§ Mr. MacColl
I beg to move amendment No. 36, in page 16, line 16, after 'for', to insert:', or for any part of the three months beginning with the day following the end of,'.Empty property is exempt from rates in certain circumstances which are outlined in paragraphs (a)-(f) of subsection 3) of the Clause. If they have been unoccupied for three months when the circumstances entitling them to exemption cease, rates immediately become payable. This does not seem to be quite reasonable, because it may be that an owner has been negotiating for some months with the local authority for the sale of the property and if, then, the local authority withdraws from the negotiations the owner will be virtually precluded from attempting to sell the property elsewhere. So we propose that he should have the usual period of three months grace, after which he becomes liable. I will re-read subsection (3) as it will read after amendment:No rates shall be payable under the said section 20 in respect of a hereditament or for any part of the three months beginning with the day following the end of any period during whichand so on.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. MacColl
I beg to move Amendment No. 37, in page 16, line 33, to leave out 'or'.
This arose because we inadvertently accepted an Amendment of the hon. Member for the City of Chester and we left the word "or" in as a sort of memorial to what had been there before. It is redundant.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. Speaker
The House will remember that I divided the next two Amendments, Nos. 38 and 39, at the request of the hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple).
§ Mr. Charles Morrison (Devizes)
I beg to move Amendment No. 38, in page 16, line 42, at the end to insert:(g) the hereditament is subject to a planning condition imposed under the Town and Country Planning Acts, 1947 to 1962, which limits occupation of the hereditament to persons employed in agriculture or forestry or in an industry mainly dependent on agriculture and 524 the hereditament is not required for occupation by any such person.In Committee, an Amendment was moved which, if accepted, would have relieved an owner of the payment of the rates if there were any restriction upon the occupancy of a hereditament. That Amendment was aimed particularly at restrictions imposed by the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947 to 1962. But, as my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) pointed out during the debate on the Amendment, as drawn it would have referred more widely to any restriction, including any restriction other than those contained within those Acts.
I was concerned particularly with cottages and houses built with planning permission given only on the proviso that they would be occupied only by an agricultural or forestry or ancillary worker. Therefore, this Amendment is more narrowly drawn to deal with the Town and Country Planninig Acts alone. As such, I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will make a concession, even though he warned us previously that he was not so disposed.
During the debate in Committee, the Parliamentary Secretary said that two things could be done in a genuine case of hardship—first, the owner of the house or cottage could apply for removal of the condition and, second, if he could establish that there was no market for the house as an agricultural cottage and it could be let, there would be grounds for an application for a reduction of the rating assessment. I agree that an application for removal of the condition could be made if the cottages became permanently surplus to agricultural requirements—if, for example, the district or area were developed and built over.
However, in most cases, there would merely be a lessening of demand for agricultural housing, so what would happen is merely that there would be longer and more frequent periods of disuse. It is unlikely that the planning condition would be removed until it became virtually impossible to get an agricultural worker to occupy the cottage, and, in the meanwhile, the unfortunate owners would pay rates on unoccupied premises.
Equally, where a cottage is occupied from time to time, it is unlikely that an 525 owner could succeed in an application to have a rating assessment reduced. I therefore hope that, now that the Government have had longer to consider this matter, they will be prepared to concede that my Amendment would remove an anomaly which would otherwise bear particularly harshly on many farmers and other owners of agricultural properties.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. MacColl
Although this is a balanced argument it is not a nicely balanced argument, and on balance this is not a desirable Amendment. The hon. Member must remember why the conditions were imposed. An agricultural condition is imposed on a cottage because there is such an urgent agricultural need for the cottage that planning permission is given to the cottage when one would not be allowed except for agricultural purposes. For example, if it is in the green belt the urgency of the agricultural need makes it necessary to depart from the general planning rules and to give permission and therefore attach an agricultural condition to the cottage. It is not a fortuitous encumbrance which has become attached to the cottage.
It is true that if the condition is such that the cottage is not lettable, that is likely to be a ground for getting the rateable value reduced. It may be possible to get the condition removed if circumstances change and there is no longer an agricultural need in the area.
Finally, I put this bluntly to the hon. Member: this is a case where the rating of empty property ought to apply. I have always understood that there is a great shortage of agricultural accommodation in agricultural areas and that one reason why we have to have tied cottages is that there is not enough accommodation. There ought to be an incentive on the owner of a cottage of this kind to let it and not simply to hold on to it in case he may subsequently need it. One of the main points about having empty property rated is that there should be an incentive on the owner to get it occupied. I see no argument in equity why this should not apply as much in the case of this accommodation as in that of other accommodation.
