prepared to take the consequences. If they are, that at least proves their integrity and consistency. It proves that they are people of honour, prepared to suffer for a principle in which they believe. The essential difference is that the people to whom the hon. Gentleman refers are prepared to shout about principles but prefer to see other people suffering for them. We hope, therefore, that the House will favourably consider this worthwhile and honourable amendment. I hope that the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson), who is a member of the legal profession, will contribute to the debate. It will be interesting to learn how one who seeks to uphold the law explains his position. Perhaps, like his hon. Friend the Member for Argyll, he is prepared to take an honourable course. If not, I shall be fascinated to hear his justification for an alternative course.
I had not intended to speak in the debate until I saw the clownish behaviour of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) at the Dispatch Box. It was regrettable and beneath the dignity of the House that someone who would like to be a member of the Shadow Cabinet should behave so absurdly.There has been a great deal of exaggeration in the debate. We are discussing an amendment, but we seem to have gone through the whole Second Reading stage of excitement, exaggeration and loud speaking. I should like to direct attention to the terms of the amendment and the clause. First, I wish to deal with references to my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick). I do not agree with my hon. Friend's view on this matter although I agree with him on many other matters. But he made a substantial contribution to the debate in Committee, and I am glad that many hon. Members have paid tribute to it. In a sense, we in the Scottish National Party are being condemned out of a position of weakness in the House. On the basis of the vote at the last election, we should be entitled to five or six members of the Committee which discussed the Bill. [Interruption.] Certainly we should be entitled to three. We are perhaps prepared to concede one more to the Conservatives, not on the basis of vote but because of the number of Scottish Members they have in the House. We are allowed only one Member in Scottish Standing Committees. It is as if the Government had been represented on the Committee considering the District Courts Bill by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Buchanan). By voting against the Government's district courts proposals, he might have been thought to turn round the whole of the Government's policy. We are seeing the right of individual back benchers to indicate their views and stand by them in Committee even if on occasion they go against their own party. It is admirable that any hon. Member should do that. He should not be subjected to cat-calls from other Opposition Members.
If, as is the case, the Scottish National Party had only one representative on the Committee, why did it choose the one member of its party who disagreed with its policy?
The hon. Gentleman is being a bit simplistic. The Committee was dealing with a number of aspects of local government. It may be said that there is only one controversial part, but the Bill stands as a whole and it is a substantial document of 63 pages.Why, if the Opposition are standing so tightly and strongly by their own principles, have they abandoned an amendment which related to the general surcharge? They have made no attempt to follow the point which they made on Second Reading and in Committee. Yet they are prepared, when it comes to the question of a fine, that there should be a different standard from that which might apply to the general surcharge, although they took a different attitude when the matter first came up in debate. They cannot have it both ways, yet that is what they are trying to do by moving an amendment narrowed down to the question of any fine which may have been levied on a corporate body—the corporation of a local authority. In doing that they have conceded that it may be fair and proper for the Secretary of State for Scotland to be given some discretion over the size of the penalty or surcharge which might be made on councillors. The Scottish National Party would not assent to the proposition that there should be no penalty or surcharge on councillors who stood by their beliefs. Councillors who do that should expect to find some surcharge levied against them. Coming to the standard here and going back to the 1973 legislation, the general principle is, should that penalty be related to the circumstances of the offending councillors? I did not practise in the high court, like the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), but my experience is that the sheriffs, magistrates or lower courts always pay attention to the means of persons brought before them. I am sure that had the Clydebank councillors, to take one pertinent example, been brought before the Court of Session, any fine levied upon them as a result of their non-observance of the legislation would have been related to their means as individuals. Instead, because it was a corporate decision, the court had no alternative but to insist upon the execution of the law and to impose a penalty which would force a substantial body such as a local authority to move on the issue, and eventually it succeeded in doing so. But the penalty suitable for a local authority—I believe that the figure of £20,000 has been quoted—would not necessarily have been the penalty visited upon such councillors had they appeared individually before the tribunal concerned. That is the basis of the points which have been made by my hon. Friends in the debate. Clause 19 provides that the Secretary of State
That might include the circumstances of ratepayers in a locality and the need to dissuade people from breaking the law. That is one factor which should weigh strongly with the Secretary of State for Scotland when he makes his decision as a Member of the executive. The clause goes on,"shall have regard to all the circumstances of the case".
That the penalty should be suited to the means of any person is an important principle. I should not like to see the lack of a discretion which would permit people to be hounded, perhaps to have their wages arrested over a long period, to have their furniture seized or to be made bankrupt. One result of the sequestration of assets is that a person cannot hold a tenancy. Therefore, it could mean the splitting up of families. The clause provides that the Secretary of State for Scotland should have discretion to fit the penalty to the means of the offender as well as to the circumstances of the offence and that both situations should be weighed. The ratepayers have it in their hands, as electors, to deal with councillors whom they think are reckless and irresponsible. The clause provides that the Secretary of State is still empowered to make a surcharge in whole or in part, having taken account of the circumstances. I hope that he will take account of the circumstances and will decide to relate the penalty to the circumstances of the offence and the means of those councillors who took the wrong viewpoint. I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands that there is a strong degree of retrospection in this legislation. As I said on Second Reading, an attempt has been made to vary the regulations. No decision is being specifically recalled and had the Secretary of State or any other Minister attempted by legislation to recall a decision already made by a predecessor, be he of the same party or another party, I would unhesitatingly have asked my hon. Friends to join me in the Lobby to vote against such a proposal. We are dealing here with a variation of criteria. The Opposition conceded in their 1973 Act that it is necessary for the Secretary of State to have some discretion. If they conceded that, then I ask them to concede it now and not waste the time of Parliament in a lot of political mud slinging about the Bill which they would do well to accept if they wish to be reestablished in Scotland as a credible political organisation."including such information as may be available to him as to the means of any person against whom a surcharge might be made".
