HL Deb 05 May 1981 vol 420 cc17-129

3.38 p.m.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (The Earl of Mansfield)

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

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Earl of Mansfield.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [Power to change year of revaluation]:

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 14, at end insert— ("Provided that that different financial year is only one year later than that originally specified").

The noble Lord said: As a member of that depressed class the Scots, shall I begin with a grouse? I gather that we are going to stop for a meal. All the Scots must be suffering or applauding their powers of galloping consumption because we have only half an hour. I wonder if this adjournment would be permitted or accepted by English or even Welsh noble Lords as sufficient. I myself think that this is in tune with the way in which the Government have treated this Bill. I believe that only four and a half to five parliamentary days have elapsed since the Second Reading. Thanks to the fact that Easter and a public holiday yesterday intervened, I am perfectly sure that many noble Lords have not had time properly to study the amendments which are proposed to this Bill.

It is noteworthy that from the Government's point of view not a single amendment is proposed to the Bill as it was originally put down in another place. There are one or two names attached to amendments about the handicapped, but even those are put forward only as a result of action taken by the Labour Party in another place. It is singularly depressing to think that the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill, which opens up the whole field of local government for discussion and amendment, has not evoked a single amendment from the Government side, or indeed from the new party on the Back Benches of this side of the House—although there is no Scot there.

The first amendment relates to the first clause, which concerns valuation. It must have come as a very considerable surprise to people who started by reading the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to find out that the Bill, provides for improvements in the valuation and rating system…", only to discover on coming to the first clause that it does not do anything of the kind. It empowers the Secretary of State to postpone, if need be for an indefinite period—one, two, three, four, five, or six years, or perhaps wipe it out altogether—the holding of what we used to call the quinquennial revaluations. Certainly it has not been explained to my satisfaction why we should do this.

Many people expected by this time that the rating system would have been wiped out, or that proposals would have been laid before us to wipe it out, since for a long time the Government party has proclaimed its intention to do away altogether with local rates. Another suggestion was that the Government party proposed to do away with local authorities having to levy a rate for education, or for teachers' salaries, and that that charge would be taken over by central Government. But there is none of these changes here. What we have is Clause 1, in which the most important power is for the Secretary of State to be able to change the year of revaluation.

I know that this will come as no surprise to non-Scottish Lords, because this kind of thing has occurred continuously in respect of England and Wales. It has occurred only once in regard to the Scottish valuation system; that was following the reconstruction of local government, when it was felt that it would be wrong to carry out revaluation at the same time as changing the structure of local government. It was in 1978–79 that we had that delayed valuation, and I can assure your Lordships' Committee that there are in Scotland many people who have not quite recovered from that revaluation. Here we have the suggestion that, The Secretary of State may by order amend the definition of year of revaluation ' in subsection (1)"— of the 1975 Act— by substituting, for the financial year for the time being specified in that definition by reference to two calendar years, a different financial year so specified". I am suggesting that we should limit the delay to one year.

Why do I say that? Everyone agrees that the valuation system on which rates are assessed is out of date. There might have been a time when ability to pay was dependent on the house in which one lived, but nowadays, because of various other difficulties, even wealthy people prefer to live in smaller houses. So the actual house in which one lives is no indication of relative wealth or ability to pay. Yet for domestic purposes the whole criterion of assessment is the valuation of the house itself. I have known of a house occupied by a family with four or more wage-earners, but only one person—the tenant, or the owner-occupier—is levied for rates. On the other hand, there might be only one person living in the same size of house as that occupied by four wage-earners, and so there is relative injustice in the basis of valuation.

There is also the question of a comparison of valuations—that everyone in the same size or type of house should be paying the same amount of rates. If any anomaly is created in a revaluation, unless there is a substantial material change within the revaluation period of five years, it cannot be put right; and then the matter can be taken up again with the assessor when the house is revalued.

I think that there was something fairly slipshod about many of the valuations that were carried out on the last occasion, and certainly in the part of the world that 1 know very well many people were very dissatisfied with the outcome of that revaluation. The point is that as the years go by what is already an injustice becomes a greater injustice as rates rise, and if the revaluation is put off for another year, the injustice is enlarged. That is why I suggest that we limit the Secretary of State's power to delay to only one further year.

Why is the Secretary of State doing this? I do not know whether Members of your Lordships' Committee who are not Scots realise that the valuation is carried out by the same person as is responsible for drawing up the electoral roll. The assessor in a regional authority is also responsible for the electoral roll. The electoral roll is of course dependent on changes in the boundaries. There are two Boundary Commissions sitting: the local government Boundary Commission and the parliamentary Boundary Commission; and when they make their conclusions the work falls to the assessor—or the electoral officer, who happens to be the assessor as well.

So one can see the position that is at present arising regarding these two bodies about to report. Indeed, they have already reported in respect of some parts of Scotland, though not for the whole of Scotland; we are still waiting for a report on Strathclyde. Then of course there have to be parliamentary procedures after that, and new electoral rolls have to be produced for the elections. The next revaluation is due in 1983 and it might occur to many members of your Lordships' Committee that then we shall be drawing fairly close to the time of a general election. Is it that the Government are concerned about the proximity of a general election, or perhaps about the workload to be placed upon the electoral registration officer-cum-assessor? Have they decided that it would be embarrassing to produce such a change in valuation as was produced on the last occasion. affecting, among others, certain sections of the people in Troon, Prestwick and Ayr, many of whom, including myself, are represented by the present Secretary of State for Scotland? Do they feel that it would be better to get over that one by delaying the revaluation for another year, bearing in mind that perhaps the election would be over by then?

It takes about two years to carry out a revaluation, and if the Government are to keep to the present timetable the order should be going out now. The Government should tell us why at this present time they are making this proposal. It might be that they are considering a complete change in the rating system and indeed the whole system of local government finance, but we have not been told that and, with all due respect, usually such changes are preceded by White Papers, parliamentary discussion, and then an Act of Parliament. Why are we departing from the usual procedure and giving to the Secretary of State a power that he is not at present able to justify by anything that he knows that he is going to do? I ask that because if he does know, he is the only one in the country who does know.

I am not discussing the whole of Clause 1. But I am discussing the whole principle of it. I say, first, that valuation is unfair, and, secondly, that sometimes it is rendered more unfair by anomalies that arise at revaluation. The more often and the longer that revaluation is postponed, the more the unfairness is aggravated, and I seek to limit the aggravation by proposing in the amendment that the delay be restricted to one year. I beg to move.

3.50 p.m.

Viscount Thurso

We on these Benches have probably been ahead of any other party in criticising the rating system as such, though of course we are not alone in doing so. No party in your Lordships' Chamber, or anywhere else in the country, really likes the rating system; yet one does nothing towards removing the rating system, nor substituting something else, by messing around with the way in which it is operated. In fact, delay in revaluation merely makes anomalies grow greater and confusion more widespread.

Therefore, we on these Benches support the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, in these amendments; and, although we should like to call upon the Government to come up with some better alternative to rating than rating itself, we feel that so long as they rely on the rating system the Government should not seek to tinker with the system by which rating is made to operate. Therefore, we support this amendment, which provides that any delay in revaluation be kept to the absolute minimum of one year.

Lord Davies of Leek

Although I am not Scottish, being a Sudeten Welshman, I should like to put a question to my noble friend on Scotland to see whether the same thing happens there. We are told that this Bill provides for improvements in valuation. What I find in Britain and in parts of Wales is that there is rather a heavy burden on houses that are left. Planners seem to have gone mad in Britain. They knock down so-called slum houses, many of which have been put in decent condition by their inhabitants, who were glad to get in, and then they leave brick-ends and acres and acres of derelict land. I guarantee that if you went through this city you could find thousands of acres where the planners have come in, knocked down, and where the houses which were adjacent or, in many cases, contiguous to the houses which have been destroyed, now have rubbish tipped on those adjacent sites by vandals. Yet the rates of those houses are still the same.

This Bill is for revaluation. I wonder whether, in Scotland, inhabitants of houses which are left on the edge of derelict land because other little houses next to them have been knocked down have had a revaluation of their rates which is in keeping with the lack of amenities arising from the vandalisation which takes place through houses being knocked down before councils are ready to rebuild.

The Earl of Mansfield

In his opening remarks the noble Lord, Lord Ross (to quote his words, I think), either "offered" or "proffered" a grouse—I did not quite catch which of the two it was—and for one glorious moment I wondered whether he was offering or proffering me a dram produced in my own home town, but the moment passed all too quickly. If the complaint of the noble Lord is that there has not been sufficient or proper time between Second Reading and Committee stage, I can but remind your Lordships, as I am sure the noble Lord knows well enough, that this Bill was debated extensively in another place and that a great many of the amendments which we shall be discussing today have in fact already been the subject of very considerable discussion in another place. So on behalf of the Government I would reject the suggestion that anybody who wished to participate in your Lordships' deliberations has in any way been taken by surprise or in some way has been prevented from considering those points in the Bill which interest them or in respect of which they want to give expression to their opinions.

This amendment is to Clause 1 of the Bill, and its effect, as the noble Lord, Lord Ross, has said, would be to limit—and, indeed, to limit severely—the power which the Secretary of State is seeking, which in effect is to postpone any rating revaluation by order to any specified future year. In fact, if this amendment were made the Secretary of State would be strictly limited by being able to move a revaluation forward only one year. Several times in the last decade—although, I agree, only once in Scotland—it has been necessary, either in Scotland or in England, to defer a revaluation. In the majority of cases postponement has been for two years, and on two occasions the Government of the day were obliged to resort to primary legislation.

That seems an unnecessary procedure, given the nature of a revaluation and the number of factors which might render a postponement necessary. So Clause 1 introduces a measure of flexibility which is limited by the requirement that any order exercising the power of postponement has to be subject to an affirmative Resolution in each of the two Houses of Parliament. To impose the restrictions which this amendment seeks would seriously impair this flexibility which we are asking for, and the Gocernment would find that unacceptable.

The noble Lord went on to ask, in effect, in what circumstances the Secretary of State would use his power to postpone a revaluation; and, of course, as the noble Lord knows very well, having held this high office, no Secretary of State would use the power in any sense lightly or in any way disruptive of the basic assumption that there is merit in having revalutions at regular intervals. If that is the intention of the amendment, then, of course, the Government are at one with the noble Lord, But there are, as I have said, occasions upon which a postponement of revaluation has proved necessary. The Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 postponed the revaluation due in Scotland in 1976 to 1978; the General Rate Act 1975 postponed the revaluation due in England and Wales in 1978 to 1980; then the previous Government further postponed it until 1981, using the order-making power in the 1975 Act; and then they immediately sought to postpone it again until 1982 by a further use of the power, but that course was rejected by Parliament.

In the present circumstances, when the Government are, as your Lordships know, carrying out an internal review of alternatives to domestic rates—and that review is going on even now—it may again be necessary to postpone revaluation in Scotland, and I suggest that it would scarcely be sensible to allow matters to proceed in the knowledge that statutory changes to the system may be in prospect which would make valuations redundant. Apart from anything else, it costs about £2 million nowadays to have a revaluation in Scotland. That money could be spent unnecessarily, and obviously that is something which any Government are anxious to avoid in these circumstances.

I therefore hope that the Committee will agree that what this clause seeks to do is nothing which has not been done before, as it were; that it is, or may well be in the context of present circumstances, sensible; and, as I have said, that there is plenty of opportunity for parliamentary supervision if the Secretary of State seeks to make use of this power. I hope, therefore, that, on reflection, the noble Lord, Lord Ross, will feel that he may withdraw his amendment.

Viscount Thurso

Can we take it from what the noble Earl has just said that the Government are just about to come up with an alternative to the rating system? Is that what he said?

The Earl of Mansfield

I have not said or implied any such thing. What I have said (echoing the words of my honourable friend in another place) is that the Government are undertaking a review, and it may well be that in the light of that review it will be necessary to defer the next revaluation. I cannot say more than that.

Lord Hughes

The noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, started off by referring to my noble friend's initial comments about having a grouse about the timetable for this Committee stage. I cannot help feeling very much surprised at what he said in reply to that.

I do not think that it has ever been accepted in this House that a substitute for a reasonable time in which to consider amendments is the fact that a lot of consideration has been given to the Bill in another place. Surely, it is not being suggested by the noble Earl that it is part of our job as legislators in this House to read through everything that is said in another place in order to determine what we are to do here. If that is so, I doubt very much whether he would find much support for that argument even on the Benches behind him; and certainly he will get no support for that argument over here. We, in fact, are probably going to have enough to do from now on considering what the Government are going to be putting before us in the way of legislation, without at the same time having to do the work of the other place by substitute. So I hope that it is not going to be part of the pattern for legislation that adequate consideration in another place is to be regarded as a substitute for adequate time for consideration in this House. To come on to the amendment—

The Earl of Mansfield

I was going to interrupt the noble Lord but as it is Committee stage I can come back. I am sorry.

Lord Hughes

Having done it, it is a pity he did not finish it.

The Earl of Mansfield

Then I shall.

Lord Hughes


The Earl of Mansfield

The noble Lord, who in a very distinguished fashion occupied the chair which I did, although it was geographically differently located in Edinburgh, knows very well—or I assume that he knows very well—that, as far as consideration of this Bill is concerned, nobody has made any representations that I know of that this Committee stage was other than properly timed. I am not going to go into considerations of what happened in the usual channels, but I have no doubt that if any such representation had been made I would have heard of it.

Lord Hughes

That is a totally different point. I was complaining about the sort of principle which the noble Earl was putting forward; that if a subject has been adequately considered in another place, this is a justification for rushing things in this House, On that basis I stick to my point.

Now I want to come to the amendment. I wish to support my noble friend in the views he has expressed This House has never taken enthusiastically to apparently unlimited powers being given to Ministers. How often have we heard it said on so many different pieces of legislation, "We know perfectly well that the present Minister will exercise this power in a perfectly reasonable way, but we do not know who his successor may be and we do not know what another Minister might do". In fact, this power is so widely stated that it would enable a Secretary of State for Scotland to dispense with revaluation altogether provided that he can get both House of Parliament to agree to it. I can imagine, if it happened during the present Parliament, that if an order came before this House for Affirmative Resolution the noble Earl would say, "Of course, this has been adequately discussed in another place and they have just affirmed the resolution; So let us just get on with it here".

I do not think it is good enough to take a wide power like this. I appreciate that there have been circumstances in the past which justified putting off revaluation and it is probable, or certainly possible, that the same thing could happen again in the future. I think, therefore, that my noble friend is on to a perfectly reasonable point when he seeks to place a limit on the time that a revaluation could be deferred. It may be that he is not right in making it one year. What I am certain about is that he is right in seeking to prevent it from being indefinite. I hope therefore, although no amendments have been moved from the other side of the Committee, that from time to time Members there, particularly the Scotsmen, may be persuaded by the arguments that amendments are justified. In this case I think there is justification in seeking to have some limit on the extent to which a revaluation should be postponed.

Particlularly is it important that deferment should not be for too long having regard to the inflation which we have gone through. The probability is that, even if revaluation takes place in 1983, there will have been such changes in the value of money that the new valuations which will be fixed will be very much greater than anything that has gone before. I do not know what inflation will be in 1983–84, but adding another year, even of modest inflation, is going to worsen the situation I hope that the Committee will see some merit in the amendment that my noble friend has moved and which Tam happy to support.

4.17 p.m.

Lord Drumalbyn

Where I do not agree with noble Lords opposite is that it is improper—as I think they have rather implied—to make this sort of change by means of an Affirmative Resolution order. After all, it is perfectly easy for the House to reject an affirmative order on a single point; and the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, himself has indicated that there is a time pressure on this because of the necessity of giving, I think he said, two years' notice of it. In a case like this the sooner it is done, the better. I would not myself dissent from what the Bill now says. But on the second point, I think there is possibly an argument for going some way towards the purpose of the noble Lord, as Lord Hughes has indicated. It might be better to limit the period in which postponement could be made to two years. I would suggest that my noble friend might consider that, whatever the House of Commons may have thought.

The Earl of Minto

May I support the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, in his support of the noble Lord, Lord Hughes. If the situation arose where successive Secretaries of State were to take powers on revaluation, then you are undermining the base of the rate element on which either the region or district depends. I think we cannot have an open-ended clause on this, if it is open-ended. Unless the "may be" that the noble Earl the Minister used with regard to the new form of taxation taking place becomes a certainty rather than a "may be", one will be without a base in a relatively short space of time.

The Earl of Mansfield

Even now, the assessors are at work in the preliminary stages for the 1983 revaluation so that there is obviously need for an early announcement of the Government's intention as far as the next revaluation is concerned. I should point out that prior to the 1978 revaluation, the previous Administration had not announced their final decision to allow the revaluation to proceed until 12 months before the due date; so it does not of necessity take all this time. As noble Lords from different parts of the Committee have confessed their unease about this, I will take it away and look at it again, but I cannot give any undertaking that I will table an amendment at a later stage.

Lord Ross of Marnock

We are grateful to the Minister for his concluding words. There is a certain hope for us because, on reflection, it may be that two years would be better. I am sorry that his joke fell flat. I am an ardent "doer" of The Times crossword and not unfamiliar with the famous grouse that he mentioned. I can assure the noble Earl that I am perfectly certain that if I asked noble Lords here when did they see my amendments they would tell me that they first saw them today. You see, there was a public holiday yesterday, and I had to get amendments down.

The Earl of Mansfield

We did not have a public holiday in Perth because we do not altogether agree with the premises upon which the noble Lord and his Government have based it.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I can assure the noble Earl that it was held elsewhere, and so far as this place is concerned. So far as I know, he may have been here and talking to himself. But, for the rest of us, it was a holiday. Regarding the time by which we should table amendments, he knows it was difficult to get amendments down by this time. From the posting point of view, the receipt of them yesterday could not be guaranteed—even if you lived in Perth. No doubt he would get them on Friday from the ever-vigilant Scottish Office.

I think the noble Earl has been a wee bit too glib in respect of asking for this power for the Secretary of State. He mentioned the fact and he justified it mainly by reference to what happened in England and Wales. It only happened once in Scotland. Of course, it was in the Bill that created the justification for the delay. That was in the 1973 Act itself. There were assessors in boroughs, assessors in the county councils, and assessors in the cities. With the passing of that 1973 Act some of them lost their jobs. The one for the borough went; the county council's one disappeared. Then I think assessment became a function of the region.

One can well understand why at the time when such complete changes were made in local government structures and responsibilities that it could not be held then. But we always in Scotland prided ourselves as against the English that we did not need to make this change and delay the valuation. Mind you, in England you get it for nothing; the valuation is done by the Inland Revenue. That was offered to Scotland (I think in the 1956 Act) and we said, "No, we prefer to do it ourselves by our own elected assessors who are relatively independent". If I recollect rightly, once appointed they cannot be dismissed or changed without a two-thirds majority of the council in order to give the assessors the independence that they require in doing this kind of job.

So, I think it requires something very serious indeed. This is why we have insisted hitherto that it should be within legislation rather than an order. After all, it is going to affect the whole of Scotland. Indeed, some people are affected detrimentally at the present time with a five year gap before they can put things right. I am very grateful to the Government for even raising the matter because I have been reading and re-reading the valuation Acts—I should have known them. I wonder how many people know what they are entitled to from the assessors in relation to appeals. I am perfectly sure that the assessors do not necessarily carry it out. They do not wait for the appeal valuation committee; they send an officer round to see whether they can make some kind of settlement. There were many appeals on the last occasion. I do not know whether they are all settled yet. It may be that this is the reason for the delay.

Now, in relation to present circumstances, he tells us that the Government are thinking about the rating system. Are they? What is the basis for this review? It is not arising from the Stoddart Report because there is nothing very much about this in the Stoddart Report, and certainly nothing very much in relation to major changes as to the structure of local government. I think that we are right to be concerned about this, and, as my noble friend said, to be concerned about the whole principle of it.

I was taken by what the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, said about normally if there has been a change it should not be one year but it should be two years. That is fair enough. I am also grateful that a noble Lord pointed out that it is an open commitment. We are not, as usual in either House, keen on giving open commitments to a Minister, no matter how agreeable the present Minister is. There is no saying about whom we might have had as Minister. We might even have had somebody who is now a Member for an English constituency—is it Southend? Anything might have happened.

I am glad to see that the Minister of State is inclined to agree with me in respect of the incalculability of the actions of people who might be Secretaries of State. I think it would be wrong of me to press this amendment at the present time since we have been given a half promise about the two years. Rest assured that if the noble Earl is not going to put down the amendment at Report stage then there are others who will do so. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.17 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 1, line 17, at end insert— ("(5) Before exercising this power the Secretary of State shall consult the Scottish Valuation Advisory Council.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment is to ensure that the Secretary of State shall not function on his own, that he shall have the agreement of the Scottish Valuation Advisory Council before he exercises this power. I know that the Government will probably say, "We are going to do this anyway." This is one of the Quangos that has escaped the axe. This surprised me in relation to some of the other things that the Government have done. I think that before they embark upon such a change in the valuation—because we are dealing with something that is of vital importance to every owner and every tenant in Scotland, whether commercial, industrial or domestic—this valuation council should be consulted before the Secre tary of State exercises this new power in relation to delay. I beg to move.

The Earl of Mansfield

I entirely appreciate the spirit in which the noble Lord has moved his amendment. As he says, it would require the Secretary of State to consult the Scottish Valuation Advisory Council before postponing the revaluation. I can tell him that so far as the revaluation presently due in 1983 is concerned, my right honourable friend has already consulted the council. I do not suppose that any Secretary of State would dream of proceeding with the revaluation without consulting it. If he did, either because of oversight or through some worse reason, that would be a legitimate matter for adverse comment.

When the order implementing the decision came to either House for approval I have no doubt that such lack of consultation would be noted and acted upon. For any Secretary of State it would be a dangerous or even fatal flaw in the process leading to the making of the order to behave in the way that is suggested. For all those reasons I think one can say that this amendment, which I entirely accept as being benign, is unnecessary. In the circumstances I hope that the noble Lord will not insist on an unnecessary provision such as this going into the Bill.

Lord Hughes

May I make it quite clear that I do not intend to get up and speak on every amendment because my noble friend will be able to do it adequately on his own. I get up now only because I am surprised once again to hear a Minister giving as a justification for not putting something into a Bill that it will be done anyway. When I occupied the position which the noble Earl occupies as Minister of State for Scotland, more than once I declined to accept advice of this kind that you should not put something into a Bill because you are going to do it anyway. That seems to me to be a perfectly adequate reason for putting it into the Bill and making quite certain that it will be done. From the way the noble Earl was talking, I thought that he was, having made such complimentary noises to my noble friend about the way in which he had moved the amendment, going to start off in really good style by saying, "In these circumstances the Government are prepared to accept this amendment because it will not bind them to do anything which they would not otherwise do."

I do not think my noble friend intends to press the matter to a Division on this occasion, but I do think that the Minister, having made such agreeable noises about what will be done, will find a better reason than he has given for keeping it out of the Bill if it is moved again at the next stage.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I am very disappointed with the response to that. If the noble Earl will turn his hymn sheet to page 3 and read the new subsection we propose to put into the 1975 Act, it is Clause 2 which gives a new power to the Secretary of State in regard to revaluation; and then we read these surprising words: Before prescribing a method under subsection (6A) above, the Secretary of State shall consult the Scottish Valuation Advisory Council". I suppose he would do that anyway. I feel almost duty bound now to move an amendment taking these words out of the next clause. I hope the noble Earl has found the place.

I sometimes wonder whether the civil servants read a Bill in its entirety. One will do Clause 1, another will do Clause 2, but never the twain shall meet and see whether there is an inconsistency between Clause 1 and Clause 2. Here we are told that, in taking this new power, of course the Secretary of State will consult the Scottish Valuation Advisory Council; but here we are with another new power and one may say it is a power of less importance, but we have got it in. So I must insist that the Minister of State thinks again about this one or I will put down that amendment to leave out the Secretary of State on Clause 2. I hope he will respond now to this, because it is a serious matter when we get this kind of thing. It is the attitude of the Government to reasonable amendments. It is desirable that they should do this and we are told it is not necessary to put it in; but here in the next clause we have exactly the same situation and the Government put it in. It does not add up.

The Earl of Mansfield

I am not going to discuss the merits of Clause 2 at this moment, because we can do that, if the Committee is agreeable, on clause stand part. All I say is that, so far as Clause 1 is concerned, it is unnecessary to write the particular words which are the subject of this amendment into the Bill.

4.25 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 2) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 83; Not-Contents, 98.

Airedale, L. Gosford, E.
Amherst, E. Greenwood of Rossendale, L.
Amulree, L. Hale, L.
Atholl, D. Halsbury, E.
Aylestone, L. Hanworth, V.
Bacon, B. Harris of Greenwich, L.
Balogh, L. Hughes, L.
Banks, L. Hunt, L.
Beswick, L. Ilchester, E.
Birk, B. Jacques, L.
Blease, L. Janner, L.
Blyton, L. Kilmarnock, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Kinloss, Ly.
Bowden, L. Lawrence, L.
Briginshaw, L. Leatherland, L.
Byers, L. Lee of Newton, L.
Chitnis, L. Listowel, E.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Longford, E.
Collison, L. Loudoun, C.
Cooper of Stockton Heath, L. Maelor, L.
Cromartie, E. Noel-Baker, L.
Crowther-Hunt, L. Oram, L.
David, B. [Teller.] Peart, L.
Davies of Leek, L. Phillips, B.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Ritchie-Calder, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Robbins, L.
Evans of Hungershall, L. Rochester, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Ross of Marnock, L.
Gaitskell, B. St. Davids, V.
Gardiner, L. Seear, B.
Glenamara, L. Sefton of Garston, L.
Goronwy-Roberts, L. Segal, L.
Shinwell, L. Underhill, L.
Stamp, L. Vernon, L.
Stewart of Alvechurch, B. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Stewart of Fulham, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Stone, L. Whaddon, L.
Strabolgi, L. [Teller.] Wigoder, L.
Strathspey, L. Wilson of Langside, L.
Taylor of Mansfield, L. Young of Dartington, L.
Thurso, V.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Hillingdon, L.
Allerton, L. Hylton-Foster, B.
Alport, L. Ironside, L.
Ampthill, L. Kemsley, V.
Auckland, L. Killearn, L.
Avon, E. Long, V.
Baker, L. Lyell, L.
Balerno, L. McFadzean, L.
Belstead, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Bessborough, E. Mancroft, L.
Boardman, L. Mansfield, E.
Bolton, L. Marley, L.
Caccia, L. Melville, V.
Campbell of Croy, L. Minto, E.
Cathcart, E. Morris, L.
Chelwood, L. Mottistone, L.
Clwyd, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Cockfield, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Colville of Culross, V. Newall, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Northchurch, B.
Cottesloe, L. Onslow, E.
Craigavon, V. Orkney, E.
Crawshaw, L. Orr-Ewing, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Pender, L.
Daventry, V. Rawlinson of Ewell, L.
De Freyne, L. Redmayne, L.
De La Warr, E. Renton, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Rochdale, V.
Drumalbyn, L. Romney, E.
Dulverton, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
Eccles, V. Saint Oswald, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Saltoun, Ly.
Exeter, M. Sandford, L.
Faithfull, B. Sandys, L. [Teller.]
Falkland, V. Selkirk, E.
Ferrers, E. Sempill, Ly.
Ferrier, L. Sharples, B.
Fortescue, E. Skelmersdale, L.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Soames, L.
Gibson-Watt, L. Spens, L.
Gisborough, L. Stradbroke, E.
Glenkinglas, L. Strathcarron, L.
Gridley, L. Swansea, L.
Grimston of Westbury, L. Teviot, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Trumpington, B.
Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Hawke, L. Vickers, B.
Hayter, L. Vivian, L.
Henley, L. Ward of Witley, V.
Hill of Luton, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Power to exclude certain lands and heritages from valuation or revaluation]:

4.34 p.m.

Lord Hughes moved Amendment No. 3: Page 2, line 22, leave out from ("roll") to end of line 28.

The noble Lord said: On behalf of my noble friend Lord Ross, I should like to move Amendment No. 3. This is on page 2, line 22, to leave out the words stated, which are: if no such value was so entered, the value which would properly fall to be entered in the old valuation roll in respect of them if that roll were still in force and were altered in accordance with section 2 of this Act". In speaking to this amendment, I should like to get from the noble Earl just exactly what this clause is intended to do. It is a very wide power indeed, and, as I read the first words following "Provided that", which are, (i) the Secretary of State may by order determine in respect of every new valuation roll being made up under this section that only such classes of lands and heritages as may be specified in the order shall be so valued or revalued", they seem to indicate the possibility that the Secretary of State might make an order saying that domestic property is not to be revalued, or he might make an order saying that commercial property is not to be revalued, or he might make an order saying that industrial property is not to be revalued. Alternatively, he might say that certain parts within any of those might be excluded from the revaluation.

Before speaking further to the amendment, it would be helpful if the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, were to give some indication of whether I am right in saying that the power could be as widely used as I have suggested. If the Secretary of State made an order saying that commercial property was not to be revalued but that domestic property was to be revalued, he could be altering the whole balance of the way in which rates were being paid by different classes of ratepayers. Therefore, I shall content myself at this point by formally moving Amendment No. 3, and hoping that the Minister will take the opportunity of explaining exactly how this clause is intended to be used. I beg to move.

Viscount Thurso

From these Benches, too, we should like to have some clarification of this clause. What we wonder is whether a partial revaluation creates loopholes or anomalies, whether this can be avoided and why it is necessary partially to revalue, partially not to revalue and so on. So we shall listen with great care and interest to what is said by the noble Earl in reply to this amendment.

The Earl of Mansfield

Clause 2, as is plain from the face of it, allows the Secretary of State to arrange for a partial revaluation; in other words, the revaluation of such class or classes of property as he may specify. So that the object of the clause is to introduce a further element of flexibility into the statutory arrangements for revaluation. In practice, it is likely that if a partial revaluation were to be held it would, contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said, be domestic property which was excluded from the normal processes of revaluation. This might be necessary if a major reform of the domestic rating system were in prospect, because it would be wasteful of effort and expense to require assessors to revalue houses which would shortly thereafter cease to be rated.

Revaluations, nowadays, always lead to a substantial increase in rateable values because of the effects of inflation on property values. It would clearly be unfair if, following a partial revaluation, owners of property which had been revalued had to bear a much greater share of the rate burden, simply because the values of such properties had risen relative to unrevalued property. Clause 2 accordingly provides for a method of adjustment to be applied to the rateable values of either the revalued class of property, in which case a divisor would be appropriate, or to the unrevalued class, where a multiplying factor would be appropriate, with a view to preserving the ratio which existed before the partial revaluation in each valuation area, between the rateable values of revalued and unrevalued property. Provision is also made as regards new property or property not previously assigned a rateable value to ensure that a fair rateable value is assigned to it in relation to other similar property.

