HC Deb 03 March 1976 vol 906 cc1325-86

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Speaker

Before I call the Minister, I should indicate that I have not selected either of the amendments on the Order Paper.

4.6 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Gordon Oakes)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This is a fairly short Bill with only one purpose, namely, to amend the law concerning the valuation and rating of leisure caravans and caravan sites. It provides that sites and individual caravans with their pitches can in future be valued and rated as one unit. This means that rates will be collected only from the site operator instead of from him and all the individual caravanners as well.

Caravan rating is a subject which has troubled me much during the last year or so. The problem, simply put, is that, for reasons that I shall go into in a moment, many tens of thousands of caravans are now being rated, whereas previously they were not. The difficulties that this has brought are already well known to this House. Over 300 hon. Members from both sides of the House have written to me in recent months about these problems, and I made detailed statements to the House explaining the situation on 25th June, as reported at cols. 155–6 of the Official Report, and 24th July, as reported at cols. 1256–64. In those statements I promised to introduce the legislation at present before us to deal with these problems.

Before I explain the provisions of the Bill, I think I should, for the benefit of those hon. Members who have not so far been involved with this problem, explain briefly just how caravans came to be rated and the difficulties that have arisen.

For rating purposes there are three categories of caravans. The first are permanent residential caravans, which are caravans used as a permanent home. These are separately rated at present and will continue to be separately rated and so are not affected by the provisions of this Bill.

The second category is caravans used for touring. Such caravans will not be permanently sited on any one pitch, and will not, therefore, be rateable and also will not be affected by the provisions of the Bill.

Thirdly, there are leisure caravans. These are caravans permanently sited but which, under the terms of the site licence or planning permission, can be used only for a portion of the year. They may be used only by the caravan owner, or they may be let to other holidaymakers. It is these leisure caravans about which the Bill is concerned.

Prior to 1966 the whole caravan site, including the pitches, was rated as one unit, but individual caravans were not included in this assessment as they were considered as chattels and so were not rateable. This applied both to permanent residential caravans and to leisure caravans. Then in 1966, in the case of Field Place Caravan Park Ltd v. Harding, the Court of Appeal decided that caravans that stayed in one place for a period of time which could be regarded as permanent were separately rateable, together with the pitch on which they stood. This covered both residential and leisure caravans, as whether a caravan is separately rateable or not depends not on how it is used but on whether the occupation is sufficiently permanent to create rateability. The liability of leisure caravans to be rated has also been upheld in the more recent Scottish cases, such as the Redgates Caravan Park case and the Thompson case.

Therefore, following the 1966 case, all static caravans, both permanent residential and leisure, and their pitches were liable for separate rating with the site operator liable for rates for the common parts of the site together with any part of the site let out for the use of touring caravans. However, in England and Wales the Valuation Office in the years following 1966 was involved with more pressing tasks—including preparing for the 1973 general revaluation. There were similar difficulties in Scotland. It was therefore unable to get down to valuing the multitude of caravans immediately. In the 1973 revaluation, however, most permanent residential caravans were dealt with and nearly all now have separate rateable values with their owners paying rates like any other householder.

The task of valuing the quarter of a million leisure caravans was enormous and, naturally, could be undertaken only slowly. About a year ago it became obvious that the disparity of treatment between leisure caravans which had been separately assessed and those which had not could not be allowed to continue much longer. The owners of the caravans which were separately rated were understandably asking why they should be paying rates on their caravans when caravan owners on another site were not. Although all leisure caravans would have been valued eventually, the valuation officers redoubled their efforts last year in order to treat all leisure caravan owners on the same basis.

Now that most leisure caravans have been separately assessed, rating authorities must by law serve a rate demand on the caravan owners—and this is where the problem lies. I do not think I need explain how difficult it is to identify one caravan amongst the many hundreds that may be on a site, let alone trace the owner of that caravan—who may visit the site only occasionally and whose permanent address may be miles away. In some areas the total number of entries in the valuation list for all rateable properties has increased by as much as 20 per cent. because of the separate entries for leisure caravans. In order to collect these rates, many local authorities would certainly have to increase their staff if leisure caravans continued to be separately assessed.

The Bill resolves this by allowing valuation officers to value as one unit a caravan site together with any leisure caravans and their pitches at present separately rateable. Thus, there will be only one rate demand to the site operator, who will be able to recoup the cost of this additional overhead through the rent charged for the pitch, commonly known as the site charge.

A side effect of the Bill which will be of considerable interest to caravan owners is that the total rateable value of the combined caravans and site will be less than if they were valued separately. In other words, the owners of leisure caravans will in most cases be paying less than if their caravans were to continue to be separately rated.

What of the Bill itself? It consists of six clauses and covers the whole of Great Britain. Two clauses relate solely to England and Wales, and two to Scotland. This is not simply because we are anticipating devolution in any way. Scotland's rating law is very different from the English and Welsh law, and whilst the problems are the same they had to be tackled in a slightly different way.

I shall not take the House through each clause. We shall have the opportunity to examine the measure in detail in Committee. But it might be helpful if I explain in general terms how the Bill seeks to achieve its object, and the main points.

Clause 1(1) enables the valuation officer to assess as a single unit—"hereditament" is the term used in England and Wales; I understand that a different phrase is used in Scotland—a caravan site, the pitches and the caravans on them which are already separately assessed. When this is done the site operator will be the rateable occupier.

There are two important points in Clause 1 to which I should draw attention. Clause 1(4) enables this new hereditament to be regarded as a "mixed hereditament" for the purposes of domestic rate relief. This, combined with the lower total of rateable value for the new hereditament, will generally result in a lower total of rates paid—in many cases up to 20 per cent. less—than would otherwise be the case.

The other important provision in this clause is subsection (7), which enables the owner of a caravan—other than the site operator—to make a proposal for his caravan to be separately assessed. This is to ensure that if, for some exceptional reason, the caravanner would be liable to pay less rates if his caravan were separately assessed than if he had to pay his proportion of the rates on the new combined hereditament, he will not be worse off as a result of the Bill. Clause 1 relates to England and Wales only. These two points are dealt with slightly differently in the Scottish clause, Clause 3.

Clause 1(8) ensures that the provision in the clause will apply to drainage rates as well as general rates.

Clause 1(9) ensures that if the Bill receives Royal Assent before 1st April—which I hope it will—it will do nothing to change the situation in the current rating year. The collection of rates from individual caravanners must remain for this year. Many caravanners have already paid their rates and it would be unfair to them to change the system now. It would also create immense problems for local authorities, valuation officers and site operators.

May I also draw the attention of the House to Clause 2? This provides for the site operator to display information which will indicate to the owners of each caravan included in the single assessment the average rate liability for each caravan. This will enable caravanners to judge roughly whether or not the addition that the site operator makes to the site charge on account of rates is justified by the additional rate burden he has to bear. This was an amendment introduced by the Government when the Bill was considered in another place. Everyone there agreed that caravanners needed some such information.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe)

On that point, will the Minister confirm that the Bill imposes no obligation on a site owner to indicate to individual caravan owners how he has divided up the total rateable value where there are discrepancies in the age and size of the different caravans? In the event of disputes arising out of that, does the Minister contemplate that the Bill will provide any remedy for the caravan owner, other than being separately rated under Clause 1(7)?

Mr. Oakes

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that matter, to which we can give more attention in Committee. In general, however, the position is that it may not necessarily follow that a site operator will strictly arithmetically apply the average to each caravan, because when he is letting his various plots he considers whether a caravan is near to the water supply, whether it is too near to the toilets or too far away from them, the size of the caravan and so on. He will exercise his judgment, we hope, under the provisions of the Bill.

Therefore, the Government's view at present—although we shall listen to hon. Members in Committee—is that we should not put the burden on the site operator in deciding what formula he uses for different rating of different parts of his site and different caravans. However, the notice is useful so that the caravanner knows what the general rates of that part of the site are and can then do a rough arithmetical calculation. If he thinks that he is being unjustly dealt with in any way, it will be a matter for discussion between him and the site owner. It ought not, I think, to be put on a specific site notice. I am very concerned with the wording of notices. We can consider this matter in Committee. The last thing that I want is for the wording of a notice to be like that of many statutory provisions which are meaningless to many Members of Parliament, let alone caravanners.

Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)

Will the Minister answer two questions? The first relates to the four-month period under Clause 2(3). The hon. Gentleman will be aware that many sites are closed for six months of the year, so that a four-month notice put up during a period when a site was closed would be a useless remedy for the caravan owner. My second question is whether caravan owners will be entitled to pay rates by instalments as under the present rating Acts.

Mr. Oakes

The hon. Gentleman's first point is very valid, because many sites are closed for a six-month period. It would be useless for the notice to be up for four months when the site was closed. That is a matter we can consider in Committee. The second point raised by the hon. Gentleman—whether the rates may be paid by instalments—will be dealt with in the winding-up speech. I should think that that would be allowable. Although the total amount of rates on a caravan would in normal circumstances be far less than the rates to be paid on an ordinary house or hereditament which a person occupied all the year round, this is a matter that we can look at in Committee.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is a three-hour debate. We are to have four Front Bench speeches, and at least 10 hon. Members wish to speak. Interruptions will only cut them out.

Mr. Oakes

I am grateful, Mr. Speaker. Hopefully, hon. Members will be able to catch your eye during the debate. I shall proceed now in order to allow other hon. Members to speak in the debate.

In commending the Bill to the House, I might point out that when the Local Government (Scotland) Bill was being considered in another place last Session the Opposition moved a new clause designed to do broadly the very thing which this Bill seeks to do. Examination of the clause revealed certain defects and it was, by leave, withdrawn. However, the debate on it was useful because it showed the pitfalls we had to avoid, and I hope that in this Bill we have done so.

The Bill is important because it will ensure that caravanners should, in general, be paying less in total next year than they would have been paying if they continued to pay rent and separate rates. It will also prevent a significant increase in local authority expenditure in certain holiday areas which would certainly have arisen if leisure caravans continued to be separately rated.

It has been suggested that the provisions of the Bill are unique in rating law in that site operators will become liable for rates on caravans which they neither own nor occupy. In theory that is true, but in practice the site operator is in a position similar to that of a landlord of tenanted property in that, although he does not own the caravans, he has control over their siting and usually over the terms and conditions under which they are used.

It has also been said that the separate assessment should continue but that site operators should be made responsible for collecting the rates on individual caravans and should be given an allowance for doing so. I admit that this is an alternative which I have considered carefully. However, I have decided that, although that would have relieved rating authorities of many of their problems, it would not have made things easier for valuation officers. They would still have to identify the individual caravan owners, assess the caravans and serve the notices.

Finally, many caravan owners—for all I know, the hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) is one—feel that we should return to the situation in which caravans were not rateable at all. Although I understand and appreciate the dismay of caravanners who find themselves with a new status of caravanning ratepayers, such a move would, in my view, be unfair and difficult to operate. It would throw an even greater burden on the other ratepayers in areas where there are large numbers of leisure caravans.

We have done what we can to help all ratepayers by increasing the rate support grant to unprecedented levels this year to keep rates at a reasonable level. I believe that owners of leisure caravans are in a similar situation to the owners of other second homes and should, like them, make a proper contribution to the expenses of the local authority in whose area their caravans are situated.

Another difficulty is that in the pre-1966 situation all caravans, whether mobile homes or leisure caravans, were not rated because a caravan was not regarded as an hereditament. Certainly great difficulty would result in trying to turn the clock back to the pre-1966 situation because of the question of what is or is not a permanent home, and so on.

In summary, the net result of this measure is that the cost of collecting rates will be reduced, to the benefit of local authorities and ratepayers. Anything which does that must be a good thing and welcome to both sides of the House. I commend this small but useful Bill to the House.

4.24 p.m.

Mr. Michael Morris (Northampton, South)

The noble Baroness Birk, in another place, on Third Reading said: This was a more complicated Bill than appeared at first sight."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 10th February 1976; Vol. 368, c. 63.] The complications remain largely unresolved, despite the best efforts of their Lordships. That is in no way a criticism of their Lordships. It reflects two factors. First, it reflects on the fact that the Government have introduced the Bill late—not late in the Session, because we are not very far on—in relation to the rating year itself. Secondly, it reflects that, in their wisdom, their Lordships were allowed only a limited time to go through the Bill. In fact, the whole process was over and done with in just 26 days.