The amendment is fairly narrow but it has caused the whole question of Clause 19 to be reopened. I said a great deal on Second Reading and in Committee about the clause and there is not a lot that I can add to that. As the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) said, the provision in Clause 19 is substantially the same as that which the previous Conservative Government put into their 1973 Act. That Act specifically changed the then existing 1947 legislation, and the change will be applicable from 16th May 1975 when the new authorities begin to operate.In spite of all the fire and fury from the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) on Second Reading, in Committee and again this evening, we have heard no explanation from the Conservatives why the 1947 provision was replaced by the 1973 Act. The provision in that Act was considered so unexceptionable and was in such generally agreeable terms that it was not even debated. We must assume that the Conservative Government found that the 1947 provisions were too narrow and that they did not allow the Secretary of State sufficient flexibility to deal with surcharge reports which might be submitted to him. I made clear on Second Reading that the intention of Clause 19 was to import a degree of flexibility into the present situation. That will be available after 16th May this year for the new authorities and it will enable us to deal with the housing default orders which are before the Secretary of State. There was no distinction drawn in the 1973 Act, and there will be none after 16th May 1975, between default orders generally and default orders in respect of fines. They are dealt with in exactly the same way. In the 1973 Act the then Tory Government did not see fit to make the sort of distinction about surcharges which Conservative Members now attempt to make. The 1973 Act went through the House at a time when there was considerable controversy and the possibility that certain authorities would refuse to carry out the duties being placed on them by the 1972 Act. Local authorities held dear the right to fix their own rents. Nevertheless the 1973 measure went through without any steps being taken to make the distinction between default orders that are being argued now. There is an element of inconsistency—I use that word rather than the harsher words of "humbug" and "hypocrisy"—in what the hon. Member for Cathcart was saying. If he is so anxious to expose what he sees to be inconsistencies in the Scottish National Party, he might care at some time to explain the inconsistency between what the Tory Government did in 1973 and what his party is attempting to do now. I am grateful for the support of the Scottish National Party, which voted in favour of the Second Reading of this Bill. There was a slight contretemps in Committee. I am glad to see that the SNP has now returned to the fold. The hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) has been mentioned. I suppose that there are black sheep in every family. However, he seems to have strayed away somewhere else this evening, fortunately for all of us. I do not object to what the hon. Member said in Committee, because this is a matter on which hon. Members might well hold strong views. The fact remains that we are doing here what the Tory Government did in 1973. I shall not rehearse all the arguments about the 1973 Act, except to say that it represented an attempt by the then Government to dictate to local authorities in a way which they found thoroughly unacceptable. I will not say what the Secretary of State may do with regard to any of these default reports if the clause goes through unamended. This will be strictly for him to decide in the light of the circumstances, as the clause puts it. He will be able to take into account the fact that the law was defied and the circumstances of the case, including the means of the persons concerned. This is obviously an important consideration. We must have regard to the realities of the situation. To pretend that some of the surcharges could be met, with the figures involved—not only in Clydebank but elsewhere—would be to fly in the face of the facts. The councillors could not be surcharged in any realistic sense for the figures that are involved. That would not have happened under the previous Government any more than it would happen under this Government. I have bad news for the hon. Member for Cathcart. The amendment is, unfortunately, erroneously drafted. I am sorry to add to the hon. Gentleman's burdens, because I know that it has not been a good week for him. He attempted to show that the effect of the councillors disobeying the law was that the unfortunate tenants concerned had to pay more rent than they would have done if the councillors had obeyed the law. The hon. Gentleman had about six attempts at tabling the right Question to produce that remarkable result. Unfortunately, when he eventually got the right Question he got, from his point of view, the wrong answer, because the answer demonstrated that he was completely wrong. Tonight the hon. Gentleman was anxious to skate over that aspect of the matter and not to go into it in the great detail which attracted him at an earlier stage. Having made an error about that, it is a great pity that the hon. Gentleman should have made an error about the amendment. It would not have the effect that hon. Members have in mind. The amendment, with its reference to the subsection not applying, would have the effect of disapplying the whole subsection of the 1947 Act which imposes the possibility of surcharges. In other words, if the amendment were to be carried it would not be open to the Secretary of State to impose any surcharges where a fine is at issue. That is what the distinguished lawyers on the Conservative side of the House who have no doubt drafted the amendment will be writing into the Bill if they push the amendment to a Division and succeed. Hon. Members may wish to reconsider the matter. It is a pity that our rules do not allow for a brief adjournment at this stage. Perhaps the hon. Member will wish to reconsider the amendment, which was misconceived in intent from the beginning, is misconceived in principle and is also, I am sorry to say, misconceived in drafting.
The Minister is perfectly correct in saying that our wording may be defective. However, I can assure him that that could be easily put right by the next stage of the Bill.The Minister informed my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor), whose excellent speech I have pleasure in supporting, that he was incorrect in suggesting that those tenants who paid rent in Clydebank were paying more as a result of the defiance of the law. The reply given by the Secretary of State confirms that every year the council house tenants of Clydebank are paying more than £17 extra as a result of the defiance of the law, because the rents had to be made up and they were put up much higher than they would otherwise have been. I mention this fact so that those paying rent in Clydebank know what the true position is. I am glad that the members of the Scottish National Party made their position clear. It was somewhat discreditable of the Scottish Nationalist Members that they attacked their colleague the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) in his absence. This means now that every time a Member of the Scottish National Party appears on a Committee he will have to say in advance whether his views represent those of his party. It is clear that we believed that the hon. Member was putting forward the policy of the Scottish National Party. He was not. 10.30 p.m. We strongly disagree with the principle in the clause that councillors who defy the law should be indemnified retrospectively. The essence of the clause is retrospective legislation. The Minister should accept that this let-off provision should not apply to the £20,000 fine imposed by the High Court of Justiciary on the Clydebank councillors for contempt of court. If the clause is accepted unamended, it will be the ratepayers of Clydebank who will contribute to the payment of the fine. It is unfair and
Division No. 99.]
|Beith, A. J.||Hawkins, Paul||Mudd, David|
|Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham)||Hayhoe, Barney||Neave, Airey|
|Biffen, John||Hicks, Robert||Neubert, Michael|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Hooson, Emlyn||Rathbone, Tim|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)||Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|Brittan, Leon||Hunt, John||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)|
|Brotherton, Michael||Hurd, Douglas||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)|
|Budgen, Nick||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Carlisle, Mark||Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)||Shepherd, Colin|
|Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)||James, David||Sims, Roger|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Kershaw, Anthony||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Corrie, John||King, Evelyn (South Dorset)||Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)|
|Dean, Paul (N Somerset)||Lane, David||Stainton, Keith|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Latham, Michael (Melton)||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Lawrence, Ivan||Steel, David (Roxburgh)|
|Fairgrieve, Russell||Le Marchant, Spencer||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)|
|Farr, John||Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Stokes, John|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Luce, Richard||Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)|
|Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)||Macfarlane, Neil||Tebbit, Norman|
|Freud, Clement||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Mather, Carol||Townsend, Cyril D.|
|Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)||Mawby, Ray||Viggers, Peter|
|Goodhew, Victor||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Wainwright, Richard (Coine V)|
|Gray, Hamish||Mayhew, Patrick||Walder, David (Clitheroe)|
|Grieve, Percy||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Grimond, Rt Hon J.||Moate, Roger|
|Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Monro, Hector||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hannam, John||Montgomery, Fergus||Mr. John Stradling Thomas and|
|Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)||Mr. Adam Butler.|
|Allaun, Frank||Dalyell, Tam||Harper, Joseph|
|Ashton, Joe||Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Dempsey, James||Henderson, Douglas|
|Atkinson, Norman||Doig, Peter||Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)|
|Bain, Mrs Margaret||Dormand, J. D.||Huckfield, Les|
|Bates, Alf||Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N)|
|Bean, R. E.||Duffy, A. E. P.||Hunter, Adam|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Dunn, James A.||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)|
|Boardman, H.||Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)||Janner, Greville|
|Booth, Albert||Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)||John, Brynmor|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Evans, John (Newton)||Johnson, Walter (Derby S)|
|Buchanan, Richard||Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||Jones, Dan (Burnley)|
|Canavan, Dennis||Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Kaufman, Gerald|
|Cartwright, John||Flannery, Martin||Kerr, Russell|
|Clemitson, Ivor||Ford, Ben||Kinnock, Neil|
|Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)||Forrester, John||Lambie, David|
|Coleman, Donald||Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||Lamond, James|
|Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||George, Bruce||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Corbett, Robin||Golding, John||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Gould, Bryan||Loyden, Eddie|
|Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill)||Gourlay, Harry||Luard, Evan|
|Crawford, Douglas||Graham, Ted||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)|
|Cryer, Bob||Grocott, Bruce||McCartney, Hugh|
|Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)||Hamling, William||McElhone, Frank|
unjust to penalise ratepayers because certain councillors have defied the law.
I gather from the equivocal speech of the hon Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) that the Opposition intend to press the amendment. I do not know why I should be so charitable as to save them from themselves, but, in view of the nonsense that it would make of the clause, I must recommend my hon. Friends to vote against the amendment.