§ Amendment negatived.526
§ Mr. Arthur Jones
I beg to move Amendment No. 39, in page 16, line 42, at the end to insert:(g) the hereditament, being a single hereditament and not part of a larger development involving other hereditaments, is the subject of a planning application for consent to change of user or structural alteration or redevelopment, and until the expiry of three months from the date of the refusal of such consent by the planning authority or by the Minister on appeal (whichever shall be the later);(h) the hereditament, being a single hereditament and not part of a larger development involving other hereditaments, is the subject of a planning application for consent to structural alteration or redevelopment and until the expiry of six months from the completion of the work, in a case in which such planning permission is granted provided that the work on the project has commenced within six months of the grant of planning permission and proceeds to completion with due expedition;but paragraphs (g) and (h) of this subject shall not apply unless the planning application therein referred to has been made within three months of the hereditament first becoming vacant, calculated in accordance with section 20 of this Act.We spent a considerable time in Committee on this subject when we were trying to assess the advantages which would perhaps accrue to people who were requiring a change of use for premises or, as an alternative, a scheme of redevelopment. The purpose of the Amendment is to add to Clause 21, "Supplementary provisisions, exemptions and relief", two paragraphs which it is hoped would alleviate the difficulties where a change of use is involved or a planning consent required. The safeguards are drawn into the effect of the Amendments. Paragraph (h) provides that the work on a project has commenced within six months of the grant of planning permission and proceeds to completion with due expedition, and the wording also draws attention to the fact that these two paragraphs shall not apply unless the planning application referred tohas been made within three months of the hereditament first becoming vacant".The Parliamentary Secretary dealt at some length with some of the objections which he thought there were in the proposal—possibly abuse by the developers and the fact that a developer should be looking for a profit out of his development and this would absorb any rate charge that he would have to meet. It 527 is not always the case that a substantial developer is involved. It might involve a small shopkeeper who wished to retire or to close his business through illness or death, or perhaps a shopkeeper who was hoping to expand his existing premises into adjoining accommodation.
The Parliamentary Secretary also suggested in Committee that a proposal could be made for reducing the valuation. This would be a cumbersome procedure and not entirely satisfactory because one would have to give proof of non-occupation and of the fact that the property could not be reoccupied. The Amendment is drawn with a view not only to meeting the points made in Committee, but also to meeting the Parliamentary Secretary's objections; first, by making it clear that there could be no question of successive planning applications, so that one could not run on one application after another, and, secondly, by restricting the exception to a single hereditament so as to take away the exemption from the big property speculator.
In these terms we hope to have met some of the objections the Parliamentary Secretary expressed. This is an important part of the Bill and the Amendment would provide a useful addition to the text.
§ Mr. MacColl
I fear that I must inform the hon. Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones) that I have three main reasons for not accepting the Amendment, the first part of which provides for exemption until three months after the refusal of planning permission. That could be used to evade liability for more than a year because the owner would merely have to apply for permission to change the use to some objectionable use or to make some unsightly alterations or unsuitable development so to be sure of getting a refusal. It might take two months to get that refusal. He could then appeal to the Minister and obtain an inquiry, which might hold up matters for many months. He would then be exempt for another three months from the date of the refusal.
§ Mr. Arthur Jones
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary is, perhaps, dealing with the point mentioned in the last 528 three lines of the Amendment, where reference is made to the fact that… this subsection shall not apply unless the planning application… has been made within three months of the hereditament first becoming vacant…This would avoid successive applications or a change being made in the type of application to be used in the way the hon. Gentleman suggested.
§ Mr. MacColl
Nevertheless, the sort of delay I described could go on, remembering that it takes a long time to get these matters settled.
The second objection to the Amendment, dealing with the second part of the hon. Gentleman's proposal, is that it would allow for a much more extensive free period than is at present proposed where the alterations have been carried out with planning permission. This free period would cover the time taken to consider the planning application, which might be six months, the period of the works, subject to due expedition—a difficult matter to determine—and a further six months after completion. This is out of all proportion to the periods of three months and six months at present proposed.
My third objection is that there are a number of structural alterations which do not require planning permission and, in those cases, no application for permission would need to be made, although they might be less fundamental in their form and would not get this protection. There is no reason to make this distinction between those two cases and I must, therefore, advise the House not to accept the Amendment.
§ Amendment negatived.