The problem with the Bill is the nature of the web that we have before us and how the Government seek to unravel it. Prior to 1966 most matters in this area were fairly serene and straightforward on the old global site basis. Confusion No. 1 came along in 1966 with the case of Field Place Caravan Sites v. Harding, which was mentioned earlier. That was 10 years ago. On top of that, as the Minister said, there was the gigantic preparation for the 1973 revaluation, and then some additional case law in 1974 in Scotland.

The majority of permanent and leisure caravan owners accept that they must pay rates. There is the natural reaction that they do not want to pay rates, but they accept that they are morally bound to do so.

The problem is that there are about 90,000 outstanding objections to individual assessments. That is 90,000 out of the 250,000 referred to by the Minister. That, by any yardstick, is a sizeable percentage. I understand that there have been settlements in the Isle of Wight and Cornwall. But, equally, I understand from those involved in these matters that even today more objections are coming in from individual sites. I understand that 90,000 may indeed be a modest estimate and that the figure may top 100,000.

We understand from what the local authorities and the Government have said that they cannot possibly economically cope with sending out thousands of demands to people, some of whom are known. Some may live in distant areas and others may not be traceable at all. Therefore, the Government have brought forward the Bill to cope with this mess—I think that the Under-Secretary will accept that it is a mess—and to return to the global system, but on a new basis.

The Opposition understand the problem. We know that some action must be taken to resolve what appears to be a great number of problem areas. We shall seek reassurances on these problems from the Minister in his winding-up speech. I suspect that there will be a larger number of amendments in Com- mittee than was expected when the Bill was originally published.

The first problem we see is that the principle of the Bill is questionable—the Minister alluded to this matter—because, for the first time, it makes a rateable person pay rates on something which is not in his occupation. I refer specifically to the site operator who will be responsible for someone else's property with no attendant advantages to him and, I understand, no means of redress if he is unable to recover other than through the civil court. I should be grateful for clarification on that point.

Why could not the whole matter be left under Section 55 of the General Rate Act 1967 where the site owner would pay his own rates and collect the others instead of under Section 24 where he is to be responsible for the whole?

The question of timing is unfortunate on a number of counts. Their Lordships were given a relatively short time in which to consider the Bill, and 10 years have elapsed since the case to which reference has already been made. One would have thought that, as the years have gone by, the Government would have carried out extensive consultations with those involved in this industry on this rather knotty problem. I understand from my conversations with the organisations representing site owners that there were no extensive consultations prior to the drawing up of the Bill.

I think it is true to say that, if there had been some consultations in depth, the Government would have known from an early date that a normal site operator sends out his rental demand some time in December-January, at the beginning of the year, for the coming season. Yet here we are, at the beginning of March, with a Bill that might just become law before the new rate year starts. The site operator this year—and, as far as I can see, in every year thereafter—will have to send out a separate rate demand, and the Minister will, I am sure, accept that anybody trying to guess the level of rate demand in the last few years would have been in some difficulty.

There might be some satisfaction for hon. Members, and for the caravan site owners, if we could believe that the whole problem will sort itself out over time, but the worrying dimension is that overhanging everything is the Report we are expecting from the Layfield Committee. The Minister has suggested that it will be any day now. I am convinced that it will not be until the district elections, but we shall see. That may well open up the whole question once again. We must, therefore, ask why we are rushing ahead at this point. If the Government say—this may well be their reaction—that this is the way out at this point of time, my comment is that there are a number of problem areas on which we should like reassurance either this afternoon or in Committee.

If, as we understand, the site owners are to be statutorily responsible, what safeguards are there for bad debts? The Government have said, as I understand, that there will be safeguards, but none is as yet written into the Bill. Indeed, the only addition written into the Bill in that area is that, as the Minister has mentioned, mere is to be a fine of £50 if the site owner does not put up an adequate notice.

I was grateful to the Minister for the reassurance that the Act will not be retrospective. This is a very important point, and has been of great concern to the site owners. There is, however, no common form of collection of back rates being undertaken in the country at the moment. In a number of areas the rating demands go back to 1973, and certain borough treasurers and district treasurers are taking the view that they will write them off. Others are saying that they will collect them from anybody left on the site. Others again are sitting on the fence because they do not know which way to turn. Therefore mere is a need for some guidance to local authorities on how they should view the collection of these bad debts.

As the Government are in this case using the site owners as collecting agents, there has been considerable discussion and comment in the other place about whether the site owners will be paid a commission. The figure of 15 per cent. has been mentioned. Indeed, 15 per cent. is calculated to do no more than recover costs. A number of local agreements have been reached at the 15 per cent. level. I shall be grateful for confirmation that this is the Government's recommendation.

Concerning the vexed question of the water authorities, I understand that a number of them are anxious to go over to direct billing. The question is how this will affect the site owners. Does this mean that they will get one rate demand from the local authority, and a few weeks later, or earlier, a separate one from the water authority? As I understand that the majority of sites have metered water supplies, I wonder whether we need to change that at all, and whether we could not have a separate clause enabling water consumption to continue to be dealt with on a metered basis.

While on the subject of statutory authorities, I emphasise that many site and caravan owners have had battles royal, as the Minister knows, for many months and years in trying to get a proper refuse service and a number of other local services. I hope that when the Minister sends out his circular—presumably when this measure becomes law—he will make it clear to local authorities that caravanners are now equal to householders, and that this fact must be acknowledged wholeheartedly. I hope it will be made clear that it applies to the electricity boards as well.

The Bill speaks of substantial savings. The Minister mentioned the savings there would be compared with the old system. We are all keen on savings, and it would help the House, in coming to a decision on this matter, to have some idea of the scale of these savings and what sort of monitor there would be to ensure that they take place in the areas in which extra staff has been taken on in the past years.

I mentioned earlier the 90,000 outstanding bills. The House would welcome some information from the Government on what exactly is the current situation, and when the Government think that these matters will be resolved. These are all important problem areas that we shall want to examine later, but they pale before three other aspects that concern us.

First, what will happen to the scheme if large numbers of individual owners opt for separate assessment, as they have a right to do under the Bill? As I read the Bill, many may opt for this course because they cannot, under Clause 1(5), individually object to the overall assessment. Moreover, a number of them may substantially alter their own caravans or their own pitches. As in any case they may see some advantage financially in paying by 10 instalments—a matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke)—they may very much prefer to opt for that course rather than having to pay in January to the site operator.

Although I accept that the level of rate may be relatively small, it should be borne in mind that many caravan owners are older people. As I understand, there will be no rate rebate, therefore this may be a larger item in their budget than it would normally be. If they opt for the separate assessment, what safeguard is there to ensure that the mixed hereditament status will continue for those who remain on the site? There is a real risk of some site owners finding that they are out of balance between the domestic and commercial elements, so that they will become fully commercially rated.

A second matter of major significance is the concern of the site operator as to how he divides up his rate demand among the owners of pitches. If he has 100 pitches—this is not uncommon—there will be no simple mathematical division, because the pitches vary in size and position. Some are on the edge of a cliff and some are hidden away at the back of the site. The caravans themselves vary immensely in terms of size and facilities. They are quite often changed within a site. There is constant movement on a caravan site. The ownerships themselves are constantly changing. The owners live all over the country, and some live abroad.

Thirdly, concerning Scotland, I am told that the 626 sites were successfully rated individually three years ago, and that the existing scheme is working smoothly. It seems to be a great pity, just for the sake of conformity, to upset Scotland once again and I wonder whether the Government would not be better advised to leave Scotland out altogether, particularly as the change will be delayed in any case.

I regretfully have to give the Bill a lukewarm reception. I re-emphasise that we understand the problem and the need for action, but I ask the Government to weigh carefully what they are doing. It is no exaggeration to say that for many years caravanners have been hounded by local authorities and other parties. More recently they were hit by the Chancellor of the Exchequer with his 25 per cent. VAT. Now, without any consultation—this is in itself a worrying aspect—this administrative burden is to be placed on site operators. What used to be a simple, healthy enjoyment, either at the seaside or at an aquadrome—such as I have just outside my constituency—for ordinary people may now become, unless we are very careful, a rather expensive and burdensome way of spending holidays and weekends.

I stress, however, that if on balance, after all the Government's research, they believe that this legislaton is necessary to solve the problem, we shall not resist it at this stage. But I must make it clear on behalf of the Opposition that we believe that the Bill is late, that there has not been proper consultation and that it has not been thought through properly. That suggests to me that there is work to be done in the Committee. But, however much we improve the Bill in Committee, I fear that it will rebound on the Government. As the Government know, caravans are extremely mobile—they are, after all, mobile homes—and it is their very mobility which I suspect may cause the Government some considerable embarrassment in the year ahead.

4.40 p.m.

Dr. Edmund Marshall (Goole)

The hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) raised one matter in the course of his speech with which I readily agree when he said that this was a much more complicated issue than it appeared to be at first sight. This was brought to my attention very quickly in the last Session of Parliament when I introduced a Private Member's Bill the general aim of which was in line with the purpose of the Bill which is before us today. Although for many of the correspondents who contacted me the issue was extremely simple, when I looked at the legal position and at the possibility of drafting a Bill to express in legal terms what my correspondens wished to be done the situation became much more complicated.

As I say, however, because the Government have brought in this Bill broadly reflecting the aspirations of my own Bill in the last Session, I give it a very warm welcome, in contradistinction to the lukewarm response which came from the hon. Member for Northampton, South. It is only right to say that it is the present Government who are attempting to put the problem right. I recall that in many of the letters which I received last year the opinion was expressed that, somehow, the whole problem in respect of caravan rating during the past year had arisen because of the deliberate policy of the Labour Government and that somehow the Labour Party was opposed to caravan owners. It needs to be shouted aloud that it is a Labour Government who are now doing what they can through this Bill to put the situation right. The Bill is very necessary, and I hope that it will have speedy progress through the House.

The main point of concern about the Bill which remains in my mind is the discretion which is left to valuation officers. Clause 1(1) enables the valuation officer, if he thinks fit, to treat all or any of the pitches on a caravan site as a single hereditament. In other words, we are introducing a permissive power which, therefore, will give the local valuation officer complete discretion in this matter. I am worried that that discretion may not be exercised by some district valuers and that the very problem which we are trying to tackle may continue in some counties and metropolitan districts where district valuers use their discretion not to take action along the lines of the Bill. If that happens, it will lead to an even greater outcry than we have had in the past year, because many people will feel that Parliament has expressed its wish on the matter but that district valuers in the new situation are not following it through.

If this discretion were left to district valuers, we could have a situation of disparity arising between one county and another. On some caravan sites we would be reverting to the situation of the whole site being treated as a single hereditament, whereas in other counties, perhaps quite close by, we would still have the situation that caravan owners were rated individually.

Mr. Oakes

The policy of the Valuation Office will be as outlined in the Bill. That will be the general policy. The discretion is not left to the individual district valuer in the way my hon. Friend suggests. It is left because of the situation which may rise where the majority of the owners of caravans on a site opt for separate assessment. It is hard to believe that that would happen, but it could happen. In those circumstances the district valuer could exercise his discretion not to implement Clause 1.

Dr. Marshall

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for saying that in this debate, but I remain worried that the wording of the Bill, as it may become law, will still leave widespread discretion to district valuers. However, I accept that this is a point which is better pursued in Committee rather than here. But it is the one dark cloud that I see in the Bill.

The other matters which I wish to raise relate to how the Bill, when it is enacted, will be implemented. I note that Clause 1(9) says that that section will not come into force before 1st April 1976. Therefore, I assume that it is the Government's general intention that the situation which has arisen this year, 1975–76, has to be sorted out according to the legislation already on the statute book. The problem will, however, arise in respect of those rate proposals for caravan sites which are still the subject of appeal to the rating tribunals or even to the Lands Tribunal. I do not know the exact number of these but it is certainly very large, as the hon. Member for Northampton, South said, and a great many of these appeals will not be settled before 1st April. If they are still undecided and the individual ratepayers have not paid their rates for 1975–76, I think we will face the curious situation of having a Bill coming on to the statute book which is without any retrospective power but which applies to situations which still have to be resolved.