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The House divided: Ayes 68, Noes 129.
|McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Parry, Robert||Stoddart, David|
|Mackenzie, Gregor||Peart, Rt Hon Fred||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Mackintosh, John P.||Perry, Ernest||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Maclennan, Robert||Price, William (Rugby)||Thompson, George|
|McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)||Radice, Giles||Tinn, James|
|McNamara, Kevin||Reid, George||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Madden, Max||Robertson, John (Paisley)||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Magee, Bryan||Roderick, Caerwyn||Watt, Hamish|
|Marks, Kenneth||Rodgers, George (Chorley)||Wellbeloved, James|
|Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Rooker, J. W.||White, Frank R. (Bury)|
|Meacher, Michael||Rose, Paul B.||White, James (Pollok)|
|Mendelson, John||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilm'nock)||Williams, Alan (Swansea W)|
|Millan, Bruce||Selby, Harry||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)||Sillars, James||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Skinner, Dennis||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King||Small, William||Woof, Robert|
|Noble, Mike||Snape, Peter||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|O'Halloran, Michael||Spearing, Nigel||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Ovenden, John||Spriggs, Leslie||Mr. James Hamilton and|
|Parker, John||Stallard, A. W.||Mr. Laurie Pavitt.|
Question accordingly negatived.
Interpretation Of Part Ii
I beg to move Amendment No. 15, in page 25, line 40, leave out subsection (2).
With this we are to consider Government Amendments Nos. 16 and 17.
The effect of the three amendments is to put the new definition, which is now in Clause 32, into the place where it properly belongs, which is Clause 35. That means that some of the specific definitions in Clause 35 are no longer necessary, which is the effect of Amendment No. 16. These are basically tidying up, drafting amendments.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments made: No. 16, in page 26, leave out lines 28 to 31.
No. 17, in page 27, line 10, at end insert—
'(2) Expressions used in this Act and in the Act of 1973 shall have the same meanings in this Act as in that Act.'.—[Mr. Millan.]
Lands And Heritages To Which Section 6 Applies
I beg to move Amendment No. 18, in page 28, line 5, at end insert
This amendment picks up the point made in Committee by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) concerning dwelling houses in relation to water undertakings. As I explained then, and in a recent letter to the hon. Gentleman, it is not intended that dwelling houses shall in any circumstances come within the special provisions of Schedule 1 under the assessor of public undertakings valuations. The way in which Schedule 1 is drafted has the effect of specifically excluding dwellinghouses at every point except in the drafting of paragraph 1. The hon. Gentleman pointed out that anomaly in Committee. I am grateful to him for that. I have put the matter right by means of Amendment No. 18.'other than excepted premises as defined in paragraph 1 of Schedule 2 to that Act'.
I am grateful to the Minister for his action and for his explanation.To remove any doubt, will he say whether this provision applies to caretakers' and watchmen's houses within the confines of a water undertaking?
I think that it will apply to dwellinghouses generally, yes.
Amendment agreed to.
Borrowing And Lending By Local Authorities And Certain Of Their Funds
I beg to move Amendment No. 19, in page 35, line 47, leave out 'period of account' and insert 'year'.We come now to a series of Government amendments up to and including Amendment No. 41 which are all directed towards a redrafting of Schedule 3. If I were to make a general explanation of what we are attempting here, perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House to consider them together. None of these raises any point of principle. I have already circulated to those hon. Members who were members of the Standing Committee a revised version of Schedule 3, so that they will have been able to judge whether we are making any proposals to which they are opposed.
We are grateful to the Minister for sending us an explanation of this complicated schedule. We are quite happy to consider these amendments together.
In that event, perhaps I might explain that Schedule 3 deals with borrowing and lending by local authorities and with certain of their funds. As drafted, it is basically a consolidation and restatement of the existing law. But many of the provisions are now out of date and, since Second Reading, we have discussed these matters with the local authority financial officers. They agree with us that it would be more satisfactory to take some of the detailed provisions out of the schedule and to provide for them by way of regulations.There is also a restatement and tidying up of a number of parts of the Schedule where we had not got the wording quite right. We have also made some rearrangement of the provisions. If any hon. Member feels unhappy about any part of the Schedule and lets me know about it between now and consideration of the Bill in the other place, I shall be happy to consider it and to see whether we can deal with it or explain what we are doing.
Amendment agreed to.
No. 20, in page 36, line 42, leave out 'derived'.
No. 21, in line 46, leave out 'derived'.
No. 22, in line 49, leave out 'derived from rates' and insert 'as aforesaid'.
No. 23, in page 37, line 10, leave out paragraphs 8 to 10.
No. 24, in page 38, line 37, after 'and', insert:
'all money borrowed by a local authority by whatever method shall be deemed to have the same charge and security and shall rank pari passu'
No. 25, in page 39, line 38, after 'thereon', insert:
'and shall be part of the general fund of the authority'.
No. 26, in line 39, leave out '16 to 36' and insert '15A to 35A'.
No. 27, in line 42, at end insert—
'15A.—(1) All capital assets and liabilities which are transferred to a local authority from an authority which ceases to exist on 16th May 1975, other than property which is subject to section 128 of the Act of 1973 or which is referred to in section 222(2) or 223 of that Act, shall be paid into or transferred to the loans fund of the local authority.
(2) All investments transferred to the loans fund as from 16th May 1975 shall be entered in the accounts of the loans fund at the value shown on the account from which they are transferred.'.
No. 28, in page 40, line 10, leave out paragraphs 17 to 32 and insert—
'17.—(1) Subject to sub-paragraph (2) below, all sums advanced to a borrowing account of a local authority or to a relevant authority shall be repaid within the fixed period by equal yearly or half-yearly instalments of principal, or, where repayment is on the annuity system, by equal yearly or half-yearly instalments of principal and interest combined; and the authority shall in each year debit the borrowing account or charge to the relevant authority the sums required in that year for the repayment of the advance.
(2) In any case where—
(a) a local authority make an advance to any person and the expenditure incurred in making the advance is defrayed by borrowing; and (b) the terms of that advance are such that repayment is to be made otherwise than by equal yearly or half-yearly instalments of principal or of principal and interest combined; and (c) apart from this sub-paragraph, the local authority would have no power, with respect to the expenditure referred to in paragraph (a) above, to vary the sums which would otherwise be debited or charged under sub-paragraph (1) above or to suspend their obligation under that sub-paragraph,the local authority may, under sub-paragraph (1) above, debit to the borrowing account from which, or charge to the relevant authority by whom, the expenditure referred to in paragraph (a) above would otherwise fall to be defrayed, sums of different amounts (whether or not including instalments of principal) in respect of different years in order to take account of the terms on which their advance falls to be repaid.
(3) Subject to paragraph 18 below, the first payment to the loans fund shall be made within twelve months, or where the money is repayable by half-yearly instalments within six months, from the date of the advance.
18.—(1) Where a sum is advanced from the loans fund in accordance with paragraph 16 above for any of the following purposes—
(a) meeting expenditure on the construction of new, or the extension or alteration of existing works forming or to form part of an undertaking of a revenue-producing character; (b) carrying out on land any other operations, being operations of a prescribed kind or operations specified in relation to that land by direction of the Secretary of State; (c) acquiring land for the purpose of the construction thereon of new, or the extension or alteration of existing, works forming or to form part of an undertaking of a revenue-producing character, or for the purpose of carrying out thereon of operations of a kind prescribed by virtue of paragraph (b) above, or operations specified in relation to that land by direction of the Secretary of State; (d) acquiring land specified by direction of the Secretary of State;the authority may, subject to the consent of the Secretary of State, suspend in whole or in part any annual provision required under paragraph 17 above for the repayment from the borrowing account or by the relevant authority of the sum so advanced for such period (not being a period longer than the period during which the expenditure remains unremunerative or the period of five years from the commencement of the year next after that in which the expenditure commences to be incurred, whichever is the shorter) and subject to such conditions as the Secretary of State may determine.