Similar but not identical provision was made for England and Wales in Section 30 of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980. However, in that Act the Secretary of State is empowered to set a time to be selected as the reference time for ascertaining values of specified or revalued property. No such power is necessary in Scotland because suitable provision is already made in Section 13 of the Valuation and Rating (Scotland) Act 1956. Apart from that, the clause is similar in purpose and effect to the provision for England and Wales, because it meets the same objective.

I should confirm that the Secretary of State has no immediate plans to use the new powers provided under this clause which are being sought as a contingency. There is all the difference in the world between a reference to the Scottish Valuation Advisory Council in this section and the desire of the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, to have a statutory duty to consult the council in clause 1. First, partial revaluation, as I have explained, is a new proposal. Secondly, the relationship between the shares of total rate burden carried by each class of ratepayer is important. Therefore they must be subject to scrutiny by the council. Thirdly, the relationship is a technical one, and any proposals which the Secretary of State may have deserve to be considered by those concerned with valuation. I hope that that will explain in fairly short compass what Clause 2 is about.

Lord Hughes

It may explain, but it certainly does not satisfy. The noble Earl the Minister stated that if this provision were in the Bill it would be domestic property which would not be revalued. Once again we come to this rather vague suggestion that at some time before 1983 the Government may take a decision that domestic property is not to be abated. If the Government have advanced so far as that, before we are finished with the Bill perhaps we shall have an indication of what they are going to do. But let us assume that the noble Earl the Minister is correct and that this is what the Government have in mind. The power that is contained in this clause could certainly be used the other way round: domestic property would be revalued but commercial or industrial property would not.

Let us say that it is done in the way in which the Minister has stated. We are going through a period when industry in general and commercial property in particular are complaining bitterly about the proportion of the rate burden which is falling upon them. They are suggesting the very opposite of what the Minister has spoken about: the possibility that they in fact should have their burden eased. So it could be that if the clause remains as it is it would be possible to do it the other way, although the Minister has said that the purpose of doing this is in case the Government decide to do something about the rating of domestic property.

In the absence of my noble friend I do not intend to take Amendments Nos. 4 to 8, and I am not worried about that. This is a useful time to say that when I was Minister of State for Scotland I was given a fairly general power by my noble friend the Secretary of State to decide which amendments could be accepted and which amendments should be rejected. It was not necessary always to refer back to the Secretary of State to take the will of the House or to consider whether we were going to take the will of the House. In these circumstances, certainly I should want to consult my noble friend about just exactly what we should do regarding the very wide power that is contained in this clause. Rather than discuss individually Amendments Nos. 3 to 8, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 3 and I shall not move the others. However, we shall wish to consider very seriously what the Minister has said about domestic property. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 3.

Amendment by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 4 to 8 not moved.]

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 [Power of Secretary of State to amend table of deductions from gross annual value]:

On Question, Whether Clause 4 shall stand part of the Bill?

4.47 p.m.

Lord Hughes

On behalf of my noble friend Lord Ross of Marnock, I beg to move that this clause shall not stand part of the Bill. Once again, a very wide power is being taken by the Secretary of State to amend the table of deductions from the gross annual value. In seeking to leave out Clause 4, my noble friend's purpose is to give to the Minister a wider opportunity to explain exactly what the Government have in mind in this connection. Depending on what the Minister has to say, I shall have to consider whether I should seek to divide the Committee on Clause 4 stand part.

The Earl of Mansfield

The table of deductions in Schedule 1 to the Valuation and Rating (Scotland) Act 1956 is used to obtain net annual value from gross annual value. The first column in the table comprises a series of bands of gross annual value while the second column shows the deduction, or the method of calculating the deduction, for each of these bands.

At present, by Section 6 of the Valuation and Rating (Scotland) Act 1956, all non-industrial property is valued by assessors to gross annual value. This is based on the annual rental value of the property (by reference to the available rental evidence) but assumes that the landlord is responsible for the cost of repairs, insurance, and so on, necessary to keep the property in a state fit to command the rent. The deductions which are applied to the gross annual value to produce net annual value (which is the rateable value) therefore represent the landlord's expenses. If the deductions were not made, non-industrial property would have higher levels of rateable values and so would have to bear a disproportionate share of the rate burden when compared with industrial property which, by the 1956 Act, is valued directly to net annual value.

The effect of Clause 3 of this Bill is that with effect from the next revaluation, non-industrial property other than dwelling-houses (in other words, property in the commercial and miscellaneous classes) will cease to be valued first to gross annual value and will instead be valued directly to net annual value as industrial property is at the moment. It follows, therefore, that after this change has taken place, the table of deductions will be used only in relation to the valuation of dwelling-houses.

Clause 4 does not amend the table of deductions itself; it merely extends the Secretary of State's power to amend the table by order. At present he can amend by order only the second column; to amend the first column requires primary legislation. But no part of the table has been amended since the 1956 Act was passed and the bands of value in the first column—varying from "under £15" to "over £100"—are out of date as most property, after a number of revaluations, now falls into the uppermost band.

As a result of a point made by the Opposition during the Committee stage in the other place, the clause was amended on Report so that it now also provides that an order amending the table of deductions need be subject only to the Negative Resolution procedure. If Parliament approves this clause, the Secretary of State intends that the new power be used in time for the next revaluation; the aim will be to amend the bands of value to reflect current levels of rateable values, and to adjust the deductions so that they reflect up to date property maintenance costs.

The table of deductions has a material effect on the rateable values, and so on the rate bills, of all domestic ratepayers. So before using the new power the Secretary of State would consult with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the Scottish Valuation Advisory Council (both of which bodies have approved the change) and with professional associations, including for instance, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors). With this constructive blessing, if I may so call it, which has been given to the clause in another place by the Opposition, I hope that the clause will commend itself to your Lordships.

Lord Hughes

I am grateful to the Minister for that long—and perhaps necessarily long—explanation that he has given. I think he will agree that it is not the sort of thing that is easy to take in when one is listening, and therefore I should like to read in due course what he has said; but at present my inclination is to accept what he has said and, in the circumstances, I am content that Clause 4 shall stand part of the Bill, at least for the present.

Clause 4 agreed to.

Clauses 5 and 6 agreed to.

Clause 7 [Restriction on payment of rates by instalments]:

4.53 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 9: Page 5, line 12, leave out ("£20 or such lesser") and insert ("such").

The noble Lord said: I hope that there will be an excess of common sense to the Government on this occasion. The Minister has already spoken about the changes that there have been in respect of rateable values, and this is one in which the Secretary of State has to lay down a specified sum of money—£20 or such lesser sum—before the local authority can go forward with a scheme of instalment payment of rates, and if the sum has to be changed then the Secretary of State will change that small sum. The intention of my Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 is such as so to change the clause that it will be left to the local authority to decide as to when the rates are at such a sum that they should be paid by instalments.

The sum of £20 or less might be nothing to some people, but someone who is not all that well-off at that particular time would find it difficult to pay the £20. Surely if we are relaxing the controls over the Secretary of State this is the kind of thing that we should leave to the local authority. Surely to goodness this is something that they would decide. I think most of the pressure in relation to instalments has come from the local authorities. Generally speaking, they get money in advance of the statutory payment and it would be far better to leave it.

That is the reason for the amendments. There might be some quibble about the specified sum as I have amended it and it might require some further cleaning up, because I certainly did not have the time to do it all; but I hope that Amendment No. 9 will prove acceptable to the Government and that they will accept it with Amendment No. 10, although I may say that Amendment No. 10 stands on its own, because I do not see why, in respect of a change of this far-reaching nature, to change from £20 to £30 or £40 one has to go through the whole procedure of Parliament. It could be done by statutory instrument without Parliament being concerned about the Secretary of State in that particular case. So that while Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 go together, if No. 9 is defeated then Amendment No. 10 can still stand on its own. I beg to move.

Viscount Thurso

The noble Earl the Minister showed early on in the debate in your Lordships' Committee that on certain matters he is prepared to be flexible. I hope this is a matter on which he will show a little flexibility. I feel that here the difficulty arises not in the exact sum of £20, but that on the whole it is the local authorities who understand better than anybody else what should be the prescribed sum in any particular area. Obviously very large businesses will not particularly want to pay instalments on a rateable value of £20, but to the poorer, older person—perhaps the traditional widow—£20 is quite a mite and it may well be that in a certain area the local authority may find that a lesser sum than £20 is appropriate.

I feel that this is a matter which should be left in the hands of local authorities rather than prescribed as a fixed sum in the Act, and I hope that the Minister will perhaps be able to give us an indication that he will have another look at this before the next stage of the Bill.

The Earl of Minto

May I ask whether in fact the local authority does not already have the power in the Bill? it does not say that the sum has to be £20—it is £20 or less—so therefore I think the local authority already has the power. I see £20 as a guideline above which it should not be, and anything which is seen to be sensible below £20 would appear to me to be permissible within the Bill. I should like to have the advice of the Minister on that.

Lord Lyell

One of the great pleasures of this particular stage of the Bill is that comments have been addressed from all round the Committee to my noble friend the Minister and we can surprise noble Lords in that I am allowed to reply to the amendment. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Ross, allow me to deal briefly with Amendment No. 9. I was not too sure whether he wished to deal with Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 together or whether No. 9 stands on its own. I accept that they both deal with approximately the same point.

Taking Amendment No. 9 and the comments and proposals put forward, the noble Earl, Lord Minto, has hit the point absolutely accurately. This particular amendment focuses the attention of your Lordships upon the sum of £20 which the clause as drafted prescribes as the maximum net sum of rates below which the right to pay by instalments may be withdrawn at any one time; £20 is the maximum which could be demanded as a lump sum by the local authority from the ratepayer.

The administrative costs of collecting instalment payments are fixed whatever the amount of the instalment, with the result that the smaller the amount, be it in 10 £2 monthly instalments or even smaller, the higher the proportion that has to go towards meeting administrative costs of collecting it. It is the view of the finance officers of the Scottish local authorities that it can begin to be uneconomic for authorities to collect instalment payments where they are as low as £2. Normally a ratepayer who wishes to pay rates by instalments will be able to do so, and normally will do, so, by making 10 equal payments between May in one year and February in the next calendar year—that is, in the same financial year. This is the basis of fixing the maximum net sum at £20. I emphasise once again that this sum of £20 is the maximum net sum. Of course, rating authorities will have different administrative practices, and some are better able than others to cope with the collection of small sums of £2 or even less. Therefore, we think it is sensible to enable local authorities to set an upper limit at less than £20 if they so wish in order to prevent instalment facilities being unnecessarily and unjustly withdrawn.

I stress that our view has been fully supported by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. I hope that in what I have been able to say I have clarified the position for the noble Lord, Lord Ross, and other noble Lords, that this sum is a maximum sum. Indeed, for those of us who have to pay rates in this great city of London the sums are very much greater. It was said to me this morning that without this particular figure in the Bill local authorities might be able to up the figure to, say, £200, because of course the payment of rates in advance is a very considerable boon to the finance directors of local authorities. I thought that was going a little far, and I think £20 is a reasonable sum. I hope the Committee will accept that.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I will certainly give it some thought. At one time I thought of putting down £50. I shall certainly read and think about what the noble Lord has said. We welcome the change of voice, and we hope also for a change of tone and a little bit more acceptability in regard to our amendments. I trust the noble Lord will not disappoint us. In view of the explanation given, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.5 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 10: Page 5, line 15, leave out from ("instrument") to ("amend") in line 16.

The noble Lord said: Does this really require that it should be brought before the House of Commons, admittedly on the Negative Resolution procedure. I do not think so. I think this could be done by statutory instrument by the Secretary of State without needing to come to the Lords or the Commons on the basis of this procedure. That is why I say it stands on its own, on the purely procedural point, no matter what the figure may be. I do not think it necessitates the sledgehammer of parliamentary procedure, even, as it is here, the Negative Resolution procedure. I beg to move.

Lord Lyell

Certainly we would never claim that any orders which would come to be made under this particular provision would be a matter of great moment, but we do believe that there is a very strong case for maintaining the modest degree of some parliamentary control over the order-making procedure which the clause provides for at present. When this Bill was first introduced in another place the clause provided a significant restriction on the Secretary of State's discretion, in that the only factor he was allowed to take into account in deciding whether or not to alter the prescribed sum was inflation, or, to be accurate and to use the words of the clause as it was in another place, a change in the value of money. But by the time the Bill reached your Lordships' House that restriction had been removed. We felt it made a useful improvement to the Bill. I am sure it would not surprise the noble Lord, Lord Ross, and his noble friends on those Benches that this restriction was removed as a result of an Opposition amendment, but we felt this was something which improved the Bill and we accepted it.

The fact that the Secretary of State's discretion is now to be much wider than it was originally does make it desirable to maintain the modest degree of parliamentary control provided in the clause. The Negative Resolution procedure makes no unnecessary demands on parliamentary time. The noble Lord, Lord Ross, in his usual style, believes that this is what he called the sledgehammer of Parliament; I think he is exaggerating a little. We do think that this Negative Resolution procedure is a useful safeguard, and we believe that safeguard is well worth preserving. I hope the noble Lord would accept that.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I am afraid I do not accept it. I really do think that in a case like this Parliament could trust the Secretary of State. After all, we are told that there is regular consultation with the local authorities in this respect, and indeed it was put to us that this particular figure was agreed by the finance officers of the local authorities. I think this is quite unnecessary and it is stretching it a bit. Inflation I could understand. After all, Governments have allowed the formula for gross annual value to be translated into rateable value from 1956 to 1981, and that formula—I am sorry I was not here when we discussed it—is so out of date it is not true, and of course it is a considerable penalty and unfairness to many ratepayers. But, in regard to this particular matter, I have not consulted anyone about this; but certainly from my own experience I would have thought a statutory instrument without recourse to the negative procedure in Parliament would have been adequate. However, who am I to disagree with the Government when they are prepared to submit themselves to the scrutiny of Parliament in what they do? The only thing is that, as it is the negative procedure, probably nobody will notice it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 agreed to.

Clause 8 [Alteration in amount of rates payable while valuation appeal is pending]:

5.10 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 11: Page 5, line 25, leave out ("nine tenths") and insert ("four fifths").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 11. As I understand it at present while a valuation appeal is pending: the total amount of rates levied on those lands and heritages for the year immediately preceding the year in which the appeal was lodged increased by three-quarters of the difference between that amount"; and the clause goes on to say that, "there shall be substituted" and so on. It is to be changed from "three-quarters" to "nine-tenths" I think that it would be fair to split the difference and to make it four-fifths.

I shall not proceed to all the arguments that I could quite well adduce in respect of this matter. I am being modest. There is nothing exaggerated about anything that I say in respect of local government or any other matter. Where I am reasonable I trust that I shall get a reasonable response. All power is in the hands now of the noble Lord, Lord Lyell. Let him seize the opportunity of doing something for which all Scotland will applaud him—and I shall see that it does! I beg to move.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I do not think that in my young parliamentary career I have before had such a wonderful invitation that maybe the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, might applaud me. However, I can say quite honestly that he has done exactly what I did when I first looked at the clause—walked right into a major trap. In all humility I applaud the noble Lord, Lord Ross, because I did it myself and the department cheered and said that I was not quite accurate.

I would refer the noble Lord to Section 9 of the 1975 Act. Indeed, the noble Lord read out the quotation which begins, "the total amount of rates" et cetera which appears in Clause 8 of the Bill. He mentioned: three-quarters of the difference between that amount and then the quotation disappears. I think that under the current legislation, the 1975 Act, when an appeal is pending the ratepayer (I do not know whether he should be called the litigant) who is appealing against what he regards as an unreasonable increase normally has to pay his old rates bill plus 75 per cent. of the difference between his old rates bill and his new rates bill. The figure that we are seeking to substitute by the amendment is nine-tenths of the new rates bill. I do not think that was what the noble Lord suggested. I think he suggested splitting the difference—I think those were his words. We propose nine-tenths of the new rates bill; not of the difference between the old and the new, but nine-tenths of the new rates bill. I hope I may be able to point out to the noble Lord, Lord Ross, and indeed to your Lordships, that normally this is of significant benefit to the ratepayer who is appealing against an unreasonable increase in his value.

I am sure that there would not be any dissent from the proposition that in fairness a ratepayer who appeals against his rateable value should be entitled to some abatement of his rates bills until the appeal has been decided. The present method of calculating the abatement due to an appellant is extremely complex and it requires that the appellant pays his old rates bill—that is the amount based on the old rateable value—increased by three-quarters of the difference between the old hill and the new bill. The formula which we propose in the clause as it stands—that the ratepayer pays nine-tenths of the new bill—is considerably simpler than the existing formula, and for that reason it will be welcomed by local authorities who have been encountering practical difficulties in operating the present arrangements which are definitely complex. But the clause will also benefit ratepayers because the formula proposed in the clause would, in most cases, be more generous to the ratepayers than the formula which is currently in operation.

If the amendment which is proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, were made, the formula would be even more generous to ratepayers and, in the Government's view, excessively so. Local authorities have a legitimate interest in the maintenance of their cash-flow—particularly in the year of a revaluation, when there are likely to be many outstanding appeals—and an excessively generous abatement would encourage spurious appeals, lodged with the sole intention of obtaining a financial advantage, at least in the short term.

The new formula which we propose in Clause 8 seems to strike the right balance—at least we hope it does—because as well as being more generous to ratepayers than the present formula it has, as a result of its simplicity, the whole-hearted approval of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. I hope, as a result of this explanation, that the noble Lord, Lord Ross, might feel able to accept some of the views that I have put to him in this particular instance. He will note that towards the conclusion of my remarks my noble friend returned to add power to my words.

Lord Ross of Marnock

No, I am afraid that I do not accept very much of what the noble Lord has said. He came down eventually to what I had been trying to suggest—that my amendment would be of greater benefit to the appellant ratepayer than the formula produced by the Government. That, with all due respect, was my intention—it was not a trap.

We have just had revaluations in Scotland and I appealed—or I started out on the road to appeal—against an increase in my gross annual value from something around £285 a year to £925. I should have been foolish not to appeal in respect of that. The matter did not go the full way because my opponents were anxious to settle, and certain other matters came in. However, naturally I wanted to maximise the advantage to the tenants who are in this particular position. But remember that when an appeal is heard and decided it is either in favour of the tenant or in favour of the local authority. So in the end the local authority will not lose anything because if the appeal is turned down it will get the ten-tenths. I wanted—and this is why I spoke about splitting the difference—to be a little kinder to the appellant ratepayer.

That being so, I do not think that it is worth dividing the Committee over the formula of four-fifths or nine-tenths. But, as I have been reading it some further amendments have come to my mind in respect of this matter and I am perfectly sure that we shall have a very interesting Report stage. It may well be that we shall have more amendments on Report than in Committee, provided of course that the Government give us time to go over all the promises that they have made and all the changes that they have made, so giving us an opportunity to change their minds once again.

There were one or two matters in the noble Lord, Lord Lyell's explanation with which I agreed, but not with his decision, and that is what matters. However, if he carries on in the way in which he is at present he might still receive that acclaim.

Lord Lyell

I have not finished yet.

Lord Ross of Marnock

His chance of power has gone. The Minister of State has come back. We should not be led too far along the path of optimism when the noble Lord says that he is not finished yet. Quite seriously, this is not a matter on which it is worth dividing the Committee, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Lyell

Before the noble Lord does so, I should like to tell him that on the figures he gave us the proposals in the present Act would mean that he would have to pay £750. Under the proposals in the Bill, as he would see them, he would pay £720. Under the proposals as we would see them in the Bill he would be paying £810. What would be in dispute would be the last £90 of his rates bill. I think that the noble Lord mentioned an increase from approximately £300 to £900. However, my notes point out that the only circumstances in which the new formula, as proposed in the clause, would be less generous than the existing formula is where the rates payable in the current year on the new value—that is, in the year under appeal—were more than 60 per cent. greater than the rates payable in the previous year on the old value.

The noble Lord quoted an example where the rates were trebled, but I do not think that even in Scotland, let alone in England, that is a very common occurrence. Before the noble Lord speaks of optimism, I would say to him that hope springs eternal, as it did last Saturday in Aberdeen.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I hope that some noble Lords knew what all that was about, because I certainly did not. The last time I was on my feet I thought that I begged leave to withdraw the amendment. I thought that it would have been acceptable to the Government for me to withdraw the amendment. If the amendment is not withdrawn, shall I now change my mind? The noble Lord, Lord Lyell, should be very careful. I used to tell my junior Ministers that the Bill was more important than their speeches, and the noble Lord's speech should never have been made. I still beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 8 agreed to.

Clause 9 [Effect of alteration to valuation roll as regards increase in value of dwelling-house delayed]:

5.22 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 12:

Page 5, line 39, at end insert— ("(2) The installation of any form of central heating shall not be taken as an alteration leading to an increase in the valuation.").

The noble Lord said: I apologise right away if this amendment is not in the right place in the Bill or in the right words, but the sense of it is known to everyone. In Scotland if anyone installs central heating, having spent £1,000 or £2,000 in it, he or she immediately discovers that his or her rateable value has gone up. A couple of years or so ago some people installed oil-fired central heating at very considerable expense. The idea behind this is that the value of the house will increase. I can tell either of the Ministers, whether or not they like it, that those people who installed that oil-fired central heating have now discovered that it is not an advantage to advertise their houses as having that form of central heating; in other words, such is the cost of oil now that it is detrimental to the sale of a house rather than an added attraction.

This business of central heating is very confused. You can have a gas fire in every room in the house or an electric fire in every nook and corner, and you do not have to pay any increase in rates. From the point of view of the Government, who are concerned with saving energy, one would have thought that efficient central heating would be to their advantage; in fact it is penalised. Burn as much electricity as you like through fires, and there is no increase in the valuation; install electric central heating and there is, depending, of course, on whether you pick the right or the wrong kind, because there is another form of central heating by electricity in respect of which the rates are not affected: that is where there are certain panels that can be heated by electricity. The theory is that you can take away these panels without making any change as regards the house, which is not exactly true, because if you take away the panels, all the additional wiring is exposed.

I forget the actual Bill which dealt with this, but there is a certain form of space heating by electricity which does not lead to an increase in rates. With the whole energy field changing, it is much better that we should get rid of this anomaly altogether; in other words that people can install any kind of central heating without the fear that it will lead to an additional burden on the rates.

I do not know which Minister will give me a good answer this time. They are vying with one another on the other side as to who will jump up, who has the brief to say "Yes, we agree with you on this". I think that that is the least they can do, because the whole situation is so muddled at present. Depending on which form of central heating you install, your rates are affected. Even with heating by electricity there is one form in respect of which there is no increase and there is another in respect of which there is an increase. The whole position is ludicrous at the present time.

I should like to ask this question. Bearing in mind the change in relation to the cost, which certainly affects the popularity of oil-fired central heating, let us suppose that people who have installed it have had an increase in their valuation. Now, because of the cost of oil, does it mean that they will receive a reduction?—because it is no longer an advantage to have oil-fired central heating. In fact, to have it will detract from the value of the house as against another form of central heating which might well be cheaper.

Valuations in respect of central heating should work both ways. If a valuation is increased and then it does not prove to be an attractive selling point if your house has oil-fired central heating surely the valuation should be reduced because it cuts across the whole principle on which this valuation increase for the installation of central heating is based. With that thought in mind, having given both Ministers a little time to think about what words they will use when they express the jubilation of the Committee in accepting the amendment, I beg to move.

Baroness Phillips

I should like to support the noble Lord who has just spoken in the hope that if we get this changed for Scotland we may also get it changed for the rest of the United Kingdom. This has been a sore matter for many years. I can remember resolutions at women's conferences going back a long time. It is one of the curious anomalies that are almost impossible to explain away.

As the noble Lord has so rightly said if you have night storage heating as it is laughingly called—the rate is now exactly the same if you have it on at night as if you have it on during the day—it is regarded as movable. I have night storage heaters and anyone who has seen three men trying to install it will appreciate that it hardly comes under the heading of being movable. This is a curious anomaly and I hope that Scotland will lead the way so that England, Wales and Northern Ireland can also follow very rapidly.

Viscount Thurso

We, too, have great sympathy with this amendment and with the principles underlying it. It seems to me that this is one of the anomalies and inequalities which was also compounded by delays in revaluation, because it is important that a house has an efficient form of heating and an efficient form of insulation. If a house is efficient and has an efficient form of heating or insulation it becomes more desirable, so obviously its value goes up and it may find itself attracting greater rates. But to choose to put the greater rates upon certain houses at the moment when this happens and to choose certain forms of heating as being liable to the imposition of a higher valuation as opposed to others seems to me to cut across the principle which is the attraction or the value of the house.

The value of the house depends upon whether you can keep it warm, dry and comfortable. This may be achieved by installing oil-fired central heating; it may be achieved by ripping it all out and installing electric central heating; or it may be achieved by building a chimney stack and going in for solid fuel, installing a wood-burning stove, or burning peat or something else. But these matters change from time to time, and with the way rating and valuation work at the moment the whole thing produces great inequality. I do not think that it is right to single out one form of heating for added valuation during the course of the lifetime of a house between revaluations as opposed to another. Therefore, I tend to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Ross. I hope that we may be able to hold out some hope to our cold and chilly neighbours in the South.

Lord Lyell

We are always a bit apprehensive when the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, leaps across—I must not say Hadrian's Wall—and assists your Lordships in considering Scottish matters. I hope that she and, above all, the noble Lord, Lord Ross, may bear with me while I attempt to explain some of the points that have been raised and to answer some of the questions which have arisen during the course of discussing this amendment. This amendment seeks to exclude completely central heating installations from rate valuations. To do this would be a major departure from the basic principles of domestic valuation.

The rateable value of a dwelling house is based broadly upon the annual value of the house to a landlord if the house were to be let on the open market. Any features in that house which would, in the assessor's opinion, make the house more desirable to a potential tenant are liable to lead to an increase in the rateable value on that house. Let us take one example. Take two houses which are absolutely identical except for the fact that one of them has central heating, and the other does not. Certainly so far as Scotland is concerned—and indeed the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, mentioned our chilly neighbours in England—it is clear that, if the two houses were let out, the house with central heating would command a higher rent than the house without central heating.

Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Ross, said in support of the amendment, we do not find it easy to understand why the person who installs central heating should be exempt from an increase in the value of his house whilst that householder, or another, who puts up, let us say, a garage, or a greenhouse, or indeed converts his loft into an extra room, should continue to be liable to an increase, which under the current legislation he is. The amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Ross, would be partial in its effect, and we think that that is another reason why it is deficient.

We appreciate that many ratepayers are very irritated by the supplementary rates demands which are levied on them when they install central heating and their rateable value increases during the course of the financial year. But the effect of Clause 9 as drafted dispenses with the part year increase in domestic value. Instead, the increase will come into effect at the beginning of the next following financial year. Of course this will apply whether the reason for the part year increase is the installation of central heating or the conversion of a loft, or the erection of a garage, or indeed anything else.

The measure that we propose in Clause 9 will benefit ratepayers and local authorities alike. I am afraid that I do not think that I would want to go any further than that except to mention two points that were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ross. The noble Lord mentioned the point of reduction in the value for oil central heating. There are two small responses here. First, valuations are for the assessor to make, not for the Secretary of State. Secondly, any ratepayer who thought he deserved a reduction in his rateable value, or indeed had a justifiable case, ought to take the matter up with his assessor. I am afraid that I do not think I can go any further than that.

Baroness Gaitskell

May I ask the Minister a question, and give him an example of this? I know someone who has the cheapest form of heating; that is paraffin heating. What happens when the price of paraffin becomes very high, which has happened in this particular case? How does this Bill deal with cases like that which are so hard on poorer people? This idea that any form of central heating is a good thing and has to be taxed and the value of the house goes up, just is not true. All sorts of things might happen. Electricity might go up. Paraffin might go up. Oil might go up. All these things have gone up. Therefore, I would support my noble friend Lord Ross on this and certainly not the Government.

Lord Hughes

When my noble friend was speaking to his first amendment he drew attention to the wording in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum. The second sentence of that says: It provides for improvements in the valuation and rating system; I do not think that anybody who is a ratepayer in Scotland, whatever his form of heating, would deny that the amendment suggested by my noble friend would undoubtedly be an improvement in the rating and valuation system. As it at present stands, as I understand the basis on which the assessor works, if a heating system involves a fixture that would be left in the house when the person who installed it had put it in, then that is an improvement to the value of the house and is reflected in his assessment. You get this ridiculous situation then, as my noble friend Lord Ross pointed out, that if a person has an electrical system which involves a fixture that increases the value of his house. But if he only makes use of the plug points which are there to put movable electric fires in every room in the house and takes them away when he goes, that does not increase the value of his house, although, to quote what the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, said, he may in the process have made the house a very much more comfortable place in which to live by the use of these movable fires.

I do not know what the position is at the present time in relation to block storage heating. Certainly in the beginning it did not add to the rateable value of the house, because the block storage heaters could be removed. The only thing which was a fixture was the wiring system into which they were put. Going back further than the block storage heating, let us go back to the way in which most houses in Scotland were heated up to 20, 30 or 40 years ago—by open coal fires. Every room had its fireplace and its chimney, apart from the occasional little box-room. Presumably when the house was valued the assessors took into account the fact that these chimneys and fireplaces were there and that this made the house of a certain value, but in the course of time many of these fireplaces were blocked up, and the chimneys sealed off. Has anybody ever heard of an assessor who reduced the value of a property because the fireplaces were blocked up?

I happen to live in a house where all but one of the fireplaces were blocked up. It was not done by me but by one of my predecessors in the house. But I am pretty certain that when they did that and put in electric fires which were used instead the valuation of the property would not be reduced because that fixture had been done away with. I have gas central heating. I put in gas central heating because at the time when I decided to do it gas was much cheaper than oil. A near neighbour of mine put in oil central heating just about a fortnight before the price started to rocket. The way Government policies are working, I shall not have any advantage over oil central heating in a year or two because they clearly intend to ensure that gas is as expensive as oil, if not more so.

This all shows that heating in relation to a house is an absolute lottery, and that goes for the mild North or the chilly South—I put it that way because some people down here seem to think that as soon as one gets north of Watford one is in the polar regions. Whatever part of the country is involved, it should be accepted that some form of heating is an essential in a house, and it should not vary from one to another from the valuation point of view. The Minister gave a bad case when he referred to a garage—that if one adds a garage the value goes up—because you can live in a house whether or not you have a garage, even whether or not you have a car, but in Scotland at any rate you cannot live in a house without some form of heating.

In my view, my noble friend is on a good point in suggesting the amendment and I hope he will take the matter to a Division because I am certain that if it were taken to a vote in the country—if people were asked in a referendum whether the valuation of the property should be increased according to the type of heating installed—the present system would not find many friends outside Parliament.