Looking ahead into the next rating year, 1976–77, a great deal will depend on how quickly the offices of district valuers are able to reassess all these caravan sites. As I understand what my hon. Friend said, it will not be necessary for a new assessment to be made in respect of each of these sites. He told us that the total amount of rates to be payable on a site will be as great as in the current year. If we have to have all these reassessments, it could be well into 1976–77 before proposals are made, by which time, in the normal course of events, local authorities will have had to send out all their individual rate demands to caravan owners, in the same way as they did last year. Again I fear that hon. Members will be deluged with letters, as they were last year, when individual rate demands are reaching caravans during April, May and June.

Therefore, it seems to me that special direction has to be given, on the assumption that the Bill becomes law even before 1st April, to enable the general policy behind it to be put into effect as rapidly as possible. This is extremely important, otherwise individual caravan owners will feel that Parliament has spoken but that local offices of district valuers have taken little immediate notice of it.

With the one note of anxiety that I have expressed I welcome the general principle of the Bill warmly, and I hope that the principles and policies behind it can be put into effect as soon as possible.

4.51 p.m.

Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)

I begin by commenting how nice it is to have our weekly trip on the boards with the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment. In the last two weeks it was on the Community Land Act, and next week, I gather, it is to be the Development Land Tax Bill.

The hon. Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) gave what he described as a warm welcome to the Bill, but that welcome became progressively less warm as he went on. I cannot say that I support him in viewing the Bill as a help to caravanners. It is of no help to them, although it is of help to the local authorities.

No subject other than abortion and, possibly, live hare coursing has produced more letters to me from my constituents than the assessments for rating which they have received on holiday caravans. Caravan holidays on the Lincolnshire and Norfolk coasts are a traditional form of recreation for Leicestershire people, who, in large numbers, leave caravans there throughout the year. In most cases they are only permitted to go on the site at all between April and October, and this has been an added cause of resentment when receiving new rate demands.

As I made clear in my reasoned amendment—which has quite properly not been selected—I oppose the Bill. I accept that valuation officers had to do something after the Field Place judgment and that the procedure by which site owners are assessed is better than the administrative nightmare which would arise if local authorities served demands on 220,000 individual holiday caravan owners, most of whom by definition do not live in the area. The Director of Finance of the East Lindsey District Council in Lincolnshire told me in a letter last April that individual assessment would add 50 per cent. to the work load of one section of his department. Clearly, that would be nonsense.

I believe that the Government should have gone a lot further. In moving the Second Reading of the Bill in another place, Baroness Birk said: It has been suggested that in addition to making it easier for the local authorities to collect rates, we should return to the situation in which caravans were not rateable, and rates were payable only on the site and the pitches."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 15th January 1976; Vol. 367, c. 304.] That view—not that the noble Lady agreed with it—represents mine exactly.

I have three main reasons for opposing the Bill. The first two are logical and the third is emotional but none the worse for that. First, I think that "turning the clock back", as the noble Lady described my view—and the Under-Secretary agreed with her in his helpful speech—would be a logical step to take in advance of the Layfield Report. I wrote to, and then saw, Mr. Layfield about this matter last summer. I want to place on record that he received me most courteously and constructively but made it clear that the time scale for his inquiry did not permit his Committee to examine this matter properly. He therefore wrote to the Under-Secretary of State suggesting that the Department of the Environment should consider it instead.

Unfortunately, while the hon. Gentleman agreed, in a letter from his private secretary to Mr. Layfield on 18th August, that this was a pressing problem which needs examination now", the Government's response has been a measure tailored solely to the administrative convenience of local authorities rather than to the interests of caravanners. If there is legislative time to alter the basis of collecton, there would have been time also to have passed a Bill, as I urged the Minister to do in correspondence last summer, to overturn the Field Place judgment, which may in any case be rendered obsolete if the Layfield Report advocates a completely different system of local authority finance.

My second reason for opposition concerns what I believe to be the illogicality of the Bill. The Under-Secretary of State told me in a letter last July that he believed that case law had evolved in the right way. In that letter—he sent a similar letter to many hon. Members—he compared holiday caravans with weekend cottages, which are already rateable. That argument is capable of indefinite extension.

A chartered surveyor constituent of mine, who knows his rating law, asked me, in a letter which I sent to Mr. Layfield: Why not assess the caravan parked almost permanently in a lay-by near the residence of its owner? Why not his boat, or indeed if he and his family park a number of cars"— for example, in their garden— why not clobber the lot rate-wise? Indeed, if potentially mobile chattels are to be rated purely because the custom and practice of holidaymakers decrees that they tend to be left on the site rather than taken home each weekend, we shall have Dormobiles or tents rated next.

The Under-Secretary of State told the House on 24th July, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate): … the fact that caravans are indeed second homes is indisputable."—[Official Report, 24th July 1975; Vol. 896, c. 1260.] Well, I do dispute it. What is the logic in saying that a mobile object becomes a second home if it sits on a caravan site—even if it is required to be left empty on that site for six months of the year—but it is not a second home if it is driven home at the back of the car each weekend and sits in the owner's front garden? Such fine distinctions in law, which bear no relationship to what actually happens in everyday life, serve only to bring it into disrepute.

My third reason is, frankly, emotional. I hope no one will think that caravanners are a lot of rich people pulling around luxury objects which are the mobile equivalents of holidays in a grand hotel. Many of my correspondents are old-age pensioners, one of whom was so frightened by the assessment notice from the district valuer that she thought she had to send a cheque for the amount of £80-odd, until I pointed out to her at my surgery that the actual bill from the local authority would be far less—unless the rate poundage was £1 in the pound.

I give some other examples from my constituency. One lady from Barrow-on-Soar writes: Please, Sir, do your best for us as most of us are OAPs and it is the only holiday we can afford in these very expensive times. A lady from Sileby writes: We know if the Bill is carried through many of us will have to forgo the pleasure we have experienced in getting away at weekends. Another lady, from Thurmaston, writes: We have saved hard to buy our van so that we can have odd weekends away and our summer holiday. But it look as if we shall have to give it up. But who on earth will buy it? I implore the Government to think of those people, many of them elderly and of extremely modest means, who have worked hard all their lives and saved for a little bit of pleasure and who are already faced with the serious burden of heavy increases in the rates on their own homes and now the crushing burden of another £20 or £30 a year to pay for a holiday which is so precious to them.

Finally there is a point of detail. It concerns the method of assessment by valuation officers. Of the approximately 220,000 caravan owners, about 95,000 have lodged appeals. As of 13th October and again as of 28th November 1975, Treasury Ministers told me in Written Answers that no appeals had yet been heard. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton South (Mr. Morris) said that some had been heard since then, and I would like to have the situation clarified.

One important ground for appeal is that the valuation officer did not necessarily inspect the caravan at all inside. A constituent from Thurmaston has told me that she wrote to the King's Lynn valuation officer asking for a reassessment in her presence but received the reply that pressure of work forbade this. She wrote: I cannot see how they can assess a van just by a tape measure on the outside. Some vans have two bedrooms, others have none. I have recently met some friends who now live in a residential van with mains water and electricity laid on, and their rates for a full year are only £24.88. Yet, my holiday van is £51 rateable value. I accept that the lady may well be confusing rateable value in one case with rates payable in another. Nevertheless, if one assumes an average rate in the pound of 50p, disparities of that kind between residential and holiday caravans obviously need explanation.

Let us consider what was the basis of the assessment in practice. Was it so much per square foot? I am not interested in the theoretical formula because we know, under the rating Acts, what it should be. But how was it actually done? I hope that when the Minister replies to the debate he will give us some guidance.

I appreciate that my opposition in principle to the Bill will probably be in a minority. However, I ask the Minister to consider this cry from the heart of a constituent of mine in Birstall: The majority of us only spend three weeks spread over the season by annual holidays from work, and three to four odd weekends. So, the average time spent by the owners in their caravans is four weeks a year. I think that the valuation proposal for my touring caravan of £50 and for the larger vans of £80 is preposterous and downright robbery. In desperation I implore you to fight this matter in the House of Commons. I agree with my constituent, and that is why I shall oppose the Bill today.

5.3 p.m.

Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)

I shall not follow the remarks of the hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham), especially those towards the end of his speech, when he quoted the view of a particular constituent. All hon. Members, if they so wished, could make reference to similar cases and make the same emotional plea on behalf of their constituents. Although I undoubtedly have sympathy with the owners of holiday caravans, I believe that the Bill should be viewed in a broader perspective than by just concentrating on particular constituents' problems.

I assure my hon. Friend the Minister that I give the Bill a cautious welcome. I echo the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) who I think gave it a lukewarm reception. [Interruption.] Perhaps he missed out the word "lukewarm". The Bill will undoubtedly bring relief to those district councils which have an abundance of caravans. My hon. Friend made reference to an increase of about 250,000 in single hereditaments. That would present severe administrative difficulties if it were spread throughout the country. However, as we all know, these difficulties are localised in particular parts of the country. Undoubtedly they would have led to immense administrative difficulties and increased financial expenditure if the Bill had not been brought forward.

I agree with the general feeling that the Bill will bring little or no relief to those who own holiday caravans. Later I shall put forward the argument that the Field Place Caravans Park case, which has been referred to so often in the debate, does not apply to holiday caravans.

The history of the problem has been outlined, but hon. Members seem to have gone back as far as 1966 and tried to indicate that something very mysterious had occurred since then. That is not so. Prior to 1966 it had been for the convenience of the Inland Revenue that rates had been charged on caravan sites and pitches. However, there is well documented case law prior to 1966 that indicates only too clearly that, under certain circumstances, chattels may well be levied for rates.

I bring to the attention of the House the decision in the case of London County Council v. Wilkins in 1956, in which it was stated quite clearly that A structure placed on another person's land can with it form a rateable hereditament even though the structure remains in law a chattel and as such the property of the person who placed it there. Therefore, the 1966 case had good legal precedent. That is not to say that I necessarily sympathise with the Field Place Caravans Park judgment, but it does indicate that the history of this matter precedes July 1966.

I should point out that the caravans involved in the 1966 judgment were of a permanent nature, were connected to electricity, and linked to a soak-away system. What is more important, the occupiers were clearly in control of their caravans, which, to all intents and purposes, were little different from ordinary dwelling-houses. Indeed, the precedent upon which the valuation officer proceeded to value holiday caravans was that of permanent caravans which were, in effect, little different from permanent private dwellings.

As a consequence of the valuation officer's decision, which began to come into effect after the 1973 revaluation, not unnaturally, as has been said on many occasions, there were outcries from two sources. The first was from the owners of holiday caravans, who found themselves faced with not only a site charge but a bill for rates, which they had never received before, because previously it had been absorbed into the general site fee. However, the rates that they were being charged were greatly in excess of anything they had previously experienced. Not unnaturally, there was an outcry from these people. Moreover, there was an outcry from the treasuries of those district councils who had to collect the rates on the new single hereditaments.

As we all know, this matter has given rise to serious administrative problems. We—especially Opposition Members, who constantly berate the Government to control not only central Government expenditure but local government expenditure—should not underestimate the increased costs that the local authorities would face.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Which they have faced.

Mr. Marshall

Yes, and will continue to face unless the Bill becomes law, which we hope will be by 1st April this year, at the latest. I emphasise that the treasuries of these district councils have faced—we hope that they will not face them after 1st April 1976—immense administrative problems. They have had to contact people throughout the country and, as the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) has said, in some cases they have tried to contact people living outside the country. They have had to send out rate demand notes and follow them up to ensure that people pay. If they do not pay they have to know the reason why they have not done so. All this requires additional financial expenditure and, in some cases, additional staff.

Reference has been made to the East Lindsey District Council. The hon. Member for Melton said that it would experience an increase in hereditaments of some 50 per cent.

Mr. Michael Latham

I must correct the hon. Gentleman, because he has made a mistake. I said that the East Lindsey District Council registrar said that if the system was not changed there would be a 50 per cent. increase in the work load of some sections of his department.