(2) Where any annual provision required to be made for the repayment of any sum has been suspended under sub-paragraph (1) above, a local authority may borrow for the purpose of payment, during the period of the suspension, of interest on that sum.
(3) Where by virtue of paragraph 17 above a local authority are required to debit a sum to the borrowing account or charge a sum to a relevant authority and they suspend, in whole or in part, any annual provision for the repayment of the principal, they may refrain from debiting to that account or charging to the relevant authority an amount equal to the amount of the annual provision so suspended.
(4) In this paragraph "prescribed" means prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State.
19.—(1) The authority shall at the time an advance is made under paragraph 16 above determine—
(a) the period within which the advance is to be repaid to the loans fund, being a period not exceeding the fixed period; and (b) the amount of each of the periodical payments required to repay the advance within the period so determined, and the date on which the first of the said payments is to be made.
(2) The periodical payments shall be either equal yearly or half-yearly instalments of principal or, where the advance is to be repaid on the annuity system, equal yearly or half-yearly instalments of principal and interest combined, the amount of principal included in each instalment being separately stated.
(3)The periodical payments shall so far as practicable be so adjusted as to be expressed in complete pounds.
(4) This paragraph shall apply with the necessary modifications in the case of advances from the loans fund to a relevant authority.'.
No. 29, in page 46, line 23, after 'Schedule', insert:
'or any regulations made thereunder'.
No. 30, in line 26, at end insert:
'or such regulations'.
No. 31, in line 33, leave out paragraph 35 and insert—
'35.—(1) If at any time any sums due by way of principal or interest on any security created by a local authority remain unpaid for a period of two months after demand in writing, the person entitled thereto, being the holder of such a security to the amount of not less than £1,000, or the persons entitled thereto, being the holders of such securities amounting together to not less than £2,000, may present a petition to the Court of Session for the appointment of a judicial factor, and the Court may, if they think fit, appoint a judicial factor.
(2) Subject to the directions of the Court, the judicial factor shall have all the powers of the local authority or their proper officer of levying rates, making requisitions on rating authorities and collecting and recovering sums due to the authority in respect of rates or requisitions and any other sums whatsoever due to the authority and such other powers and duties as the Court think fit, and shall apply all moneys received by him, after payment of expenses including a proper remuneration for his trouble, as the Court direct for the purposes of this Schedule.
(3) The judicial factor shall have such access to and use of the books and documents of the local authority as he may require.
(4) The powers conferred by this paragraph shall be in addition to and not in derogation of any other powers competent to the holder of a security for enforcing payment of the sums due under the security.
35A.—(1) Notwithstanding anything in this Schedule, the Secretary of State may by regulations make such provision as appears to him necessary or expedient with respect to the operation of the loans fund of a local authority and such regulations may apply generally or in the case of any particular authority or class of authority.
(2) A statutory instrument containing regulations under this paragraph shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.'.
No. 32, in page 47, line 9, at beginning insert:
'Notwithstanding anything in any enactment.'.
No. 33, in line 12, after 'be', insert:
'advanced to the loans fund or'.
No. 34, in page 48, line 32, after 'of', insert 'paragraphs 1 to 12 of'.
No. 35, in line 35, leave out 'that section' and insert 'any enactment'.
No. 36, in line 40, leave out from 'borrowed' to end of line 41 and insert
'before the commencement of this Act by a local authority under a local enactment'.
No. 37, in page 49, line 10, leave out 'money borrowed' and insert
'sum advanced to a borrowing account or to a relevant authority'.
No. 38, in line 11, leave out 'borrowing' and insert 'the advance'.
No. 39, to leave out lines 15 and 16.
No. 40, to leave out lines 19 and 20.
No. 41, to leave out 'cash credit'.—[ Mr. Millan.]
Adaptation And Amendment Of Enactments
I beg to move Amendment No. 42, in page 53, line 12, at end insert
The amendment deals with the definition of lands and heritages, that being the basic definition contained in the Valuation Acts. Despite the fact that it arises at a fairly late stage in dealing with this legislation, this is a matter of particular importance. When the Secretary of State for Energy made his statement on energy conservation on 9th December 1974 a question was raised about the disincentives which might be found in valuation for rating. If a person improves his house that can give rise to an increased valuation. That is the whole basis on which the valuation of domestic premises proceeds. Valuation is based upon a notional rent. Therefore, if a person adds a new bathroom, WC or garage, or installs central heating to improve his house, the assessor can increase the valuation. The matters that I have mentioned all give rise to an increased valuation. If central heating is installed there will be a 10 per cent. increase in valuation. If partial central heating is installed the increase could be 7½ per cent. or 5 per cent. In one local authority valuation area that principle also applies to double glazing. This has caused a considerable amount of concern to many people and it should be a matter of concern for the Government. There is a new policy—indeed, it is a sensible one—that energy should be con- served. That means that if a person sets out to have better standards of insulation—for example, double glazing or central heating which, despite many theories to the contrary, I am told is a much better and more efficient use of energy than many other forms of heating—he can face the absurd situation of an increased valuation. This will act as a disincentive to improvement leading to a reduced consumption of energy. In a sense an important part of the Government's policy on energy conservation hangs on this amendment. If we take the viewpoint that there is a need for an improvement in housing standards and a need to improve insulation—that is the background set by the document which has been issued by the Department of the Environment entitled "Warmth Kept In Keeps Heating Costs Down"—the Government must make some form of adjustment to valuation and rating law. It is proposed that there should be a doubling of insulation standards. By proving that there has been an improvement in a house leading to the saving of energy, and thus fuel costs, an assessor could, bring before a valuation appeal committee the argument that the improvement could bring in an increase in rent and, therefore, give rise to an increased valuation. To my knowledge no assessor has attempted to take that course, but that approach is built into the whole system of valuation. Houses are valued according to size, the amenities which might be in them, the environment and, to some extent, upon the design and the quality of construction. A post-war house, be it local authority or private, can be classed in a lower level of valuation merely because it was built to a more utilitarian standard and with poorer materials in the post-war years. It is possible to argue that insulation or improvements in housing could lead to increases in valuation. That runs counter to the Government's energy conservation policy. Another point that aggravates some people in Scotland is that, because of the system of yearly changes, such improvements as are carried out to houses, almost immediately—within a year—are added to the gross annual value, that is the rateable value, whereas in England, because of a system of Treasury valuers who are overworked and carry out valuations less frequently, five or six years or more may elapse before an improvement finds it way into the valuation of a house. The amendment would restrict this provision to domestic properties. With industrial premises, Government consideration should be given to the different types of space heating, so I have left it to them in time to work out their own proposals. When it comes to energy conservation, with district heating, because of the system of pipes, insulation, ducting and fixed apertures and cabling, there is a strong argument for any assessor to say the system should be considered rateable. This might also be at odds with Government policy. Although I would not be inclined to press this matter to a Division because it is a new idea which the Government might wish to consider, I hope that they will bear it in mind, because their whole energy conservation policy might be helped by their acceptance of this new principle. It would be undesirable, in a Bill of this sort, which is not attempting to do that, to make that kind of change.'and for the purposes of the valuation roll for the year 1975–76 or any subsequent years, the definition of "lands and heritages" in the said section shall not include appliances for space heating, double glazing and wall and ceiling insulation which are situated or fitted in a building other than one occupied for any trade, business or manufacturing process'.