5.42 p.m.

Lord Drumalbyn

I am not sure what the Opposition want to achieve here. As I understand it, the clause is not about what improvements should be exempted or should qualify for rating but when the rates should be increased, and therefore I do not see how this quite major amendment could be fitted into the clause. Secondly, because the clause deals with when the increase in rates in respect of an improvement or alteration should be made, it would create an unfairness between those who have already received an increased valuation—

Baroness Gaitskell

That is not so.

Lord Drumalbyn

The noble Baroness may dissent from what I say, but the clause says: in a case where the alteration gives effect to an increase in the value of such lands and heritages…have effect only as from the beginning of the year immediately subsequent to the year in which occurred the event by reason of which the alteration is made". It is only about the timing of the increase. There will be many houses that will already have been subjected to rates increases because of improvements or alterations that have been made to the central heating. Noble Lords opposite do not seem to have appreciated that there would be an unfairness as between those houses, which are at present paying rates in respect of heating installations, and those which will have central heating installed in the future. I do not know how noble Lords intend to get over that difficulty, but it is such an unfairness that it could not be tolerated. I therefore hope that the noble Lord, Lord Ross, will withdraw the amendment and reconsider its positioning in the Bill.

Viscount Thurso

I cannot think of one house in Scotland that was built without some provision for heating of some kind. People installed oil central heating because the form of heating already provided became unworkable, ineffective, too expensive or whatever. The chimney linings might have become cracked or the chimneys smoked and they said, "We must do something about it. It will be very expensive to gut out the chimney stacks and reline them, so therefore let us put in a modern installation". They then replaced the old system, which either did not work or was inefficient, and in rating terms they were treated as having two systems. The fact now is that one system works and the other does not, and one is simply trying to stop people from having to pay full fare for some thing which is replacing something for which they are already paying for the heating of the house.

Lord Drumalbyn

That would apply only in relation to those houses into which a heating installation was made after the Bill was passed.

Lord Hughes

The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, has made a useful point. I would remind him, however, that when my noble friend Lord Ross was moving it he said that this might not be the right place in the Bill to make the amendment. I am certain my noble friend would be willing to co-operate with Lord Drumalbyn in drafting an alternative amendment, to be inserted elsewhere in the Bill, which would have the effect of doing what the noble Lord said would be the fair thing to do, namely, to apply the removal of valuation from heating systems of any sort, whether in existence now or to be installed. If, therefore, the noble Lord is willing to carry his useful suggestion a little further and co-operate with us, perhaps we can then find an amendment which he would not find defective either in its range or in its place in the Bill.

Lord Drumalbyn

Without accepting or refusing that suggestion, it would be inoperative unless the noble Lord, Lord Ross, withdrew the amendment now.

Lord Hughes

I am certain that if the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, gives an undertaking to co-operate with us in drafting such an amendment, my noble friend will be delighted to withdraw this one.

Lord Ross of Marnock

No response from the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn?

Baroness Gaitskell

Apparently not.

Baroness Phillips

I hope my noble friend Lord Ross will think very carefully before withdrawing the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, has introduced an interesting argument, bearing in mind that he has been a Minister. I could name many Acts of Parliament—consider, for example, the pensions Acts—which come into effect on a certain date, meaning that people born in the wrong years, so to speak, do not obtain a pension. One could cite many Acts which become operative on a certain date and thereby create anomalies for certain people, and that is unfortunate.

We have here an opportunity to strike a blow at a curiously anomalous situation in the valuation system. The noble Lord, Lord Lyell, pointed out, as has been pointed out to me many times, that the valuation is connected with the price a landlord could get if he were letting the house. That may be so, but we are dealing these days in most cases with owner-occupiers, and it seems totally out-of-date still to have valuations based on the curiously mythical conception that the house may be let at some stage. Thus, any blow we can strike now to deal with this curious idea would be beneficial, for there must be a better way of obtaining a valuation than the mythical rent system which I understand is still used. If we deal here and now with this anomaly applying to Scotland, we could then hope that legislation will be introduced later applying to England and Wales which would give us an opportunity to deal with it in that context. If we do not make a start somewhere, the anomaly will just go on. This is important new legislation which will have to last a long time, so let us start the process now.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I am grateful for all the help I have received in connection with the amendment. It is a matter about which I feel strongly in view of the experience of friends and others, but mainly its relevance now is due to the whole change in price and attitude to the installation of central heating. There were people who installed oil-fired central heating and whose valuation went up, so they ripped it out because they could not afford it. Where they were in the fortunate position of having retained coal fires they relied on those instead, but their valuation has not come down. This is the important point to remember. It is all very well for the Minister who spoke to this—I nearly said the junior Minister—to say that one can apply to the valuation officer, but with all due respect, if there has been no material change in respect of the house itself then one need not bother applying to the assessor.

With regard to the point which, quite rightly and with a certain amount of negative perspicacity, the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn raised, about the unfairness of this—because the advantage would only be to those who were installing central heating now or when this Bill is passed; and what about the others?—the noble Lord should have supported me about the delay in revaluation, because every time there is revaluation all this could be sorted out. There is only a limited period of unfairness if the matter is put right at the next revaluation. From that point of view I do not think the noble Lord's argument stands up at all, when he suggested that my amendment was in the wrong place.

It may be that my voice was abnormally hushed and that he did not hear me apologise that the wording may have been wrong and that the clause might be in the wrong place. There is an easy way out of this if it is turned down here, because this is a miscellaneous provisions Bill. Nothing need be out of place even in another place. All we have to do is to put in a new clause; then it cannot be in the wrong place because it would be up to the Government to put the clause in the right place.

When one takes into account all these new anomalies referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, I am perfectly agreeable that we should raise the standard of valuation in respect of what has been decided in the past and give a lead to England and Wales. That would not be a bad idea. It is one of the advantages of having separate legislation and separate powers, and I welcome the fact that there are so many English and Welsh noble Lords here taking part in this Committee stage. If we are different then let us make the experiment in Scotland. If people want it and agree with it, then we can easily follow suit elsewhere. We have done this in so many ways in respect of criminal legislation—the majority vote on juries and all the rest of it. England eventually comes round and decides it is quite a good thing. Even the law on suicide was different in Scotland from that in England. It was never a crime in Scotland to attempt to commit suicide and fail, but it was a crime in England. Then England saw the light, So there is no reason why we should not make the experiment in Scotland and every justification and experience to say that we should.

My noble friend made reference to moving fires around. Putting in plugs is a material change to the house. The siting of electrical points affects the value of the house, but it never affects the valuation. There is also the anomaly about the change in the price of paraffin. It is true that there is a great reliance by older people on this form of heating, which is not always the safest form of space heating. It might well detract from the value of the house if this was available.

Taking all this into account, the Government really ought to accept this amendment. They have not even given us room for a new think about this. I hope that the Committee will support me in this amendment. It is not a world shattering amendment; the Government will not fall. It is surely common sense that this amendment should be carried, and I certainly rely on the good sense of your Lordships' in that respect. I am sorry the Government have not moved, but we will nudge them along.

5.55 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 12) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 71; Not-Contents, 100.

Airedale, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Amherst, E. Lovell-Davis, L.
Amulree, L. McGregor of Durris, L.
Ardwick, L. McNair, L.
Aylestone, L. Maelor, L.
Bacon, B. Northfield, L.
Baker, L. Parry, L.
Banks, L. Peart, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Phillips, B.
Beswick, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Birk, B. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]
Blease, L.
Blyton, L. Ritchie-Calder, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Rochester, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Ross of Marnock, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Seear, B.
Collison, L. Sefton of Garston, L.
Colwyn, L. Shinwell, L.
Cooper of Stockton Heath, L. Spens, L.
David, B. Stamp, L.
Davies of Leek, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Stone, L.
Fulton, L. Strabolgi, L.
Gaitskell, B. Strathspey, L.
George-Brown, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Glenamara, L. Thurso, V.
Goronwy-Roberts, L. Underhill, L.
Hale, L. Vernon, L.
Hanworth, V. Wallace of Coslany, L. [Teller.]
Harris of Greenwich, L.
Henderson, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Whaddon, L.
Hughes, L. White, B.
Kilmarnock, L. Wigoder, L.
Lee of Newton, L. Wilson of Langside, L.
Listowel, E.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Alport, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Atholl, D.
Allerton, L. Avon E. [Teller.]
Balerno, L. Lawrence, L.
Bellwin, L. Long, V.
Belstead, L. Loudoun, C.
Bessborough, E. Lyell, L.
Boardman, L. McFadzean, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Mancroft, L.
Cathcart, E. Mansfield, E.
Chelwood, L. Marley, L.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Marshall of Leeds, L.
Cockfield, L. Mills, V.
Cork and Orrery, E. Minto, E.
Cottesloe, L. Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Craigavon, V. Mottistone, L.
Crawshaw, L. Mountevans, L.
Cromartie, E. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Newall, L.
Daventry, V. Northchurch, B.
De La Warr, E. Northesk, E.
Denham, L. Onslow, E.
Drumalbyn, L. Orkney, E.
Dulverton, L. Orr-Ewing, L.
Dundee, E. Pender, L.
Ellenborough, L. Rawlinson of Ewell, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Renton, L.
Exeter, M. Rochdale, V.
Faithfull, B. Romney, E.
Falkland, V. St. Aldwyn, E.
Ferrers, E. St. Davids, V.
Ferrier, L. Sandford, L.
Fortescue, E. Sandys, L. [Teller.]
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Seebohm, L.
Garner, L. Selkirk, E.
Gibson-Watt, L. Sempill, Ly.
Gisborough, L. Sharples, B.
Greenway, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Gridley, L. Soames, L.
Grimston of Westbury, L. Stradbroke, E.
Hailsham of Saint Strathcarron, L.
Marylebone, L. Strathclyde, L.
Halsbury, E. Trefgarne, L.
Hayter, L. Trumpington, B.
Henley, L. Tryon, L.
Hill of Luton, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Vickers, B.
Kemsley, V. Vivian, L.
Killearn, L. Ward of Witley, V.
Kinloss, Ly.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Clause 9 agreed to.

Clause 10 [Valuation of underground railways]:

6.3 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 13: Page 6, line 13, leave out from ("paragraph") to ("and") in line 15.

The noble Lord said: This is a very simple amendment, if I recollect it correctly. I have a query as to why the words are included. I suggest that we leave out the words, and 'railway' includes a tramway undertaking". This is a Scottish Bill, and I have been asking everyone I come across how many tramway systems remain in Scotland, and everyone has given me the same answer: none. I think that the last ones were in Aberdeen and Dundee. There might have been others elsewhere. Perhaps all the people I have asked are singularly uninformed. I await one of the Ministers explaining to me why we insist in retaining the reference to tramways by including the words, and 'railway' includes a tramway undertaking", which evidently have been left out somewhere. I beg to move.

The Earl of Mansfield

I fear that the somewhat technical explanation will take rather longer than did the noble Lord's speech in moving the amendment. The purpose of Clause 10 is to enable the Secretary of State to make orders providing for the valuation by formula of operational property occupied by a passenger transport executive for the purposes of an underground passenger railway. There is only one such railway in Scotland at present—in Glasgow—and so the clause has been included in the Bill with the Glasgow Underground in mind. So asks the noble Lord, Lord Ross, why it is necessary to include in the clause a reference to the term "railway" as including a tramway undertaking, particularly since, as the noble Lord was quick to point out, there are no tramways in Scotland, still less any underground tramways. But the reference is necessary for technical reasons.

Glasgow Underground is at present valued not by a local assessor but by the Assessor of Public Undertakings for Scotland, whose office can be traced back to the Lands Valuation (Scotland) Act 1854. Originally his office was termed that of the Assessor for Railways and Canals, and tramways were added to his responsibilities from the 1870s onwards, in accordance with a decision of the Lands Valuation Appeal Court that tramways were railways for valuation purposes. Initially the Glasgow Underground was in private ownership, but in 1922 was acquired by Glasgow Corporation under the authority of a provisional order, and Section 15 of that order stated that the Underground should form one undertaking with the tramways. So from that time onwards the Assessor of Public Undertakings was required to value the Glasgow Underground. His jurisdiction over tramways was confirmed by Section 124(1) of the Local Government Act 1948, which requires the assessor to value lands and heritages which are the property of, inter alia, any company, corporation or local authority and forming part of a tramway undertaking". The words which are the subject of the amendment are therefore necessary to confirm the responsibility of the Assessor of Public Undertakings for valuing the Underground, and they do so by continuing a thread which runs from Clause 10 back to the decision of the Lands Valuation Appeal Court in the 1870s, and ultimately to the Lands Valuation (Scotland) Act 1854.

Lord Hughes

How disappointing. It now emerges that, whereas when last century tramways first appeared on the scene, it was not beyond the capabilities of the Government of the day and their advisers to amend the legislation so as to include them, now, when tramways have disappeared, apparently it is impossible to take them out of the legislation and put the situation back to what it was before there were tramways.

Lord Ross of Marnock

All I sought was information, and I have now received information. I am appalled that we cannot make sense of the realities in Scotland by means of the valuation Acts themselves, and it seems that we have to go back to 1854. Well, it does not surprise me. Probably since 1854, and certainly during the last 80 years, we have been suggesting that valuation is out of date. I feel that the explanation, technical, though perfectly lucid, given by the Minister of State goes to underline the point as to how antiquated and strange are the ways of valuation, be they in Scotland or in England. But from the point of view of antiquity I do not think that we could find the equal of this instance in the valuation Acts for England.

I am disappointed in the present Administration, in particular the Lord Advocate, allowing something like this to go through. To have dealt with it would probably have meant another 10 minutes work for him, and I expect that he is busy doing other things. But, really, is it not ridiculous? Perfectly lucid, perfectly logical, yet nonsensical—that is my verdict on the explanation given by the noble Earl the Minister. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 10 agreed to.

Clause 11 [New constitution of Scottish Valuation Advisory Council]:

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 14: Page 6, line 20, leave out ("six") and insert ("seven").

The noble Lord said: This is an interesting one. We were told at the beginning that all this was to make necessary changes and improvements in the valuation and rating system. Now we are told that Clause 11 is to provide for a new constitution of the Scottish Valuation Advisory Council. By this Bill, in Section 3(1) of the 1956 Act, which provides for the constitution, for the word "eight" there shall be substituted the word "six". This is not really a great change in the constitution at all. As I understand it there are, and there have been since 1956, 15 members of the council; and there will remain 15 members. What is important is what is happening because of this change from eight to six. The constitution of the Scottish Valuation Advisory Council is 15 members, and these members are in two parts. At least eight, but no more than 10, are appointed by the Secretary of State from a panel which is nominated and sent to the Secretary of State by the valuation authorities. Your Lordships should notice that figure of eights which means that eight out of 15 gives them a majority. The others are appointed by the Secretary of State after consultation, and they have got to be people connected with the law, assessors and people with a certain amount of knowledge and interest of that sort.

The Secretary of State also appoints the chairman. You can therefore take it that, with the present position, what would appear to be a majority coming from the valuation authorities, which are the regions, is not quite so, because by appointing the chairman, and the chairman probably having a deliberative vote as well as a casting vote, the majority goes the other way. The Secretary of State also appoints the deputy chairman. Here, then, is how you disturb the balance within that committee, by making it six. Mind you, it does not change the upper limit of 10, as it could be; but the lower limit must be at least 6, and not more than 10. The likelihood is that the change is going to mean that the number asked for from the panel of valuation authority nominees will undoubtedly be six. It is going to disturb the balance of the council and, to my mind, make it more dependent on the Government than it is at the present time.

I think it is an important committee, bearing in mind the type of things they have been asked to do in the past in relation to agriculture or in relation to fish farming. I see another former Secretary of State sitting there, and I see another former Minister sitting there. We could list a number of things which have been sent to this committee about which the Secretary of State needed help. I think it is important that we should not upset the balance to the extent it is being upset here. Instead of wiping out the whole of Clause 11, I go part of the way with the Government and say that, instead of six, it should be at least seven as I understand it—and I have the Act here—which should be from the valuation authorities. It is Section 3 of the 1956 Act, which says: consisting of fifteen members appointed by the Secretary of State, of whom not less than eight"— we have now got to change that to six— and not more than ten shall be appointed from a panel of persons (other than assessors) nominated by such associations as appear to the Secretary of State to represent valuation authorities". Of course, there is only one authority now, probably, and that is COSLA, unless the assessors of the valuation authorities have some special committee in respect of this.

We are not changing to any great extent the actual authority, but we are upsetting the balance, I think quite unnecessarily, and some people might even say offensively, from the point of view of the local authorities. There is sufficient distrust between the Secretary of State and the local authorities at the present time: why introduce it into valuation as well? So far as I know, there has never been any trouble with the Scottish Valuation Advisory Council. If the Government are determined to change it, I do not think they should go as far as they suggest here, with eight to be reduced to six. My amendment would make it seven. I beg to move.

The Earl of Mansfield

The purpose of Clause 11 is to allow the Secretary of State greater flexibility in making appointments to the Scottish Valuation Advisory Council. As the noble Lord, Lord Ross, has quite correctly pointed out, it does so by reducing the minimum number of nominees of local authorities from eight to six; so that the effect, again as the noble Lord, Lord Ross, has quite correctly pointed out, is that the Secretary of State will be able to appoint between six and 10 local authority representatives, leaving the remainder of the total of 15 places to be filled by others, who must (as again he said quite correctly) include persons experienced in law or valuation.

By virtue of the terms of his amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Ross, I feel, must be taken to be in agreement with the Government that some reduction in the minimum number of local authority representatives is desirable, so the question between us is really how large that reduction should be. The council is an important body. It exists to provide the Secretary of State with advice on valuation matters, and it is for him to make appointments to the council. In those circumstances, we believe that he should have as much flexibility in his appointments as is consistent with the principle that local authorities, with their very real interest in valuation matters, should be guaranteed a reasonable number of places.

The Government consider that a reduction to a minimum number of six will get the balance right. I appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Ross, prefers a minimum number of seven, and that is what is between us; but in this particular instance a considerable amount of thought has been put into this clause, and I hope that on reflection the noble Lord will agree with the Government.

Lord Drumalbyn

Can my noble friend say how many members there are on this Advisory Council at the present time, in total?

The Earl of Mansfield

The noble Lord, Lord Ross, was quite right—there are 15.

Lord Campbell of Croy

Arising from a point which the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, raised, I wonder whether my noble friend can answer this point. Perhaps, if he cannot do it now, he could let me know later, or at a later stage of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Ross, referred to COSLA, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, which represents, as a single body now, the Scottish local authorities—not community councils, but the others. He also mentioned the assessors in Scotland, who are, as we discussed earlier in this Bill, a very special band because the assessment is done in a different way south of the Border. But I remember that there was a body, or association, of Scottish assessors which represented their interests, and, so far as I know, if that still exists, it is separate from COSLA. Can my noble friend Lord Mansfield tell me whether the assessors are normally represented in this 15? Is it expected that someone will be appointed from that body with their special knowledge of assessment in Scotland?

The Earl of Mansfield

My understanding is that the balance is made up of experts in valuation which would, I imagine, include assessors and lawyers. If I am wrong I shall communicate with my noble friend speedily.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I am very disappointed. The Minister said that a lot of thought had been given to this clause. I am afraid that he did not enlighten us as to the basis of that thought. There was just the feeling that eight was too many. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, should appreiate that the eight (now to be six) and not more than ten shall be appointed from a panel of persons (other than assessors)"— assessors are not in this, the local authority, the valuation authority people— nominated by such associations as appear to the Secretary of State to represent valuation authorities"— not to represent the assessors but the valuation authorities. I am reading parts of Section 3 of the Valuation and Rating (Scotland) Act 1956.

The Earl of Mansfield

The noble Lord is not right about that. There is a Scottish Assessors' Association and they attend the council as assessors.

Lord Ross of Marnock

But they are not appointed. They are not on the panel. They cannot be on the panel from the local authority. I shall read it again: …consisting of fifteen members appointed by the Secretary of State, of whom not less than eight and not more than ten shall be appointed from a panel of persons (other than assessors) nominated by such associations as appear to the Secretary of State to represent valuation authorities". That is right, is it not?

The Earl of Mansfield

They attend.

Lord Ross of Marnock

They attend? What are we talking about? They are members and we are talking about the 15, and the eight as against the others. It is important. The Secretary of State, when he comes to make his appointments can appoint whom he likes. The only way it is limited is that the remainder"— which now can be as many as nine, supposing that the minimum of six were appointed by the Secretary of State; the other nine would be appointed by the Secretary of State— after consultation with such persons as the Secretary of State may think fit". And that shall include persons experienced in law or in valuation". That is where the "experienced in law" comes in; and it could include an assessor or more than one assessor.

It is important, in view of the changes made in this, that we get it right. I think the danger of the Secretary of State insisting on this change is that people will take the minimum number probably as the maximum number for the Secretary of State—which means that his appointments will be nine as against six which he appoints after consultation with the valuation authorities. And one must consider that they do give advice when asked for by the Secretary of State. That is not their only power. They receive annual reports of the progress of valuation and revaluation and they can make recommendations considering the arrangements to be made to secure the quinquennial valuations and informing the Secretary of State of modifications that are needed. All these are very important. They also can make recommendations and representations to the Secretary of State on any valuation matter. That is on their own initiative.

If they become known as purely a Secretary of State-dominated council, then of course the initiative could be pretty well frustrated. They will be encouraged not to make such recommendations. That is the danger to be read into these changes. I should have thought that the one reason for the change—but why should I give arguments to the Government? It is 1956 that we are talking about. There has been a big change since 1956. In those days there was an assessor in every borough in Scotland and there was an assessor with every county council in Scotland. There were very many more assessors than there are today where the assessor now is the region. There is now virtually just a handful of assessors. That was the real argument that the Minister should have used: that there are so few assessors now that the valuation authorities could have been reduced. That is a respectable argument but he did not use it; so that it makes us all the more suspicious as to why the reduction is now being made.

I think he should appreciate that we are concerned about this because there has been no justification for upsetting the balance—and it can be argued it is upsetting the balance—between the members of the council taken from a panel put forward by the local authorities, the valuation authorities, as against those appointed by the Secretary of State after consultation with—well, I do not know with whom he will consult. It could be construed as making the balance more in favour of those who are the creatures of the Secretary of State. I do not think we want to have this in a valuation matter. We have always construed the matter of valuation as something outside politics although it very much concerns local authorities and the rate burdens when it comes to deciding on the rates and to deciding who will bear the burden of the rates. I should have thought that the Government were ill-advised here to change the balance of the council. But it may be that the Minister has further information to give us and to persuade us with. I hope he is right on the point that seemed to be in dispute between himself and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate.

As far as the assessors are concerned, they are not on the list and they cannot be put on the list, the panel, submitted by the valuation authorities. Some of them are there appointed by the Secretary of State on their knowledge of the law and valuation. That is a different matter. They are not in the list. The valuation authority in Scotland is the regional authority or, in the islands, the islands authority. It is the local authority.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

May I say a few words on this matter. Having listened to the debate, I am puzzled. The Minister pointed out—rightly, I am sure—that a great deal of consideration had been given to this issue. I have no doubt that that is so. It would not be part of the Bill if it was not a matter that the Scottish Office considered important. I still do not understand why the change is made at all. Is the figure to be eight, as is the present law; or is it to be six, which is what the Government propose; or is it to be seven, as the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, has proposed? I admit that I am a floating voter on this particular grave issue. I am waiting for somebody, preferably from the Government Front Bench, to explain why the change is made at all. At the moment I do not think that any of us has heard an explanation. I am sure that the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, will be able to assist us. It will be helpful to the Committee if he is able to do so.

6.30 p.m.

The Earl of Mansfield

I explained originally that the purpose of this amendment to the 1956 Act was to give the Secretary of State greater flexibility in making appointments. That is no more and no less than the point of the clause. In 1975 Scottish local government was turned upside down—if that is the right phrase—but certainly it was reorganised. The number of valuation authorities was greatly reduced. At the same time the SVAC lost one of its original functions—that of considering administrative schemes for valuation in each area. That is what made a strong local authority representation particularly appropriate in those days.

As I have said, since 1975 there have been far fewer authorities and therefore the role of the council has changed and the necessity for having quite so many local authority representatives is now less. Therefore it seemed—and still seems—desirable to the Government to reduce the minimum number of nominees from eight to six so that the Secretary of State will have the flexibility to appoint between six and 10 local authority representatives, leaving the balance of 15 to be filled by others who, as we have discussed, include persons experienced in law or valuation. That is really the nub of the argument.

The noble Lord, Lord Ross, by his amendment, agrees that the number should be reduced; but he says that it should not be reduced by two but by one. It is a matter of assessing the various factors and making up one's mind. That is what the Government have done in this instance.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I do not know whether my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich is satisfied with that. I could have understood if they had reduced the size of the committee, but they have not, they have kept it the same size. What on earth does "to give more flexibility" mean? Against that one has to take into account on the one hand the valuation authorities; on the other hand there is the Secretary of State.

At the present time the valuation authorities have eight members out of the 15. The Secretary of State has seven. From the whole 15 the Secretary of State also has the power to appoint the chairman and the deputy chairman, appointing, presumably, someone whom he is prepared to trust and who he thinks is the best man. As I have said, even at the present time he has virtually got the balance on his side.

Why is it necessary, if one does not think that the committee is too big, to upset its balance by reducing the minimum number for the local authorities? You still retain the right to appoint a chairman and deputy chairman. For all that he is going to gain from this, the noble Earl is going to raise the suspicions of local authorities. At the present time the situation in Scotland is that there are very few people who love the Scottish Office among local authorities. I was going to say "with the exception of certain Ministers", but I am not going to boost the ego of any Minister sitting opposite at the present time.

Is it worth it? What does one gain in the situation? One gains absolutely nothing. I nearly put down seven as a modicum of sense if one has to have a little more balance. But remember that one to the noble Earl's side is one off the other. It is a change of two.

I am disappointed in the Government. They have not shown flexibility in their approach to amendments or listened to the arguments. I am appalled at the way the Government have gone through this. They have had about three speeches during the whole of the afternoon on any matter that they are putting forward and that is being contested by this side.

I take my hat off to the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn. He has been faithful as ever to the Government. My noble friend asked him to do something on Report stage; but no, he would not give it. The Government have had very little support for anything put forward. It shows that the Committee are not terribly happy in relation to the conduct of this debate about what the Government themselves are doing. I hope sincerely that they will think again about this one. It is not of world-shattering importance but it is the tone, the mood, that it creates among the local authorities. I hope that the noble Earl will think again.

On Question, amendment negatived.

Clause 11 agreed to.

Clauses 12 and 13 agreed to.

Clause 14 [Reduction of rate support grant where local authority's estimated expenditure excessive and unreasonable]:

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 15: Page 6, line 33, leave out ("among other things").

The noble Lord said: This first amendment is very simple although this is probably the most offensive clause that there is in the whole Bill from the point of view of Scottish local authorities and anyone who has any regard at all for local democracy. One of the things that I object to is the attack upon Scottish local authorities. New powers are to be given to the Secretary of State to deal with what he would call the recalcitrant local authorities, irresponsible local authorities. He says, "We have had this power for a long time, we are only developing it. Yes, we have had this power a long time to deal with local authorities who are in default." But with all due respect, it is a different kind of default.

Disguised among these words "among other things" is the first part of Section 5 of the 1966 Act. The default there that was to be dealt with by a reduction of grants—and that was before the kind of grants that we have at the present time—was default of a local authority, failure to provide reasonable services. Of course, having raised rates they then saved those rates, probably for a future occasion. In those days in local authorities, county councils, there were elections every three years. In the boroughs it was every year.

It was not unknown for local authorities to build up reserves and then in the year before an election to reduce the rates. It is not unknown even for Governments in the year before an election to manipulate their Finance Acts to make themselves momentarily popular at an election period. That was the original purpose of Section 5 of the 1966 Act. I happen to have it with me. It says that if the Secretary of State is satisfied that a local authority or a joint board have failed to achieve or maintain a reasonable standard in the discharge of any of their functions, regard being had to the standards maintained by other authorities and boards which are, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, of a similar type to the local authority, then they may reduce their grant. That is the "among other things". That is central to this clause which is pleaded by the Government as justification for taking this action against local authorities. They have failed to let the public or Parliament know—and I am sure those not present who will later vote are all now in the Library looking up Section 5 just to see what it is all about. They will be horrified to find that the Government are building upon a default clause a different principle altogether from what was intended. I thought we should wipe out "among other things" and put in the really appropriate words.

That is the relevance of the amendment: it is to make clear to everyone what Section 5(1) of the 1966 Act says, and then have it covered and not just say "among other things", leaving people to wonder what else is intended. That is the main thing it said: the default is in relation to local authorities not providing the services. From that point of view, I think it is desirable that we should know the whole history of this default clause. No doubt in five or ten minutes, after they have all had their turn at the Scotland Act 1966, people will be coming in here irate at the fact that the Government are doing this and will be determined to support us in every way about this Clause 14. 1 beg to move.

Viscount Thurso

This is indeed the most controversial and the most hated clause of the whole Bill. This is the clause where the powers which are in the hands of the Secretary of State to improve the standard of performance of a local authority are to be used arbitrarily to take away their ability to perform at all; in other words, to take away the grant on which they have calculated their expenditure. If the Secretary of State, by doing so, was willing to accept the responsibility for what he is doing, this would probably be more acceptable; but powers are being taken to take away the rate support grant from local authorities but without accepting the responsibility in return for having to provide the services which this grant is supposed to provide.

I think this is what is most upsetting loal authorities all over the land, especially when it is known that most local authorities in Scotland are doing a first-class job of reducing expenditure—a job which could well be copied by central Government and by the Scottish Office itself; in fact they are holding down expenditure at a better rate than the central Government are doing. I think the most unacceptable part of this clause is the way in which the Government are hiding their intentions behind these sweeping powers. They are taking these sweeping powers to deal with one or possibly two local authorities with whom they are at loggerheads, and the other 60-odd local authorities who have been performing well are going to be threatened with this big stick. In these amendments we undoubtedly support the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

I have listened with great interest to this discussion and I am wondering just how many noble Lords have had letters or com munications from people who are very dissatisfied with the way certain local authorities are being extravagant and are not reducing the rates or the number of people they are employing, and so on. To listen to the noble Lord, Lord Ross, and the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, one would think everybody was behaving in an extremely wise and sensible manner, trying to keep down expenditure and to do all they can to make things less expensive; but that is not my experience. I have letters here in my hand, and other letters from all sorts of areas, from people who complain bitterly about the extravagance of local authorities. I agree with the noble Viscount that it is not a great many—two or three at most—but they are a quite formidable group. I personally have spent many years in local government and do not like the idea of the central authority taking over some of the functions which local authorities have had up to now. But if the rates in certain areas double in a year, what can one do about it? I think the Government are perfectly right to take some action.