Mr. Marshall

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. However, it so happens that the increase in hereditaments is also about 50 per cent. Therefore, he will understand the reason why I misunderstood the point he made. However, East Lindsey's hereditaments would have increased from 47,000 to 68,000, which represents a huge increase not only in hereditaments but in the consequential work load on an already hard-worked and, no doubt, harassed financial staff.

There are two financial aspects that could lead to a local authority's facing a reduction in total income. One could foresee a situation in which, although the total rateable value available to the local authority had increased, its total rate income decreased. If that occurred there could be a reduction in the resources element of the rate support grant. The resources element is calculated on the deficiency of rateable value per head of population below the national average. That could have occurred in a number of district council areas in which total income would have been reduced as a consequence of the continuation of the present system.

Fortunately the Government appear to have decided to change the system. The valuation officer can decide to exercise his discretion. In what circumstances would the valuation officer exercise his discretion to rate the site as a single hereditament rather than on the sum of the individual pitches and caravans on those pitches? A great deal will depend on how often and in what circumstances the valuation officer exercised his discretion.

Earlier I referred to the fact that little relief would be going to those owning holiday caravans. Many of my constituents have complained to me about their rate bills this year. The Bill will offer them little financial relief, but it will enable them to obtain about half the domestic relief, since the site will be classified as a mixed hereditament.

There is one question that I hope my hon. Friend the Minister will try to answer. Under the Bill a site will be classed as a single hereditament if the valuation officer exercises his discretion so to rate it. But we are also told in the Bill that each caravan owner will have the right to ask for a separate and individual assessment. How are those two factors reconciled? If the individual caravan owner asks for a separate assessment, does that not influence the valuation officer's discretion in the first place in valuing a site as a single hereditament rather than as separate hereditaments? Will my hon. Friend the Minister provide evidence in a written form—perhaps in a Written Answer—showing examples where people will be better off if the rates are levied on a single hereditament—where the site is classed as a mixed hereditament—than where an individual caravan owner asks for a separate assessment and thus qualifies for full domestic relief.

If possible, I should like to see evidence that shows that the majority of individual caravan owners will be better off only by obtaining the mixed relief rather than the full domestic relief. My hon. Friend the Minister said that that was because if it were a single hereditament the total rateable value which had to be borne by the site operator and the individual caravan owners would be less than if all the individual caravans were assessed as single hereditaments. Before I am convinced on that point I shall need some written evidence rather than a verbal reply from the Dispatch Box.

I said some time ago that I believed that the Field Place Caravans Park judgment was not applicable to many holiday caravans. I know that that opinion is shared by a number of district councils. In many cases the site operator exercises control to an extent that interferes with the caravan occupant's enjoyment of the caravan. I can list ways in which this is done. People are not able to live in the caravan throughout the year. The hon. Member for Melton referred to the period from April to October, during which owners could occupy their caravans. Often the owners are unable to live in the caravan continuously throughout the holiday season. In many cases the operator has the sole right to supply gas and other materials required in the caravans. The caravans are stored away from November to March, usually in some part of the same field. In those months the caravan owner is not able to attend to his individual caravan.

Mr. Beith

For the sake of the record, will the hon. Member make clear that that is often a condition of planning consent and not the result of some unpleasant action by the site owner?

Mr. Marshall

The hon. Member is right, but the situation indicates a restriction upon the caravan owner's right to occupy his caravan continuously and without undue restraint.

If the caravan site owner is clearly in control of all pitches and caravans on his site and exercises that control to an extent that interferes with the caravan occupants' enjoyment of his caravan, it is likely that the site owner will be rateable in respect of the whole site, irrespective of this legislation. I am therefore urging my constituents who complain about their plight to continue to press valuation officers to reassess their caravans, and to make the point to individual valuation officers that they consider that they do not have free and unrestricted use of their caravans. They should also urge organisations representing the interests of leisure caravan users to press, if possible—it is not for me to encourage people to use the services of the many lawyers, or to go to court unnecessarily—for action to show that the 1966 judgment is being wrongly applied to holiday caravans. In spite of the Bill's lack of help for holiday caravan owners, I hope that they will be able to seek redress through the courts.

I give the Bill a cautious welcome. It will undoubtedly be of great benefit to many district councils although, unfortunately, it will be of little benefit to owners of holiday caravans. I only hope that my hon. Friend the Minister has been able to agree to the requests and pressures made by his hon. Friends to try to bring some help to holiday caravan owners.

5.19 p.m.

Mr. George Reid (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)

There can seldom have been a time when this country had inflicted upon it an Administration so determined to legislate and legislate. Right or wrong, the Government seem desperate to meddle in everything. Regardless of the consequences of case law, an increasing spate of legislation is poured forth on the unsuspecting taxpayer. The Bill as it applies to Scotland is a case in point. It is a bad Bill, for three reasons. It pays scant regard to Scottish valuation and rating law, which should be the subject of a separate Scottish Bill. It introduces an entirely new principle into the rating system, whereby an individual is made responsible for not merely the collection but the payment of rates on subjects that he does not specifically and personally enjoy. At a time when the House is waiting for the publication of the Layfield Report on the reform of local government finance—a Report that is coming in a matter of weeks—the Government are bashing ahead with this measure regardless.

Many of us from north of the border are deeply concerned by the extent to which recent United Kingdom joint legislation has run contrary to the spirit and principles of Scottish law. Dealing with the Consumer Credit Act, the Sale of Goods Act and the Children Act, the Chairman of the Scottish Law Commission recently said: It is weird legislation; weird from the Scots point of view. The Council of the Law Society of Scotland echoed that view in a recent memorandum covering the Guardianship Act 1973, the Rent Act 1974 and insolvency law in general, when it commented: The Council deplores the practice of changing the laws of both England and Scotland in a single Bill. This Bill is another example of that, and my hon. Friends and I oppose it for that reason.

The Scottish and English rating systems are completely distinct. The valuation procedures are different, as is the whole basis of assesssment. A whole Series of expressions used in Clauses 3 and 4, such as "lands and heritages", "assessor" and "valuation roll", have no meaning in English usage. The system stems from a whole series of separate Scots Acts going as far back as 1854. If they are now to be subject to change they merit a separate Scots Bill, duly and conscientiously considered by Scottish Members.

As matters stand, this measure is yet another example of Scots law being squeezed out by a centralising Parliament and a legislation-mad Administration. For proof of that, hon. Members need look no further than the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, which contains a useful breakdown of what the Bill will mean when applied to English procedures, followed by the rather bald little note that Clauses 3 and 4 make parallel provision for Scotland in a manner suited for the separate Scottish valuation code. English Members who flip casually through those clauses might be forgiven for thinking that great differences are not involved; but they are.

There is a whole series of differences relating to the Valuation and Rating (Scotland) Act 1956, the Local Government (Scotland) Acts of 1966 and 1975 and the Land Valuation (Scotland) Act 1854, as well as issues such as the domestic water rates and gross annual values north of the border. Most significantly, the Bill is discretionary in England in allowing the individual caravan owner the right of appeal for separate assesssment, but it is mandatory in Scotland, with no such right of appeal.

There are 505 static holiday parks in Scotland and 15,865 individual pitches. The individuals concerned, and the Scottish assessors, have the right to expect that the Scottish impact of this measure will be fully explored and examined. In 1972, in a parallel case to the Lymington, Hants case, an appeal went to the Scottish Valuation Appeals Court. It is known as the Maidens case and concerned Redgates Caravan Parks Limited. Taking due cognisance of Scots procedures, it established that an individual caravan owner has the right to separate assesment.

Herein lies the difficulty. Will any Committee of this House, with one or, at most, two token Scots on it, plough its way through Clauses 3 and 4, dotting Scots i's and crossing Scots t's with any real understanding or sympathy? The Minister's casual introduction of these clauses, when he neatly avoided any comment on Scots law, does not bode well, in that respect, for the future.

However, things have been made easy for English Members in Committee, because the draftsmen have imported into the Bill settled Scots definitions and similar expressions that would not need to appear if there were a separate Bill for Scotland. This is another example of sinister centralising forces. How would English Members like it, for example, if the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum dealt in detail with "lands and heritages", "assessors" and "valuation rolls", and a whole series of Scots Acts from 1854 onwards, followed by the douce little note: "Clauses 3 and 4 make parallel provision in England in a manner suited for the separate English valuation code"? They would squeal like stuck pigs. Similarly, the House cannot expect Scots Members to remain silent when they see their ancient and distinctive law dealt with in this cavalier fashion.

There is a clear case for measures such as this going to a Scots Parliament. Why rush it through when, if the Government are to be believed, a Scottish Assembly might change it all back again in a couple of years? If it has to go through, there is an equally clear case for a separate Scots Bill.

The Minister for Planning and Local Government said on 10th February that he expected to receive the Layfield Report in a few weeks and to publish it "as soon as possible". The Government would therefore have been well advised to delay this measure until the Report came to hand, since the procedures proposed in the Bill will have serious consequences for everyone who owns or occupies property liable to a rate payment.

I do not like the way that the Bill is being slipped through on the quiet. A whole new and unsatisfactory principle is involved.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Mr. Bruce Millan)

Can the hon. Gentleman explain how the Bill is being slipped through on the quiet, any more than any other Bill?

Mr. Reid

My point was that a whole new principle is being slipped through on the quiet, pushed away in this Caravan Bill.

Mr. Millan

That is not what the hon. Gentleman said. He said that the Bill was being slipped through on the quiet. What did he mean by that?

Mr. Reid

I thought that I had said that the principle was being slipped through on the quiet. That is what I meant to say. I hope that the Minister will accept that. That is why I do not like it.

For the first time a ratepayer will be required to pay rates on somebody else's property, with no consequential advantage and no means of redress if he cannot recover the amount of rate due.

The business of assessing individual caravans, difficult though it may be, is virtually complete, and upheld by the courts. It avoids any doubt in the minds of the caravan owners as to the amount of rates being assessed to them and it avoids the element of compulsion threatened in the Bill, under which the park owner is liable to a criminal act and a fine if he does not supply rating details in writing to the caravan owner, who could be anywhere, or anyone, since caravans change hands with great regularity. The Bill as it stands is bound to lead to considerable friction between park owners and caravan owners.

There will also be considerable difficulties in achieving an equable overall rating of parks—for two reasons. I cite only one example from my own constituency, but it is typical—Thomson Caravans, of Larbert, which operates a spendid park at Kincraig. The site is virtually closed during the winter months. Come the spring and the assessors, caravans are arriving and others are being moved from pitch to pitch, often on a temporary basis. As soon as a caravan is measured up by an assessor, it can be moved. In those circumstances, it is difficult to arrive at a true rating figure.

The second difficulty stems from the way in which the assessment is to be apportioned among individual caravan owners. It is not simply a matter of one long division sum. The assessment will include the commercial elements, such as camp shop, offices, swimming pool, games hall—which have always been included in the rates—as well as individual leisure caravans. How is the sum to be apportioned?

Additionally, not all the pitches are of the same area or environmental amenity, and the size, age and condition of caravans varies widely. How, again, are individual dues to be determined without an almighty bust-up between the park owner and the individual caravanner, especially as the former in Scotland would have no guaranteed right of entry? It would be wrong for Parliament to place those responsibilities on the proprietor without giving him adequate protection.

This Bill is a bad Bill. Admittedly, this is a complex and difficult area, but the Government should have waited for Layfield. If it is absolutely necessary to legislate now, there should be a separate Scots Bill to take account of Scots rating and valuation procedures and to ensure that it is adequately considered by Scottish Members. If there is to be a Scots Bill, I trust that it will not contain the unacceptable principle of rating individuals for property that is not theirs. For all these reasons, my hon. Friends and I will oppose the Second Reading.

5.29 p.m.

Mr. Sydney Tierney (Birmingham, Yardley)

I do not own a caravan and I do not pretend to understand the deep ramifications of these principles but, like other hon. Members, I want to make representations on behalf of my constituents.

The hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) said that, apart from abortion and hare coursing, he had received more correspondence about this matter than about any other. I would say that it is a matter not of great principle but of achieving clarity and understanding in administration. I appreciate the Minister's difficulty. I thank him for the answers that he has given to me in correspondence.

I understand that since 1966 any caravan in one place for a considerable length of time has been separately rateable from the pitch on which it stands. This means that rating authorities have to collect small sums in rates from large numbers of caravan owners. This has obviously caused some difficulty in certain areas. As I see it, the choice is either to amend the law to make individual caravans no longer rateable, or to retain the present system. Amending the law would make it easier for authorities to collect the rates, which seems to be the nub of the problem.

The Government's case is that caravan owners benefit from local services and that they must make a fair rate contribution to the local authority. I do not argue with that proposition, because it is fair; nor do I believe that caravan owners would argue with it. They have always paid rates for local services, but it has been included in the amount that they have paid to be on the site. Site owners have never separated rates from rents in a form that individual caravan owners could understand to be clear or fair. That has been one of the basic problems. Caravan owners have always understood that caravan sites were rated. Before 1966 the rate level for a site was determined by the size of the site, the number of caravans it was capable of holding, and the services provided. In that way individual caravans were accounted for, even though they were classified as chattels.

The alternative is to retain the rate liability of individual caravans but to ease the collecting problems by giving valuation officers discretion to rate caravans sites as one unit. Is this not the same thing, in practical terms? A sum of money will still be collected from each site and the site owner, as before, will be responsible for its collection. The only difference is that for a time the valuation officer will have an up-to-date file on each caravan on the site. With the movement and the change of ownership of caravans, his records will soon become out of date and he will be in the same dilemma whether to rate on a one-unit or an individual basis. That will cause further administrative difficulties, on top of the costs already incurred in recent years by rating individual caravans.

Under the Bill a caravan owner will have a legal responsibility for the payment of rates, but he does not appear to have any rights over the amount of rent that he pays for a site. This will create difficulties. Many caravan owners did not even know that the rateable value of the common site had been reduced when individual caravans were rated. The amounts they had to pay to site owners were not reduced. Caravan owners seem to be in a very weak position when negotiating their contracts, because they are often neither clear nor fair.

I welcome the provisions in Clause 4, that On receipt of a notice under subsection (1) above the site operator shall display on the site a notice stating—

  1. (a) the number of pitches included in the said single unit, and the rateable value of that unit; and
  2. (b) the rate in the pound at which rates are levied in respect of that unit."
That will be helpful. It is a progressive step towards greater understanding and clarity and is a further protection for caravan owners. It will mean that they have a better understanding about rent and rates and the gross overall costs involved.

A number of caravan owners are genuinely concerned because they believe that they will still have to pay their current rent to site owners and that the rate levied on the individual caravans will be an additional payment. They fear that the element of rates that is already contained in the rent that they pay will be lost. That is why many caravan owners are against individual rating, and would rather see the law amended.

I would welcome anything that the Minister can do to reassure caravan owners. They would appreciate assurances that would protect them from possible exploitation by site owners. Representations have been made to me by works caravan clubs in my constituency. Many people can only just afford to keep a caravan. They are worried about being able to continue to enjoy the utility and pleasure value that caravan ownership offers. They would appreciate anything that my hon. Friend can promise which would protect them from exploitation by caravan site owners.

5.38 p.m.

Mr. David Mudd (Falmouth and Camborne)

I hope that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Tierney) will forgive me for not taking up his argument, but I want to refer to the speech made by the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) and his tartan view of the debate. He said that there were 505 registered sites in Scotland. The National Federation of Site Operators, for which I am a consultant, and therefore declare an interest, says that there are 626 sites.

Mr. Reid

I am pleased to hear that the tourist industry is increasing in Scotland. My figures were from the Scottish Tourist Board.

Mr. Mudd

If the Scottish National Party can lose 15 per cent. of one industry in one speech, perhaps greater, not less, intervention in Scottish affairs is needed.

The Bill establishes beyond doubt the link between legislators and gynaecologists. Both groups can recognise the problems and deficiencies of premature birth, but neither has found a way of popping the short-term child back into the womb for a period of much-needed further gestation. The Bill is premature in two respects. First, at a time when the people of Britain are anxiously looking to the Layfield Report for alleviation of the rating liability and reorganisation of the system of local government finance, they suddenly find a new measure that reinforces rather than revitalises the national rating structure. Secondly, it will hit Scotland when local government reorganisation is in progress and burdens on local authorities are already heavy without the unwelcome addition of this legislation.

The Bill is deficient in three ways. First, it fails to deal with the question of the adequate protection of site operators. Secondly, it overlooks the problem of rates outstanding and overdue at the date of its coming into force. Thirdly, it ignores the question of adequate financial recompense to the site operator for doing the work of the rating authority.

Before the Bill completes its Committee stage, I hope that a provision will be added laying down at least that site owners shall be absolved from all legal obligation for the collection of outstanding, delayed or bad debts at the date of implementation, and that there shall be no liability on them for sites and pitches from which defaulting owners have departed. The many movements and transfers in the caravan market in the current year alone will make it impossible for site owners to trace those owners of caravans who have departed during the passage of the Bill.

Even more important, if there is not to be an added cash flow crisis for site owners, further consideration must be given to recompensing them for the time and effort they will be called upon to give as agents for the local rating authority. A computer survey has suggested that a 15 per cent. commission would be the minimum adequately to recompense the site operator for his time and skill, for his accountancy and postage costs, and even for the consultations that he will have to have with rating authorities effectively to carry out his duties as a collector.

As paragraph 3 of the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum speaks of a saving in local authority staff—I shall have to see it to believe it—there should be money to give financial recompense to the site operators. But a notable omission from the bodies opposed to the Bill is NALGO, which one would expect to scream from the roof-tops if it thought that there would be any cut-back in local authority employment as a result of the Bill. The fact that it has remained silent seems to indicate that it shares my belief that the Bill will make no difference to local government staffing.

There will certainly be an increase in the number of rating appeals. I understand that there are about 90,000 outstanding.

The Bill poses many problems. Many site operators have already based their current year's finances on the old system of the direct payment of rates, and they will be unable to recover additional sums from former caravan owners who have died, left the site, or changed caravans by 1st April.

There will be chaos over the relationship between general rates and water rates, unless there is a consequent amendment to Section 56 of the Water Act 1945, as collection dates of water and general rates do not coincide in certain areas.

Clause 1(7) creates a dangerous loophole, in that an owner may decide to seek a separate assessment, delay payment while the assessment is determined and leave the site without paying his rates while the appeals procedure legitimately open to him is being followed.

There are several other points on which I hope we shall have guidance from the Minister. First, certain site operators may well be tempted to collect the rates on the day of demand but hold them until the final notice is served. What safeguards will there be for caravan owners in the event of a site operator defaulting or going bankrupt during the period when he holds the money in transmission from them to the local authority?

Secondly, what is the legal right of recovery, and against whom, for a caravan owner who vacates during a period for which rates have been paid in advance, if the site operator defaults or goes bankrupt?

Thirdly, on whom does the final legal obligation of action against a defaulting caravan owner lie? Is the site operator expected to subsidise the local rate fund by taking county court action against a defaulting resident, or does the rating authority override the site operator's responsibility?

I hope that the Minister will give an assurance that from tonight he will put his foot down firmly in dealing with local authorities that are sending out demands on the assumption that the Bill has already been enacted. There is evidence that one or two authorities have jumped the gun, which is intolerable and arrogant, and an insult to the House.

The noble Lady, Baroness Birk, the Under-Secretary of State, said in another place on 5th February that the Bill set out to tackle a difficult problem, and added we have done as well as we could."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 5th February 1976; Vol. 367, c. 1466.] I hope that this House will do far better in turning this ailing, puny, premature and defective Bill into legislation that will be responsible and respected. I hope that it will not put the seal of approval on a measure that one Scottish regional assessor has already described as a piece of Frankenstein legislation.

5.47 p.m.

Mrs. Audrey Wise (Coventry, Southwest)

It is strange to follow an hon. Member who uses such horror-film analogies about a comparatively small, ordinary Bill. I prefer to join those of my hon. Friends who have given the Bill a cautious welcome; cautious because the Bill falls into some traps which magnify the problem of dealing with caravans.

It is clear that certain Opposition Members are unhappy about the plight of site owners and operators. I approach the matter from a different point of view. I am concerned about the many caravan owners, especially retired people who have saved for a caravan in which to enjoy their retirement. Those of us from industrial constituencies have many such constituents, who have brought their problems to our notice.

The problems include certain site operators and owners who are taking advantage of their favourable position to screw out of many people the maximum rent and to give the minimum security and control over the caravan. We should all like to see site operators and owners being on good terms with those renting pitches. I think that some Opposition Members have a point when they suggest that the Bill will not help to bring about that desirable situation.

I ask my Front Bench colleagues to consider whether it is fair to say that owning a holiday caravan is like owning other forms of property which can be used for residence. We must be able to make that close analogy if we are to rate them in similar ways. I suggest that there is a great deal of difference between being an owner-occupier of stationary property, or renting a home, and owning a holiday caravan and renting a pitch for it. The differences should be realised in rating legislation.

Clause 1(2) provides that a caravan pitch … shall be taken as including the caravan for the time being on the pitch". The problem is contained in the words "for the time being". Caravans come and caravans go in a way that houses do not. We are making a rod for our own backs in not recognising that fundamental point.

In a caravan site the clearly assessable and permanent elements are the land itself, the pitches and the services. On each site the land and the pitches will carry a certain number of caravans. It would be infinitely more straightforward to rate a site on that basis rather than on the basis of caravans which come and go.

It will be virtually impossible for the valuation officer to exercise his duty as he exercises it in considering house properties. For example, the valuation officer makes his valuation on the basis of a deemed rental, not an actual rental. The owner-occupier does not receive rent for his house, but the valuation officer can estimate the reasonable value. However, there are owners of holiday caravans who do not let their caravans, as owner-occupiers do not let their houses. In fact, they are forbidden to let their caravans. The Bill takes no account of that situation. If an owner is forbidden to let his caravan, how can a valuation officer attribute a rental value to it? In the very nature of things it does not have a rental value, not even a deemed rental value. The owner would be out on his neck if he let his caravan. We are putting an exercise of imagination on valuation officers which it is not fair to expect them to carry.

A further difference is that a tenant of property—this certainly applies to an owner-occupier—enjoys a certain amount of security. I am pleased to say that this Government have added to that security. The owner of a holiday caravan has no such security. Some of my constituents have told me that they have the worst of all possible worlds. On the one hand they are treated as owners of property to be rated in the same way as house owners, but, on the other hand, they do not have the sort of security which they would have if they owned or rented houses.

As the Bill stands the criticisms will remain. Under Clause 1 a valuation officer if he thinks fit, may … treat all or any of those pitches as forming a single hereditament. That is extraordinary. Surely we cannot expect valuation officers to make such a fundamental decision. Many problems may arise because of variations from place to place. Some of my constituents with a caravan on a certain site may find that they are treated differently from a neighbour with a caravan in another place. This will lead them to think that Parliament has not considered the matter sufficiently closely. Holiday caravans should be treated in a much more standard way.

No indication is given in the Bill of the sort of factors which should lead valuation officers to make a judgment in one direction or another. In giving the Bill a Second Reading we do not know in sufficient detail exactly what we are passing.

I do not share the anxiety of some Opposition Members, and especially that of the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid). The hon. Gentleman complained about the Government being determined to legislate, legislate and legislate. However, he then demanded that a further Bill be introduced to deal exclusively with Scotland. I could not follow his logic, until it became crystal clear that his main concern was for site operators. It appeared that he was satisfied with the situation as it now pertains. I believe that most of my hon. Friends are not satisfied with the present situation.

To that extent my hon. Friends and I welcome the Bill. However, I earnestly suggest that if we consider permanent property rather than mobile property it will be much easier to bring forward a more simple, straightforward and understandable Bill. That would lead to less trouble both for valuation officers and for those who, as they will see it, are valued against. I give a cautious welcome, but make an earnest request that we consider this measure a little more closely, perhaps making some changes in Committee.

5.59 p.m.

Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)

The hon. Member for Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise) began by describing the Bill as a small and ordinary measure. I suspect that if the hon. Lady had a true concern for the position of the caravanner, as have many of my hon. Friends, she would not describe it in those terms.

This is a Bill that will formalise for the first time a tax on caravans. The Bill, for the first time, will make—

Mrs. Wise

Surely that cannot be correct. At present caravans are rated according to the law. An attempt is being made not to formalise but to improve.

Mr. Moate

I fully expected Labour Members to deny that this is a new tax, but I shall clarify the position For the first time we are expressing in clear statutory form a situation that was not clear hitherto. If that were not so, the tax would have been collected right back in 1966, or before. Even if that tax were there in theory, it was not enforced. The Government had a number of options open to them. They chose to formalise a tax on caravans and to provide means that they deem to be enforceable for the collection of the tax.

In July of last year, following a sitting of 26 hours—the longest sitting in the House for 24 years—I had an Adjournment debate on this very topic. However, now that I have seen the outcome of the pressures put on the Government, I wonder why I was so patient. The Government are now exercising their option to impose an enforceable tax on caravans. I did not think that anybody in his right mind would choose the rating system by which to collect a caravan tax. Furthermore, it is not a tax on all caravans; it is a tax only on static, leisure caravans, not on mobile caravans. In other words, an owner is taxed if his caravan sits on a static site but not if it is parked on his front drive. That situation is totally unjustifiable.

It is intended to use the rating system to collect tax in respect of the caravans of 260,000 individuals, all of whom will still possess the right to appeal against that assessment and to claim an individual assessment. The reason why many hon. Members voiced their complaints in the House on earlier occasions was that many district authorities were suddenly faced with the bureaucratic nightmare of having to deliver individual assessments on 250,000 people. They found that situation well-nigh impossible. In my own area the district authority was responsible for 42 caravan sites, but was suddenly faced with the necessity to issue over 4,000 rating notices. The position for those authorities was extremely difficult.

The Government have taken steps to try to correct the situation. I concede that this Bill may make it easier to collect the rates from site operators if those operators are acting not just as agents but as people directly responsible for those rates. But if the previous situation was regarded as chaotic, I suspect that the new situation will be even more chaotic.

If individual caravanners exercise the right, laid down in the Bill, to challenge assessments, the Government, local authorities and district valuers will still face a difficult situation. There is every justification for individuals to call for separate assessments. For the first time, the average caravanner will be faced with a new tax. The Minister, in reply to my Adjournment debate last year, helpfully suggested £25 or £50 as the likely amount. I suspect that it will be a figure of that order. Therefore, on top of the already heavy costs borne by caravanners in higher licence fees and increased insurance premiums, they will now have to pay rates on their caravans.

Caravanning is one of the few forms of holiday available to many in the lower income groups or to families who may have no other means of taking a holiday. Those individuals will resent this extra bill, and they may well think of delaying payment by appealing. It may even be in the interests of site operators to urge people to call for individual assessments.

Certainly the site operator will be in a difficult situation. The Minister has said publicly that site operators will be in a position to appreciate what rates are to be collected at the beginning of the year, so that they can levy their own assessment on individual caravans. But this year site operators will have little idea what rates will be levied for the forthcoming year. If this Bill gets through by 1st April—the Minister is being somewhat optimistic if he thinks that that will happen—there is little chance that rate assessments will be made by the beginning of the new financial year and levied upon operators in that time.

There will be a considerable period before the operator knows what is to be collected by him and levied on the individual. The site operator from the very beginning will have the responsibility for collecting those rates. If there are voids on the site, transfers of ownership, and so on, the site operator will still be responsible for collecting rates from owners, even though they may have left the site. Therefore, the operator may find it in his interest to encourage every caravanner on the site to seek individual assessments. It would not surprise me to see the number of appeals against rating assessments again rise, to 95,000 or even 100,000. Where shall we be then? The Minister will then have the experience of being written to by another 300 hon. Members. We shall have many complaints flooding in from caravanners about the system for collecting this new tax.

This is an unfortunate Bill. The Minister could have decided to introduce legislation just as speedily as this Bill to ensure that the situation reverted to the position as it was thought to be before 1966. That would have been a simple and effective method of dealing with the matter. I regret that the Minister has not decided to take that course.

I know that many other hon. Members are anxious to take part in this debate, and I do not wish to repeat points that have already been made. I hope that the Minister will answer the specific question as to how a site operator who, from the beginning of the year, will be responsible for the total rates levied on that site, is to be expected to cope with the problems of voids on the site, bad debts, and other matters. This is a fundamental problem. If the site operator is to be expected to act as tax collector, the Government should surely seek to help him.

The Layfield Report will soon be published. Therefore, is it not nonsensical to extend the rating system to caravans when that system is already so full of anomalies and is crumbling under the weight of increasing burdens of expenditure and inflation? It will be extremely difficult to apply this nonsensical system to distinguish between caravans on one part of a site and caravans on another part, and to a caravan that may be a few feet longer than another. The mind boggles when one thinks of applying to caravans the follies of the present rating system.

I regret that the Minister has chosen to cope with the problem in this way. He had a clear choice before him. I believe that the present Bill will make the situation worse rather than better. It will certainly not improve the situation for site operators, and it may not ease the burdens of district valuers and local authorities generally. It will perpetuate burdens of caravan owners at a time when they face rapidly rising costs. This is a bad measure, and I regret that the Minister has chosen to go about the situation in this way.

6.8 p.m.

Sir Anthony Meyer (Flint, West)

My hon. Friends the Members for Faversham (Mr. Moate), Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Mudd) and Melton (Mr. Latham) have shot many holes in this inoffensive little measure. I am inclined to look upon it as being by far the best, and certainly the most relevant measure, introduced by the Labour Government this Session—as far superior to the Government's other Bills as the Emperor Caligula was to the Emperor Nero.

However, even though I give the measure a welcome, I admit that it has come rather late. This is a reflection not only on the present Government but on all Governments since 1966. It is now, in a different sense, too late even to provide for fresh valuations for the new financial year. Therefore, the troubles we have had over the past year will spill over into next year. In another sense, the Bill is too early because it pre-dates the findings of the Layfield Committee. Even if, as many hon. Members allege, the Bill will bring few benefits to caravanners, it will certainly bring benefits to local authorities, and I welcome it on that account. It will also reduce the voracious demands of bureaucrats and is to be welcomed even more warmly on that account.

There are very many caravans and sites in my constituency and although virtually none of the caravanners is a constituent of mine I do not wish to play them off against my constituents. Much of the argument turns on whether caravans are second homes. In Wales, this is a highly emotive issue, and one of the advantages of a caravan in Wales is that it provides a second home without exciting the fierce political passions sometimes expressed by Members of a party currently conspicuous by their absence from the Chamber.

I accept that there has to be some measure of rating of caravans. The alternative of licensing them, in the same way as motor cars, is less preferable, raising, as it would, many problems of definition.

There have been a number of references to Clause 1(7) and this will have to be considered in Committee. I think the Government will probably decide that it will cause more trouble than it saves, particularly if a large number of people decide to take advantage of it. It could undo all the beneficial effects of the Bill, and I shall be surprised if it is still in when the Bill returns to the House.

Some local authorities have entered into ad hoc agreements with site owners for the collection of rates and there does not seem to be any provision for recognising or covering such agreements. It may be as well to take cognisance of such schemes and see how they can be phased in, or, at a later stage, phased out.

A number of hon. Members have raised the difficulties site owners will face in securing redress when a caravan owner disappears owing money. This problem will have to be considered at a later stage of the Bill.

Unlike most of my hon. Friends, I am grateful for small mercies. I would not go to the stake for this measure, but I am rather pleased that my hon. Friends are apparently not going to divide against it.

Mr. Speaker

Before calling the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier), I remind him that there is only one other hon. Member who has sat throughout the debate and who wishes to speak. It is hoped that the winding-up speeches will start at 6.30 p.m. The hon. Member for Sunderland, South may, perhaps, try to give the other hon. Member a chance to speak before then.

6.13 p.m..

Mr. Gordon A. T. Bagier (Sunderland, South)

I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, that I shall speak for only two or three minutes. I apologise to the Minister for not being here for his opening remarks.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise), I came under tremendous pressure from many constituents as a result of the change of the law caused by the court ruling. I received so many representations that I was beginning to wonder whether all my constituents lived in caravans.

I have no doubt that what the Minister said about saving staff must take place. If rating staff tried to chase every caravan owner to determine rateable values, an enormous number of staff would be needed and the job would probably never be completed. At best, it would be extremely inefficient. As one hon. Member has already said, there have been instances of site owners not being very helpful and refusing to give the names and addresses of caravan owners in an attempt to frustrate rating and valuation officers.

I am sorry that this big issue is being dealt with by just a small enabling Bill. Caravans, whether mobile or static, are big business. It is a great pity that the first time we have dealt with this subject for some years should be because of a court ruling on rateable values. One of the difficulties is that the Bill will apply to poorer people who have saved up to buy a caravan on a site in, say, the Lake District, but it will not apply to someone who can hawk about a blooming great vehicle on the back of a Rolls-Royce and is able to park it at his home. It would be much better if the Government had a more general review of caravanning.

Reference has been made to the difficulty that site owners may have in collecting rates. I cannot understand this. It seems quite simple to me. They would merely have to add the rates on to what they charge for rent. I do not think it would cause any great difficulty. It was interesting to hear talks of this difficulty coming from a party which talks about the need to reduce public expenditure. They do not seem to realise that rates, like VAT and other taxes, can be collected in an everyday simple manner.

Most caravan owners were satisfied before the court's decision which caused the huge furore. The Government are introducing a relatively small enabling Bill which will make it easier than chasing individual owners for rates. This is the object of the exercise and it should be supported, but I hope the Government will, in the near future, look at the whole scope of caravanning, whether the vehicles are static or hawked about on the backs of motor cars. Many are caravans in name only. They are static: they have wheels, but the wheels will never turn. They come in all shapes and sizes, and this is a problem with which the Government will have to come to terms.

6.18 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe)

The last time I took part in a debate with the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier) was a few days ago, when he gave a guarded welcome to a Private Member's Bill we were discussing. I am delighted to find that we have other interests in common, because I wish to give a substantial welcome to the Bill.

A considerable number of my constituents have holiday caravans, mostly on the East Lincolnshire coast. Caravanning offers one of the most convenient, modestly-priced ways of enjoying the facilities of the resorts on this coast, which are very popular with people from all over Nottinghamshire. I never realised just how popular caravanning was until the letters began to pour in from my constituents after they had received rating demands from the East Lindsey Rural District Council. It rapidly became clear that the council no more enjoyed the process of extracting rates than my constituents enjoyed receiving the demands. I was one of the hon. Members who put pressure on the Government and the Minister to legislate in order to sort out the mess which was rapidly developing. I congratulate the Minister on having won parliamentary time, and I give a cautious welcome to the Bill he has presented.

Without damping down unduly my congratulations and welcome for the Bill, I have some grave reservations. I am not sure that my constituents will be much happier once the proposed system gets under way. I am under considerable constituency pressure to argue that holiday caravans should not be subject to the rating system, and that has been urged by some of my hon. Friends. I see why the Minister feels that that is not acceptable. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) said that it is difficult to draw a distinction between holiday caravans and other forms of second holiday home, which are sometimes quite modest. Therefore, some obligation for rates is inevitable as long as the rating system survives.

If we are to persuade caravanners that this system is equitable and that some liability to rates is inevitable, local authorities will have to improve drastically the level of local authority services provided to holiday sites. If the Minister can oblige the local authorities which receive rate income from holiday visitors to improve the level of provision on the sites, that would be a welcome step.

While I accept that there is a case for some liability to rating and that the present system is a shambles, I envisage many difficulties developing if the Bill goes through to finality unamended. I am especially worried about the disputes that will break out on a considerable scale between caravanners and site owners about individual liability to rates and how rates are to be assessed. If the whole hereditament is made subject to one rate, there will be difficulty when the site owner tries to apportion the liability between caravans of different size, different age and different location in relation to the services.