I understand why the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) has put down the amendment. The Government are interested in energy conservation and are trying to encourage people to have regard to it in all they do, including what they do with their houses. The trouble is, as he said, that any improvement is liable, under the normal valuation procedure, to lead to increased valuations. Therefore, there seems to be an inconsistency between different arms of Government policy.However, that apparent inconsistency applies in other circumstances too. It is, for example, a general part of Government housing policy, as it was with the previous Government, to encourage improvements in houses generally. There are special provisions in legislation for Government and local authority assistance to produce that desirable result. Yet, at the end of the day, in that case also, rateable values can be and often are increased. In that kind of situation, one has to accept that the general encourage- ment of a particular desirable piece of public policy may have for the occupiers of the houses concerned some disabilities as well as advantages. I say that not to devalue the particular importance of energy conservation but to make the general point that if we accepted the amendment or something similar we should be acting against a basic principle of valuation law.
I should like to bring to the Minister's attention the fact that a substantial change of valuation law is proposed in the Schedule, insofar as it refers to electric motors and the change made in valuation law some years ago, to take out electric storage heaters which had previously been considered to be rateable, so the valuation law was then breached in favour of that form of heating.
Different considerations are involved on electric motors. That came from the recommendations of the McNairn Committee. We mentioned this briefly during the Committee stage. It does not raise the wider questions which this amendment would raise.In the matter of electric storage heaters one was dealing with the rather anomalous position that something which was, from the point of view of the householder analogous to an ordinary heating appliance, was being treated as a fixture. That was giving rise to anomalies, but here we are not dealing with anomalies but with breaching the principles where matters of public money should be the overriding factor. This is much more important. I cannot accept the amendment nor can I give hope that an amendment in similar terms would be acceptable in this Bill, but this sort of thing is relevant to the Layfield Committee. It is not sufficiently appreciated, outside at least, that although the Layfield Committee will be looking at alternative sources of local authority finance and the rest of the wide issues, it will be concerned very much with valuation and other matters inside the rating system, so it may have something to say to the Government and all of us on these matters. It would be a pity to accept this amendment or a modification which would have similar consequences. It may be that following Layfield, we shall want to make a number of different changes in the context of local authority finance structure in a wider sense. I cannot accept this, although I do not devalue the point made, but one would breach a principle here which has wide ranging consequences. The time is not appropriate to do it. We should have to do it in a much wider context.
I am prepared to have the amendment negatived.
I beg to move Amendment No. 43, in page 55, line 30, at end insert:
This amendment arises out of experience I had as secretary to a valuation appeal committee during a period of revaluation, contrasted almost immediately after by service in a non-revaluation year when it was apparent to me and to a number of appellants that the rules had changed and rather sadly, against appellants who wished to bring appeals. The normal rule for revaluation years is that one start afresh on an appropriate basis on the condition of the premises at the time of revaluation, and therefore there is little to weigh between the evidence produced on each side by the assessor and the appellant. When matters are completely even, there is a slight onus in favour of the assessor. But the rule has many limitations, because in revaluation years it is not always easy for appellants to produce evidence which can satisfy not only the commonsense approach of the tribunal but the directives of the Lands Valuation Appeal Court. Often the committee is well aware that both sides are using it as an instrument for appeal to the higher court. There are certain opportunities for a committee during revaluation to take decisions on environmental matters which can result in reductions, albeit small at times, for the benefit of appellants. There are limits, and if a committee oversteps them it can find its decision recalled by the superior court. But in a non-revaluation year there are new criteria. The first, which is not unreasonable, is that there should be a material change of circumstances. If a valuation has been settled the previous year, it is necessary for there to have been a change giving grounds for an appeal. Assessors use that provision to bring altered subjects on to the roll. Appellants can also appeal. For example, if a sewage works opens immediately opposite someone's house he may be able to tell the appeal committee that the situation has changed entirely since he appeared the previous year. Many people appear from year to year. But there is an inhibiting factor, with which the amendment tries to deal. It is not merely a material change of circumstances that can allow a committee to upset the previous valuation. There must be a material change of circumstances which has an effect on value. In a sense this goes to the bedrock of the valuation system. If it has no effect on value, the material change, whether good or ill, can lead to no change in the valuation of the subject under review. There is an interpretation by the courts of this time-honoured phrase which has made it almost impossible for the small appellant to approach the appeal committee with any hope of success. The following quotation from page 16 of the fourth edition of Armour on Valuation for Rating may make the matter relatively clear:'20. The rules applicable to ascertainment and proof of value of lands and heritages in appeals taken in revaluation years shall be extended to appeals taken in non-revaluation years on the ground of a material change of circumstances affecting value, and sections 9(7) and 10 shall be construed accordingly'.
that is true in a revaluation year as well—"The onus is on the party claiming that a material change of circumstances has occurred and this must be discharged by proper evidence. An ex parte statement and the knowledge of some members of the Committee is not sufficient"—
That also applies in a revalution year."nor may the Committee rely on their own local knowledge alone".
Here we come to the rub:"The Committee are not entitled to decide whether or not there is a material change of circumstances on argument without hearing evidence."
There are one or two ways in which appellants can skip round that, by relying on the practice of an assessor which may have changed since the last valuation, or on another case which has been decided and has altered the circumstances. Nevertheless, in connection with a house, where what is at stake is perhaps a £5 or £10 a year reduction in gross annual value, and a smaller figure when it comes to ascertainment of rateable value, one must employ a skilled valuer to give an opinion on value. That is the difference between a revaluation and a non-revaluation year. Although there are restrictions upon an appellant in the presentation and acceptance of evidence in a revaluation year, he need not produce the skilled valuer who can produce evidence of a reduction in value following a material change. The amendment seeks to apply to the situation the same rules on evidence as apply in a revalution year. Hon. Members may think that this is a small matter. However, an appellant who makes an appeal because of something that affects his amenity or the rental value of his house and therefore its valuation and comes within what has been described in Armour on Valuation for Rating as perhaps a justifiable case, may find that because of the technical rules he is unable to succeed before the committee which in turn has to look over its shoulder at the Lands Valuation Appeal Court. I suggest that the rules contain a sufficient weight in favour of the assessor through the rule involving proof of material change of circumstances along with the other inhibitions on the committee's ability to take discretionary decisions to allow acceptance of the amendment. I think that it gives greater flexibility in dealing with appeals against domestic valuations. I strongly urge the House to accept the amendment."The evidence required in most cases will include evidence of the effect on value given by someone qualified to express a view on the matter. Without skilled assistance a justifiable appeal may well fail."