Although undoubtedly the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, will tell us, I understand there are a great many considerations to be taken into account before the Secretary of State can take action which enables local authorities to try to justify whatever they are doing. All I can say, from listening to this debate, is that I think a number of noble Lords do not realise how much ratepayers in certain areas are absolutely fed up with the rise in rates. The meetings which are being held in certain areas are packed to the doors by people all joining together to protest about the way this is being done. Although, from the local authority point of view, I do not like people interfering with local government, if nothing else can be done, then I believe that in order to defend those ratepayers who do not want to have their rates doubled the Government are quite right to take very stringent action.

The Earl of Minto

At this point in time, I should like simply to say that following six years' experience as a regional councillor in Scotland I find this clause quite nauseating. It really does go out of its way to make life exceptionally difficult for the local authorities. I take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, that some people are extremely angry about the increases in rates; but the fact of the matter is—and one cannot dodge it—that in the vast majority of regions and districts in Scotland far more letters are received by members and officials about the diminution of services than about the increase in rates. That is a fact. It is all very well talking in terms of one or two authorities, but does one beat all one's children to make sure that one of them who may be in default is punished? I think the answer must be, no, and in this particular case—I am sure we shall come back to it again, and I certainly do not want to take up any more of your Lordships' time than is necessary—we have very good reason to look at this clause extraordinarily carefully. If we do not, what we know now as local government in Scotland really is subject to demise.

There is no doubt that this is a radical change, and we must be quite certain that we do not revert to the period in 1975 and 1976 when Members of your Lordships' House were saying: "If only we had looked at the 1973 Local Government Bill more carefully, we should not be in the mess we are in now". This is the moment when we must look at this clause and the whole of Part II, because if we are in a mess now it was a mess which was imposed on Scotland by Parliament, and we must make quite certain that we do not exaggerate that particular difficult situation into one which is worse.

6.50 p.m.

The Earl of Mansfield

I had thought in fact, perhaps in my innocence, that the noble Lord would move Amendment No. 15 and speak to Amendment No. 16, and that the purpose of his doing so was possibly to improve the drafting of the Bill or, more especially, to point out that the provisions in the 1966 Act, which are referred to as "among other things" are not repeated in Clause 14. It now seems that we are coming on to a kind of clause stand part debate; that is to say, the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, and certainly the noble Earl, Lord Minto, have both seized upon the amendment as an excuse (and I hope I am not thought to say that offensively) for saying that this clause is hateful, to quote the adjective of the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, and needs extreme care in its scrutiny, to quote the noble Earl, Lord Minto. My noble friend Lady Elliot said that it is a thoroughly welcome clause, which will be approved of by a great number of people in Scotland.

So I find myself in a little dilemma, in that I do not think that this is the moment for a total justification of the clause, and I do not think that noble Lords will really expect me to turn this into a clause stand part debate at this juncture. All I will say—and I must draw the attention of the noble Earl, Lord Minto, to this—is that since 1929 powers have been available to the Secretary of State to reduce Exchequer grant payments if he is satisfied that excessive and unreasonable expenditure has been incurred.

These powers are currently provided in Section 5 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1966, as we know, and there are various checks and balances to ensure that whatever is sought to be done is done fairly and under the public gaze and is eventually subject to approval, if it is forthcoming, by the House of Commons, by virtue of a report stating the amount and reasons for the reduction and setting out any representations made by the authority with respect to the proposed reductions. That, in a sentence or two, is the power which has existed for very many years where the Secretary of State, as the representative of the central taxpayer, has to have powers at his disposal to act against a local authority which has been profligate and which has refused, as it were, to mend its ways.

I do not intend to be drawn into a general debate on questions of expenditure and the limits which this country can afford, because your Lordships have such debates on very many Wednesdays, when many noble Lords with immense experience and vast talent and expertise take part. The Government play their part, too, and my noble friend Lord Gowrie—to my mind, at any rate, when either I am here or read the Official Report—gets the better of the argument. I shall not go down that road. But what I do say is that it is absolutely vital, at this tricky juncture in our country's economic history, that local authorities keep their spending within the limits that the country can afford, and the only authority which can define and lay down those limits is the Government.

Generally speaking, those limits are achieved by taking account, when total rate support grant is fixed, of the burden of expenditure which local authorities are asked to bear. But it is essential that all authorities support the Government's national economic policy, even if they do not agree with it. Therefore, the Secretary of State must have powers to discourage individual authorities from pursuing what may be described as extravagant policies.

I should have thought that a power of this kind has recently been proved beyond peradventure to be necessary. Of course, I quite agree with the noble Earl, Lord Minto, that the vast majority of our local authorities in Scotland have been co-operating, or trying to co-operate, to the best of their powers and abilities, and that it is a small minority who either cannot, or will not, curb their expenditure and their plans. This is a feature of our current economic life and it is apparent in England and Wales, just as much as it is in Scotland. The Local Government, Planning and Land Act, which was passed through Parliament last year, pursues the same objective through the block grant provisions, and entails a substantial revision of the rate support grant arrangements in those countries.

We do not do things in the same way in Scotland. We are not proposing a similar major revision for Scotland. In the view of the Government, similar objectives can be attained by the extension of the powers which are currently available to the Secretary of State under the 1966 Act. If this Bill becomes law, he will be able to take powers to reduce grant and to take action at the stage where expenditure is being planned rather than after it has been incurred.

That is the purpose of Part II of the Bill, and I have no doubt that it causes resentment among those who, by virtue of their political beliefs or economic theories, do not believe that local authority expenditure should be curbed. Nevertheless, in the view of the Government—and, I hope, of noble Lords on this side—it is absolutely essential that these powers should be taken. Otherwise, the whole economic policy will simply be unattainable, because of the fecklessness and financial irresponsibility of a few local authorities.

That is all I intend to say at this moment on this clause. Although I am perfectly happy to respond to Amendment No. 15 in slightly greater detail, if the noble Lord, Lord Ross, really wants me to do so, I anticipate that what he was doing was drawing attention to the way in which the clause is drafted and, in effect—and I make no complaint—was complaining about the form of words. All I can tell him is that I think that, at the moment, the clause is better phrased than it would be if Amendments Nos. 15 and 16 were incorporated into the Bill.

Baroness Gaitskell

Before the noble Earl the Minister sits down, may I ask him a very short question? Would it not be true to say that, ever since this Government were elected, the balance between national Government and local government—especially towards local government—has been continuously depressed? The Government have taken powers away from local government and assumed them themselves, which is very bad for democracy.

The Earl of Mansfield

I could not agree less with what the noble Baroness said. In very many arenas the Government are withdrawing from the local government scene and are in fact giving local democracy a chance to work much better, with far fewer circulars and far less nagging interference from central Government than were plain when the Government supported by the noble Baroness were in power, and when I was a humble county councillor.

Lord Campbell of Croy

If the noble Baroness would look at this Bill and at Schedule 2, she will see a whole list of powers that are to be given up, if they are approved.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I moved a simple, purely drafting amendment. I, too, could have made a speech on clause stand part, but I did not. I have been too well brought up. There are no rules of order in this House. In another place, practically everyone who has spoken, apart from myself, would have been ruled out of order. The Minister realised this. He said that he was not going to make a clause stand part speech and go down that road, but for the last quarter of an hour or half an hour that is the road he has gone down. Then he said that if so invited, he could expand upon why my amendment is not acceptable. With due respect, the Minister never addressed himself to my amendment.

Lord Beswick

He is not listening now.

Lord Ross of Marnock

The noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, spoke about the letters she had received, about meetings and the rest. What is it that I am trying to do? I am just trying to change some words. It has nothing to do with the principle of the clause. I confined myself to my own amendment. The noble Baroness mentioned a selection of letters she had received from people all over Scotland and said that she was bound to get up and speak of her experience in her own area. With due respect, much of this was said during Second Reading.

The fact is that the great majority of local authorities have been co-operating, but, even with all their understanding of the Government's case and realising what the outcome will be in terms of rates, about 59 out of 65 of the local authorities cannot, with the best will and with all the co-operation in the world, keep down their rates. That is the number which have not met the limits which have been laid down by the Government. The noble Baroness should appreciate that it is easy for the Government to force local authorities to put up their rates. They are in charge of reckonable expenditure. They fix the total and they fix it low. If the same services are to be provided, then up go the rates.

There is another thing which the Government determine and which they do not discuss with local authorities. The Government decide exactly what percentage, in aggregate, of Scottish local government reckonable expenditure they will pay. And they have reduced it. Automatically, therefore, if services are to remain reasonable, the rates have got to go up.

The Border regional authority is not a red, revolutionary authority. The people there are complaining about the rate rises. I hope that the noble Baroness was not talking about some other authority in whose area she does not live and of which she has less experience. I should like to know what she thinks is happening in her own area and to hear of the reactions of her own local authority. That is why I listened to what the noble Earl, Lord Minto, had to say, because his much more recent service with the authority is important.

I could develop a considerable speech, but not at this time of night and not on this amendment. I should have been ruled out of order in another place because it has nothing to do with the amendment. I sought to insert the words which are contained in Section 5(1) of the 1966 Act so as to let people know just exactly what were the default powers in the past: not "among other things" but the power to reduce the grant given to a local authority because it had not provided services. We have not had a reply, and I did not expect one. I did not expect that there would be any change of mind on the part of the Government. I did not think that it was all that important. However, I think that the people who read Hansard have to be reminded about the origins of the default powers.

When the noble Earl referred to the fact that the default powers have been in existence since 1929 he did not say that they have never once been used. Governments can use default powers, of course. There used to be a default power in respect of housing to compel local authorities to build houses when the need was there and when they would not act. I think it was John Wheatley who put into the 1924 Act that five ratepayers in a borough (county councils did not have the powers which they enjoy now) could appeal to the Secretary of State, who could then set up an inquiry and compel a local authority to build houses. That default power was used, I remember, because my father was one of five electors in the borough of Ayr who compelled the local authority to build houses. The same thing happened in Irvine. The recalcitrant authority was not prepared to meet the needs of the people; they would not build houses.

The origin of the default powers was to ensure that local authorities lived up to the duties given to them by Parliament to provide reasonable services. If they were levying rates and not spending the money on reasonable services, the Government had the power to reduce their grants. It was a general grant after a certain period of time, though there were many specific grants. Therefore I thought it was advisable to make this change in order to let people know what was the origin of the default powers.

I am not going to press the amendment. I am going to withdraw it, unless somebody on the other side wants to make a speech to prevent me from doing so. It will expedite matters, however, if I withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Mansfield

This might be an appropriate moment to adjourn for dinner. I suggest that we do so until a quarter to eight. I beg to move.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.7 until 7.45 p.m.]

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 16: Page 6, line 35, at end insert ("that a local authority has failed to achieve or maintain a reasonable standard in the discharge of any of their functions or").

The noble Lord said: This amendment runs more or less with the previous amendment, which itself went fairly wide of what it purported to do, and this is a follow-up on that. I do not think sufficient emphasis has been given in terms of the new paragraph (a) which is being added to Section 5 of the 1966 Act. To me this is the more important aspect, something to which we should be giving emphasis, because I am convinced that there are local authorities who are failing to achieve and maintain a reasonable standard in discharge of any of their functions at the present time. Certainly it would go much further along the road along which we are going now. Local authorities will find themselves more and more in the position of having to axe services altogether. I get it from local councillors whom I meet, both regional and district councillors, and we see it in the conditions of our streets and in relation to the building of houses, that local authorities are getting to the point where they have had statutory duties placed upon them by Governments—be they Governments Conservative or Governments Labour—and they now have to take decisions which will mean axing those services to a point where they are not meeting a reasonable standard.

The duty and responsibiliy remains with them, and the duty and responsibility remains also with the Government; but the Government are now shutting their eyes to whether or not they are meeting reasonable standards in respect of many of their services. I can see it in respect of the maintenance of roads. There is patching up being done. One can see it on trunk roads, which are the responsibility of the Government. The local authorities are only the agents of the Government in respect of trunk roads, but travelling on the Ayr-Glasgow road, which is one of the busiest roads in Scotland—probably the busiest after the road from Glasgow to Edinburgh—I see patching up being done where it will not be satisfactory and where much more money should be spent. But the Government have not provided the money and, seemingly, they are not concerned about the reasonableness of standards. I hate to think what a severe winter, followed by a heavily trafficked summer will do to some of those roads.

I consider that more and more attention should now be paid to the question of reaching reasonable standards. The standard of cleanliness of our towns and cities is to be deplored. When we approach the local authorities we discover that of course they just have not got the services. There are certain services which are very vulnerable from the point of view of making cuts, and too often they are the services to older people, handicapped people. New duties have been placed on local authorities in more recent years and it comes to the point where the local authorities have to choose whether they are going to undermine traditional ser vices by maintaining the new functions that have been placed upon them, under the Social Work Act 1968 for instance, or are going to maintain these very important personal services, which everyone applauded when they were placed on local authorities. Something is going to suffer.

I am not going into the whole question of clause stand part; I think I explained that my customary practice is to stick more or less to an amendment. Are the Government satisfied or are they concerned about the standards of the personal social services, about the cleanliness of our streets, about the adequacy of the maintenance of our roads? There is no doubt that these are suffering at the present time and will suffer even more when the local authorities come under the hammer of the present Secretary of State. The purpose of this amendment is to draw to the attention of the Government that it has been Governments in the past which have placed an increasing number of functions upon local authorities, which have always insisted upon standards, be they standards of housing or of housing provision, by they standards of education and of educational provision, for the normal child, for the handicapped child, and in relation to certain of the health services that still remain with the local authorities.

I am satisfied that the Government are not paying sufficient attention to the question of the maintenance, far less the achievement, of reasonable standards in the discharge of many of their functions. I can remember when we passed the Social Work Act in relation to after-care. There were great areas of Scotland where no provision whatever existed for after-care of prisoners—none whatever. This all came under the Social Work Act. There is no doubt about it, our standards in Scotland have slipped in respect of many services which we are proud of, and I want to know whether the Government are prepared to act. The responsibility is there and the power is there. This was the original purpose of Section 5 of the 1966 Act, to consider the activities of local authorities within the terms of default of achieving and maintaining reasonable standards. I beg to move.

The Earl of Mansfield

I must resist the noble Lord's invitation to join him in a debate on the attitude of the Government so far as the maintenance of social services are concerned, and the duties of local authorities. All I will say to him is that it is my understanding that spending in real terms is up in this field, and has been so ever since the Government took office.

What I do want to answer the noble Lord on is his amendment, which really is nothing more nor less than a drafting amendment to insert words from Clause 5 of the 1966 Act in this part of Clause 14. The "other things" to which he referred, on line 33 at page 6, are a shorthand way of putting in all the matters in Section 5(1)(a) of the 1966 Act, and I suggest that it is a reasonably efficient and happy form of shorthand in the way it has been drafted. So one asks oneself whether it is then necessary to make the insertion which this amendment provides at the end of line 35. It would certainly be descriptive but it would not be concise. The clause as drafted is accurate, it is unobscured by surplusage. I do not think that for the purpose of making the section more comprehensible or more clear, and certainly not for any consideration of brevity, this amendment would improve matters. I appreciate the motives which led the noble Lord to table his amendment, but nevertheless I hope he will withdraw it.

Lord Ross of Marnock

No, I am not inclined to withdraw it, even after that expansive meal we have had in the 40 minutes allowed to us; I do not think it has improved my temper in any way at all. I do not think that a local authority has failed to achieve or maintain a reasonable standard in the discharge of any of their functions or are imprecise words. I do not think they are vague; I think they are very definite. I think the more we draw the Government's attention and that of the local authorities to this protection available for them in this new definition of default, the better for us all in the long run. So I am not going to withdraw this amendment, and if the Government maintain their position I think we should vote on Amendment No. 16.

7.58 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 16) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 30; Not-Contents, 70.

Bacon, B. Parry, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]
Blease, L.
Boothby, L. Ritchie-Calder, L.
David, B. Ross of Marnock, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Sefton of Garston, L.
Glenamara, L. Simon, V.
Greenwood of Rossendale, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Hughes, L. Stone, L.
Lee of Newton, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. [Teller.] Thurso, V.
Underhill, L.
Loudoun, C. White, B.
McNair, L. Wigoder, L.
Maelor, L. Winstanley, L.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Elibank, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Elliot of Harwood, B.
Allerton, L. Faithfull, B.
Baker, L. Ferrers, E.
Balerno, L. Ferrier, L.
Bellwin, L. Fortescue, E.
Belstead, L. Gisborough, L.
Boardman, L. Greenway, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Gridley, L.
Cathcart, E. Grimston of Westbury, L.
Chelwood, L. Hanworth, V.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Hylton-Foster, B.
Colville of Culross, V. Inglewood, L.
Colwyn, L. Kemsley, V.
Cork and Orrery, E. Lawrence, L.
Crawshaw, L. Long, V.
Cromartie, E. Lyell, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. McFadzean, L.
de Clifford, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
De La Warr, E. Mansfield, E.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Minto, E.
Drumalbyn, L. Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Dulverton, L. Mountevans, L.
Dundee, E. Newall, L.
Northchurch, B. Stradbroke, E.
Orkney, E. Strathclyde, L.
Rochdale, V. Swinfen, L.
St. Aldwyn, E. Trefgarne, L.
Saltoun, Ly. Trumpington, B.
Sandys, L. [Teller.] Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Selkirk, E. Vickers, B.
Sempill, Ly. Vivian, L.
Sharples, B. Ward of Witley, V.
Skelmersdale, L. Wilson of Langside, L.
Stamp, L. Young, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

8.6 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 17: Page 6, leave out from beginning of line 39 to end of line 8 on page 7.

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 17 and I think that it would be convenient to speak to Amendments Nos. 18, 19, 20 and 21 at the same time. That will have the advantage of keeping people in order and we shall reach the Question, Whether the clause shall stand part much sooner. The purpose of these amendments is to draw attention to and try and remove the intent of the Government—not being satisfied with the fact that they take default powers and reduce grants in respect of what they consider to be excessive and unreasonable expenditure, which is bad enough—to proceed to apply that same kind of judgment in respect of the estimated expenses of local authorities: regard being had to the financial and other relevant circumstances of the area of the authority". They follow that through with their additions of certain words to ensure that they cover everything. For example, they cover joint boards. They then have a wonderful list. To help the Secretary of State: In determining … whether, in relation to any year, total estimated expenses of a local authority are excessive and unreasonable the Secretary of State has to pay attention to certain matters. The Secretary of State: may (in addition to the miners to which in terms of that paragraph"— that is the paragraph in the original Act— regard must be had) have regard— (i) to expenditure or estimated expenses, in that or any preceding year"— and I repeat "any preceding year". This is where my amendment in relation to any immediately preceding year takes effect. It goes on— of other local authorities which the Secretary of State is satisfied are closely comparable (or as closely comparable as is practicable)". I hope that somebody will tell me what that means and how it will be achieved. How will they compare like with unlike? I should like to know the degree of disparity that will be allowed him in this judgment of practicability. It is not for the courts to decide; this is for the Secretary of State, so he can really do anything. "In his opinion"—that covers him. His opinion is not qualified to any extent at all. It says: is satisfied are closely comparable (or as closely comparable as is practicable)". That is absolute balderdash. It is nonsense. They are comparable or they are not comparable. The question of practicability coming into the comparison is utter rubbish. Then, just to make sure that he has some further coverage the clause says: (ii) to general economic conditions"— I presume that those economic conditions are the economic conditions of the country. It may well be that a local authority in its estimated expenses is concerned about the consequences in its area of the economic conditions.

We know that in the Glasgow area, in the Strathclyde area, the unemployment figure for men will be well above 15 per cent. That, of course, has very considerable effects on many of their policies—rent rebates, rates rebates and the provision of services of all kinds—and leads to additional expenditures by the local authority. If all you are going to be concerned about is general economic conditions, you will not take into account the true conditions in the particular area.

Then, as though all this were not enough, just listen to this wonderful list, which is a little better than it was in the original Bill. To paraphrase what was said in the original Bill it says, "or anything else that the Secretary of State can think of". That was virtually it; it was seriously included in a statute that a Secretary of State had to pay attention to that in reaching a judgment as to whether a local authority is in default or is spending too much or an excessive or unreasonable amount, or intends to do so. The clause says: (iii) to such other financial, economic, demographic, geographical and like criteria"— what are "like criteria"?— as he considers appropriate; and (b) may leave out of account such categories of estimated expenses as he thinks fit".

Another of my amendments is to leave out that phrase for the simple reason that if the Minister of State will look at the Second Reading debate in another place he will see that the Secretary of State was not concerned with particular aspects of expenditure, but only with the aggregate. He said so. I suggest that we should know something about this change because it was made during the Committee stage in another place.

This really spells the end of local government as we know it in Scotland. It leaves absolutely no judgment to a local authority to raise money from its own sources, which hitherto has been an inalienable right, to meet its expenses which it considers right. We should remember the whole purpose of the local government reform Act of 1973—and it was the party opposite which was responsible for the passing of that Act; they eschewed the amendments that were sought in this place. This place voted against the idea of a region which embraced half the population of Scotland—Strathclyde. Everybody is against that now. This House was against it when that Bill went through. But another place reimposed it when considering Lords' Amendments. So the Government cannot dodge this one.

The whole philosophy behind that Act was that we must have viable, strong, free local authorities which would be independent, bear more of their burdens and make decisions without interference from the Government. Here is the very Government that said that. I could shorten or lengthen proceedings at will by reading a few excerpts from the White Paper on Local Government Reform 1971 where all these things are repeated. Indeed, in Scotland they denied people the right to protest against what was being done in relation to the regions and districts. All that was not for argument. Decisions had been made, and they were being implemented. There is the same sort of dictatorial attitude here. But they have gone too far this time.

Another of my amendments—I do not know whether or not it is in this group, although I do not think that it is—tells us that this must start in the financial year 1981–82. With all due respect, that financial year has already started. Local authorities have already drawn up their estimates of expenditure and have already delivered their estimate of what the rates demand will be. I have already received mine.

But here is a Government going to apply this, to my mind, quite wrongly, if it is ever applied at all. It is muddle-headed. The Government just do not appreciate exactly the kind of difficulties into which they will run. I would ask them to whom they will apply it. Will they apply it to the 59, or to one or two? How will they justify criteria of this kind in respect of a local authority? What does a suggestion that you can compare one with another (as far as it is practicable of course) mean?

How can you compare one local authority with another? Certainly comparisons are traditionally quoted as odious. In local authority terms they are not at all practicable. You cannot compare the Borders with Strathclyde or Strathclyde with the Highlands and other areas. But the Secretary of State proposes to do this as one of the conditions when he makes his determinations. Will he compare Dumfries and Galloway with Ayrshire and all the engineering industry that used to be there? It would be quite wrong. The comparisons have to bear in mind: financial, economic, demographic, geographical and like criteria". Many of those are already taken into account when the aggregate of rate support grant is distributed. That is what local authorities are supposed to do. How on earth can you compare the social implications of general policy?—for there is no doubt that in certain areas the implication of general economic conditions at present is that local authorities have to spend more.

But they are not allowed to make the decisions; they are not allowed to make the judgments. The Secretary of State for Scotland will do that for them. He has not just tied them; he has tied them hand and foot and in the middle; and he has strung them up as well. This, from a Government whose party used to proclaim on motor-cars all over Glasgow that their aim was freedom. I can see Members of your Lordships' House smiling because they were probably candidates for Parliament in those elections. They, too, remember the great slogan of freedom for local authorities.

This is not freedom. Nor do I think that it is very practicable. It is certainly unfair. But whoever is covered, it is the Secretary of State. All the decisions are made by him. All the conditions are conditions that he lays down. All the judgments in relation to the fairness of the determinations that he makes are judgments so worded that he, and he alone, is the arbiter. He is judge, he is jury and he is executioner. But the people who will be executed are the local authorities.

I hope that the Government will have second thoughts about this. Later I shall come to the question of the timing of it, but this shows how muddle-headed the whole thing is. This is why we shall sit through the night. Scotland cannot have the appropriate time in this House to debate this because the Government want the Bill as quickly as possible. They set the timetable and it was they who put in belatedly the question of estimated expenditure, when already every local authority has estimated its expenditure; every local authority has announced its rates and they are now being told that if the Secretary of State does not like it, he will change it and, by another afterthought, will tell them that they can reduce the rates and so might get back some of the grant that has been denied them.

This is the most appalling local government clause I have seen in my 37 years in the other House and in this House. The noble Lord is smiling. He has not seen very many local government Bills. I can tell him that as far as Conservative local authorities are concerned, they are as worried about this as anybody else. I think that the chairman of COSLA still is a Conservative councillor.

Lord Hughes

Convenor of Tayside.

Lord Ross of Marnock

Convenor of Tayside. I am sure Tayside is worried about this. It is going to apply to regions as well as districts. When you look at the question of rates increases, you would not consider the Highland area the most revolutionary of local authorities. It is going to apply to them. After Strathclyde I think they have the highest rates increase. Are they going to apply it to Strathclyde? In the position we are in in this financial year—and it has to be applied in this financial year, it says so in the Bill; it is virtually retrospective legislation—the Secretary of State should know to which local authorities it is going to apply.

He has been saying plenty about what is going to happen after the Act is through. He should know what he is going to do. If he cannot come clean with the other House, let him come clean with the House of Lords, when he thinks he has virtually got his Bill. The proclamation at the weekend in the Scottish press, and I think even today, was that the worst of the legislation difficulties that the Government have with Scotland are over. They take us for granted in this House. Well, can you expect me to take this House seriously? When the Government proclaim this, they do not take it seriously; they take it for granted. This is one of the worst examples of that.

I would be horrified as a Secretary of State to clothe myself with these powers and then shackle the local authorities as they are doing. This is the intent. Will they use them? They have to use them now as far as I can see. Otherwise they lose all credibility. There is no use in barking if you are not prepared to bite, and I want to know which local authorities are going to be bitten, and at this stage of the financial year when it is going to start.

"Any preceding year" surely can only mean the year before, the immediately preceding year. In relation to some of these comparisons, impracticable comparisons, they could accept an amendment and at least soften the position, and make it seem reasonable in their decisions in respect of their powers. I doubt if they will. But I can assure them that if they do not, then I think we vote. If they show no advance on the kind of attitude we have had before, we shall vote on Clause Stand Part as well, because this is the most hateful of all the clauses.

We are dealing with six amendments at the present time. I hope that the Chief Whip does not believe everything he hears from his noble friends. They are busy trying to sort out their briefs so as to reply to six amendments at once. I can assure you that this is the most important clause in the Bill, and this clause will take some time, especially if we get as unhelpful replies as we have been having hitherto. I beg to move.

8.25 p.m.

Lord Balerno

It is with great hesitation that I rise now, and I rise because I am provoked. I am provoked because I live in the Lothian Region, and that name may perhaps give the answer to a question which the noble Lord, Lord Ross, has just asked. The Lothian Region is the most spendthrift authority, the most spendthrift piece of local government on this side of the Atlantic that has ever existed. The sooner it is brought under control the better. In so far as this Bill will attempt to bring the Lothian Region under control and to think sensibly, it will do good.

The Lothian Region has gloried in expenditure, and no sooner is criticism made about its over-expenditure, which is very considerable, than it goes and embarks on some further utter silliness, some of which is very close to the bone from the legal point of view. We have foisted upon us by the Lothian Region a paper, a news sheet, which is published and entirely paid for, because we receive it free, and which is nothing less than a piece of party political propaganda. It comes out from time to time. That is one of the instances that I give of the spendthrift attitude of the Lothian Region.

What is more, if these spendthrift regions are allowed to get away with it, as they are being allowed to get away with it, then all the other regions will suffer. The noble Lord, Lord Ross, quoted the common sense of the Tayside Region, which is indeed great, and it stands out as a bulwark against the other regions, especially against the Lothian Region. The responsible local authorities will suffer as the other ones become more and more careless of expenditure. I consider that this clause of this Bill is a most courageous clause, and I think that the Government deserve the greatest credit for bringing it in. I am sorry to quarrel with my friends on the other side of the Committee, but there you are, they are my feelings and I hold them very strongly.

Lord Hughes

I had not intended to speak until, if I could follow his example and talk about my friend on the other side, Lord Balerno made those remarks. He started off by talking about the Lothian Region as being the most spendthrift authority on this side of the Atlantic. That certainly covers a lot of territory. Then he went on later to talk about "these spendthrift regions". They suddenly became more than one.

So far as I know, there was no other region in Scotland which has been stigmatised in the same way as the Lothian Region. In fact the biggest region, Strathclyde, had a better record on expenditure than some of the smaller regions in Scotland, so they certainly cannot be stigmatised as being a spendthrift region. Then he spoke about Tayside. I happen to know something about Tayside because I am one of the ratepayers. Tayside has complained bitterly about what Government are doing to them. What they have said, and said quite truly—and it bears out what the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, said about them—is that they have abided by Government guidelines irrespective of who the Government in power were and have managed to contain their expenditure within these lines until this year.

In an endeavour to comply with the guidelines laid down they were faced with such an enormous mass of cuts on social expenditure—including not opening buildings which were ready, and closing ones which were in use; cutting back on services to the aged; cutting back on social services generally—and there was such an outcry, not as the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, said earlier because of expenditure increasing, but outcries and demonstrations directed to the regional headquarters in Dundee about the cuts, that they restored well over £1 million to their projected budget. The result is an increase in the regional rate for this year in excess of what the Government guidelines would have called for, and so it is not just one authority; this is a pattern which is being felt by every local authority in Scotland.

Frankly, I do not understand how the clause could be described as courageous. The noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, spoke of letters she had received about rates being too high, and I can believe that. There is not an authority in Scotland which has not put up rates to an extent which, when I was in local government, would have swept every councillor out of office. We used to act with trepidation if we put one penny (old money) on the rates. Today, if the rates were increased by less than one shilling (I should not say that because it is fatal to think in terms of old money) they would almost be getting an award of merit for being so economical.

How will the clause reduce the rateable expenditure of, to use the words of the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, a spendthrift authority? If this comes into operation, the Secretary of State will have the power to say—to take the noble Lord's example—to Lothian Region, "This, that and the other item of your expenditure is not to be reckoned for grant". In a later clause he takes power to say, "You will not borrow to meet the expenditure for which you are not receiving grant". What, therefore, if they still go ahead with the expenditure? And is there anything which leads the Government to believe that Lothian Region will change their mind about the expenditure?

If they do not change their mind, what happens? They lose grant, they are not allowed to borrow and they are not allowed to increase their rates in the present financial year. The result is that they go into the next financial year with a substantial deficit which they will then have to rate for next year; there is nothing in the clause which will compel a recalcitrant authority to ease the burden on its ratepayers. All it does is ease the burden on the Government or taxpayer. But sooner or later, notwithstanding that, the local authority's ratepayers will have to pick up the bill, and the bill they are not picking up in 1981–82 they will pick up in 1982–83. As long as this goes on, it will go on in that way; every year will finish with a substantial rating deficit.