There is bound to be a process of negotiation, as the Minister said in his reply to my intervention. One hopes that it will work out satisfactorily for both sides, but that may be a pious hope. I am doubtful about the success of the negotiations. I was involved last year in Committee on the Mobile Homes Bill, and a great deal was left for negotiation between site owners and caravanners. The Minister will be aware of the appalling disputes which have now broken out all over the country as site owners and caravanners tried to come to terms in many cases failed to do so.

Mr. Jim Marshall

Many site operators act as agents on behalf of caravan owners in renting out caravans to holiday-makers. The factors of age, size and location of the caravan are reflected in the weekly rental value that the site operator suggests should be charged to guest holidaymakers. The site operator therefore has some information to enable him to apportion rent levels.

Mr. Clarke

As the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) has said, some apportioning has to be done when offering the caravan for rent in the first place. The caravanner on moving into his caravan knows what rent he will have to pay and he accepts that obligation. Under the new system a new obligation will be imposed upon a person who is already in occupation of the site. It will not be an offer made to him, as was the rent when he first moved in. It will be an obligation that the site owner has to sort out between the various occupiers. He will have to distribute the burden and they do so in a way which, I fear, many occupiers will challenge.

What will happen if an individual caravanner wishes to challenge the method which the site owner adopts to apportion liability to rates? The Bill is entirely silent on how the site owner should apportion and how a caravanner can reject his apportionment. It is left to discretion and common sense. The Government try to meet the difficulty by Clause 2, which requires the site owner to give certain information to his caravan owners about the total rate being levied on the site and the average which that will produce between the individual carvans, but that does not go far enough. If the owners of caravans are to negotiate with the site owner or accept what he has done, they will need to know how the site owner has arrived at his conclusions on each individual rate. There is no obligation that any information of that kind should be disclosed by a site owner.

The information which the site owner is asked to disclose may make matters worse. He is asked to display the average rate divided up between all the tenants. That, presumably, is not the rate that he will ask for from individual caravan owners if there is variation between the caravans on his site. On reading the notice a caravan owner will arrive at an average figure, which will surprise him if it is more than he is being asked to pay or outrage him if it is less.

We hope that it will be possible to negotiate a sensible rate, but if an obligation is put on the site owner to give information to his tenants about the rating obligation he should equally be under an obligation to produce information which is more relevant to the vexed question of how he divides up the rate between individual caravans.

That is my principal reservation about the Bill, which I accept as a worthy and well-intentioned attempt to resolve the difficulties. It is not easy to see how they can be resolved. One fears that the Minister will plunge from one problem about site rating to another as we change the system.

The Government have the convenience of the local authorities right. My hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) rightly said that the burden on the local authorities under the present system was acceptable. I trust that the Government have not regarded as their first priority the convenience of local authorities. They have found that to be the easiest matter to be resolved. Although local authorities welcome the measure, site owners and caravanners who are my constituents hope that the Bill will sort out the problems but fear that it may lead to more confusion and worse problems unless the drafting of the Bill can be improved in Committee.

6.27 p.m.

Mr. Wyn Roberts (Conway)

It has become clear from this short debate that the Bill is not as simple as the Government hoped it might be. Its broad aim is simple enough. It is to restore the global system of rating in a different form—that is, including caravans as well as pitches—while allowing the individual system of rating to continue. The restoration of the status quo is never easy. As Heraclitus said, one can never step into the same water twice. Much has happened in caravan rating practice since the old system was broken down by case law, and the Bill endeavours to take these developments into account.

It would be true to say that the Bill is an invention necessitated by the situation resulting from the breakdown of the old system which caused difficulties to valuation officers with their assessments and even greater difficulties for local authorities with rate collection. The loss of revenue to local authorities this year must have been very high.

No doubt the Government would have preferred to wait for the Layfield Committee's Report before introducing a Bill of this kind, as many hon. Members have suggested. The Secretary of State for Wales said as much in a letter to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, who, as a constituency Member, had asked him to comment on a letter from the Association of Welsh District Councils. The letter, dated 4th June 1975, reads: As you can see caravans are now individually rateable not because the Government has decided that this should be so but because the case law has evolved in this way. To change the position would require legislative action and I fear I cannot see any likelihood that this will be practicable at least until after the Layfield Committee has reported. Necessity, in the shape of local authorities' difficulties in rate collection, has intervened and prompted the Government to go ahead without waiting for Layfield, although I am sure that by now the Government must have some idea of how the Layfield Committee views the caravan rating problem, and presumably the Bill does not go against Layfield in any significant manner. I see that Members on the Government Front Bench are shaking their heads. With 90,000 appeals, and possibly more pending, among the 250,000 leisure caravan ratepayers, the individual system of rating cannot be very satisfactory. Therefore, the Government seek to revert in part to the global system and are trying to do so quickly before the new rating year.

My hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Mudd) sought further reassurances on the matter of retrospection, with good cause. I want to read from a letter from the treasurer of the Alnwick District Council in Northumberland to caravan site owners. It reads: You may have read recently that the Government has introduced legislation to enable local authorities to collect the rates due from each separately rated caravan via the site owner. This will mean that you will be responsible for collecting the rates due and … paying the amount over to the Council at an appropriate date. In order that you may make arrangements for the current year, I enclose a list of the (proposed) rateable values of the caravans on your site". A number of hon. Members have spoken about whether the Government have allowed sufficient time for the Bill to become operational as from 1st April. I press the Government to answer that. I understand that there is a special problem in Scotland, because the Scots have advanced quickly to the individual system and would like more time to unravel it and implement the Bill.

There are four dramatis personae in the Bill—the valuation officer, the local authority, the site owner and the caravan occupier. The Government have taken reasonable care of the first two and the official interests they represent. However, as most hon. Members who have participated in the debate have indicated, it is doubtful whether the Government have taken anything like equal care of the interests of the site owner and the caravan occupier. My hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) feels so strongly about the bias in favour of what he calls the administrative convenience of rating authorities that he tabled a critical motion and has spoken to this effect with his usual persuasive clarity and forcefulness.

The main purpose of the Bill is to give the valuation officer discretion to treat occupied pitches separately and the remainder of the site as a single rating unit, except, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid), in Scotland, where the assessor, as I understand it, has a duty as specified in Clause 3(1). There is no individual right of appeal. I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's view and I hope that the Minister will deal with it.

As far as England and Wales are concerned, the discretion is entirely the valuation officer's although others are involved, in particular the site owner, who, if the valuation officer uses his discretion to treat as a single rating unit, assumes onerous responsibilities. The Government have not acknowledged that. It is not at all clear that the site owner has any right to object to the valuation officer's exercise of his discretion. He should have such a right, because he may be unwilling or incapable for some reason of fulfilling the consequential duties and responsibilities that will fall upon him.

The crucial fact is that, if the valuation officer exercises his discretion to treat as a single unit, the site owner becomes responsible for the payment of other people's rates. That is a unique situation, although I agree that there is a comparison with the landlord and tenant situation. There is certainly no attendant advantage as far as we can see for the site owner, and he has no means of redress against a defaulting tenant except by taking action in the civil courts.

If we take these points singly, the fact is that local authorities have in practice in many instances paid the site owner a commission for rate collection. I know that that has been done in the Colwyn area, which is on the borders of my beautiful constituency, and elsewhere. Surely this commission arrangement is justified and necessary to provide an incentive for single site treatment, which, as the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill states, will save expense and staff to the local authority. Of course we welcome that saving, but why should local authorities be able to save at the expense of site owners? It does not seem fair to me although it may seem fair to the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier), who, I am sorry to see, is not present.

The Government will be aware of the feelings of many of the self-employed, as site owners frequently are, about the burdens placed upon them by the Government in connection with VAT. I believe that there will be many objections to this new imposition.

There is also the question of redress if the site owner is unable to recover. If he defaults, the local authority can bring an action against him in the magistrates' court. Surely the site owner should have a similar right of action in the magistrates' court and should not have to bring a civil action against a defaulting caravanner, with all its consequent costs and delays. I understand that a promise of some protection to the site owner in his new responsibilities was given by the Under-Secretary of State at a meeting at Earl's Court on 11th November 1975. I believe that the Government are obliged to honour that promise, which was fully reported in the Rating and Valuation Journal of January last.

Finally, the site owner is obliged to display information about the rateable value of the single unit, the number of caravans included in it and the rate poundage charged by the local authority. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) asked, how will this help the individual caravanner in any way? Frankly, I agree with my hon. Friend that it will lead to endless bickering between caravanners and site owners about their proper rate portion—that is, assuming that the site owner in his invoicing has to specify the amount of rate payable. He does not have to specify the amount of rate payable under the Bill. I do not believe that publication of the average rate liability for each caravan will tend to create peace and harmony on the sites.

The site owner is the allocator as well as the collector of rates. There is no appeal so far as we can make out against his judgment. This is neither fair to him nor fair to the caravanner.

The fourth member of the cast is the caravanner himself. His right to an individual assessment is preserved in Clause 1(7), but I understand that apart from the disabled, who might benefit from special rate relief under Section 45 of the General Rate Act 1967, few will benefit from separate assessment as the composite assessment will be less than the total assessment of the parts, which are currently liable to separate assessment. However, how is the individual caravanner to know that? The distribution of the rating element among caravan occupiers is not likely, as so many people have said, to be a simple mathematical division sum. Not all the pitches will be of the same size, nor will they have the same environmental amenity. The size, age and condition of each caravan will differ. Finally, the commercial element will have to be apportioned in whole or in part.

There may, therefore, be some validity in the point that Clause 1(7) may frustrate the primary purpose of the Bill and that there will be extensive applications for individual rating, with all that that may mean in terms of tilting the balance against mixed hereditaments and in favour of commercial rating.

Finally, there seems to be some confusion as to the basis of rating itself. Baroness Birk, the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, said during Report stage in the other place that the majority of sites would qualify as mixed hereditaments. In these cases, the total rates payable on the site and the caravans might be up to 20 per cent. less than they otherwise would have been—presumably, 20 per cent. less than they would have been had they been rated as commercial. It remains likely that in most cases the caravanner will still be better off as part of a single unit assessment. Does this mean that, where there is a commercial rating, domestic rate relief will still apply to the caravan element?

All this I regard as highly problematical. There are significant differences between the various levels of rate poundage, and, like the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall), I cannot see how the Government can be so certain of the advantages accruing to the individual from single unit rating.

Our feeling about the Bill is that it is very much the product of necessity. We feel that it is an attempt to create order out of near-chaos in England and Wales. We feel that it may well create fresh chaos in Scotland unless the date of operation is advanced to, possibly, 1st April 1977. We feel that the Bill is strongly biased in favour of the local rating authorities and the valuation officers. We feel that it places burdens on the site owners without providing recompense or protection. We feel that it does not really solve the problems of the individual caravanner, for whom the site owner once again become the working villain of the piece, as the hon. Member for Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise) would have him.

Nevertheless, the Bill will be welcomed by local authorities, especially in rural areas such as my own constituency, where the caravanner is an extensive user of local services—of roads and all the other facilities and amenities that are provided. Of course, this costs a great deal of money to the local ratepayers. Hon. Members may be surprised when I say that in certain areas in my constituency the summer population is double the winter population, so that there is a very considerable burden on local services. Therefore, the caravanner's contribution to the rates is welcome, and it is right that he should contribute to the rates.

Therefore, while we shall not be dividing the House tonight, the Government may look forward to a strenuous Committee stage, during which we hope that they will listen to the amendments that we shall put before them.

6.44 p.m.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Mr. Bruce Millan)

I do not think that any Minister introducing a rating Bill of any kind ever believes that it will be a simple or uncontroversial matter. This Bill, which by rating standards is very modest, has obviously excited a good deal of controversy. It has been demonstrated throughout this debate that, despite the Bill's limited purpose, it is of some complexity. Therefore, perhaps I should say at the outset that in Committee we shall obviously look very carefully at any amendments that are tabled to improve the general purposes of the Bill. As I think will become clear to hon. Members when I mention one or two particular matters a little later, I am not suggesting at present that we have the wording absolutely right. There are certainly places in the Bill where we would welcome improvements. If the improvements come from Opposition Members or from Labour Members rather than from the Government, we shall welcome them none the less.