The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) has explained the amendment clearly and expertly. I do not disagree with his description of the present system. I accept what he is attempting to do in the amendment and have considerable sympathy with its object, but in a non-revaluation year the burden of proof on the appellant is extremely high. In fact, unless he is able to demonstrate through rental evidence that there has been a material change of circumstances affecting the value of his house, he is unlikely to succeed. Indeed, in many circumstances it is very difficult for an appellant to produce the necessary information.I agree that many worthy cases fail because the system does not allow a burden of proof which appellants are reasonably able to discharge. The situation has been criticised by the Scottish Valuation Advisory Committee which takes the view that in many circumstances it is unreasonable to expect an appellant to discharge the burden of proof that is placed upon him. I accept that we ought to do something, but it is not a matter which is easily drafted. The amendment, apart from technical difficulties, would go too far. It would mean that, even if the matter concerned were comparatively trivial, the whole question of the valuation could be considered de novo, which might be a burdensome procedure. I accept that we ought to make an appeal in a non-revaluation year easier. I do not mean that we want to produce an unfair result, but that, where there is a material change of circumstances, the burden of proof relating to value should somehow or other be lessened compared with what it is now. We are considering this matter, but it presents considerable drafting difficulties. We have a formula in mind but I do not wish to describe it to the House in case it proves ultimately to be defective. If it is acceptable we would hope to move the appropriate amendment in another place. If the hon. Member will therefore withdraw the amendment I promise him that I shall do everything possible to get the basic substance of his amendment into the Bill. If I find that that is not possible I will write to him and let him know. If it is possible I shall write to him when we have tabled the amendment to tell him we have done so. I cannot give the hon. Member a guarantee on a matter of this complexity. However if I can meet the basic point behind his amendment I shall do everything possible to do so in another place.
I am grateful to the Minister of State for his acceptance of the spirit of the amendment. I hope that something will appear in the other place which will give a fairer deal to the appellant in this circumstance of a non revaluation year. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move Amendment No. 44, in page 56, line 2, at end insert:
It relates to the fixing of a date for assessors to furnish estimates of rateable values for a revaluation year. Because of the change in the date of the financial year we need to change the date which at present stands at 15th March. Instead of putting in a new date it seems better to provide that the date should be prescribed by order. That is what the amendment does.'22A. In section 7(4) (apportionment), for the words "the fifteenth day of March" there shall be substituted the words "the date prescribed by order under section 13 of the Act of 1956.'.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments made: No. 45 in page 56, line 39, after 'it)', insert '( a)'.
No. 46, in page 56, line 43, at end insert:
'(b) in subsection (3), for the words "Part XII of the said Act of 1947" there shall be substituted the words "Schedule 3 to the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1975";
(c) in subsection (5), for the words "section 261 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1947" there shall be substituted the words "paragraph 11 of Schedule 3 to the said Act of 1975".'.—[Mr. Millan.]
I beg to move Amendment No. 47, in page 59, line 37, at end insert:
I spoke on this matter on Second Reading and we debated it again in Committee. The only reason I am raising the matter again is that for technical reasons I was unable to test the feeling of the Committee in a Division. I hope that the Government may have given the matter further thought. The amendment seeks to change the wording of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 and to provide for the Lothians Region and the Borders Region each to have its own police force instead of the proposal by the Government to have a joint police board. It is significant that the amendment has multi-party support. Apart from the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) whose constituency is also affected, the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Fairgrieve) lives, and has served on local authorities, in my constituency. He is, therefore, familiar with the issues at stake. I took down the words of the Minister when he was replying to an earlier amendment because I thought that they were important. He referred to the Tory Government's Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act and described this as an attempt to dictate to local authorities in a way which they found totally unacceptable. The Minister criticised the Amendment on that basis and I trust that he will stick to that principle in considering this amendment and accept, whatever else may be said in defence of the proposal, that this is a case of St. Andrew's House over-ruling the wishes of the elected regional councils. Parliament could not have known at the time when this matter was peremptorily examined during the passage of the 1973 Act what was in the mind of the regional councils because they had not then come into existence. There is an obligation on this House to take note of what the local authorities, now they are in existence, think on this subject. I will not go back over the whole argument. I will merely quote two parts of the submission of the Borders Regional Council when it pointed out that:'45A. In section 146 (police), in subsection (7), in the Table in the new subsection 21A(2) inserted in the Police (Scotland) Act 1967, the words "South Eastern … Borders and Lothian" shall be omitted'.
The council says that if this joint committee were constituted the members would have complete power of decision in implementing the police function. The scheme provides that the joint committee would requisition both constituent authorities for an annual sum to meet the cost of the combined police force. Neither council, therefore, would have any opportunity to vary the requisition or would have any control over the allocation of resources to the joint committee. That is a reason why the House should always hesitate in the creation of joint boards. The cost in this case is quite considerable. Since the Committee stage I have had representations from the South of Scotland Chamber of Commerce querying the cost of this proposal. The submission from the Borders Regional Council points out that it has been estimated that the annual revenue expenditure of such a joint committee would be of the order of £10 million. It says that this represents a fairly substantial proportion of the total estimated revenue expenditure of both councils and that if the proposals in the Act of 1973 were implemented in accordance with the scheme drafted by the Scottish Home and Health Department the effect would be that a substantial proportion of the members of the councils who did not happen to be members of the joint committee would have no opportunity of exercising any control over the allocation of resources to the joint committee. Moreover, it is the assessment of the Borders Regional Council that the effect of the Government's proposed joint committee would be to cost the regions about £100,000 more than would be the cost of having separate police forces. If it is wondered why it is that a centralised force should be more expensive I am bound to say that since the Committee stage I have received the first evidence of exactly the sort of thing to which I think people in the Border area will rightly object. I understand from one of the social work departments that under the proposed reorganisation complaints against persons under the age of 16, which at present go straight from the local police force to the local children's reporter, would in future go through the central machine in Edinburgh and then back down to the Border authority. It is this sort of nonsense against which we ought to guard. I have re-read what the Minister said in Committee when he argued in favour of the joint committee. I see that he laid some stress on the specialised facilities that would be avail- able to a joint police force. I have looked at the specialist services required by the present Berwick, Roxburgh and Selkirk Constabulary. The existing force is smaller than would be the enlarged force under the Borders Region. I could go through each facility. Let me take one or two examples. Dog handlers are not available to the present police force. During the past five years the services of a dog handler have been required on an average of only two occasions a year and on only one occasion in that time did the presence of the handler play a significant part in the police search. I could mention fingerprinting, investigation of serious crime, underwater search teams. The services of Glasgow City Police underwater search team were recently obtained for a search of the River Teviot. Such a team is not available in Edinburgh City Police or the Lothians and Peebles Constabulary. It is unjustified for the Government to base their case for a joint police board on the very few and rare occasions when specialist services are required. The conclusion of the memorandum I have received from the police is that the experience indicates that there is no reason why the Berwick, Roxburgh and Selkirk Constabulary could not continue to operate as a separate entity, assuming responsibility for the Peebles area from 15th May. Then the point is made that it has been the practice to extend facilities without reservation to neighbouring forces and there is no doubt that such an arrangement would continue in future. I hope that tonight we shall not have the argument about the specialist services that we had in Committee. This comes down to the basic question whether the Government will be obstinate and stick by the view that St. Andrew's House knows best. It is an attitude which they should rid themselves of. I believe that, if they maintain their attitude, they will succeed only in getting the reorganisation of local government in those areas off to a poor start. One of the reasons for going through the trauma of reorganisation of local government was, wherever possible, to establish a meaningful democratic content of local government and to abolish joint boards of this kind."the draft scheme, which was sent to the Councils on 3rd June 1974, makes provision for the appointment by each of the authorities of an unspecified number of members who would form a Joint Committee with executive powers to administer the combined police force."