I could have understood it—although I would not have agreed with it if the Secretary of State had been taking power to say to a local authority, "You will not legally be allowed to spend money on that", but he is not doing that, and I understand why he is not doing it. It would be a totally undisguised taking away from a local authority the right to exercise its functions. If the objective had been to compel local authorities to levy a lower rate than they intended, that would have been a method of accomplishing it. But this will achieve nothing except with a willing authority, one which shows itself willing to co-operate, once it is faced with the possibility of getting a reduced grant, to revise its estimates and reduce its expenditure. But with an authority like Tayside, with all its past experience and its willigness to co-operate with Government in keeping down expenditure, now forced to add so substantially to its expenditure—because, with all its willingness, it is unable to accept the reduction in standards involved—I see no hope for the success of this method of dealing with the matter.

I hold no brief for authorities that embark on expenditure which is wasteful, and we all have our own ideas of what is wasteful expenditure. I, for instance, would not have considered that buying a PLO flag in Dundee was expenditure which was worth while. Other people in Dundee think differently, so we all have our own ideas on what is good or bad expenditure.

My noble friend Lord Ross quoted what was being said, at the time of a previous election in Scotland, about the powers of local authorities, and I remind noble Lords opposite of the slogan which their party used in Scotland on that occasion, and I am sure a number of noble Lords here tonight would have used it more than once: "Town hall knows better than Whitehall". I commend that slogan as one which is still worth bearing in mind: town hall may sometimes know better than Whitehall.

The Earl of Mansfield

It is not easy to know how to reply to the sort of debate we have had on this amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Ross, was fairly generous with his allocation of time on some of the earlier amendments which covered a quite small compass. He now moves five amendments, together covering an extremely wide field, to arguably one of the most important clauses in the Bill. He refers to his five amendments, if at all, in the most general terms and then passes to a general discussion of the merits of the clause which might have been more suitable for a clause stand part debate. I do not complain so much as point out that it does not lead to the most effective or illuminating debates if the Committee conducts its affairs in that way. However, I shall do my best to reply to each of the five amendments, trying to reserve something for what I suppose will be the substantive debate on the clause stand part debate after that.

The existing provisions of the 1966 Act can be operated only retrospectively, and that is really the whole point of the clause, particularly the first part of it; namely, that the Secretary of State can act, as things are, only after excessive and unreasonable expenditure has been incurred. It is likely that the earliest that any related grant reduction could be made would be late in the financial year following that in which the overspending had occurred. That, I suggest, would be far too late to be effective in leading to any revision of expenditure. So a major aim in extending the Secretary of State's power in this way to reduce grants is to allow him to act on the basis of planned, as opposed to actual, expenditure. That, taken with other powers in this part of the Bill, will enable him, as it were, to prevent overspending rather than to confine himself, as he does at present under the 1966 Act, to punish—if that is the word—overspending after it has taken place. That is the kernel of the Bill and certainly of the clause.

Contrary to the allegation, or certainly the innuendo, in what the noble Lord, Lord Ross, said, this is not a power which can be used in an arbitrary or capricious manner by a Secretary of State who merely wishes to impose the will of central Government—as I think was being alleged by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes—on innocent and law-abiding local authorities. The rest of the clause determines the matters to which the Secretary of State will have to address his mind when he comes to make it up as to whether or not he will lay a report before the House of Commons in due course.

One of the matters in Amendment No. 18, which the noble Lord, Lord Ross, complained about, is that the Secretary of State is enjoined to have regard to, expenditure or estimated expenses, in that or any preceeding year". One of the matters which the Secretary of State will be bound to take into account—and he has to make up his mind as to whether he is satisfied that estimated expenses are excessive and unreasonable—is the year on year growth of expenditure in the light of estimates of relevant expenditure on which annual rate support grants are fixed. That can only be done if regard is had, and assessment is made, in regard to expenditure or estimated expenses for more than one year than the year in question; and also for other authorities with whom comparisons are being made—and I shall come to that. The Secretary of State has to turn his mind not only to the local authority whose planned expenditure is under consideration but also to comparable local authorities. If, for instance, he was merely to confine his attentions to an immediately preceding year, he would be hindered from making a reasonable assessment.

In his next amendment, Amendment No. 19, the noble Lord in effect queries—to use a neutral word—the phrase on line 29: (or as closely comparable as is practicable)". I think I can do no better—because it is an important matter—than quote a portion of what was said by my honourable friend Mr. Rifkind in the other place which is reported in column 320 of the Official Report of 3rd February. He said very succinctly and certainly very clearly what it is that the Secretary of State will have to address his mind to: To assume that one region is comparable to another is a facile and superficial approach. To compare the Highland region with the Strathclyde region or the Edinburgh district with the Sutherland district would be a meaningless exercise if it were based merely on the fact that both were district or regional councils. Equally, some districts are comparable on any commonsense interpretation, either in terms of size or population or in terms of their needs … or in terms of any other area of expenditure. Although we need not reach any definitive view at present, a particular district taken as a whole might be considered very similar to another district taken as a whole, or a region might be considered as similar to another region. I do not state that as a matter of categorical faith, but, in a relatively small country such as Scotland, there is clearly some basis for making comparisons. We all do so in the judgments we make, because we believe that an authority is either over-spending or under-spending. That is essentially a comparison between the way in which local authorities have responded to a recognised need".—[Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee; col. 320; 3/2/81.] Then my honourable friend went on to say that this was not simply a facility for the Secretary of State to approach in his duties under this clause but also a safeguard for the local authorities, because, if the Secretary of State wishes to draw a comparison between one local authority with which he wishes to act and another which is acting reasonably, so to speak, he will have to state his reasons and show those areas of comparability which he believes to be appropriate. Then, of course, all this has to be disclosed and discussed by the local authority in question and it will eventually be put forward in the report to the House of Commons.

I hope I have shown that the words which formed the subject of Amendment No. 19 have been put there for a purpose and not simply to give the Secretary of State a legal excuse for proceeding against a local authority that he merely considers to be excessive in its spending. I believe the word "criteria" was criticised by the noble Lord, Lord Ross. No single factor will be the only point so far as references are concerned. Evidence will be accumulated and regard will be paid to a comparison between the authority and the Government's spending plans, population structure and changes, local industrial development, spending by closely comparable authorities, and other evidence of that sort which will support the conclusion that excessive and unreasonable expenditure is planned.

Naturally enough, the names of individual local authorities crept into the debate, and I for one was very struck by the matters to which my noble friend Lord Balerno addressed himself. I want to emphasise that these powers will be applicable to all authorities and not to any specific authorities. In the circumstances, the Secretary of State is currently considering information from all authorities and in due course he will have to make his mind up as to whether he is going to act in regard to any of them. As I have said, the clause is a compendious one and should be treated as such.

The next matter upon which I should say something is Amendment No. 21, which concerns the ability of the Secretary of State to leave out of the count such categories of estimated expenses as he thinks fit. The reason for putting the clause into the terms in which it now stands is that as it originally stood the clause required the Secretary of State's assessment of excessive and unreasonable estimated expenses to be made by referring to the total estimated expenses which a local authority is required to take into account when fixing its rate in terms of Section 108 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973. After the clause was originally drafted it was recognised that to operate by reference to gross estimated expenditure as required by the clause as it stood would lead to practical administrative difficulties for the Scottish Office and local authorities.

It is therefore desired to base the Secretary of State's consideration on net estimated expenditure arrived at by deducting from the estimated expenses the income received by a local authority from sources other than rates and Government grants. It is net expenditure which corresponds to relevant expenditure for rate support grant purposes which is more readily ascertainable by both the Secretary of State and local authorities, and the clause as it stands will achieve that purpose.

Categories of expenditure which would be left out of the count for 1981–82 could be expenditure other than that in relation to housing comprising capital expenditure, loan charges, and expenditure net from income other than rates or grants, or of course, housing expenditure—which is, so to speak, a subject of its own later on in the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, took the point that Clause 14, so he claimed, would not in itself lead to a reduction in expenditure—but one has to look at Clause 14 together with the next clause, Clause 15, so that the power in Clause l4 together with the power to reduce rates in Clause 15 and the restriction on using borrowed money in Clause 18 will in fact represent a recalcitrant local authority with a choice: either it will have to reduce its rate or it will have to pay back the grant, which means that its expenditure will have to be reduced, bearing in mind that this is to be in the future, not retrospective as under the 1966 Act—

Lord Hughes

The Minister is ignoring the point that there is here no compulsion on the local authorities to reduce their expenditure. Clause 15 will enable them to reduce their rates. They cannot do so at present; once they fix the rates, they are fixed for the year. Clause 15 gives them the power to make an amended, reduced rate; but if the authorities do not care to exercise that power, they lose their grant. As I have said, they are not allowed to increase their rates, they are not allowed to borrow money. If they do not reduce their expenditure, there is nothing in the clause which gives the Government power to say: "You will not spend that money". All the Government are making certain is that the authorities are going to finish the year with a deficiency to the extent—if I may use words that the Minister himself might use—that they choose to defy the Government. They can still legally embark on that expenditure.

The Earl of Mansfield

Yes; but the point is that they would not be able to incur the expenditure, and so I say that we shall come to that—

Lord Hughes

Perhaps in due course the noble Earl will say where they are prevented from—

The Earl of Mansfield

We shall come to that question; it is not part of these amendments.

I feel very conscious that this has been an extremely scrappy debate, but as I said at the beginning, I am afraid that I do not feel responsible for trying to deal with five very important amendments all encapsulated in one speech. I do not know what the noble Lord wants to do about his amendments. Each amendment, if taken on its own, is a wrecking amendment to one degree or another. Obviously I cannot accept any of them, and since they are wrecking amendments, I should be totally outwith the bounds of any remit that any Minister has if I were to say even that I shall consider them. So I have to tell the Committee that the choice is for your Lordships. Either the noble Lord sees fit to withdraw his amendments, or we shall have to vote upon them.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock

Instead of saying it at the end, I shall say it at the beginning: I have no intention of withdrawing the amendments. But I think I should make a comment or two. I am concerned about the principle of the clause, and as the Minister of State has said, this is going to apply to every local authority, not just to Lothian. It will apply to Strathclyde, and the plaudits have been given to Strathclyde. But Strathclyde rates have gone up by, I think, 37½ per cent. Very few local authorities in the whole of Scotland have kept within the Government guidelines. So if the Government believe in the guidelines, all the local authorities are spending excessively.

There is also the question of the term "forthwith", without the authorities being given any time in which to reply to the demand of the Secretary of State for Education. But we shall come to that matter later. The Minister should know, he should now have in his possession details of the expenditure of all local authorities, the rates that they are demanding, and the increases involved in those rates. The Minister said that the debate has been scrappy and that it is difficult to discuss the five amendments together. May I say that in relation to the first amendments put down and spoken to by me, I spoke only to the amendments, and I was the only one who did that. We had a long Clause Stand Part type of speech from the Minister of State in reply to a drafting amendment. Having said that he was not going down that road, he proceeded to mount his bicycle and to swerve from side to side, but down that road he went and he is a little late in now suggesting that it is difficult to handle all these amendments together.

I do not think that there is anything courageous about this matter. The Government have their majority in this Chamber; they have their majority in the other House. But they do not have a majority in Scotland. They have all the courage of their majorities, and they will later get the come-back in respect of the local authorities and the use of their majority here against the people, the local authorities of Scotland.

I warn the Government that I shall put down another amendment at Report stage. I did not have time to put it down for this stage. The Chief Whip should try writing an amendment and should realise all that one must do, since all these amendments refer not to this Bill, but to the 1966 Act, which is only one of many Acts. I have them all here. Luckily, I have taken part in the Committee stage of practically every Scottish Bill since the year 1946, and I have copies of all the Acts. I keep them in my room downstairs; I do not take them back up to Scotland during Easter Recess. One needs time to go over all these matters.

But as I say, I propose to put down another amendment. The people who should discipline a local authority that is misbehaving are the local electorate. One change that was made was made by a Conservative Government. It used to be the case in the burghs of Scotland that each year one-third of the council came up for re-election. That meant that fairly quickly there was a response from the people as to the behaviour of the authority concerned. Now reelection is every four years. Well, I shall test the feelings of your Lordships' House at Report stage and suggest that we make a change. Either we can go back to a three-year period with a third of the council retiring, or we can stick to the four-year period and make half the council retire after two years.

That would probably make more sense than would some of the suggestions about how we should discipline local authorities. If we believe in local democracy, in the power of judgment to be given to a local authority to provide monies for itself out of its rate fund, which has been its inalienable right up until now, then it may well require discipline, and that discipline should come from the local electorate; it should not come from the Government.

The Minister of State draws attention to Amendment No. 19 and to what that is proposed to do. I do not know whether he has even read the paragraph. It provides that in determining whether the expenditures of a local authority, are excessive and unreasonable the Secretary of State … may (in addition to the matters to which in terms of that paragraph regard must be had) have regard … to expenditure or estimated expenses, in that or any preceding year, of other local authorities"— not of the local authority concerned, but of other local authorities— which the Secretary of State is satisfied…". There is no objective judgment here. It is the Secretary of State who is to decide. Further down the page of the Bill, under paragraph (b) we read: may leave out of account such categories of estimated expenses as he thinks fit". All the powers are to be with the Secretary of State. He is not going to be challenged anywhere, in any courts, because he is acting in accordance with his opinion, or as he thinks fit.

Then there is the question of comparison. The Minister of State spoke a lot of nonsense about that. Do not forget that Section 5(1) of the 1966 Act still leaves for consideration by the Secretary of State a similar type to the local authority concerned. I emphasise the words "a similar type". That means comparing a district with a district, a region with a region. But what of the Minister's explanation of the justification for this? I think he quoted Mr. Rifkind in another place. He should have read the rest of the debate and so seen what other people thought of that speech. To my mind the provision does not make any comforting sense when it states that, the Secretary of State is satisfied are closely comparable (or as closely comparable as is practicable)". What on earth does that mean? To my mind it has no meaning. But we need not bother about it; the only person who has to be satisfied is the Secretary of State.

This is the kind of legislation we are asked to pass—as fair, as courageous. Whatever else it is, it is not courageous. I can understand people having strong feelings about the rates they have to pay. I have strong feelings about the rates I have to pay; but that is about the valuation system, which is not going to be changed by what the Government are doing in respect of valuation. I do not know whether Lord Balerno was in the Chamber when I spoke about this, because my feelings are shared by people in Prestwick, people in Troon and by an awful lot of people in the present Secretary of State's own area. There was one amendment on which I could have made further reference to this, but it was passed over very quickly.

No, I am not satisfied. Reference has been made to "law-abiding local authorities". Local authorities are law-abiding. There is no law against what they are doing at the present time, so they are all law-abiding. Indeed, if they do what my noble friend Lord Hughes says, they are still entitled to do that. The Government may not like it. There are lots of things the Government do not like but which are still lawful so far as local authorities and other people are concerned. What I am concerned about is that when it comes to this question of economic needs and judgments as to our expenditure, no leeway is left for the local authorities. The independence of Scottish local authorities, which was in tatters before, has now gone.

I do not know whether anyone listening made any sense of what the noble Earl said when he was dealing with my last amendment, which was to leave out the words, may leave out of account such categories of estimated expenses as he thinks fit", but he mentioned housing. What has housing got to do with the rate support grant? Housing has nothing to do with the rate support grant; it is not in it. Yes, I have a very good memory as to what the noble Earl said. The only thing in the rate support grant is something in relation to interest on certain aspects of capital expenditure. But he could leave the police out of it. There has been a considerable increase in expenditure on the police, and by leaving that out it may be a different story in respect of all the other things.

So I think the noble Earl has not "come clean" with us about this question of the other categories that may be left out. There are categories in relation to certain other items—civil defence, for instance. That might be left out of account if it seems too high, and so the expenditure may not be judged as excessive. So you could get excessive expenditures which are not offending excessive expenditures in the eyes of the Secretary of State. This whole clause is riddled with considerable difficulties in respect of what the Government are going to do; and we have been told by the Minister of State that they do not know. It is going to apply in this financial year, and this financial year has already been running (what is it?) well over a month now. We do not know who are going to be affected by it, and against whom the Secretary of State is going to take action. It is not good enough, and I certainly intend to vote, as a token, on our first amendment, which covers the five amendments, and then we shall go into the Question, Whether the clause shall stand part?

9.4 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 17) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 27; Not-Contents, 66.

Airedale, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]
Beaumont of Whitley, L.
Blease, L. Ritchie-Calder, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Ross of Marnock, L.
Collison, L. Sefton of Garston, L.
David, B. [Teller.] Segal, L.
Davies of Leek, L. Simon, V.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Greenwood of Rossendale, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Stone, L.
Hughes, L. Thurso, V.
Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Underhill, L.
Minto, E. White, B.
Parry, L. Wigoder, L.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Long, V.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Loudoun, C.
Balerno, L. Lyell, L.
Bellwin, L. McFadzean, L.
Belstead, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Boardman, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Boyd of Merton, V. Mansfield, E.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Marshall of Leeds, L.
Cathcart, E. Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Chelwood, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Colville of Culross, V. Newall, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Northchurch, B.
Crawshaw, L. Orkney, E.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Rochdale, V.
de Clifford, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
De La Warr, E. Saltoun, Ly.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Sandys, L. [Teller.]
Drumalbyn, L. Selkirk, E.
Dulverton, L. Sempill, Ly.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Sharples, B.
Faithfull, B. Skelmersdale, L.
Falkland, V. Stradbroke, E.
Ferrers, E. Strathclyde, L.
Ferrier, L. Swinfen, L.
Fortescue, E. Trefgarne, L.
Gisborough, L. Trenchard, V.
Greenway, L. Trumpington, B.
Gridley, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Grimston of Westbury, L. Vickers, B.
Hanworth, V. Vivian, L.
Inglewood, L. Ward of Witley, V.
Kemsley, V. Yarborough, E.
Lawrence, L. Young, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

[Amendments Nos. 18 to 21 not moved.]

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

9.12 p.m.

Lord Hughes

It will not be a total surprise to the Minister of State that I speak against the clause. The nature of the amendments—on one of which we have divided and others of which have not been moved by my noble friend Lord Ross of Marnock—would, if they had been carried, have altered totally the character of Clause 14. While I would not have chosen to use the adjective myself in describing them as "wrecking" amendments, because I would have regarded them as improving amendments, I must admit they would have totally changed the character of Clause 14. I am not certain that they would have made things acceptable to the local authorities in Scotland. They perhaps would have made them less odious to them, to use another word that has been applied in the course of the debate.

But our objections to the clause were such that, to do justice to how we felt on the matter, we would either have had to put each of these amendments successively to the vote to demonstrate how strongly we feel on each of these points or, as my noble friend has chosen to do, to have one Division on the first of the amendments and then to show our feelings by voting on the clause as a whole. I do not expect the Minister to recapitulate the arguments that have been put forward during the discussion of these amendments. I have no intention of doing that except for saying that unless I have totally misread the way that this clause will operate, I cannot see how it can possibly make a recalcitrant authority levy over a period of two years a lower rate than the one to which the Government are taking exception.

I look forward to what the Minister has to tell me in due course. He has said that the Government will be able to compel an authority to reduce its expenditure. If that is so—and he has said that it is not in this clause—I have missed it. I see that in Clause 15 the authorities are given power to make a revised rate demand, but it is only in a downward direction. They cannot increase their rates later in this financial year in order to recoup a loss of grant. So if they do not take advantage of the opportunity to diminish the rate, and they are not allowed to increase their rates to make up for the loss of grant, they are bound to finish the year with a deficiency if they are determined to defy the Government in embarking on that rate borne expenditure. After all, it is not illegal at the moment for an authority to finish the year with a deficit. They are not supposed to budget deliberately for a deficit, just as in references to other parts of the 1966 Act they are not supposed to budget deliberately for an excessive surplus.

I am not happy about Clause 18. Authorities are prevented from borrowing money in order to make up the rate support grant. As I see it, if authorities, which the Government wish to see reducing the rate burden, comply with what the Government want, they have no problem. The authorities are threatened with a reduction in grant; they know what they are expected to do. If they do it, their grant is not reduced and things go as the Government want. But the authorities, so far as I know, are not being told in this Bill that it will be illegal for them to refuse to do what the Government want. Therefore they will be faced with the reduction in their grant, which means that the rate which they have levied, being based on the grant as at presently foreseen, will not be sufficient to meet the expenditure of the year. The Government have foreseen that possibility. In Clause 18 they say that the authorities will not be allowed to borrow money to make up for the loss of grant. If the authorities cannot increase their rates, if they do not reduce their expenditure and if they cannot borrow money, then inevitably they must start the next financial year with a deficit. That may or may not approximate to the amount of reduction in grant which they have received.

If I were of the opinion of the Minister that it is desirable that the rates should be reduced, I would want to see something better than this put in the Bill. I do not rule out the possibility that I have totally misread the situation; but if I am right—and it has been admitted by everybody who is speaking in favour of this measure—the authorities against whom the Government are expecting to act are a small minority of the 60-odd authorities in Scotland. They certainly can be numbered in single figures. It may be that they are fewer than five in number. They are certainly a very small proportion of the total. If these authorities, as they have done up to the present, say they are not going to do what the Government want, then Clause 14 will serve no useful purpose as far as those authorities are concerned. For that reason I could not in honesty bring myself to vote that this clause shall remain part of the Bill, and I will invite those who think like me to vote against the clause.

9.20 p.m.

Viscount Thurso

The amendments to Clause 14 that we have just been discussing and voting on would not have removed the altogether objectionable parts of the clause, but they would have modified some of its worst excesses. It is for that reason that I supported them, and it is for that reason that when the first of them came up I spoke in a manner which would perhaps more properly have been related to Clause Stand Part. I do not propose now to repeat myself upon this clause but would merely reiterate that we on these Benches still feel totally opposed to this clause for the reasons which I have adduced.

We are also totally opposed to this clause for the reasons which were clearly put by, I think I am right in saying, the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock—or was it the noble Lord, Lord Hughes? I cannot remember who said that the proper people to discipline local authorities are the electorate. They are the only people who can rightly and justly discipline local authorities. So the effect of Clause 14 is not to discipline the local authorities but to discipline the voters, because the whole purpose of Clause 14 is to force the local authority into a corner so as to make the voters complain of the excessive cost of running the services which they are at the same time demanding of the people they put into power. I cannot feel that this is the right way in which to deal with this problem of expenditure by local authorities and the need, which we on these Benches recognise, to keep expenditure within sensible limits while at the same time providing the services which the local authorities are there to provide.

When I was speaking upon the first of these amendments, the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, raised the question of the attitude of English local authorities and their position in this sort of matter. I have in my hand a letter from the Association of Metropolitan Authorities saying that they do not usually interfere in Scottish matters or even take particular notice of Scottish measures, but in this instance they say they are extremely worried about this Bill which, when they wrote, was about to come before your Lordships' Committee. They say: The Association is concerned that such a fundamental change in the balance of central to local relationships would spell the end of local democracy and result in local authorities becoming merely administrative outposts of Whitehall". That is the last thing we want to happen. I shall look forward, when the time comes on Report, to seeing the amendments which the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, brings forward, suggesting a change in the method of election as a possible means of bringing discipline back to local authorities by the people who properly should discipline and control local authorities: the voters. But I, like the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, cannot accept Clause 14 as it stands as being good for Scotland or good for local government, or simply good for dealing with the problems of the present time. I think it will be counter-productive and cause damage that will take years to put right. I wish I could hope that we could throw it out and I fear the consequences when it goes through.

The Earl of Minto

I do not wish to burden your Lordships' Committee at this time of night with a recapitulation of virtually everything that I said on Second Reading and throughout part of today. Therefore, I shall say that it is with a sad heart that I find that the Government have so far been intransigent on this clause. I believe that it is the first of the clauses which will most seriously damage the relationship between central and local government in Scotland. I find myself very closely aligned with all that has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, who virtually spoke my words for me. If to be on the record one has to rise to one's feet and be counted in that way, then I should like to do so as briefly as possible by associating myself with the noble Lord, Lord Hughes.

The Earl of Mansfield

Again, I am not going to go right into the background of this clause. I think that I made the proposals clear when I moved the Second Reading of the Bill. Local authorities have a role to play—and, indeed, a very important role—in the national interest to bring down public expenditure to a level that we can afford. I paid tribute then, and I have done so again today, to the efforts of those local authorities which have responded responsibly and with good sense, and which are trying to keep expenditure under control for the good of the whole nation. But it is equally clear that others have not tried to do so, or have failed to do so, and they are jeopardising the national strategy to the detriment of their own ratepayers.

The Government consider, as do noble Lords on this side, that it is in the national interest that local authority expenditure may be brought under control and it is essential that the Government act effectively to do so. The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, and the noble Earl, Lord Minto, would probably agree with a lot that I have said; that public expenditure must be brought under some kind of control and that local authorities, by the way in which they behave, can either contribute to or very substantially derogate from that aim. What neither of the two noble Lords has suggested is any other means of bringing local authorities under control, which would achieve the purposes which we are seeking to achieve in this Bill.

It is not good enough to say, as the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, said, that we are trying to drive the local authorities into a corner, so that their electorates at some convenient time can change the political complexion of the authorities and make them see sense. That, if it happened, would be a slow and totally ineffectual method of achieving those ends. The noble Earl, Lord Minto, had absolutely no suggestion of any kind as to how this could be achieved—

The Earl of Minto

Will the Minister give way? I did not make any suggestions as to how these cuts should be achieved, because I believe—I have said it in the House and I am on record as doing so—that the costs of services that are viewed as acceptable by the Government are wholly out of proportion with the actual costs on the ground. The Government are fundamentally wrong on this point. Therefore, I do not feel that it is necessary for me to make a suggestion. If a local authority feels that it has responsibility to those whom it represents, and that that will cost a certain sum of money, then that money should be spent so long as it is within the law.

The Earl of Mansfield

And we are going to change the law. The Government have not as yet and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has not as yet come to any conclusion as to whether action is to be taken against any local authorities. What the noble Earl must realise is that this is a power to be taken if the Secretary of State comes to that conclusion. It is no good the Secretary of State coming to a conclusion and then, as he has now, having no power to do anything about it.

Lord Hughes

I wonder whether—

The Earl of Mansfield

No, I do not intend to give way again. I shall deal with the point which the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, made because it deserves an answer, and I shall try to give one as best I can. What should be realised, and I am not sure that the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, realises it, is that this is totally different from the 1966 Act. It is enabling the Government to take action before the costs are incurred. This is a very important point and goes to the root of what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes.

To encapsulate what I said, if the Secretary of State obtains an order in the House of Commons it will mean that there is less grant. The local authority will not be allowed to borrow more money. It will not be allowed to raise any more on the rate. This means that it is going to have less funds to spend—not less funds to spend by way of paying bills which have been incurred but less funds to spend in respect of what it wants to do next year. That is the essential difference between this and the 1966 Act. The duty of a local authority in the determination and levy of regional, district and general rates is set out in a fairly long and technical section of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973—that is, Section 108 which means in effect that the local authority has to balance its books.

The next matter which was raised was that in some way this is a greedy assumption of power by central Government to the detriment of local democracy. What this Bill does not do is to detract in any way from an authority's discretion to decide its own priorities so far as the services it provides and the money it spends are concerned. What the Secretary of State has to do both with his existing powers and as they will be extended by the Bill is to require a local authority which is considering a level of spending which is too high to consider the responsibility that it bears to the national economy as well as to its own local citizens—to have regard to that and to act upon it. That, I suggest, is not an undermining of local authority but the central taxpayer—because that is where a very large proportion of the money comes from—saying "No, you are going too far".

I do not think I can help the Committee any further. The principles of this Bill are an extension of the powers as they exist already. What these powers will enable the Secretary of State to achieve is the prevention of local authorities from overspending money before they spend it rather than, as of now, punishing them for having spent it. So I suggest that it will be an effective remedy to try to achieve the economic aims which the Government have set themselves. Public expenditure and its control is absolutely vital for the well-being of everybody in this country. The proposals contained in Part II of the Bill are an essential part of this control. As such, I commend Clause 14 to the Committee.

9.34 p.m.

Lord Hughes

The point at which I wished the noble Lord the Minister to give way was when he said that the Secretary of State had not yet decided what action he was going to take against any local authority. I merely wanted to intervene to point out that it would have been quite improper for the Secretary of State to do anything else. There have been complaints by my noble friend about the Government taking this House for granted. It certainly would have been a gross affront to this House if the Secretary of State had acted as if the Bill had already been passed. At least he should do us the courtesy of waiting until the Bill is through before he decides what action he is going to take. I suppose that is what he is in fact doing, but it is not anything that he is giving away. It is our right.

On the last point, regarding the belief that the Minister has that the curtailment of the borrowing powers will be sufficient, I still do not agree. Local authorities in certain directions cannot borrow without the consent of the Secretary of State but they have certain limited powers of borrowing on short term which I suggest that the authorities which the Minister has in mind will not be slow to act upon.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I am concerned about the effect that this kind of clause will have upon the local authorities, because it interferes with what has hitherto been the inalienable right of a local authority to raise money from the local rates to meet the expenditure. Hitherto default has been involved, and this was the main purpose of Section 5(1) of the 1966 Act. The default concerned local authorities raising money and not spending it on the services for which it should have been raised. Local authorities have been known in the past to build up a reserve and yet at the same time let the services slide. Reference was made to Section 108 by the Minister of State as though this was not much of a change in respect of Section 108. In fact it is the kernel of the local authority's power in respect of raising rates—and remember, this was the 1973 Act. This was the Act for which the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, was responsible when the reformation of the local authorities was created.

Subsection (2) of Section 108 said that first of all every local authority has to determine what its rate is going to be and then says: It shall be the duty of every local authority to determine such regional, general or district rate, as the case may be, as will provide sufficient moneys to meet such part of the total estimated expenses to be incurred by the authority during the financial year [and such additional money] as is, in the opinion of the authority, required". What has been thrown overboard are the words "in the opinion of the local authority".

Local government was certainly a matter of co-operation, a matter of discussion, a matter of negotiation in respect of grants between the Government and the local authorities. They determined how expenses were going to be divided out for transport, for education, for police and so on, and then the Government decided what was the reckonable expenditure that they would recognise. But the lower they drive it down when inflation is driving costs up, the more the local authority, in order to cover the services—in their opinion they are entitled to do it up to now—is found to raise the additional monies from the rates. That has been made worse by the local authorities in Scotland receiving in aggregate from the Government a smaller percentage—and for two years now it has been reduced by the present Government—of the amount that they will bear of the reckonable expenditure cost.

