HC Deb 19 July 1961 vol 644 cc1292-6

Lord Amendment: In page 32, line 34, leave out "proposals'" and insert "a proposal".

Mr. Brooke

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

This Amendment, that in line 39, to leave out from beginning to "earlier" and to insert: first-mentioned appeal before all", and in line 52, at the end to insert: (4) Section sixty-six of the Act of 1948 (which places the owner of certain hereditaments in the same position as the occupier for the purposes of Part III of that Act) shall apply for the purposes of this paragraph as it applies for the purposes of that Part of that Act. are all purely drafting Amendments, aimed at greater clarity.

Question put and agreed to. [Special Entry.]

Subsequent Lords Amendments agreed to. [Special Entry.]

Lords Amendment: In page 34, line 21, at end insert: 13.—(1) So much of subsection (2) of section three of the Valuation for Rating Act, 1953. as provides that a hereditament in which the whole, or substantially the whole, of the available accommodation is used for the letting of rooms singly for residential purposes shall for the purposes of that Act be deemed not to be used for the purposes of a private dwelling or private dwellings shall not apply in relation to a hereditament in which the whole, or substantially the whole, of that accommodation consists of dwellings—

  1. (a) which have at any time been approved under section one of the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act, 1958 (dwellings qualifying for exchequer subsidies) or the corresponding provision of any Act of the present Session relating to the giving of financial assistance for the provision of housing accommodation;
  2. (b) which have been provided or improved in accordance with proposals approved under section nine of the said Act of 1958 (contributions for dwellings improved by local authorities); or
  3. (c) in respect of which grants have at any time been paid to a housing association or development corporation under section twelve of the said Act of 1958 (grants for dwellings improved by housing associations or development corporations under arrangements with local authorities) or section thirty of that Act (grants for dwellings improved by persons other than local authorities).

(2) Any reference in the foregoing subparagraph to any provision of the said Act of 1958 includes a reference to the corresponding provision of any enactment repealed by that Act.

(3) An alteration in a valuation list made in pursuance of a proposal made for the purpose of giving effect to sub-paragraph (1) of this paragraph, being an alteration which would by virtue of subsection (1) of section forty-two of the Act of 1948 (alterations retrospective to beginning of current rate period) be deemed to have had effect as from a date before the passing of this Act, shall be deemed to have had effect as from the passing of this Act."

5.45 p.m.

Mr. Brooke

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

This is a matter of some importance, which I should like to explain to the House, although I do not think that there is likely to be any difference of opinion about it on the other side. Hon. Members may know that there are a certain number of blocks of flatlets provided by local authorities or housing associations for old people, and the system in those blocks is that each of the old ladies or old gentlemen has a room, usually a bed- sitting room. There are shared bathrooms and, normally a communal sitting room. There is usually a warden, who has a flat on the premises and who is available to deal with any emergencies that may arise.

A difficulty has been discovered in relation to the rating of these blocks. I do not think that there can be any doubt that, at the time of the passing of the 1953 Act, Parliament did not intend to create a situation where such blocks of flatlets would be rated otherwise than as domestic premises, but the question has arisen whether such a block of flatlets can truthfully be described as being used solely for the purposes of a private dwelling or private dwellings.

The experience that has come to light in different parts of the country is that in some cases these blocks of flatlets are rated as private dwellings but, in other cases, the valuation officers have determined that they do not come within that definition, and should be rated as though they were commercially-owned flatlets. The one thing that is absolutely clear is that they are not commercially-owned flatlets NOT, I think, would anyone in his senses seek to urge that these flatlets, occupied by old people, should be rated as anything but private dwellings.

I feel sure that nobody would desire that they should not have the benefit which private dwellings now have of being rated on their 1939 values rather than on their 1956 values. Nobody would desire that in 1963, when the new valuation lists come into force, these blocks should not receive the benefit of any percentage derating by Order which will apply to private houses and so forth.

There is no doubt, however, that the law at the moment—I will not say that it is ambiguous, but it is certainly capable of different interpretations, and the purpose of this Amendment is to make it perfectly clear that blocks of flatlets of that kind will be treated on the ordinary residential basis, and will have the rating advantage that residential property has.

There is rather lengthy definition in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) in this Amendment, but that long definition is solely designed to achieve the result I have described, and I trust that the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) will not think that the Government have done wrong in securing this change in the law, even at a late stage in the Bill.

Mr. Mitchison

On the contrary, I think that this is one of the good intentions with which the right hon. Gentleman's passage through another place will be paved.

Mr. Graham Page

This is, of course, the third case we have had today of legislation upsetting litigation. I thought that my right hon. Friend might have given us some idea of the difference in figures between the 1939 value and the 20 per cent. decrease on commercial value. I am not sure whether these premises will come out better or worse as a result of this Amendment. Is it better for the property to be valued on the 1939 valuation as a dwelling-house, or is it better that it should be regarded as commercial property, and get the 20 per cent. reduced value?

Mr. Brooke

If I may speak again, I can say that some of the local authorities which own these blocks of flatlets and find that they are being rated on 1956 values less 20 per cent. have laid complaints about it. I do not think that anyone lays a complaint against paying too low rates, so I think that the presumption is that the 1939 values would be advantageous for rating purposes.

Mr. Ronald Bell

I think that my right hon. Friend is wrong in one respect. The other day I appeared professionally for a man who was appealing against his rating assessment on the ground that it was too low. However, I agree with him that that is a rather rare occurrence.

Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

Did the hon. Gentleman win?

Mr. Bell

No, I lost.

I should like to take the opportunity of emphasising that dwelling-houses enjoy about 65 per cent. derating, which compares very handsomely with the 20 per cent. derating which is allowed to commercial premises and the 50 per cent. derating which is allowed to industrial premises. I am, therefore, not surprised that local authorities are seeking this adjustment.

This Clause compares rather strikingly with the new Clause with which we were dealing a few minutes ago concerning advertising sites, where an inequity of precisely this character, namely, that they were in the unique position of not having any mitigation of their rating, was to be allowed to continue until 1963, with the comfort that they could think themselves very fortunate because the inequity would cease in 1963.

I am disposed to ask why my right hon. Friend does not offer local authorities the same joyous prospect that the inequity from which they suffer would cease in 1963. Therefore, they could consider themselves very lucky because, after knocking their head against a stone wall for several years, they would have the pleasant experience of stopping doing so in 1963. It appears to me that he is robbing them of that sensation by this Amendment, and to that extent they will not be grateful to him.

Mr. Ede

The Minister said that these flatlets are the property of local authorities. However, not all such flatlets are vested in local authorities. I am a trustee of a foundation under which the trustees have to run a block of flatlets in the interests of certain beneficiaries. Will they also get the benefits of this Clause, or will their present position exclude them from the need of it?

Mr. Brooke

If I may have leave to speak again, this Amendment applies to the housing associations. The right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) will almost certainly find that the trustees he has in mind have established a housing association for the management of the property.

Mr. Ede

It is a very ancient foundation. It was founded by an archbishop many, many years ago. I am not sure that archbishops after the sixteenth century were well advised about the rating law of the twentieth century.

Question put and agreed to. [Special Entry.]