I support the amendment which stands in my name and that of the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel). I support it on the same grounds as those already expressed but with a slightly different emphasis.I, who represent the area, was never happy about the idea that there should be a separate Borders Region. Because it was such a small region, it seemed to me that it would have great difficulty in maintaining certain services on its own. I was pleased that the Wheatley Commission did not recommend a separate region. I thought that it would have to borrow or cannibalise on services from the south-eastern or Lothians Region. Such a proceeding is always very unsatisfactory. Then the Conservative Government that followed inserted a Borders Region, which was an oddity, because its population was lower and its resources were lower than those of the average district in Scotland. The inevitable result of this was that the region was combined with the Lothians Region for police, for fire, for child health, and for certain aspects of further education. I regard all joint boards as fundamentally unsatisfactory, for all the reasons that my hon. Friend the Minister of State and others have advanced on so many occasions. In this case, as we set up a Borders Region, we should do everything possible to give it the services for the Region under its own control. However, it transpires that the nearby large region—the Edinburgh Lothians Region—does not want the Borders police force to join it in a joint association. The Borders region does not want to share a police force. The two police forces themselves do not wish to be jointed. I therefore echo what the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles said. It makes a very curious case for the Government, who have accepted the general principle, and who accepted it in opposition, of a separate Borders Region, now to say that they know better than both regions and better than both police forces what is in their interests. If the spirit of the Local Government Bill had any meaning, it was that when local authorities, without any resistance or objection from anybody, ask for certain things to be done, if possible this should be acceded to. Here we have both regions, both police forces and public opinion in both areas behind it. So, as the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles said, there has to be an overpowering reason for insisting on maintaining something against all this. The only reason I have been able to think of is that of special equipment, which I do not think helps in this situation, for the reasons adduced by the hon. Gentleman. A much deeper reason, though it is not an argument on the merits, is that there is a reluctance to reopen anything which was settled in the 1973 Act in case wider issues such as the size of the Strathclyde Region and all the rest have to arise at the same time. I know that this is a small point, but as it is so generally desired I hope that the Government will consider it. I cannot see any other meaning to local autonomy than the acceptance of such a case. There is also a very deep political point locally. If the Borders, being a small region, is represented on the joint committee in proportion to its population it will have only one or two members. On the other hand, if it is given a proportionately larger representation so that it has meaningful control, it means that its members will upset the political balance on the committee. The situation is acceptable neither to the Borders Region, which would not have adequate control of its police force in any sense, nor to the Lothians Region, which would find the party political balance on the joint board different from that in its region. This causes political, financial and administrative problems, and it is contrary to the desires of the people in the area. It is the sort of thing on which the Minister might give way, and I hope that he will do so tonight.
I wish to take up a few moments of the time of the House to support what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) and the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel). I do not propose to query the wisdom of the decision taken by the previous Conservative administration, but I find it a little bizarre that my Front Bench feels obliged to defend the wisdom of that decision.We have adequate new matter to justify looking at the decision again, in that we have the opinion of two regional councils which have been elected since that decision was taken. Both of them have come to the clear opinion that they do not wish the police forces to be amalgamated. Moreover, the decisions were taken without any significant dissentions in either of those regional councils. There was a debate a fortnight ago on devolution, when the House had the opportunity to hear some wonderful speeches on the powers that we might devolve, whether we give away powers of control over industry, trade and employment, whether we give away the right to raise taxation, and whether we give away the right over control of oil extraction rates. It seems to me to be silly that we debate giving away all these powers but when it comes to a decision about the amalgamation of the police forces of the Lothians Region and the Borders Region we say that that must remain firmly with Parliament, and not only that, but we shall ignore the wishes of the two local councils affected. I am not convinced by the argument that the Borders Region is not viable in terms of its police force. If we look at the South-West Region which has been formed, we see that it will have its own police force even though it has only a marginally greater population, a marginally greater police force and a marginally greater land mass. It is difficult to say that the difference is such that the Borders Region is not viable for a police force, and the South-West Region is. I assure the Minister that the Lothians Regional Council is willing to make available the specialist services which the Borders Region may need from time to time, and if it is the case that it requires two dog handlers twice a year, we call make these available at a cost of less than £100,000 per annum. The real point which concerns the regional council in the area which I represent is the problem of the joint committee, which was touched on by my hon. Friend. The Borders Region has less than one-tenth of the population in the affected area. It would be intolerable if it had less than one-tenth of the members on the joint committee. We accept that, and the Lothians Regional Council accepts it, but it has the unfortunate effect that if it is represented as is proposed by four out of 18 seats on the joint committee it will upset the political balance. That leaves the Lothians Regional Council with two alternatives. Either the ruling group on the council forgoes its majority on the joint committee and becomes a minority group—and the ruling group has put considerable weight and time into developing a cohesive and coherent corporate strategy in its approach to the administration and financing of the region and will be unable to take into account as part of the corporate strategy the sizeable budget of £10 million which is likely to be spent every year by the joint committee—or, alternatively, it takes itself a quite disproportionate share of the 14 seats which the council has on the joint committee. The latter is precisely what it is proposing to do, but this will leave an inequitably small amount of seats for the minority group on the Lothians Regional Council. I am not particularly concerned about taking sides as to which of the alternatives the council should have chosen. I am concerned with the fact that it is the creation of the joint committee which forces the ruling group on the Lothians Regional Council to take that invidious decision and make that invidious choice. Moreover, the point that worries the council, and what concerns me, is that the criticisms of scale that are made about the Borders Region police force can extend to many of its other functions. My hon. Friend said that when this was first discussed many hon. Members in this House, people outside, the local authority and myself were critical about whether the Borders Region could maintain a number of other functions which it is proposed to have. One might think of further education. Will it be so long before people start to say that the Borders Region is too small to maintain a viable further education scheme, or ask whether we should not amalgamate with the Lothians Region and have a joint committee? One can see the problem of the spawning of joint committees beginning to appear all over the range of functions between the two regional councils. That was precisely the problem we hoped to get away from by local government reform and which the Lothians Regional Council is worried about, because if this precedent is created the ruling group of that council might be faced on other occasions with further joint committees being created and losing its majority position in sectors much more politically sensitive than this one. I therefore urge my hon. Friend the Minister to treat this matter with even more sympathy than he was able to muster in Committee and not necessarily be inhibited by the actions of the previous Government.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) and the Minister of State saw representatives from the Lothians Regional Council and the Borders Regional Council on 14th November, when they made representations against the amalgamation of these police forces. The Minister made it clear that the amalgamation was going ahead, and in a letter dated 27th November the Chairman of the Lothians Regional Council wrote that no further action would be taken by his council for the provision of separate forces. His council was still convinced, however, that it would have been better to have separate forces.However, the matter does not rest there. On 25th February it was announced at the Lothians Regional Council meeting that the Labour Party would take 10 of the 14 seats from the Lothians Regional Council on the new joint police committee. This in no way reflects the composition of the Lothians Regional Council and it is clearly an abuse of majority powers. As the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) says, there may be reasons for this. None the less it is still an abuse of majority power, which would not be permitted in the House of Commons, where Standing Committees always rightly reflect the balance of the parties. Strong views have been expressed on the subject, and I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about it.