Now we have a complete departure. It is no longer a matter of local government being free to make an estimate in respect of its functions; nor can it maintain, far less achieve, higher standards at a time when many people in the area say "Yes, we want money to be spent". I know people who want more money to be spent on the social services, but now it is not going to be for the local authority to decide. And they are the people responsible; they are responsible for the cutting of services. They have got to face their electors, they have got to face the criticism. If the Government really wanted to do this the clean way, they would put it into the Act or into their orders, telling local authorities, "You will spend this amount", and then people would know that the responsibility for the cuts was not the local authority's but the Government's. They do it the cowardly way; it is not courageous, it is cowardly, because people will forget in about six months the conditions laid down upon local authorities by the Government, and it is the local authorities which will be blamed.

I want to ask about the practicality of all this. I ask noble Lords to appreciate this: this is going to start in the present year, 1981–82. The year has already started. The Government have most of the information; yet they are not going to tell us, or cannot tell us, or have not the courage to tell us in this "courageous" Act, whom they are going to act against. But it does not end with this. What happens here? Section 5 of the 1966 Act lays down the procedure. The Government, having interpreted this shackling clause along with the remnant of "excessive and unreasonable expenditure" conditions laid down in Section 5, have to do this: they have to afford to the local authority in question an opportunity of making representations, make and cause to be laid before Parliament a report stating the amount of and the reason for the proposed reduction and setting out any representations; they have to put into the report that goes before Parliament the representations made to them by the local authorities. The local authorities have a very considerable case and it has all got to be put into what virtually I suppose the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, will call a propaganda report. The Government are going to pay for it this time, because it is already laid down in the 1966 Act that they have to report to Parliament the representations made by the local authorities. And the report is to be approved by a resolution of the Commons House of Parliament—I hope it is not during the Recess. This is why the Government are worried about time, that is why the furrow is on the brow of the Chief Whip. His orders are, "Get this done as quickly as possible because we are already in a jam so far as time is concerned".

Lord Denham

If the noble Lord will give way, I think we are trying to get on with this Bill. We have been a very long time on not quite half the Bill. If the noble Lord would get on and put the Question, if we are going to have it, on this clause, I think we would like to get on to the next one.

Lord Ross of Marnock

One cannot win. The last time I dealt with five amendments at once.

A noble Lord

It took an hour.

Lord Ross of Marnock

It did not take me an hour. The noble Lord should have been here, he should have stuck it out. It might well be that he is prepared to listen to my noble friend Lord Hughes, and even occasionally to myself, but he is not prepared to listen to the Government's blundering explanations. They complained because we took five amendments together; evidently they should all have been taken separately and we should have had a Division on each one.

The noble Lord interrupted me at a very important point, and that was the question of parliamentary time in relation to this new clause; because after they pass this clause and get this Act, first of all they will have to give information—we shall come to that later on— then when the Minister is thinking of taking action he will have to go to the local authorities. They must be able to make representations as to why he should not act; then he will have to make a decision, and if he makes the decision he will have to draw up a report; that report will have to go to the House of Commons and only if it is approved there will it be put into force.

The point which I was making before I was interrupted was that it is already well into the financial year so this becomes virtually retrospective legislation. Suppose that it goes on into the Recess? We shall not get any amendments carried here. If any amendments are carried here they will have to go back to the House of Commons. That will take more time and they are running into time difficulties in relation to their credibility as regards introducing in the middle of a financial year something which is applicable and which in future, if it is to be done at all, will be done before the financial year begins when we are actually drawing up and discussing the budgets. That is the heinous offence against parliamentary procedures that the Government are performing and to the extent that the Chief Whip is urging us still further not to discuss the Bill but to get on with it, they are in grave danger, as I suggested earlier, of taking this House for granted.

The future of this House is very much in question in certain places and people ask me what I think about it. If the Government take this House for granted, have I any right to take this House seriously? It has been fairly obvious on many an occasion when we discussed this earlier that the feeling of those who were in the House was in favour of the amendments that were put down. They took the same attitudes as the people of Scotland. I sincerely hope that the Chief Whip will appreciate just exactly how important this is for Scotland.

This House probably more than the other House was in favour of this type of matter remaining for discussion by the House of Lords. Do your Lordships remember when we had the devolution debate? This is the kind of matter that would have been decided in Scotland. It is no use wanting it to be discussed here and then when we discuss it to tell us, "No, no, you can discuss it, but only take a certain amount of time". That is not a good argument in relation to this place or indeed against devolution.

I should like to know from the noble Lord how long he thinks it will take, after the passing of the Act, to go through the procedure of tentative decision and discussion with the local authorities, getting a report ready and sending that report down; and then the House of Commons making a decision on approval. It is a positive resolution. How long will that take and how far, therefore, shall we be into 1981–82 before applying this? I think that it will be unfair to ratepayers and unfair to local authorities. It is a whole mockery in respect of local democracy and Scottish local government as we know it. I certainly am opposed to it and will gladly join my noble friend in opposing this clause.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

That was a 15 minute speech.

Lord Ross of Marnock

It will be 16 next time.

9.48 p.m.

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

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 67; Not-Contents, 31.

Airey of Abingdon, B. Gridley, L.
Balerno, L. Grimston of Westbury, L.
Bellwin, L. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.
Belstead, L.
Boardman, L. Henley, L.
Boyd of Merton, V. Kemsley, V.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Lawrence, L.
Cathcart, E. Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Chelwood, L. Long, V.
Colville of Culross, V. Loudoun, C.
Cork and Orrery, E. Lyell, L.
Crawshaw, L. McFadzean, L.
Cromartie, E. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
de Clifford, L. Mansfield, E.
De La Warr, E. Marley, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Marshall of Leeds, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Dulverton, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Newall, L.
Faithfull, B. Northchurch, B.
Falkland, V. Rochdale, V.
Ferrers, E. St. Aldwyn, E.
Fortescue, E. Salisbury, M.
Gisborough, L. Saltoun, Ly.
Greenway, L. Sandys, L. [Teller.]
Selkirk, E. Trumpington, B.
Sempill, Ly. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Sharples, B. Vickers, B.
Skelmersdale, L. Vivian, L.
Stradbroke, E. Ward of Witley, V.
Swinfen, L. Wilson of Langside, L.
Trefgarne, L. Yarborough, E.
Trenchard, V. Young, B.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]
Blease, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Ritchie-Calder, L.
Collison, L. Ross of Marnock, L.
David, B. [Teller.] Sefton of Garston, L.
Davies of Leek, L. Segal, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Simon, V.
Fulton, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Greenwood of Rossendale, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Hanworth, V. Stone, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Thurso, V.
Hughes, L. Underhill, L.
Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. White, B.
Minto, E. Wigoder, L.
Peart, L. Winstanley, L.
Pitt of Hampstead, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Clause 14 agreed to accordingly.

Clause 15 agreed to.

Clause 16 [Local authority's estimated expenditure relevant factor in calculating amount of resources clement payable to them]:

9.56 p.m.

Lord Hughes moved Amendment No. 22: Page 8, leave out from beginning of line 46 to end of line 3 on page 9 and insert ("to meet a reasonable standard of services taking into account the needs of their area").

The noble Lord said: On behalf of my noble friend Lord Ross of Marnock, I beg to move Amendment No. 22, which seems to me, even in its wording, to be a reasonable one. It is to leave out from beginning of line 46 to end of line 3 on page 9 and insert instead: to meet a reasonable standard of services taking into account the needs of their area". As my noble friend has now returned, I shall content myself with moving it and allow him to make his normal modest contribution.

The Earl of Mansfield

This amendment would remove the power which the clause will give to the Secretary of State to calculate resources element according to a lesser rate poundage where an authority is planning to incur excessive and unreasonable expenditure. A great deal of the argument in relation to this clause is precisely the same as the arguments I deployed in relation to Clause 14, on which your Lordships have just come to a decision.

The power given to the Secretary of State in 1975 to calculate resources element according to a lesser rate poundage if the authority has rated to create a surplus is simply a matter of fairness in grant distribution as between one authority and another. Rate poundage is a factor in the distribution of resources element; the higher an authority's rate poundage, the greater its share of resources element and, because the total is fixed, the expenses of local authorities generally. This power is clearly stated in the clause as drafted.

It is, I would also claim, fair and reasonable that an authority planning to incur excessive and unreasonable expenditure, and thereby striking a rate higher than it otherwise would, should not have those excessive and unreasonable spending plans subsidised at the expense of other local authorities. The Secretary of State has a duty to see that grant is fairly distributed and that authorities spending at a reasonable level are not required to fuel the extravagance or support the high rates of a few over-spending authorities. The clause as drafted will enable the Secretary of State to see that distribution of grant is not manipulated by any individual authority at the expense of other authorities. It is on that basis that I ask the Committee to reject the amendment.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I could not have moved this amendment any better or in fewer words than did my noble friend. I do not know whether certain noble Lords on the Back-Benches opposite know anything about rate support grant in Scotland. I am sure they do not, although I should be prepared to give way if they would care to explain how the resources element is calculated now, how the needs element relates to resources and how changes have been made from time to time in relation to needs and resources. The Government already have a certain amount of play in this matter, and bearing in mind that they draw up the formula and have power to change it, as they do from time to time, I suggest that far too little attention has been paid to the actual needs of the local authority to estimate expenditure in respect of reasonable services. That is what the Government are interfering with and I have been drawing attention to that.

I shall not divide the Committee on this matter. I am satisfied that, irrespective of the knowledge of noble Lords opposite about this issue and anything else, there are those in the Committee who are prepared to vote as their Leader tells them, without having any understanding of what is at stake in respect of the status of local authorities in Scotland. Accordingly, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 16 agreed to.

Clause 17 [Effect of sections 15 and 16]:

10.1 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 23: Page 9, line 7, leave out ("1981–82") and insert ("1982–83").

The noble Lord said: I have already said that in my view this is one of the most unfair clauses in the group of clauses we are now discussing. We are here dealing with important issues affecting the ability of a local authority to estimate what its expenditure will be and to fix its rates. This provision says that Clauses 14 and 16 will be applied in the current Session, when local authorities will have already made their estimates and fixed their rates; somehow they will be changed once the Government get this power. In other words, it is retrospective legislation, and that is quite unjustified.

I shall be perfectly prepared to wear it if both Houses say it should be done, but it should be done in the next, not the present, financial year. We are introducing a clause applicable to the whole financial year, but it will take effect in the middle of the financial year, if it takes effect at all. Judging from the procedures through which the Government must go before they get to the point of producing an order and the House of Commons considering it, it may be the summer before this takes place. The whole thing lacks credibility, so the effect of my amendment is to change it from this financial year to the next one, as is the case with most of the other clauses in the Bill.

The Earl of Mansfield

I appreciate that the views of noble Lords opposite and those of the Government are totally different on the rate support grant provisions in the Bill, notably on when they should be brought into force and whether they should be brought into force. As for timing, which is what the amendment is about, the Government view is that it is essential that these powers, which are contained in Clauses 14 and 16, should be available for use in 1981–82, and on a number of occasions the Secretary of State has made it plain in public that he would not have thought it necessary to introduce these provisions at all if in recent years local authorities had shown moderation and regard for the national interest when framing their expenditure plans.

While, as I have said, the vast majority have shown reason and moderation, unhappily there have been some which are planning their expenditure levels in 1981–82 in such a way that they are grossly out of line both with the national economic interest and the interests of ratepayers. Without going into any timetables and so on—because, as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said, it is not proper that certain things should happen until the Bill receives the Royal Assent—I can say that the Government firmly take the view that the sooner action is taken the better; in other words, the sooner the Government are empowered to act, the better.

The noble Lord, Lord Ross, complained in effect that this clause had a retrospective aspect to it and had a retrospective character. I cannot accept that suggestion. We gave notice in paragraph 28 (as it was) of the report of the Rate Support Grant (Scotland) Order. Notice has been given in general terms on a number of occasions to local authorities—specifically in the Finance Circular 16/1980, which was issued on the 22nd December 1980. We have been scrupulous in forewarning local authorities of the intention to act if they continued in this way, so that there is no question of any local authority being taken by surprise or having a disagreeable fate catching up on it when it has not been able to take the appropriate action. For those reasons I must reject this amendment.

10.6 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 23) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 24; Not-Contents, 61.

Airedale, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]
Beaumont of Whitley, L.
Blease, L. Ritchie-Calder, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Ross of Marnock, L.
David, B. Simon, V.
Davies of Leek, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Stone, L.
Hughes, L. Thurso, V.
Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Underhill, L.
Minto, E. Wigoder, L.
Peart, L. Winstanley, L.
Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Crawshaw, L.
Balerno, L. Cromartie, E.
Bellwin, L. Cullen of Ashbourne, L.
Belstead, L. de Clifford, L.
Boardman, L. Denham, L.
Boyd of Merton, V. Drumalbyn, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Dulverton, L.
Cathcart, E. Elliot of Harwood, B.
Chelwood, L. Falkland, V.
Colville of Culross, V. Ferrers, E.
Cork and Orrery, E. Fortescue, E.
Gisborough, L. Newall, L.
Greenway, L. Rochdale, V.
Gridley, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
Grimston of Westbury, L. Salisbury, M.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Saltoun, Ly.
Sandys, L. [Teller.]
Henley, L. Selkirk, E.
Kemsley, V. Sempill, Ly.
Lawrence, L. Sharples, B.
Lindsey and Abingdon, E. Skelmersdale, L.
Long, V. Stradbroke, E.
Lyell, L. Swinfen, L.
McFadzean, L. Trefgarne, L.
Mackay of Clashfern, L. Trenchard, V.
Macleod of Borve, B. Trumpington, B.
Mansfield, E. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Marley, L. Vickers, B.
Marshall of Leeds, L. Vivian, L.
Montgomery of Alamein, V. Ward of Witley, V.
Murton of Lindisfarne, L. Yarborough, E.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Clause 17 agreed to.

Clause 18 [Prohibition of using sums from loans fund to offset reduction of rate support grant or diminution in amount of resources element]:

10.14 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock

had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 24: Page 9, line 10, leave out from first ("authority") to ("the") in line 11.

Lord Hughes

Amendments Nos. 24 to 29 form a series of amendments designed to make Clause 18 more acceptable. I understand that certain discussions have been taking place through the usual channels and, if I am correctly informed, that the outcome is that the Government are prepared to be a little more reasonable in the timetable at the next stage. If the number of amendments put down make it necessary, they will arrange for more time for discussion than was at first contemplated. These amendments will not be dismissed out of hand, but will in fact be the subject of further negotiation.

For that reason, after discussion with my noble friend Lord Ross of Marnock, it is not intended to move any of the amendments in the series Nos. 24 to 29, but we are not in fact abandoning them. We think that it would be futile to select merely one of the amendments upon which to divide the Committee at this time. It would be much better to wait until there is opportunity for proper consideration of the amendment. Therefore, it is not proposed to move any of these amendments, but I propose to divide the Committee on the question of clause stand part.

[Amendments Nos. 24 to 29 not moved.]

10.16 p.m.

On Question, Whether Clause 18 shall stand part of the Bill?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 62; Not-Contents, 24.

Airey of Abingdon, B. Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Avon, E. Long, V.
Balerno, L. Lyell, L.
Bellwin, L. McFadzean, L.
Belstead, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Boardman, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Boyd of Merton, V. Mansfield, E.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Marley, L.
Cathcart, E. Marshall of Leeds, L.
Chelwood, L. Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Colville of Culross, V. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Newall, L.
Crawshaw, L. Rochdale, V.
Cromartie, E. St. Aldwyn, E.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Salisbury, M.
De La Warr, E. Saltoun, Ly.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Sandys, L. [Teller.]
Drumalbyn, L. Selkirk, E.
Dulverton, L. Sempill, Ly.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Sharples, B.
Falkland, V. Skelmersdale, L.
Ferrers, E. Stradbroke, E.
Fortescue, E. Swinfen, L.
Gisborough, L. Trefgarne, L.
Greenway, L. Trenchard, V.
Gridley, L. Trumpington, B.
Grimston of Westbury, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Vickers, B.
Vivian, L.
Henley, L. Ward of Witley, V.
Kemsley, V. Yarborough, E.
Lawrence, L.
Airedale, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]
Beaumont of Whitley, L.
Blease, L. Ritchie-Calder, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Ross of Marnock, L.
David, B. [Teller.] Simon, V.
Davies of Leek, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Stone, L.
Hughes, L. Thurso, V.
Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Underhill, L.
Minto, E. Wigoder, L.
Peart, L. Winstanley, L.
Pitt of Hampstead, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Clause 18 agreed to accordingly.

10.24 p.m.

The Chairman of Committees

I regret that there is a misprint on the Marshalled List. The next amendment I have to call is Amendment No. 29, which should have been down as Clause 19.

Clause 19 [Failure of local authority to supply information timeously]:

Lord Hughes moved Amendment No. 29: Page 10, line 6, leave out ("timeously") and insert ("within a reasonable time after receipt of the requirement").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 29 does not need very much explanation; I think it can speak for itself. It is to leave out the word "timeously", which can mean anything, and insert instead the words, within a reasonable time after receipt of the requirement". I do not think that, with such simple language as that, it needs a speech to explain what we are getting at. It accepts what is implied in the clause but seeks to put it in a more reasonable way. I beg to move.

The Earl of Mansfield

Clause 19 proceeds by reference to Section 199 of the 1973 Act, which reads: 199. Every local authority and every joint committee or joint board shall, within such period as the appropriate Minister may require, make to that Minister such reports and returns as the Minister may require, or as may be required by either House of Parliament". As the Secretary of State would require to fix a period within which any information as he requires under Section 199 has to be given, the reference in Clause 19 to "timeously" is correct and refers to the period specified in his request for the information.

I can assure the Committee that the Secretary of State would always be careful to specify a reasonable period when requiring information, having regard to the nature of the particular information, and to what would be a reasonable period for the local authority concerned to produce the information.

Clause 19 goes on to enable the Secretary of State to make estimates in the event of refusal or delay in the furnishing of information required for the purposes of the powers contained in Part II of the Bill. Obviously, the Secretary of State would wish to use actual information rather than rely on his own estimates. If the local authority were to default in their obligation to provide any information required of them for this purpose under Section 199 of the 1973 Act, it would of course be necessary for the Secretary of State to proceed on an estimated basis, and that is the real purpose of this clause.

The reason why we would proceed on estimates in a default situation lies simply in the fact that, as Clause 19 indicates, the only existing sanction lies in the default powers of Section 211 of the 1973 Act. Those powers are effective, but of their nature slow and cumbersome. In the Clydebank rents case in 1973, it took some three months from the initial request for information to the imposition of a fine of £20,000 by the Court of Session on the town council.

The information required for the purposes of Part II of the Bill might simply be the budget approved the previous week by the local authority when fixing their rate. The Secretary of State should not have to wait up to three months for information of that kind. In these circumstances, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Hughes

I am sorry that I do not think—particularly after the way in which the Minister has replied to this amendment—that he can reasonably ask me to withdraw the amendment. We get a word which is so meaningless that we cannot even agree on the correct way to pronounce it—I said "tymously", he said "timeously"—and he is probably more correct than I am. It is a good example of the kind of word that we ought not to use. I do not like the idea of withdrawing the amendment particularly when the Minister once again uses the argument: "Oh, but what is being asked for in the amendment is what the Minister will do. This is how he will interpret 'timeously' or 'tymously'." I am never impressed by the argument: "We ought not to put it in the Bill because this is what we will do". I would be more impressed if the Minister were saying: "We ought not to put it in the Bill because we have no intention of doing that". To say that this is what you are going to do and then say, "Please do not proceed with the amendment", seems to be absolute nonsense. I am not prepared to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Ross of Marnock

Will the Government think about this again? That is all that is required. All that we are doing in the amendment is giving some filling-in of meaning to a word that no one can define and, one that, so far as I know, has never been defined. I have never seen this word in a statute. That is probably why there is lack of agreement as to how one pronounces it. I am sure that the Government should have another look at this amendment.

The Earl of Mansfield

If it pleases the noble Lord, I shall undertake to look at it. But I cannot see that accepting the amendment is going to improve either the language or the effect of the clause. That is surely what the criterion must be when one considers whether one is going to accept an amendment. If it will speed things up, I shall give the undertaking but not with any real expectation.

Lord Hughes

On that basis I think I would be prepared to withdraw the amendment, just saying in conclusion that, while there may be doubt as to what the first word in brackets means, none of the other words needs interpretation.

Within a reasonable time after receipt of the requirement are everyday words and there cannot be any doubt about their meaning; but even with the somewhat half-hearted offer of reconsideration by the Minister, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 19 agreed to.

Clause 20 agreed to.

Clause 21 [Method of fixing aggregate amount of housing support grants]:

Lord Ross of Marnock had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 30: Page 10, line 30, leave out from ("grants") to ("to") in line 31.

The noble Lord said: I do not propose to move Amendments Nos. 30, 31 or 32 in respect of this very important clause. I think we should be much wiser to consider this at a much more reasonable time and with a much more reasonable attendance. It does not look well in Scotland when we discover that only a handful of people are concerned about what is probably one of the most vexed questions in Scotland, that of housing. So I do not propose to move these amendments now, but will come back to them on Report stage.

[Amendments Nos. 30, 31, and 32 not moved.]

Clause 21 agreed to.

Clauses 22 and 23 agreed to.

Lord Ross of Marnock had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 33:

Before Clause 24, insert the following new clause:

("Abolition of fees for planning applications in Scotland

. In section 87 of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 the following amendments shall be made—

  1. (a) in subsection (1) the words "or a planning authority in Scotland" shall be deleted;
  2. (b) subsection (2) shall be deleted;
  3. (c) subsection (8) shall be deleted.").

The noble Lord said: This is a very important new clause and I propose not to move it but to put it down for Report.

[Amendment No. 33 not moved.]

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 34: Before Clause 24, insert the following new clause:

("Scottish Housing Advisory Committee

. The Secretary of State shall appoint a committee to be called the Scottish Housing Advisory Committee for the purpose of—

  1. (a) advising the Secretary of State on any question referred to them with respect to any matter arising in connection with the execution of the enactments relating to housing;
  2. (b) considering the operation of such enactments and making such representations as the Committee think desirable concerning the execution of those enactments in relation to the housing needs of the people of Scotland.").

The noble Lord said: This is another new clause and I think I will move this one. I trust that the Government will look at it. There have been very considerable changes on the housing scene of late. There has been the sale of houses and there is the whole question of grants and their effect upon local authorities by the changes the Government propose to make here. I think there is a case for resurrecting the Scottish special housing committee. The words of the new clause are fairly impeccable: they are taken from the Housing Act 1935. I will not go into it at the present time but I think there is merit in having this advisory committee on Scottish housing. We have found this so in the past and I thought the Government were precipitate and very unwise indeed to abolish it as they did in the last Session of Parliament. I beg to move.

The Earl of Mansfield

The question as to whether there is a need for a permanent standing advisory body on housing in Scotland is one which we discussed less than a year ago when this House approved the abolition of the Scottish Housing Advisory Committee under Section 75 of the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act 1980. I do not believe that the arguments have changed since we last discussed the matter, and I must say that we have not received representations from any quarter calling for the re-establishment of the committee during the period since this matter was last under discussion.

The question is not whether the committee was valuable in its day; during the 45 years of its existence it produced many valuable reports and indeed everyone connected with housing in Scotland over those years appreciates its contribution to the development of housing policy. But during the last few years of the committee's existence it fell into virtual disuse, under the last Labour Government. In the two years 1976–77 it met only once. There was a period of nine months during which the terms of appointment of all its members expired and no reappointments were made. When it was reconstituted, activity picked up a little but only to the extent of two meetings in each of the following two years.

There have been important changes relating to advice on housing policy. There has been a considerable development in the study of housing policy, both in established academic circles, such as the universities, and among independent bodies which combine direct activity in the housing field with an element of policy research. There is more specialist advice coming forward from bodies such as Age Concern, the Scottish Council for Single Homeless, the Scottish Housing Training Advisory Board, Shelter, and others. The Secretary of State can commission academic research on an ad hoc basis, and he has power to grant-aid the work of independent bodies on specific housing problems.

Where consultation rather than research is involved, it is often more useful for the Secretary of State to discuss the matter directly with individual bodies. Indeed, Clauses 21 to 23 of the Bill are, in fact, the product of close consultations between the Scottish Development Department and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. Where a particular issue is appropriate for consideration by representatives of a combination of interests, such as the Scottish Housing Advisory Committee used to provide, the Secretary of State can, of course, set up ad hoc committees. Indeed, the last report by a sub-committee of the Scottish Housing Advisory Committee, which was published last year on allocation and transfer policy, illustrates this very point, because although nominally under the auspices of the committee, it drew half of its membership from outside the committee.

Far from turning our backs on housing advice, we are taking a more flexible approach to advice on housing policy using the methods that I have described, which offer a better use of resources than the maintenance of a permanent standing advisory body. So although I appreciate very much the reasons which motivated the noble Lord in putting down his amendment, I think—and I do not say this offensively—that it is out of date, because we can get just as good advice and just as much advice in a far more flexible way, as I have tried to show.

Viscount Thurso

May I ask the noble Earl, in relation to what he has said, with all this welter of professional, technical and academic advice, would it not be better to have a committee to collate it for him?

The Earl of Mansfield

I think not, because it would merely establish itself as a thoroughly cumbersome Quango collating the work of other people and producing reports, which some of these bodies very often produce at considerable expense, with very little real edification to those who read them.

10.39 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock

To whichever Quango that may relate, it does not relate to the Scottish Housing Advisory Committee. Indeed, the Minister himself paid tribute to the value of its reports. He said that for the last report, which was a valuable one for the Government, it drew half its members from outside. But that is not new. One of the most valuable reports it produced was on Scotland's older houses, which led eventually to a complete transformation in the Government's attitude to improvement grants and things that are now accepted within housing policy.

I believe that the leader of the committee was Professor Cullingworth; it was called the Cullingworth Report. It was a report of a sub-committee of the Scottish Housing Advisory Committee. Professor Cullingworth was not a member of that committee, but people were marshalled to do that specific job of that committee. The fact that it had met for only so many meetings per year does not mean that it should be disbanded altogether. I remember having to revive this committee when I became Secretary of State in 1964, because the Conservative Government, in the years before that, had virtually let it fall into disuse. But after that point some of the most valuable reports were produced.

We are in a state of very considerable change of attitude in relation to housing policy. There is the vexed question of the sale of council houses: getting objective reports on how it is proceeding, or on how the Government could be helped to further sales, or the areas in which it is probably unwise to proceed. All this could be done by the housing advisory committee. On the Minister getting advice from his own department, so far as I can see they are too busy thinking up new legislation to have time to give advice. There were housing aspects in the Bill which was passed last year and in which this was abolished. There were about 123 clauses, only a few of which applied to Scotland. Scotland was lumped together with England in what was mainly an English Bill. I thought this was unwise and I said so at the time. Consideration was not full enough then. I hope the Government will reflect upon the matter between now and Report stage and will then provide us with some information about it.

The changes are such that the matter should be looked at by an advisory committee which has the power to make recommendations to the Secretary of State. He does not need to act upon them, but he would be wise to refer to the committee what may be important matters in connection with the execution of these new enactments. It is desirable that they should give such matters that kind of consideration. If the Secretary of State does not have such a committee, it will mean that instead of a Quango more staff will be needed in the Scottish Office. It would be far better to deal with the matter on the very satisfactory basis that it has been dealt with in the past rather than to leave it to the Scottish Office.

The Government have adopted an unfortunate attitude. They are not even prepared to take time to consider the matter. Their attitude convinces me that the last thing they want is any change to the Bill. To a Bill of this importance there has been not a single Government amendment—and not a single amendment from any person on the other side of the Committee. I am bearing in mind that there is a Question on the Order Paper about Scottish housing which is to be asked by one noble Lord. This is an opportunity to amend the Bill and to make not Scottish housing but Scottish local government a little more amenable. But advantage is not being taken of this opportunity.

Noble Lords should not delude themselves into thinking that the Scottish public do not know and understand what is going on here. Noble Lords as a whole, but mainly noble Lords on the other side of the Committee, regard this place as a rubber stamp. It never will be while I am in it. It determines also my attitude to the future of this place: whether it is worth while supporting it if we are going to treat Scottish local government and very important aspects of housing, valuation, rating and finance in this cavalier fashion. In view of the attitude of the Government I will allow this amendment to be negatived.

On Question, amendment negatived.

Clauses 24 and 25 agreed to.

Clause 26 [Consent to local authority incurring liability to meet capital expenses etc.]:

Lord Ross of Marnock had given notice of his intention to move Amendments Nos. 35, 36, 37 and 38:

Page 12, line 16, after ("may") insert ("after consultation with and due notice to the local authority concerned")

Page 12, line 17, leave out ("withdraw or")

Page 12, line 20, leave out ("withdraw or")

Page 12, line 24, leave out from ("relates") to end of line 3 on page 13.

The noble Lord said: It is not my intention to move Amendments Nos. 35, 36, 37 and 38. Two of them are important enough for me to divide the Committee upon them, but at this time of the night I do not intend to do so. Perhaps we shall reach them at a much more reasonable time at the Report stage. For that reason, and that reason only, I do not propose to move these amendments.

[Amendments Nos. 35, 36, 37 and 38 not moved.]

Clause 26 agreed to.

Clause 27 [Consent to certain local authority borrowing]:

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 39: Page 13, line 17, leave out from ("undertaking") to end of line 19.

The noble Lord said: This is one of these rather silly things. The phrase that I propose to leave out is: but the Secretary of State shall give such consent only if satisfied that the expenses are of such a nature that they should be met by such borrowing". I think it goes without saying that the Secretary of State would not give his consent unless he thought it was necessary. Why put that in? It is just filling out the clause with words that are otiose. Why put it into the clause quite unnecessarily that the Secretary of State would give his consent only if satisfied that the expenses are of such a nature that they should be met by such borrowing? He would not give his consent otherwise. It goes without saying, so why say it? That is why I suggest that these words should be left out. I beg to move.

The Earl of Mansfield

The words which the amendment proposes to delete derive from the existing paragraph 1(2) of Schedule 3 to the 1975 Act. It is surely not unreasonable for a borrowing power only to be available in circumstances where the expenses are of such a nature that they should be met by borrowing. The difference is that in the new provision it is the Secretary of State who should be so satisfied, since the borrowing is subject to his consent, rather than just the local authority as in the earlier case. The circumstances in which the Secretary of State will be satisfied in this regard may vary widely. The present power in paragraph 1(2) has been scarcely used in recent years and there are unlikely to be many requests from local authorities for consent. However, this power could be relevant—and I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, is not in his place—where an authority would otherwise be unable to meet its liabilities following a reduction in rate support grant. In these circumstances its powers to borrow for a capital purpose would be irrelevant, as would its powers to borrow in anticipation of the receipt of revenues.