I think that the main purpose of the Bill, despite the reservations that have been expressed by a number of hon. Members, is fairly well accepted by everyone in the House. I should like to start by saying something about the Scottish aspects of this matter, in the sense of the complaint that we had from the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) that there ought to have been either a separate Bill for Scotland or no Bill for Scotland at all.

I do not really understand the hon. Gentleman's complaints on this matter. The complaint about putting English and Scottish legislation together arises—and quite rightly, in my opinion—in legislation where there is basically English provision with application clauses which are intrinsically complex for Scotland. However, that is not being done in this Bill. The provisions for Scotland are entirely separate from the provisions for England. Therefore, there is no need for English Members to worry about Scottish application per se or for Scots Members to worry about English provisions per se. However, having the provisions in one Bill means that with hon. Members who are conscientious and diligent enough to compare the two sets of provisions there may be matter there for Committee points.

It is also able to be demonstrated that the Scottish approach in a number of matters is quite different because the Scottish legislative background is different from that of the English legislation. If this were a major matter of rating, there would be a separate Scottish Bill. The Local Government (Scotland) Act 1975 contained major provisions regarding Scottish rating and it was a separate Scottish Bill. I do not actually remember the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire ever saying anything about that Bill at any of its stages. I may be wrong about that. He may have contributed to our very lengthy discussions but he did not make a great deal of impact on me, because I have forgotten anything he may have said on that Bill.

However, we are dealing now with a much narrower point, and it is a point of some urgency for Scotland as well as for England and Wales. I fail to understand the references in the debate to the Scottish position being less urgent and something that could wait. The Scottish local authorities as well as the Scottish assessors asked us to extend the Bill to Scotland. There is, therefore, no question of our putting in English provisions for Scotland. This is what the Scots themselves want.

Sir John Gilmour (Fife, East)

How is it that in Clause 1 there is a definite date for the operation of the Bill which does not seem to appear in the clauses applying to Scotland, Clauses 3 and 4?

Mr. Millan

Again, that is for technical reasons arising out of the different legislative background in Scotland. However, that is a different point which we can take up in Committee.

The hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire said quite a number of things about the so-called penalties that we incur for having a joint Scottish and English Bill. That allowed him to say very little about the merits of the Bill. So far as I distinguished anything in his speech which dealt with the merits of the Bill, however, he seemed to be much less concerned with the local authorities and the caravan owners and his main preoccupation seemed to be with the site owners. I shall come to that matter shortly in a more general sense when I leave the Scottish position.

Mr. Reid

I do not want to anticipate the Committee of Selection, but does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that one of the difficulties in joint measures of this type, in which there is distinctive Scots law, is whether we have enough Scots Members to go through the legislation line by line and clause by clause? It tends to be second rate when compared with English matters.

Mr. Millan

It has never been my experience that Scots Members, or even only one of them, do not go through legislation line by line. There may be occasions on which I wish that they would not do so. But that is not what happens in practice.

I was about to say that one's reaction to the Bill depends to a large extent on the point of view with which one approaches it. Looking at the matter from the point of view of a caravanner, one has a certain view; looking at it from the point of view of a site owner, one has another view; and looking at it from the point of view of the local authority and the assessors, one has yet another view.

I have considerable sympathy with those who say that caravans used for leisure purposes as distinct from those used permanently for homes should not be rated. It is a fine balance of judgment. I do not pretend that the arguments are all on one side. There is a respectable argument for saying that caravans used for leisure purposes should not be rated. But we are not providing for the rating of these caravans for the first time in this Bill. The law has been established. We are not consolidating or formalising the law. The law having been established, this is a more convenient way of rating for leisure caravans.

It would have been open to the Government to take the view that we should change the law in a substantial way. But, looking at it from the point of view of local authorities and ratepayers generally, I do not think that the argument comes down in favour of the leisure caravan owner not being rated.

There are analogies with second homes. Certain demands are placed on local services. Therefore, that is sufficient argument for saying that caravans used for leisure purposes, provided that they have a permanency, ought to bear a certain amount of the rating burden. The fact that caravans are subject to restrictions on the length of time they might be occupied and so on will form part of the relevant evidence to be taken into account by the assessors. That will come into the assessment and will affect the rates payable on the caravans with which we are dealing. In normal circumstances we expect the rating burden to be about £25 a year. No one likes paying even £25 a year in rates, but it is not an excessive burden in the circumstances.

Looking at the matter from the local authorities' viewpoint, apart from questions of convenience and so on, they will be anxious to have the maximum amount of rateable value while the rating system continues in its present form. Local authorities which have large numbers of caravans permanently sited in their areas are entitled to argue that those caravans place certain demands on local services and that they should therefore be rated in some way or other.

If that proposition is accepted, we immediately come up against the formidable problem of separate assessment, which places a disproportionate burden on local authorities. Therefore, in these days, when we are asking local authorities to restrict staffing, we are obliged to produce a workable and economic system. That is one of the main objectives of the Bill.

Naturally, from the site operator's point of view, the matter looks different because he is admittedly being asked to take over a certain burden which would not otherwise be placed on him. I do not pretend that that is not so. However, the burden that is being placed on him is comparatively light compared with the burden that we are removing from the local authorities.

I do not suggest that the problems of recovering the additional rates and so on are simple in all circumstances. There may be problems regarding timing in the first year. We shall no doubt discuss that matter in Committee. But the problems of recovery are not in normal circumstances formidable. Accounts are sent out to caravan owners for rent and other charges. It will be a comparatively simple matter for the additional rate burden to be obtained in that way. The rate will in effect, become another item which the site owner will have to recover from caravan owners as part of his normal commercial operations.

We are not dealing with a matter of deep principle. Basically we are dealing with administrative convenience. I recognise that we are putting an additional burden on site owners. However, it is not of a sufficient nature that they ought to be recompensed for it. No doubt that point will also be discussed in Committee.

A number of detailed points were made and I should like to deal with some of them in anticipation of the Committee stage.

First, I do not understand the difficulty which is envisaged regarding outstanding appeals. The Bill is not retrospective in any way. Therefore, appeals relating to the current year's assessment will be proceeded with as if the Bill were not being introduced.

Appeals in future years may give rise to a more complicated situation—for example, if there were a lot of appeals for individual assessments arising from the discretionary powers in Clause 1, which, as has been pointed out, apply only to England and Wales, not to Scotland. It is easier to get a standard valuation policy for England and Wales, because of the arrangements through the valuation office, than for Scotland, where individual local assessors have considerably more independence. Therefore, we cannot legitimately talk about a standard policy in a matter of this kind. For that reason we are unable to give discretionary powers to Scotland. If we were to do that, we should produce a patchy and perhaps unfair situation.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State pointed out in opening the debate that the discretion is intended to be used only in circumstances where it is justified. For example, where too many of the individual caravan owners opt out, the general policy will be to have a single assessment for the whole of the site.

Mr. Michael Morris

The worry is that, with 90,000 appeals outstanding and the evidence from the first cases being of a substantial reduction in valuation, that will influence valuations thereafter.

Mr. Millan

We have that situation now. The purpose of the Bill is to avoid a similar situation in subsequent years. The large number of outstanding appeals is a graphic demonstration of the unsatisfactory nature of the present situation.

The only other important point of detail which I want to mention concerns the notices under Clauses 2 and 4 of the Bill. A number of the points made by the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) are legitimate and will, no doubt, be gone into in Committee. We want the information given to the individual caravan owner to be intelligible enough for him to be able, if possible, to calculate the rate burden included in his total charges. We want the mechanics of giving the notice to work in practice. If we do not have the information properly presented, at worst we could mislead individuals on what the additional burden should be. We shall try to get this matter absolutely right in Committee, and I hope that hon. Members will help us.

That is the spirit in which the Government will approach the Bill generally in Committee. We recognise that a number of hon. Members have reservations. However, we believe that the Bill is basically on the right lines and we ask the House to give it a Second Reading.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 210, Noes 19.

Division No. 79.] AYES [7.00 p.m.
Archer, Peter Canavan, Dennis Davidson, Arthur
Armstrong, Ernest Cant, R. B. Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Carmichael, Neil Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)
Atkinson, Norman Carter, Ray Deakins, Eric
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Carter-Jones, Lewis Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)
Beith, A. J. Cartwright, John Delargy, Hugh
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Castle, Rt Hon Barbara Dell, Rt Hon Edmund
Bidwell, Sydney Clemitson, Ivor Dempsey, James
Blenkinsop, Arthur Cocks, Michael (Bristol S) Dormand, J. D.
Boardman, H. Cohen, Stanley Douglas-Mann, Bruce
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Coleman, Donald Duffy, A. E. P.
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Conlan, Bernard Dunn, James A.
Bray, Dr Jeremy Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Dunnett, Jack
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Corbett, Robin Eadie, Alex
Brown, Ronald (Hackney S) Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Edge, Geoff
Buchan, Norman Crawshaw, Richard Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)
Buchanan, Richard Crosland, Rt Hon Anthony Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)
Campbell, Ian Cryer, Bob English, Michael
Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Lyon, Alexander (York) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Mabon, Dr J. Dickson Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)
Flannery, Martin McCartney, Hugh Rowlands, Ted
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) McElhone, Frank Sandelson, Neville
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) MacFarquhar, Roderick Sedgemore, Brian
Ford, Ben McGuire, Michael (Ince) Shaw, Arnold (llford South)
Forrester, John Mackenzie, Gregor Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)
Fower Gerald (The Wrekin) Mackintosh, John P. Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C)
Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)
Freud, Clement Madden, Max Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Garrett, John (Norwich S) Mallalieu, J. P. W. Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
George, Bruce Marks, Kenneth Skinner, Dennis
Gilbert, Dr John Marquand, David Small, William
Golding, John Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Goodhart, Philip Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Maynard, Miss Joan Spearing, Nigel
Graham, Ted Meacher, Michael Spence, John
Grant, John (Islington C) Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Spriggs, Leslie
Grocott, Bruce Mendelson, John Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Mikardo, Ian Stoddart, David
Hardy Peter Millan, Bruce Stott, Roger
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Strang, Gavin
Hart, Rt Hon Judith Miller, Mrs Millie (llford N) Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Heffer, Eric S. Molloy, William Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Hooley, Frank Morris, Charles R. (Openshawe) Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Horam John Moyle, Roland Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey) Newens, Stanley Tierney, Sydney
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Noble, Mike Tinn James
Hughes, Roy (Newport) Oakes, Gordon Torney, Tom
Hunter Adam O'Halloran, Michael Tuck, Raphael
Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill) O'Malley, Rt Hon Brian Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Ovenden, John Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Palmer, Arthur Wainwright, Richard (Coine V)
Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Pardoe, John Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Jeger, Mrs Lena Park, George Ward, Michael
John, Brynmor Parker, John Watkins, David
Johnson, James (Hull West) Parry, Robert Watkinson, John
Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Pavitt, Laurie Weetch, Ken
Jones, Barry (East Flint) Penhaligon, David Wellbeloved, James
Jones, Dan (Burnley) Perry, Ernest White, James (Pollock)
Judd, Frank Phipps, Dr Colin Whitlock, William
Kelley, Richard Price, C. (Lewisham W) Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Kerr, Russell Price, William (Rugby) Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Radice, Giles Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Lambie, David Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Lamborn, Harry Roberts, Gwilym(Cannock) Woodall, Alec
Lamond, James Robertson, John (Paisley) Woof, Robert
Leadbitter, Ted Rodgers, George (Chorley) Young, David (Bolton E)
Lee, John Rodgers, William (Stockton) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Rooker, J. W. Mr. Joseph Harper and
Lipton, Marcus Rose, Paul B. Mr. A. W. Stallard.
Brotherton, Michael Latham, Michael (Melton) Thompson, George
Carson, John MacCormick, Iain Watt, Hamish
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Mills, Peter Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Crawford, Douglas Moate, Roger
Dunlop, John Mudd, David TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray) Reid, George Mrs. Margaret Bain and
Fell, Anthony Stewart, Donald (Western Isles) Mr. Andrew Welsh.
Henderson, Douglas Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).