This matter was debated in Committee. I make no complaint, of course, that it is being raised again tonight. There is, however, a history to it, and I think I am entitled to say that there is this history and that in my view we are now far too far along the road, quite apart from any other consideration, for any change to be made at this time.On the merits of the amalgamation, however, the matter of the size of police forces goes as far back as the Royal Commission in the 1960s, and it goes back in more recent years to our debates on the Local Government (Scotland) Bill of 1973. My hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) makes the fair point that if one has a Borders Region which in terms of population, resources and the rest is much smaller than was considered by the Wheatley Commission to be a viable region in the context of local government reform in Scotland generally, inevitably a certain number of compromises are involved with regard to particular services. That is certainly true concerning the police. Indeed, the provision applying amalgamation in the case of Lothians and the Borders which appears in the 1973 Act was specifically included therein to make it explicit that the powers of amalgamation would be applied in this case. It was, therefore, not a general power of amalgamation that was being provided for but an amalgamation to meet particular circumstances such as those obtaining in the Lothians and Borders area taking account of the size of the regions and of the prospective police forces and the rest. I make the point that these were deliberate decisions taken in the 1973 Act. This is not something which happened by inadvertence. It was deliberately done.
The Minister will, of course, accept the point made by myself and others that those decisions were taken before we had the benefit of the views of either regional council.
I was just coming to that. My next sentence was that the fact that the decisions had been taken in 1973 does not mean that one should stick rigidly to them if new circumstances and considerations have arisen since then.My hon. Friends and the hon. Gentleman would have been entitled to be critical of the present Government if they had simply accepted the previous Government's decision, and the decision of the House, in 1973 and had not reconsidered the matter. But that is not the position, because my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, who at that time was dealing with police matters, reconsidered this matter, together with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and the meeting of November 1974 took place. A decision was taken by my right hon. Friend that the amalgamation should go ahead and the arrangements should be made accordingly. The decision was taken for reasons which have been well explained and I need not go over them, particularly as there will be an opportunity soon to deal with the matter again because the draft scheme is before the House and can be debated.
Surely the hon. Gentleman will accept that it is reasonable that we should discuss this matter now rather than have yet another debate on a Prayer. May I say as one who has tabled a Prayer that if we have a reasonable debate now there will be no need for a second one.
It depends how the hon. Gentleman defines "a reasonable debate". Since I do not intend to recommend acceptance of the amendment, I have little doubt that the hon. Gentleman will wish to return to the matter on a Prayer. Then some of these matters will be dealt with in considerably greater detail than is appropriate now.The matter was reconsidered by the Government and they took the decision which was conveyed to the authorities concerned in November. My information is that since then the authorities have accepted—I do not pretend that they are happy with the decision—that the amalgamation should go ahead, and they are making arrangements accordingly. There are practical considerations, including uncertainty and the morale of the police forces concerned. The point was made that the police in the areas concerned were still against the amalga- mation. That is not my information. In Committee I made the point that the Scottish Police Federation had expressed considerable disquiet at the idea that the amalgamation should not go ahead because of the uncertainty it was causing and the effect on police morale in the respective areas. In Committee the hon. Gentleman slightly discounted what I said about the federation as not representing the committed police opinion. I have it in writing from the federation in a paper which it put to the Police Advisory Board for Scotland in November after the decision had been confirmed. It says that any move to stop the amalgamation
It is now three months later, and I have no information to suggest other than that the federation would be extremely upset and worried if the amalgamation should not go ahead."would, in our opinion, have disastrous effects on our members, especially at this late stage."
It is all very well for my hon. Friend to quote the federation, but we represent constituencies and we see our chief constables and talk to the police forces. It is not fair to hold on and wait and then say that it would cause uncertainty if the Government went back on a silly decision. The way to end the uncertainty is to accept the amendment.
I do not accept that at all. The fact is that it was the hon Gentlemen supporting the amendment, including specifically my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh), who made the specific point that the police were against the amalgamation. I am simply saying that this is not the view of the Scottish Police Federation, which in this matter is representing the views of its branches in Edinburgh, The Lothians and Peebles, and the Berwick, Roxburgh and Selkirk constabularies. This is in writing in front of me at present. This is a question whether it is the factual situation. I am not pretending that I have the more intimate contact with the local areas that those hon. Members who have spoken tonight and who represent them undoubtedly have. I am not casting doubt on that. But as the view of the police has been brought in, that is not my own information. What is more, I have the information confirmed in writing specifically by the Scottish Police Federation on the basis of the views referred to it by the local constabularies.This matter has been considered on numerous occasions. At this late stage I do not see that there is any case for changing the decision that has been made. The order is now laid before Parliament in draft and, as I said earlier, it is open to debate in the House. So far as hon. Members wish to continue the debate, they will be able to do so on the order. But I see no reason to make any change in the Bill now. Therefore, I recommend that the House does not accept the amendment.
I think that I can say on behalf of all those who have spoken tonight that the Minister's reply was extremely disappointing. He is right that the local authorities have accepted the decision—in the sense that they are not prepared to defy the law. If they see Parliament and the Government determined to force them into amalgamation,
Division No. 100.]
|Beith, A. J.||Steel, David (Roxburgh)||Welsh, Andrew|
|Hooson, Emlyn||Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Mackintosh, John P.||Thompson, George||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Molyneaux, James||Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)||Mr. Clement Freud and|
|Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)||Watt, Hamish||Mr. Geraint Howells.|
|Allaun, Frank||Flannery, Martin||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)|
|Ashton, Joe||Ford, Ben||Meacher, Michael|
|Atkinson, Norman||Forrester, John||Mendelson, John|
|Bates, Alf||Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||Millan, Bruce|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Golding, John||Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)|
|Boardman, H.||Gould, Bryan||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)|
|Booth, Albert||Gourlay, Harry||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Grocott, Bruce||Noble, Mike|
|Buchanan, Richard||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Parry, Robert|
|Canavan, Dennis||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Cartwright, John||Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)||Radice, Giles|
|Clemitson, Ivor||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N)||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)||Hunter, Adam||Roderick, Caerwyn|
|Coleman, Donald||Kerr, Russell||Rodgers, George (Chorley)|
|Corbett, Robin||Kinnock, Neil||Rooker, J. W.|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Lambie, David||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilm'nock)|
|Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill)||Lamond, James||Selby, Harry|
|Cryer, Bob||Leadbitter, Ted||Sillars, James|
|Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Dalyell, Tam||Loyden, Eddie||Small, William|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)||Snape, Peter|
|Dempsey, James||McCartney, Hugh||Spearing, Nigel|
|Doig, Peter||McElhone, Frank||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Dormand, J. D.||McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Stallard, A. W.|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Mackenzie, Gregor||Stoddart, David|
|Dunn, James A.||Maclennan, Robert||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Evans, John (Newton)||McNamara, Kevin||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||Madden, Max||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Magee, Bryan||Wellbeloved, James|
they have no alternative but to accept it. But it is only in that technical sense that they have accepted the decision.
The Minister quoted from a letter from the Scottish Police Federation. I can refer to a letter dated 13th November which gives actual figures from a referendum carried out—I thought that the Government were rather in favour of referenda—among the members of The Border Police Force. Admittedly, there was no clear, decisive, overwhelming majority, but by a majority of 92 to 76 the police force voted in November—never mind the Scottish Police Federation; this was the view of the police on the ground—to retain separate identities.
The Minister talks about ending uncertainty but in the next breath invites us to pray against the order and have a further debate. This is continuing to add uncertainty. I am sorry that the Government are remaining obstinate. I think that the House ought to divide in support of the amendment.
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The House divided: Ayes 12, Noes 96.
|White, Frank R. (Bury)||Wise, Mrs Audrey||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|White, James (Pollok)||Woof, Robert||Miss Margaret Jackson and|
|Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)||Young, David (Bolton E)||Mr. Laurie Pavitt.|
Question accordingly negatived.
Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 56 ( Third Reading), and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. James Hamilton.]