It is possible that in appropriate cases the Secretary of State would be prepared to consent to borrowing under this sub-paragraph, probably on a fairly short-term basis, so that it could set its finances in order and repay the borrowing as soon as possible, probably in the succeeding financial year. To sum up, the Secretary of State will be prepared to take a reasonable view of requests for borrowing where there is evidence that this is part of a process of an authority regularising its expenditure position generally, and there is therefore no case for deleting the words covered by the amendment.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I can understand the purposes but with all due respect it is not covered by these words. Full discretion is given to the Secretary of State as to whether he will agree to the borrowing or not. Of course, he will only agree to the borrowing if he is satisfied that it is necessary. That is what these words say. The words add nothing to any limitation upon the Secretary of State or give any guidance to anybody else. Everybody knows that he will give consent only if he is satisfied, but not for these particular purposes—for purposes which satisfy him. They do not add anything at all to the meaningfulness of the clause and for that reason I think they should be left out. But obviously the Government are not going to accept even the most reasonable of amendments, so I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 27 agreed to.

Clauses 28 to 30 agreed to.

Clause 31 [Abolition of Scottish River Purification Advisory Committee]:

On Question, Whether Clause 31 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Ross of Marnock

I do not think there is all that much justification for getting rid of the Scottish River Purification Advisory Committee. I have had letters about this, particularly from a member of the Ayrshire purification committee. I appreciate that what we are dealing with here is the national committee and not the area committees. However, he was very concerned indeed about a question affecting a river in Ayrshire where, as a result of a High Court decision, the NCB was held not to be culpable—although I think responsibility was accepted—for the lack of purification of a particular river, although they were certainly the cause of the trouble; it came from the National Coal Board pits in the particular area. He thought it was very unfair indeed that a firm should be allowed to pollute a river with impunity; he thought this was one of the kind of instances on which the Scottish River Purification Advisory Committee should advise the Secretary of State what should be done.

I think there is more concern now than ever before about the purity of our rivers, whether it be from the point of view of water abstracted which ends up in taps, or from the point of view of fishing or anything else in respect of Scottish waters. The feeling was that this would take some justifying, and I am prepared to listen to the justification the Government have. Mind you, the Government themselves can determine how often an advisory committee meets, if it meets to consider points put to it by the Government. The Government just do not need to put things to it and then they can get up in the House and say it has not met so often; in other words, the Government can determine the justification for their abolition policy by the way they behave administratively. I do think there is a case for retaining the Scottish River Purification Advisory Committee to advise on such points of wider than purely local interest. I beg to move.

The Earl of Mansfield

The decision to abolish the Committee was taken following the Pliatzky review in 1979. It was considered that there was no longer any need for the Scottish River Purification Advisory Committee, and that adequate advice as required could be provided by the river purification authorities themselves, the Scottish River Purification Boards Association and professional officers in the department. The decision was therefore taken and this clause gives effect to it.

The statutory function which the committee presently has is to advise the Secretary of State on any matter relating to the cleanliness of rivers and other inland and tidal waters and on the prevention of pollution of such rivers and waters. The noble Lord asked in effect what advice could be obtained in the absence of such a body, and the answer is that we shall continue to receive advice as required, which will be adequate, from river purification authorities individually and from the various bodies; and indeed from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the bodies I have mentioned, and also angling and fishermen's associations, the district salmon boards and so on. There are some small savings to be made from this.

The noble Lord mentioned, I do not think by name, the River Girvan, which is not very far from where he lives, where there have been particular problems in the case of pollution from abandoned mines. In fact ad hoc advice on this particular problem is an excellent example of how the appropriate sources can give advice in any particular instance. The problem was acute in the River Girvan. The technical principles of a solution were obtained from an independent firm of consulting engineers, and responsibility for the discharge has been settled through normal processes of law.

The situation is being considered in a similar instance in England and Wales; it is a national review to see which of these bodies are justified in modern circumstances and which can be done away with, without in any way adversely affecting the quality of advice. We came to the conclusion that this was one such body. An example in England and Wales might be the review which my colleagues in the Department of the Environment are presently considering in relation to the National Water Council.

Lord Ross of Marnock

The only comment that should like to make as regards the Girvan and the NCB case is that, although the Minister thinks that it has been finalised and everybody is happy, I am afraid that that is not true in respect of the local board or at least one of its very influential members. It is the type of case which could arise elsewhere because pits in Scotland are not confined to South Ayrshire. We might have this trouble elsewhere.

I would suggest that there is a case for retaining the Scottish River Purification Board, but it is obvious that the Government are not moved as regards this matter or anything else. They just do not want to make any changes and send them back to the House of Commons because of the time mess which they have got into by introducing or applying something in the middle of a financial year that ought to be done at the beginning of a year. This of course means that even the most reasonable case in respect of something which is not all that important itself, such as the River Purification Advisory Committee, goes by the board because the Ministers are terrified in case they, by some accident, say "Yea" to a very desirable suggestion or a reasonable suggestion. That being so I shall allow the clause to be agreed to.

Clause 31 agreed to.

Clauses 32 to 34 agreed to.

10.57 p.m.

Viscount Thurso moved Amendment No. 39A: After Clause 34, insert the following new clause:

"Civil liability of water authorities and water development boards in Scotland for escapes of water

(". In the Water (Scotland) Act 1980, after section 10 (which provides for payment of compensation for damage resulting from exercise of powers) there shall be inserted the following section— 10(A).—(1) Where an escape of water, however caused, from a communication pipe or main of water authorities or water development boards causes loss or damage the water authorities or water development boards shall be liable, except as otherwise provided in this section, for the loss or damage.

  1. (2) Water authorities or water development boards shall not incur any liability under subsection (1) above if the escape was due wholly to the fault of the person who suffered the loss or damage or of any servant agent or contractor of his.
  2. (3) The Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act 1945 shall apply in relation to any loss or damage for which water authorities or water development boards are liable under this section but which is not due to their fault, as if it were due to their fault.
  3. (4) In this section—
    1. (a) "communication pipe" and "main" have the meanings assigned to them by section 109(1) of the Water (Scotland) Act 1980;
    2. (b) "damage" includes the death of or injury to any person (including any disease and any impairment of physical or mental condition);
    3. (c) "fault" has the same meaning as in the Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act 1945;
    4. 105
    5. (d) "water authorities" and "water development boards" have the meanings assigned to them by sections 3 and 82(1)(a) of the Water (Scotland) Act 1980.
  4. (5) This section shall come into force on such day as the Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument appoint.")"

The noble Viscount said: I beg to move Amendment No. 39A. We began the debate on this Bill in your Lordships' Committee earlier this evening on a very happy note and I had high hopes that we were going to get along swimmingly with the Government making all sorts of promises to re-examine the suggestions which came floating across from this side of your Lordships' Committee, and that we would get on well and happily. Unfortunately, it has proved to be rather a tight piece of either bowling or fielding on the part of the Government and very little seems to have got through, and certainly no scores have been made from this side of your Lordships' Committee. But I hope that now we have reached one or two amendments which are of a general and largely non-partisan nature—amendments which could be helpful and which are being fitted into this Bill simply because they relate to something which requires urgently to be done, and this is a good opportunity or the first opportunity to deal with them. This particular amendment of mine is just such an amendment.

The intention of this amendment is to clarify the present law which is uncertain in an area which is very important to owners of land and houses and so forth. Water mains are now of such a size that a burst can cause danger to a house or considerable damage to land. Section 10(1) of the Water (Scotland) Act 1980 states: a district council or water authority or water development board shall make full compensation to any person who has sustained damage by reason of the exercise by them of any of their powers under this Act in relation to a matter as to which he has not himself been in default". That, to a fair-minded person, would seem to mean that the average citizen is indemnified against damage caused by a water main bursting or any other such disaster.

Unfortunately, however, it appears that this may not be so. So far as we are aware, the operation of this section has never been judicially tested, but counsel acting for the Scottish Landowners' Federation gave an opinion which meant that the water authority would be liable only for any damage caused during the exercise of its powers—that is, while water pipes are actually being laid or while a pipe track is being dug—and no liability would be incurred as a result of a subsequent escape of water resulting from a burst.

That is the attitude which has been adopted by the water authorities in Scotland, who have indicated that they would strongly resist any claim for compensation for damage caused by a burst water main. In fact, one such council has actually written a letter to the Scottish Landowners' Federation stating specifically that it would not entertain a claim for compensation whether or not it was proved to have been negligent.

It seems clear to me that if negligence could be proved, a claim for compensation under common law should succeed. But other than challenging the attitude of the water authorities in the courts on the interpretation of Section 10 of the Water (Scotland) Act 1980, there would appear to be no redress in the event of damage arising from a burst main.

In England a suitable amendment was agreed by the Government, imposing strict liability for bursts on the statutory water undertakers; it was inserted in the Water Bill which was recently passed. It seems illogical that Scotland should be out of line with England in such a very important matter. Accordingly, I hope that your Lordships' Committee will support my amendment, which nearly exactly follows the English one.

I realise that this particular amendment has come very quickly before the Minister and your Lordships' Committee; the very fact that it is Amendment No. 39A indicates that it has rather lately been put before your Lordships' Committee. I realise that the Minister may well want more time to consider it. I hope that he will be able to give me some hope and, if he can, I should dearly like to co-operate with him in perhaps improving the amendment, if he thinks that this is what is necessary. But if he can accept it, I think that this would be a useful service to anybody who could be threatened by the calamity of a water main burst in Scotland. After all, it would be comparatively simple and not very expensive for water authorities in Scotland to insure against such events, yet it would be very difficult and probably unnecessarily fairly expensive for private individuals to insure themselves against such an eventuality. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will be able to look favourably upon this amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

As the noble Viscount has said, this amendment has come to some of us, on all sides of the Committee—it certainly came to me—from the Scottish Landowners' Federation. In many ways the conditions in Scotland are more difficult as our water descends from heaven, if from nowhere else, probably in greater quantity than elsewhere and we get terrible flooding and great problems with water. So we think that we should have the same advantages or the same treatment as the water authorities give to people in England.

I hope that the Minister will consider this. It is something which has not been dealt with in Scotland. It is a very non-party political matter; it is purely a matter of doing something to help the farmers and the landowners who are concerned with water supplies and who deal with the water authorities. I am continually doing that in the county of Roxburgh, and I find them very helpful. Luckily, as yet I have not had a burst water main, but, as one goes right across my property, if there was a burst I should be very angry if I was supposed to repair it when in fact it belonged to the water authority. I hope very much that the Government will consider this as a useful and valuable contribution to this Bill.

Lord Lyell

I am sure we are all grateful for the clear way in which the noble Viscount has moved his amendment. The Committee will be aware that this amendment was tabled fairly late, but that is through no fault of the noble Viscount. It is similar, I think almost identical, to a provision which was enacted in the Water Bill for England and Wales about a month or six weeks ago. My noble friend Lord Burton proposed that the provision then being considered should be extended to cover Scotland. I hope that I may repeat the reasons for my department considering this to be a trifle premature.

First, the amendment proposed by the noble Viscount would under Scottish law impose on water authorities, and indeed on water development boards, a strict liability. I understand that strict liability means that there is a liability on the boards, or the water development board, whether or not there has been negligence. This liability is in respect of damage which is caused by burst water mains and communication pipes. The question of strict liability was necessary in English law because in England and Wales a test case showed that compensation is payable only in cases of negligence. But I am advised that Scottish law is very different in this respect. As yet there has been no test case in Scotland to determine the extent of the liability which already exists under Scottish law.

The second point I would make is that the Scottish water authorities are the local authorities. They are not, in the happy term used so far as England and Wales are concerned, the statutory undertakers. The practices of the local authorities in Scotland so far as water is concerned are not always the same as the practices of the English water authorities or these statutory undertakers. In this case the imposition of strict liability would have a substantial impact on the expenditure of Scottish local authorities. This is at a time when, as local authorities, they are subject to severe constraints on public expenditure.

We do not want to go ahead on this matter without preparation and careful discussion, but we are in touch with the Convention of Local Authorities about all of the Water Act provisions, and we hope to have final consultations with the convention shortly. Once we have the views of the convention on the issue of burst water mains, then we shall be in a position to consult the farming and indeed the landowning interests as well.

I can give no undertaking at all that we will decide to legislate, but perhaps I may quote what my noble friend the Minister said six weeks ago when discussing this same amendment, when moved so far as the Water Bill was concerned: …if the Government decide that legislation on these grounds"— of the compensation so far as burst water mains or burst feeder pipes is concerned— is needed in the future, then I think certain legislative vehicles"— there will be certain measures coming forward in the future— will present themselves, either perhaps later in this Session or certainly next Session, to bring into the law any desirable reform which the Government may [after due consultation] wish to introduce".—[Official Report, 1913/81, col. 932.] I hope that I have not muddied the water or complicated the issue too much, and I hope that the noble Viscount will take it that we are consulting with the relevant local authorities and the relevant bodies in Scotland. When we have those final consultations, we shall certainly consult with the farming and landowning bodies as well, and we hope then to be able to come to a suitable decision on this matter of law which, as I hope noble Lords opposite will accept, is totally different in Scotland compared with the matter which was dealt with under the Water Bill in England.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I think that is true, and I have never been in favour of mixing Scotland with England, be it in private or public legislation, because the conditions are entirely different. I recall some of the discussions that we had in the Scottish Grand Committee for retaining water supplies within the functions and province of local authorities. Upstairs in the Scottish Grand Committee, Conservative MPs were voting to ensure that water came under the local authorities in Scotland, and the same day a vote was called and they trooped downstairs to vote against local authorities having control of water in England and Wales.

The arguments adduced by the Minister did not hold much water, if I may be excused for putting it that way. If he looks at Clause 32 he will see that although they are considering the various problems concerning water in this measure, they are abolishing the Advisory Committee on the Conservation and Provision of Water Supplies. Why are they doing that? The answer is that they have the vehicle to do so. When there is a miscellaneous provisions measure like this, one seizes one's chance to do what one thinks requires to be done. Do we have to wait until there is a test case in Scotland to discover that somebody is not being treated according to what is natural justice, simply because of a quirk in the statute in relation to England and Wales compared with Scotland? The principle is exactly the same; somebody will be detrimentally affected by water flooding on to his fields, and if the boards in Scotland are in a position to say, "According to Scottish law we do not have to pay up", they will not pay up. It is a question of fairness all round. We should not have to wait until that situation arises.

In my view, the noble Viscount has made a good case and I am surprised that the Government will not agree to look at the whole matter again and say, "As it has been before Parliament so recently, and in view of the special circumstances, we will examine it again to see that justice is done"—that is, done to tenant farmers or to farmers or to somebody in a burgh area. The Government are avoiding doing something that it would be sensible to do as a precaution, and therefore I support the noble Viscount in the amendment.

Lord Hughes

I, too, support the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Lyell, said there had not been a test case in Scotland. However, he did not go on to say that it was the Government's intention to wait until there was a test case. As my noble friend Lord Ross said, if the water authorities turn out to be right in their contention and the Government subsequently change the law, the poor individual who has lost the test case will have been unfairly penalised. I hope, therefore, that waiting for a test case is not part of the consideration the Government are giving to this matter.

The Earl of Mansfield

I am delighted to see this new-found alliance between the noble Lords of the Labour Party and the Scottish Landowners' Federation. This would give compensation, without the need to prove negligence, to Scottish landowners, and I know that my noble kinsman for one will be delighted at the sudden conversion not of St. Paul but of St. William by this event.

I assure the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, that there is no question of the Government waiting for some case to be brought, if it were to be brought. What I said to the noble Lord, Lord Burton, who represented the Scottish Landowners' Federation in the previous encounter, was that the Government had to consult the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. In other parts of the Bill we are doing our best to restrain the local authorities in financial terms, and it is they who will have to pick up the bill for this. We do not want to impose an absolute, statutory liability on them without taking their advice. I said that we are taking their advice and that in the light of their advice we shall have to come to a conclusion.

I told my noble friend Lord Burton at that earlier stage when he said, as noble Lords do when any Government say that they are considering their position, that Governments have good intentions but legislative slots are hard to find, that to my certain knowledge—and I say this to the Committee not in a sense of dread but as a matter of fact—there are probably going to be two local government slots appertaining to Scotland in the next Session and therefore there will be all the opportunitity in the world to write a sensible provision into the statute if it should commend itself to the Government. If it does not commend itself then there will be plenty of opportunity for the Scottish Landowners' Federation, through its mouthpieces in all parts of the House, to make its feelings known. We really are not ready for this amendment at the moment and so I do hope that on this occasion the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, will see fit to withdraw his amendment and let us get on with the consultations which we are having presently.

Viscount Thurso

I am well aware—and indeed I said—that this amendment has come rather suddenly upon your Lordships' Committee. There are one or two observations I should like to make in respect of the answers I have received. First of all, if local authorities are going to face enormous expenditure with water mains bursting in flood all over Scotland—as the picture seems to be drawn—then what about the poor fellow whose house is washed away? Surely this is a question of a moderate request in the face of moderate danger. I do not expect lots of water mains to break in the circumstances where somebody could suffer a great deal of damage without getting compensation when they try to bring their case. But I do expect it to be possible that such a thing could happen. Because it is possible that such a thing could happen, then I have to ask myself whether it is reasonable to expose an individual to this personal danger when the community ought to be able to insure him properly against it. It is only a matter of insurance so far as the water authority is concerned; they would be foolish if they did not cover themselves with the appropriate insurance.

I do know of a case in, oddly enough, England, in which the home of the chap who cuts my hair was suddenly flooded by an overflow of the Welsh Harp Reservoir. He lost not only the entire decoration to the bottom part of his house but also lost some valuable old books which he had been collecting over a number of years. This is the kind of thing that can happen to somebody in quite a small way, a men's barber whose private house is flooded by an overflow which was not in any way due to negligence but due to flooding at the reservoir.

The danger exists and it is no use pretending that it does not exist. Because we know it exists the matter has been brought up already in your Lordships' House. At that time the advice given was that it was not appropriate but that further advice should be taken, and indeed that a test case would be desirable. Even more desirable than a test case is counsel's opinion, because counsel's opinion gives one a fairly good idea how a test case might be decided. Counsel's opinion seems to suggest that a test case might come out rather badly for the individual who was employed as the cat's paw in the test case; he might not only lose his test case but also see legislation introduced as a result of it, to put right what is an obvious anomaly. He would be very harshly dealt with. So I do not suppose that anyone in particular will be queuing up to become the subject of a test case in this matter. I think that this is an important and sensible point.

I also accept that consultations are having to take place, and further I accept that this is a late hour at which to put this matter before your Lordships' Committee. In the circumstances, it is my intention to withdraw the amendment at this stage, but reserving always the right to return with it at a later stage of the Bill. I should like to take part in discussions on this matter, in order to satisfy myself that discussions are going forward, as we have been led to believe, and are likely to bear fruit, and that there is likely to be action to deal with the matter. I consider it an important matter. If, after discussion, it still seems important to bring it forward, I feel that there would be fairly wide support in your Lordships' House for an amendment of this kind. However, in the circumstances, bearing in mind the hour of the night, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 35 agreed to.

Clause 36 [Planning applications and consideration of the needs of the disabled]:

11.22 p.m.

Lord Wilson of Langside moved Amendment No. 40: Page 16, line 14, at end insert (", and shall also ensure, before granting such application, that the aforesaid sections of the said Act are complied with.").

The noble and learned Lord said: I beg to move the amendment standing in my name, as well as the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Elliot of Harwood, and Lady Masham of Ilton. The subject matter of the amendment is of some importance and for that reason it is unfortunate that it should come before your Lordships' Committee at so late an hour of the night. As I think has previously been remarked upon, its importance has been enhanced by the circumstance that this is the international Year of the Disabled. Before rising to address myself to the amendment it occurred to me—and I trust that your Lordships' Committee will not regard this as presumption or arrogance on my part—that it is at least arguable (I put it no higher) that if the amendment is accepted this evening, it will do as much to promote human happiness and well-being as will any of the other matters which have occupied the Committee since early this afternoon.

As I am sure the Committee is aware, the need for the suggested amendment derives from the circumstance that to a significant extent since 1970 and 1976 the provisions of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Acts have not been complied with. Of course there has been a significant improvement; we are all aware of it as we go around. But from what I have read, from what is said in the other place—I think that this point is beyond argument; I do not need to develop it in any detail—my impression is that the Government accept that the provisions of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Acts have not in fact been enforced as they would have wished them to be enforced.

As it stands in the Bill at present, the clause simply imposes an obligation on planning authorities to ensure that applicants for planning permission involving premises to which Sections 4 to 8A of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Acts of 1970 and 1976 apply are made aware of the duties imposed by the provisions and of the relevant code of practice. I must say that I find this a slightly surprising provision: that the duty should be accepted simply of informing applicants of the provisions of an Act of Parliament which the Government themselves say is mandatory.

The amendment would make the grant of planning permission dependent on the provisions of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act being complied with, and that I would have thought is the position as it should be; in other words, that the Government should be concerned, not simply with ensuring that applicants are informed of what the law is but with ensuring that the law approved by Parliament is complied with.

If, as I imagine will be the case, the Government are not prepared to accept this amendment—there may be some technical flaws in it which I have not been sufficiently alert to spot—at least I hope they will consider seriously accepting one of the other amendments which follows this. I would seek, as shortly as I can, to satisfy the noble Earl the Minister that there is a degree of confusion in the Government's mind in their approach to this problem—a degree of confusion which I think must be resolved as a matter of urgency—and that they must look at the matter again with an open mind, and look at it afresh.

I say that because of three things which emerge from what was said when this issue was raised in the other place, and also when it was raised here on Second Reading. In the first place, there is no doubt that these provisions of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act are indeed mandatory. That is the first point. The second point is that, in dealing with another amendment which sought to achieve very much the same as I seek to achieve by this one, the noble Earl's right honourable friend demurred to the suggestion that the matter should be treated as mandatory. I know he was dealing with a different amendment, and he was not suggesting that the provisions of the Act were not mandatory; but what he said in dealing with this amendment was: The Government will not make this mandatory. Even if the honourable gentleman wants that, I am not prepared to go that far". I am puzzled by this. Why should he demur to the suggestion of the matter being made mandatory when the Government have already accepted that the provisions of the original Act are mandatory?

The third point arises from what the noble Earl himself said—and I refer to the Official Report of 14th April, Volume 419 (No. 69), column 902. The noble Earl said this: However, we feel it is wrong that the question of access for the disabled should be singled out as a material factor, when a planning authority is determining a planning application…". What could be more material than a circumstance such as this? He went on: Planning authorities can impose—and, in the past, have imposed—conditions relating to access for the disabled and the proposed circular will set that out". Then he said: Nor would it be appropriate to use the planning Acts to enforce a statutory duty under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. It is a fundamental principle of the planning Acts that they should not be used to regulate matters which are dealt with under other statutes". If that is the united view of the Law Officers of the Crown, I will accept it; but to me is a very funny principle indeed, because I certainly should have thought that it was a far more fundamental principle in dealing with planning applications that the law should be enforced and that planning permissions should not be granted unless what Parliament has said will be, indeed is. I have detained your Lordships for too long. For these reasons, I beg to move.

The Earl of Mansfield

If I may interpose now—and I am very much in the hands of the Committee, as we all are—as there are three amendments, each rather different in the way it approaches this difficult matter, it might be one idea if we had a general debate on this whole concept. It may be that we shall come to some sort of conclusion, whether final or pending I will not say at the moment; and that might make for a more compendious debate and perhaps a neater one if we approach it in this way. I am in the hands of the Committee.

Lord Hughes

Would not the noble Earl help the Committee by indicating whether the Government have any preference in these amendments?

The Earl of Mansfield

Each of them has its own particular drawback. That is the trouble. Therefore, I cannot at this time say that I have in mind a kind of mélange of all of them or any of them. I want to hear the arguments, if I may.

Lord Winstanley

May I ask the noble Earl to which of these amendments he has the most objection?

The Earl of Mansfield

I have not given my objections. I am not going to produce a preference until I have heard the arguments.

Baroness Elliott of Harwood

I should like to support the amendment put forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside. I agree that we should have a general debate. I will say only a few words. Having had some experience when I was chairman of the education committee and then chairman of the social work committee in my county, I discovered that without a great deal of urging and telling people what you wanted it was extraordinary the number of architects and builders who did not think about access to buildings for the disabled until they were pressed very strongly. When it is so obvious that this is one of the most important features of public buildings, it is strange that so many local authorities, and not only local althorities but others, do not think about access for the disabled.

The Scottish Council on Disability have sent me a list of buildings which have been completed since 1970. I have not counted the whole list but it contains details of buildings in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow and different places in the county of Fife, in which access for the disabled is not allowed for. They are inaccessible, according to the list. There are others. I have another list of examples of countries in which full access to all or the major proportion of public buildings is mandatory. These include Canada, Sweden, Israel, Finland, New Zealand, the USA and Denmark. If all these countries can do this, why is it that we who are extremely sympathetic and well alive to this problem have not managed to make stronger representation or to produce a Bill which contains some mandatory powers?

I hope that when the debate is completed and other Members have spoken the Government will seriously consider this. It is really a blot on our country that we find ourselves still allowing buildings like those on this list to be put up for public access but without access for wheelchairs and people who are disabled. I hope that the Government will take the matter very seriously and promise to do something about it if they are not prepared to accept these amendments.

11.35 p.m.

Lord Chelwood

I take it that we are able to say a few words about all these amendments together in the light of the question that was asked by my noble friend Lord Mansfield. I shall be brief. I should like to support everything that has been said so far. I feel very strongly indeed about this question. Ten years ago we could put our hands on our hearts and say that this country was in the lead where the treatment of disabled people was concerned, and the law had been improved by the 1970 Act. Now, half way through the International Year of Disabled People, I think that we have been overtaken, as my noble friend Lady Elliott has told us, by a number of other countries. They include America, Canada, Italy and West Germany.

There are three reasons why we are in this muddle—because it is a muddle. First of all, several Government departments are involved. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, made the point that there is a confusion as to exactly what the law means here. We have been told quite clearly and categorically by spokesmen for the Department of the Environment, by my noble friend Lady Young in this House and by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary in another place, that there is a mandatory duty to make buildings and premises to which the public are to be admitted accessible so far as is reasonable and practicable.

On the other hand, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department of Health and Social Security has said in another place that a planning authority may impose conditions. That is something very different. He went on to say that the fact they may impose conditions would be strengthened by issuing a circular telling them that they jolly well ought to impose conditions but that the Government will not make this mandatory. That is contradictory and it cannot be right that we get spokesmen from two different departments saying two quite different things. As I understand it at the present time in Scotland, it is permissible for local authorities to ask developers to take account of the problems of disabled people where access to buildings open to the public is concerned. The fact of the matter is that quite a number of them do not take much account of that. Far too many do not take account and they ought to.

My noble friend Lord Mansfield—whose views we look forward to hearing—said during the Second Reading that it would not be appropriate and would not be possible to use the planning Acts to enforce this statutory duty regarding access. I am no lawyer but I share Lord Wilson's views that it is very hard indeed to understand why that should be the case. In short, why should not the onus be placed on developers before planning permission is given to show that the excellent code of practice drawn up by the British Standards Institution in 1979 has been followed except where this is unnecessary or impracticable? Could not the simple penalty for failure to do this be a requirement to put right at the developer's expense what is wrong?

Secondly, another reason why the law is unsatisfactory is the wording: in so far as it is in the circumstances both practicable and reasonable". That gives an easy escape route for the wily offender. "Reasonable" almost defies definition. Stroud's dictionary quotes it as meaning: Mankind must be satisfied with the reasonableness within reach". "Practicable" is very hard to define. In these circumstances it means what is possible to be accomplished with known means or known resources. So again I say why not make it mandatory to provide access for disabled people unless it can be shown to the satisfaction of the planning authority that this is not reasonably possible with the means of resources available? In other words, why not make exemption from this obligation the exception to the rule?

Finally, there is the question of additional cost. A lot has been said about this in the past; various figures have been quoted, mostly off the top of people's heads because no real estimate has been made. It would be absurd to suggest that all new or renovated buildings used by the public should be made accessible straight away to all disabled people. That I do not think would be possible; but I do not believe that giving the law teeth and making it effective would be costly. It is far more expensive, as we all know, to modify buildings and rectify mistakes than to get things right in the first place. Incidentally, it is just as important in this context to remember how much can be saved, though it is hard to assess how much it is, in economic as well as humane terms, by achieving greater independence for so many disabled people who at present have to lean for help on the social services or are barred from taking jobs because so many buildings are inaccessible to them.

Most disabled people accept their limitations with a very good grace and they are not asking for the moon. All they ask, and all we ask in supporting these amendments—and I would strongly favour No. 42 because it goes further than the other two—is that imagination, ingenuity and consideration should be exercised by the designers and planners of premises and that it should be a positive statutory obligation on them to do so. Scotland often sets the rest of the United Kingdom a very good example. Do let us ensure, by passing one of these amendments—preferably No. 42—that it does so in this case as well.

The Duke of Atholl

I should like to find out the answer to one question, which is whether any of these amendments apply only to new buildings. Because, while I have every sympathy with the disabled, I feel that in the case of many old buildings which apply for planning permission for alterations or something like that it is not possible to provide access for the disabled without totally wrecking the interior of the building. The fire precautions which have had to be provided under the Act of, I think, 1975 have in many cases wrecked the interior of buildings to a very considerable extent. I agree they have probably added to the safety of the people who stay in those buildings, but personally I think that the extra safety provided is a very dubious plus, compared to the wrecking of the interior.

I have an awful feeling that if mandatory access for the disabled was insisted upon in old buildings which are going to be altered in some way, it would lead to the same deterioration in the internal appearance of these buildings. I very much hope that, whichever amendment is accepted, it will apply only to new buildings and not to those for which planning permission for alteration is required.

Lady Saltoun

Amendment No. 42 applies only to new buildings.

Lord Winstanley

As a Manchester man, I feel I should almost ask leave to intervene in a debate on a Scottish local government Bill. Perhaps I might plead in excuse that I am one of the few, if not the only one, of your Lordships to have played the bagpipes at the Braemar Gathering. Perhaps I ought to admit that I only learned to play the bagpipes in order to annoy my Scottish cousins! Having said that, I feel it right to indicate that my noble friends and I from these Benches would be most anxious to support one or other of these amendments and we would try to support whichever one we thought was the strongest. As the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, has said, that is probably No. 42.

It really is time we took some steps of this kind. I was closely involved in the passage of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act in another place and in subsequent years I have been deeply disappointed by the way in which the words in so far as is both practicable and reasonable have been differently interpreted in different parts of the country. What has apparently been entirely" practicable and reasonable in one area has proved to be totally impracticable and unreasonable in another; and I really think we should start to make these provisions a little stronger.

With regard to what the noble Duke said a moment ago, I think that in Amendment No. 42 paragraph (b) admirably covers the point he makes with regard to old buildings. I do not think any reasonable person would require immense public expense in order to provide access to places where it is genuinely impracticable, as it certainly is in many old buildings.

In the main, this deals with new buildings, and new public buildings to which the public is admitted really ought, in this International Year of the Disabled Person, to be made accessible to the disabled. In so far as that is the purpose of one or other of these amendments, we on these Benches are determined to support them. I hope it will not be necessary to support them in any pedestrian sense, because I trust that at the end of the evening the Government will make noises which will convince us that they are prepared to take some steps at some stage. I felt I should make it entirely clear that we are convinced that something should now be done. This is an admirable opportunity to do it, and we should do it here and now.

Viscount Ingleby

I am sure that we all share the feelings which the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, has just expressed: that all new buildings to which the public are admitted should be made accessible. I quote from the report of the Silver Jubilee Access Committee, paragraph 11.6: Advice we have had from architects indicates that only the most exceptional circumstances would make it difficult or too expensive to incorporate these facilities at the design stage". As has been said, the 1970 Act provided a duty but no means of enforcing it. Good developers have taken trouble and have provided facilities, but this has not always been done. Indeed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Elliott, told us a few minutes ago, a considerable number of buildings in Scotland have been put up since 1970 without facilities for the disabled. If I may, I would just add to the list that she has given us: the Heriot-Watt University, which has just been enlarged, and Queen Margaret College, Edinburgh, which is for para-medical students.

The object of Amendment No. 42 is to ensure that the question of access is considered uniformly at the planning stage, and not in the rather haphazard manner in which it is treated at the present time; and to put the onus fairly and squarely on the developer to show whether, in fact, in those few cases, it is unreasonable or impracticable. We do not believe that any extra staff would be needed to carry out this vetting operation. Some councils already employ architects. I should be very surprised, in the case of those who do not, if there were not reputable local architects who would give their services voluntarily to vet applications from this point of view. All local authorities have building regulations inspectors who are continually inspecting new buildings in the ordinary course of their work. Could they not at the same time see that these regulations are being complied with? I strongly support Amendment No. 42.

11.48 p.m.

Lady Saltoun

May I beg leave to say a few more words about Amendment No. 42 and perhaps at the same time, as this is a general discussion, about Amendment No. 43? Amendment No. 42 seeks to strengthen Section 4 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, as amended by the 1976 Act in its application to Scotland. Without those Acts in front of one the position may not be easy to understand, so I will offer a few words of explanation.

Any person undertaking the provision of premises or facilities open to the public shall make provision for the needs of disabled persons using the premises as regards: first, access to the premises and within them; secondly, lavatories, if any; thirdly, parking facilities and, fourthly, means of access to and around the surroundings of the premises, unless it is demonstrated to the satisfaction of the relevant authority that it is impracticable or unreasonable to do so. The needs of disabled persons for this purpose shall be in accordance with the British Standards Institution's Code of Practice BS.5810, or any other document which the Secretary of State may prescribe. These regulations shall be made by statutory instrument and shall make provision as to what constitutes the relevant authority; as to how a demonstration of impracticable and unreasonable shall be made, and as to the means for settling any dispute arising between the parties concerned regarding such a demonstration.

Amendment No. 43 provides that a local authority shall designate an existing employee as access officer for all matters concerning the above in its area. In Scotland a large number of regional authorities have already done so, and we hope that more will do so fairly soon. It is seldom expensive or difficult to provide such facilities as we are talking about at the construction stage, but it can be very expensive and often impossible to do so later on. For example, wider doors mean more door and less wall and will probably not affect the cost very much at construction stage; it may even reduce it. The point is, simply, to strengthen the procedure for carrying out the existing mandatory regulations and to require local authorities to insist that they are carried out. The onus should be on the other party to prove impracticability.

Examples of existing mandatory regulations which have not been carried out in new buildings completed since 1970 are, for example, in Dundee the annex to the Kingsway Technical College, which is the maths and science building, in Edinburgh the art gallery in Lauriston Place, which has split levels and was built about 1974, and, biggest and worst, the Glasgow underground which has steps and no lift to the platforms.

Lord Crawshaw

The argument is almost complete, but I feel I must say a few words in support of my noble friends over these amendments. First, may I say how pleased I am that my old friend Lord Mansfield is answering for the Government. He may or may not be pleased to be applying his mind to the subject at the heart of these amendments or, indeed, to be receiving a certain amount of free advice from quarters south of the Border. But I personally am glad that he is bringing a fresh mind to bear on a campaign in which I have long been involved but where, quite frankly, not much progress has been made. I hope very much that he will be able to help us. It is my hope that in this case Scotland will be able to give the rest of the country something of a lead.

I am aware that the Government are laudably trying to cure our inflation by cutting public expenditure. As a ratepayer, I warmly support that. However, I do not believe that these amendments, or the gist of these amendments, or the consequence of any of these amendments needs increased public spending. Local authorities' officers have, as we have heard, to inspect plans in any case in connection with fire precautions and the rest, and I believe that the same person could keep an eye on the proposed provisions for disabled persons. Again one is referring to new buildings. Obviously one would not interfere with buildings as venerable and as ancient as Blair Castle, which seemed to be worrying the noble Duke, the Duke of Atholl.

It is largely a matter of common sense. It is not a matter of expensive specialist advice. Anybody with a grain of common sense could see what was necessary. As we have heard, other countries seem to have got over the problem fairly successfully. Recently I have been in the United States. In 1973 they passed an Act which was probably spurred on by the casualties from the Vietnam war. It was laid down in that Act that any new building receiving federal funds should make proper provision for the disabled. So far as I can see, that works perfectly well.

In this country I find that there are many obstacles to getting about. Often one is put off going to a certain place for that very reason, which is an unnecessary nuisance. It is not only the disabled who would benefit from some sort of provision. We always need somebody to give us a "hoik" up the stairs or a push up steep ramps. The number of slipped discs that I personally have inflicted on others is probably enormous. If we do not want an increased population sitting in wheelchairs, something ought to be done. I am not sure about the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, but he might easily have suffered in days gone by in Oxford, but perhaps he can tell me later. I think the argument is almost complete, but I hope that we shall get some positive response from the Government on this because it would be very welcome.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth

I should like to say a few words in support of my noble friend's Amendment No. 42, as well. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson, said, Clause 36 as it stands is really no more than we have at the moment. His Amendment No. 40 is gloriously simple, as indeed is Amendment No. 41, but I am not certain whether complying with "the aforesaid sections of the said Act" actually strengthens it, because those sections contain the proviso "where practicable and reasonable". If I am wrong and by implication the onus is placed on the developer to prove that proper provision is unreasonable and impracticable, I should be very happy to support that amendment.

At the moment I feel that we probably need the new clause, Amendment No. 42, because as the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, has said, it strengthens the Act in that it explicitly places on the developer the burden of proof that suitable provision is unreasonable and impracticable. It changes the emphasis, and that is in line with the Silver Jubilee Committee's recommendation, which has already been mentioned by the noble Viscount. At present planning authorities who issue design guidance feel very frustrated that they cannot insist on access as a condition of planning consent. We could all give examples of buildings which are still being built and which are either totally inaccessible or it maybe partially inaccessible.

The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, mentioned cases from the evidence produced by the Scottish Committee on access for disabled people. I have seen that list, and the examples range from a shopping centre, an art gallery, a sports centre, right through to the employment exchange and a police station. I do not think that is good enough 11 years after the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act.

We all know by now the aims of the IYDP, one of which is to achieve the participation and equality and integration of the disabled. How can we achieve it without access? Disabled people should be able to visit art galleries and sports centres for leisure and recreational purposes, just like everybody else. It is particularly important perhaps for disabled people to be able to shop around because very often they are the less well-off members of society. They should be able to get to the supermarkets.

The other aims of IYDP are to increase the awareness of the needs, the abilities and the aspirations of the disabled and to change the attitudes towards them, and the best way to achieve that is through contact with the disabled themselves. How is that possible without access? I strongly support this amendment and I hope your Lordships will do likewise, or perhaps the Minister will produce a combination of the three amendments which will be agreeable to us all.

Lord Ross of Marnock

We have three amendments, one of which is in my name. I gave a pledge as to when I would say my last word in respect of this Bill and I said that as far as I was concerned it would be finished by midnight. I cannot be blamed for any lapse in that respect. I favour Amendment No. 40 or 41. I think there may well be a danger of asking for too much—although I do not blame people for asking for it—in terms of what the Government are prepared to give in a local government Bill. I think these proceedings could have been considerably shortened earlier if the noble Earl had given his point of view in respect of the amendment and then we could have returned to it with more time at the Report stage.

11.59 p.m.

The Earl of Mansfield

Perhaps I may comment on these amendments in reverse order to their position in the Marshalled List, because it is convenient to do so. But by way of preface I should like to say that of course one cannot fail to be deeply impressed and indeed moved by the speeches which have been made to the Committee this evening, rather late and at an inconvenient hour, by people who have suffered misfortunes in the way that several of your Lordships have. If in replying on behalf of the Government one appears to take an attitude which is either tautologous or mean or pernickety, it is not that one's own preferences and sympathies are not there; it is because Governments do have to act in logical and indeed legal ways, mindful of public expenditure considerations and according to certain well-defined paths, particularly in an area which is so difficult and complex as planning legislation. But having said that, I wanted to hear the amendments explained by their proposers; I wanted to get the feel of your Lordships' Committee, because I think it is very important in helping the Government to make up their mind as to where we go from here if the Government are able to think of a way which gets round the various pitfalls which there are. I say that by way of preliminary.

Amendment No. 42 seeks to transfer the onus for deciding the extent to which it is reasonable and practicable to make provision for the disabled in new buildings to which the public have access from the public authority or private developer to a body to be prescribed. This proposal would in effect place a new hurdle in the path of developers at a time when the Government are concerned to streamline so far as may be possible the existing arrangements for scrutinising development proposals. So if those who are keen on this particular amendment will bear with me, I am bound to say that therefore this amendment is couched in terms which are not very attractive to the Government.

There is a further complication—that the task of determining whether adequate steps have been taken to secure proper provision for the disabled would impose an additional burden upon local authorities, because it is obvious that they would be the body which would be prescribed, and that at a time when the Government are convinced that it is vital to restrain public expenditure. Again I am afraid that this may be an amendment which will not commend itself to a number of those who have spoken this evening, but nevertheless it is a matter to which the Government have to pay heed.

It was made clear in another place, and so far as Scotland is concerned, it is reflected in Clause 36, that we believe—in fact, we are quite clear—that existing legislation allows sufficient scope to make it possible for local authorities to ensure that adequate provision is made for the needs of the disabled. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State said this in effect in the course of the debate on what is now Clause 36; planning authorities have the power to impose conditions on planning permission relating to provision for the disabled. As he said, we intend to issue a circular to put that beyond doubt, and I aim to have copies of the draft in the Library of your Lordships' House before Report so that it can be considered. So the question then arises whether it is necessary to go further and make such a duty a statutory duty beyond what is already provided.

As my right honourable friend also said, we are also considering the case for extending the Building Standards Regulations to cover the needs of the disabled as part of the continuing review of these regulations. Such a course of action, which would effectively give the force of law to the British Standards Institution's Code of Practice on Access for the Disabled, would have considerable repercussions and we have therefore to consider carefully the consequences of such a move before reaching a conclusion.

So far as inquiries have shown, the majority of public buildings provided since 1970 in Scotland have made provision for the disabled and the indications are that developers are becoming increasingly aware of their responsibilities. Two of the largest district councils in Scotland—that is to say, Glasgow and Aberdeen—are already, as it were, taking heed and are imposing conditions on planning permissions relating to provisions for the disabled. So it is by no means certain, at least in the Government's mind, that it will be necessary to legislate at all and I say that although I do not discount that we shall have further thoughts about it, and I shall come back to that at the end of my remarks.

The noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, I think said in effect that planning authorities cannot insist on access for the disabled. But we believe that they can where there are good planning reasons. That is bound to be so in the case of buildings to which the public are to have access. This will be made clear in the circular about which I have already spoken. It was in that spirit, so to speak, that Clause 36 came to be drafted as an amendment to the Bill. It was also in the same spirit that Mr. Dafydd Wigley's Bill has just passed its Third Reading in another place: that reproduces very much in, I think, Clause 3 or 4, the provisions of Clause 36. So there is no doubt about it that if any of the amendments were to be accepted in anything like their present form on the Marshalled List tonight, it would put Scotland on a different basis from that of England, as is presently contemplated. I am sure that those who have spoken to these amendments would say that that is a very good thing, but it is another matter to which the Government must pay heed.

I turn to Amendment No. 41, which is the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock's, amendment. It follows from what I have said that, if a planning authority in Scotland already has the power when determining a planning application to have regard to the matters such as I have already set out to your Lordships, there is absolutely no need to write into the statute that: These factors shall be material considerations in terms of subsection (1) of this section". They already have the power to do it and it is not necessary to write it into the Bill. No other attempts at such definitions exist in planning law and it is undesirable to start with this one, particularly when, as I have said, it is not necessary.

I turn briefly to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside's, amendment. I must, I am afraid take the lawyer's point to start with, and as he is a noble and learned Lord I am sure that he, at any rate, will forgive me. What his amendment would do would be to require planning authorities to ensure, before granting planning permission for particular developments, that the duties laid on the developers by the 1970 Act had been complied with. The amendment is defective to the extent that it would not be possible for a planning authority to ensure at the stage of granting a planning permission that the developer had complied with the duties imposed by the 1970 Act, because such a conclusion could only be reached once the building had been constructed.

Apart from that, I am informed that it would be contrary to well-established planning practice to seek to have planning decisions enforce other statutory duties that are laid on developers under separate legislation. Having said that, I think that for the same reasons which I gave to the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, much of what the noble and learned Lord seeks to achieve has, in fact, been achieved in Scotland.

There is a further point. I have not had time to consider or to have had considered the matter in detail, but on looking at Section 4 of the 1970 Act, which says: Any person undertaking the provision of any building or premises to which the public are to be admitted…", it seems to me that on one reading that section could be taken as applying—and my noble kinsman voiced this fear—not to new buildings but to buildings which already exist, although I very readily appreciate that there is the proviso at the end of the section that the facilities, conveniences or whatever they happen to be, have to be practicable and reasonable. So it would be up to the authority, when applying its mind to the provisions in this way, to make the objective test. But I dare say that that would not comfort my noble kinsman when he is trying to upgrade his elderly stately home for the provision of access for the public.

My noble friend Lord Chelwood said, in effect: Why not make planning authorities explain why conditions on access for the disabled have not been imposed? I am afraid that this is rather a technical point. This would be a new departure in planning legislation. The provision for the 1970 Act duties to be drawn to the planners' attention would sufficiently complement planning authorities' power to impose appropriate planning conditions.

Your Lordships will see from my remarks—as I said at the beginning of this debate—that all these amendments have their drawbacks. However, I have been very struck by the strength of feeling from every side of your Lordships' Committee, and I think that it would be foolish of me not to reflect this feeling by saying that I shall take this away and have consultations—and they will have to be fairly extensive consultations—and see what I can do on Report. I think that if it is possible—and I cannot make any promises at this time—to agree something, that would probably be very much better than to try to write something into the Bill which perhaps is not agreed.

On that basis I hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson, who is the only proposer of an amendment who has actually moved an amendment, will see fit to withdraw it at this stage, and that possibly the other two movers of amendments will see fit not to move them this evening.

Lord Wilson of Langside

I shall be perfectly willing to withdraw my amendment, subject to this. Will the noble Earl also undertake to consider, perhaps along with his right honourable and learned friend, the circumstance that, of course, in law generally where a duty to take certain precautions is imposed upon someone, and it is said that these precautions should be taken so far as reasonably practicable, the law recognises that if the precaution is not taken the onus is on the person upon whom the duty is normally placed to prove that it was not reasonable and practicable to take it? That is as I understand the law, but I may or may not be right. As I understand it, that was the decision of this House some time in the 1960s in the case of Nimmo v. Alexander Cowan and Company Limited. This seems to be directly relevant to this kind of point. I should have thought that, faced with this problem, the legal adviser would say to his authority that it is for the developer to prove that it is not reasonable and practicable, and that is the law. Would the noble Minister undertake to consider this circumstance along with his right honourable and learned friend when he considers this matter further?

I accept his first point on the planning point because I was conscious of that myself when I drafted the amendment, but his second point still defeats me. I cannot understand why it should be a principle of planning law that you allow development to take place which is contrary to the law. I am completely baffled by this suggestion which he made at the Second Reading debate and which he seems now to repeat. I cannot understand that. Would he undertake to give serious consideration to that, too? I should have preferred Amendment No. 42, and I should have liked to see it moved to a Division tonight, but, subject to that, will the Minister assure me that in his consultations he will have regard to these further points?

The Earl of Mansfield

Certainly I shall consult with friends, honourable, right honourable, noble, and indeed learned.

Lord Wilson of Langside

In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 41 not moved.]

Clause 36 agreed to.

Lady Saltoun had given notice of her intention to move Amendment No. 42: After Clause 36, insert the following new clause:

("Amendment of Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons

Act 1970 in its application to Scotland 1970 c. 44. 1976 c. 49.

.—(1) In its application to Scotland the Chonically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, as amended by the Chonically Sick and Disabled Persons (Amendment) Act 1976, shall have effect as if—

  1. (a) in each of the following subsections:—
    • subsection (1) of section 4.
    • subsection (1) of section 5.
    • subsection (2) of section 6.
    • subsection (1) of section 8, and
    • subsection (1) of section 8A.
    (which relate to the making of provision in certain buildings and premises for the needs of disabled persons) for the words "make provision, in so far as it is in the circumstances both practicable and reasonable" there were substituted the words "make appropriate provision";
  2. (b) at the end of each of those subsections there were inserted the words "unless the prescribed authority, after such inquiry as may be prescribed, is satisfied that in the circumstances it is not practicable to make such provision or not reasonable that such provision should be required";
  3. 124
  4. (c) in section 4, after subsection (2), the following subsection were inserted—

"(3) In this section and in sections 5, 6, 8 and 8A below— appropriate provision" in relation to any case means provision conforming with so much of the British Standards Institution code of practice referred to as BS 5810: 1979 (or of such other code as may be prescribed) as is relevant to that case; and prescribed" means prescribed by the Secretary of State in regulations made by statutory instrument, which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.

(2) This section shall come into operation on such date as the Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument appoint.")

The noble Lady said: I still feel strongly that, although the planning authorities have power to enforce provision for the disabled, they are not in fact doing it. This is a point that matters very much. However, in view of the assurances that the noble Earl has given us that he will look again at these matters before Report stage, I beg leave not to move the amendment.

[Amendment No. 42 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 43 not moved.]

Clauses 37 to 42 agreed to.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Schedule 2 [Relaxation of controls over local and other authorities]:

12.18 a.m.

Lord Dulverton moved Amendment No. 44:

Page 22, line 37, leave out ("In paragraph (b) for the words "Secretary of State" there shall be substituted the words "planning authority";") and insert ("in place of paragraph (b) there shall be inserted the following paragraph:— (b) that if any objections and representations with respect to the order are duly made in accordance with the regulations the planning authority shall cause a local inquiry to be held by a person appointed by the Secretary of State at which any person by whom any such objections or representations have been made and not withdrawn shall be entitled to be heard and sub-sections (3) to (6) of Section 267 of this Act shall apply to an inquiry held under this section as they apply to an inquiry held under that section";").

The noble Lord said: Now Tuesday has become Wednesday the subject matter of our debate is somewhat changed and we are here discussing tree preservation orders. I had hoped that my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy would be here to take the leading part in this matter and to move this amendment in which I would have supported him, but he has unfortunately had to leave the Committee. The object of this amendment is as follows: Tree preservation orders may be imposed by local authorities, and they are normally declared because there is some outstanding feature on the landscape of trees or woodland; generally a fairly small group of trees.

There has in the past been an opportunity in the case of a dispute between the authority declaring, or placing, this tree preservation order and the owner of the trees, to appeal to the nominee of the Secretary of State. As noble Lords will know, if there is a tree preservation order placed on a group of trees you are not allowed to cut them down. That can have two results: a loss to the owner because he wants to realise the timber from the trees, or—and there have been such cases—he realises they are becoming a nuisance or even a danger to his neighbours or the public, and he may object under those circumstances. He has had an opportunity of going to the Secretary of State, spelling out his case and getting an independent judgment. That is being removed by the Bill. Local authorities will be able to declare tree preservation orders and there will be no appeal. They will be in the position of both judge and jury, which surely is not the British way of doing things.

My noble friend Lord Mansfield offered some assurance on Second Reading that things were not as black as they looked. He said there would still be a means of going to the Secretary of State for his final decision. But his remarks—I think I have this right—were related to a somewhat different matter. He was referring to refusal of a felling licence, and that comes later, though it may not come at all if there is a tree preservation order on a woodland or group of trees, because timber merchants are not inclined to risk wasting their time in bidding for timber which they know is under a tree preservation order. So, with respect, I suggest that what my noble friend was offering at that stage would not cover the case I am presenting tonight.

At this late hour I will be as brief as possible. Local authorities are not by any means always well instructed or knowledgeable about matters silvicultural or arboricultural, and I could quote instances which make farmers, landowners, foresters and others anxious about the powers which are being given without appeal to local authorities. I will quote only one, a case where a local authority was interested in the replanting of an area of over 100 acres which was being done under a dedication scheme with the Forestry Commission, and the local authority had a particular interest in the case. When areas of that extent are planted, the trees, perhaps 12 or 18 inches high, are normally planted at 6-foot intervals. There was a request to the land agent of the estate concerned from the local authority to submit a plan of the whole area giving the exact location of each and every tree that was to be planted there. I could give other instances of a less than fulls understanding of silvicultural matters, but I will not do so at this late hour.

Your Lordships' Select Committee on Science and Technology—the sub-committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield—made a recommendation about tree preservation orders which, so far as I know, has not yet been fully considered by the Government. His recommendations and those of the committee were that instead of having tree preservation orders it would be much more positive to have tree management. To some extent that is a bit of a red herring in relation to the amendment I am moving; nevertheless, I shall ask my noble friends on the Front Bench to remember that that recommendation does stand in the report of that Select Committee. I beg to move.

Lord Drumalbyn

I should just like to add one word or two. Two thoughts are involved here. One concerns the normal case of tree preservation orders of an amenity character, although one can vary that because the trees might be for amenity but also available for firewood. These are circumstances in which, to me, it does not seem unreasonable to withdraw the appeal to the Secretary of State. I believe that what my noble friend Lord Dulverton had very much more in mind was the general principle of the forestry application: the production of trees for a useful purpose. It seems to me that there is a possibility that the planning authorities might consider something from the wrong point of view because, as my noble friend has made clear, in cases of that sort the emphasis must be on forest management. To impose tree preservation orders in that type of case would seem to be quite beyong the original purpose of the tree preservation order.

I have in my hand a copy of the debate on forestry which took place recently, and I was very much struck by what the chairman of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, Lord Sherfield, said, namely: I wish to draw your Lordships' attention to two suggestions which have emerged from the committee's deliberations and which have already attracted some favourable notice. The system of tree preservation orders is a negative control which is quite often abused by local authorities".—[Official Report, 23/2/81; col. 899.] I should like to point out that Lord Sherfield took an immense amount of evidence before producing the report and introducing the subsequent debate. He went on to say: The committee suggest that they should be replaced by tree management orders which would be positive in their operation and likely to be much more acceptable to the owners of the woodlands in question". I believe this is an extremely important aspect and I think it is asking too much of local authorities to be absolutely autonomous in the case of forest management. It is not their business and it would be very much better in that case if, at the very least, the appeal to the Secretary of State was maintained. I believe the proposal itself is of great importance, although it is perhaps a little unfortunate that such a short time has elapsed since it was debated. We should have this in mind for the future, and I hope that the Government will give some assurance that a distinction of the kind I have indicated will be borne in mind.

12.30 a.m.

Lady Saltoun

The forestry world is very concerned about TPOs, because, as the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, said, local authorities are not expert foresters and quite often know little or nothing about trees. If the recipient of a TPO can have recourse to the Secretary of State, he will take the advice of the Forestry Commission, if he needs it, and the Forestry Commission should be the ultimate forest authority, because it really does know about trees.

The Duke of Atholl

I, too, should like to support the amendment. So far as I know, I have no interest to declare, because although I have some trees covered by tree preservation orders, I have no complaints about that and I have no desire to cut down any of them. But they can be a nuisance, partly because it seems that once a tree preservation order is imposed on a group of trees it is extremely difficult to remove it. As trees become older they undoubtedly become dangerous, and it is very difficult to show to the appropriate authority, which I imagine heretofore has been the Secretary of State, and is now to be the local planning authority, that the trees have become sufficiently dangerous for it to be essential for the tree preservation order to be removed.

In this way the whole working of tree preservation orders is not very satisfactory. I really abhor the idea that in the future the local planning authority will be able to place tree preservation orders on almost any tree that it wishes, without so much as "by your leave" from anyone else at all.

I have had letters of complaint because we cut down a wood. There were many letters of complaint that the particular hill involved looked remarkably bare afterwards. From looking up our files I found that when the wood was planted at the beginning of this century there were equally many letters of complaint from infuriated inhabitants of the town of Dunkeld that we should have planted that particular hill. People like what is there and do not like change. Tree preservation orders help to sustain what is there, and to that extent in many cases they are a very good thing.

However, I believe that the Forestry Commission should be the body that says which trees should be covered by tree preservation orders. If the planning authorities are to be responsible for the matter, certainly there should be some appeal from their decisions to either the Forestry Commission or the Secretary of State, and I presume that in the latter case the Secretary of State would obtain the advice of the Forestry Commission.

The Earl of Mansfield

There are a number of questions here. Local authorities are currently responsible for unopposed tree preservation orders, and we know of no case in which difficulty has been raised for private timber interests. Opposed orders, which at present require the confirmation of the Secretary of State, are not numerous (in 1980 there were 20 in the whole of Scotland) and I have no reason to believe that placing responsibility for confirmation on the planning authority rather than on the Secretary of State would significantly affect the interests of those who own the trees.

If there were no right of appeal to the Secretary of State against the refusal of a planning authority to grant an application to lop or fell trees, I could well understand that owners would be concerned, but the existing right of appeal is to be retained. The fact that there has been only a handful of appeals confirms the impression that planning authorities exercise their functions responsibly and that tree owners have little or nothing to fear from the proposed changes.

The suggestion is made in the amendment that if planning authorities are given the power to confirm orders, they should be required to hold a local inquiry into objections and representations before doing so and that would place an undue burden on them. Indeed, the burden would be more onerous than that placed at present on the Secretary of State, who generally reaches his decision on the basis of written submissions and a site inspection report.

I should have thought that this was clearly the kind of case which planning authorities are well qualified to judge. I have no evidence to suggest that authorities exercise their functions other than responsibly and, with respect to my noble friends who have made their points, I would say that they have not produced any evidence, either.

The provisions in paragraphs 22 and 23 reflect the Government's policy to relax controls over local authorities where practicable—a policy which I do not believe was altogether accepted by the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, who I am sorry is not any longer in her place. But that is in fact the policy of the Government: to let local matters be dealt with at local level so far as is practicable. Moreover, there is, as I have indicated, the right of appeal to the Secretary of State in any case where an applicant considers that the responsible authority is unreasonably withholding consent to lop or fell.

The point was made by my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn—and, indeed, my noble friend Lord Dulverton also made mention of it—as to the report and recommendations of Lord Sherfield. These recommendations are still being considered, and decisions are something for the longer term and certainly not for this Bill. The point was also made by my noble friend Lord Dulverton that a tree preservation order inhibits a subsequent application for permission to fell, but I must tell him that there is no logical reason why this should be so; and if my noble friend has had an indication, or indeed has evidence, that serious difficulties are likely in this area, then I shall be happy to go into them. But I have to repeat that I know of none at the moment.

Finally, the Forestry Commission, in which the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, at any rate, seemed to have great confidence, has been consulted about these proposed changes, and I have to tell your Lordships that they are content with the proposal for relaxation. All in all, I must say that I should have thought that this fairly modest relaxation of controls was something which was perfectly appropriate and proper for the planning authorities in this particular instance. A careful system of checks and balances, with an appeal to the Secretary of State in the right instance, is retained; and I would hope that on reflection my noble friend would, in the circumstances, withdraw his amendment.

Lord Drumalbyn

May I ask my noble friend a question on one point? He referred to the fact that an appeal would remain. Could he explain that?

The Earl of Mansfield

I have already, twice—on Second Reading and tonight. There is an appeal retained against the refusal by a planning authority to grant an application to lop or fell trees.

Lord Dulverton

I think I quite understand what my noble friend has just said. That is retained; but where a tree preservation order has already been declared, it is much more difficult to get a felling licence. The point I was trying to make is that timber merchants are very unlikely to want to waste time inspecting, measuring and bidding for a parcel of timber which they know is under a tree preservation order, because they know they may never get it in the end. My noble friend also asked whether anybody knew of any instances where tree preservation orders were causing bad inconvenience to people in Scotland; and I am very glad he said that if a case was known he would give it his attention. That is just what we want to retain—the possibility of the Secretary of State or his representative giving such matters their attention.

I would draw to his attention, if it has not already come to his notice, the case of the Rothiemurchus estate in Inverness-shire, which is an outstandingly well-managed estate with a tradition of first-class and very imaginative silviculture and woodland management, and one that has given great regard to matters of public amenity and also to nature conservation. In fact, Colonel Grant of Rothiemurchus was one of the first in nature conservancy. In the main, he has agreements either with the Forestry Commission over part of his woodlands, with the Nature Conservancy Council over other parts or, in some cases, both. Yet the local authority have been intent upon placing a tree preservation order on something like 100 acres of the Rothiemurchus woodlands. I am delighted to hear that my noble friend will possibly have a look at that.

I am not at all happy and I know that the Scottish Landowners' Federation would not be happy and that the timber growers of Scotland would not be happy and I know that the Scottish NFU would not be happy over the reply my noble friend has just given. I wish I could have had some indication from him that he would reconsider the point which we are putting to the Committee rather than to press the amendment; but I am afraid that under the circumstances he has given me no alternative but the latter.

The Earl of Mansfield

My noble friend is being a good deal more hasty than any of these worthy bodies that he lists. They have not, as far as I know, made their disquiet known to the Government although they apparently have done so to him. If he will be content if I say that I will look into it, then I would be reasonably content at this hour of the night; but the Government have not had what I might call a chorus of protest at these provisions. As I have said, the Forestry Commission has given it its blessing; but I will undertake to look at it again.

Lord Dulverton

I am grateful to my noble friend. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 2 agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 45 and 46 not moved.]

Remaining schedules agreed to.

[Amendment No. 47 not moved.]

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment.