HC Deb 29 March 1984 vol 57 cc533-43
Mr. Canavan

I beg to move amendment No. 23, in page 10, leave out from beginning of line 38 to end of line 6 on page 11 and insert— '(1A) It shall be competent to found, by way of comparison, on hereditaments in England and Wales comparable to those which are the subject of the proceedings to enable the committee or, as the case may be, the Lands Tribunal for Scotland, to draw conclusions as to the rent at which the lands and heritages which are the subject of the proceedings might reasonably be expected to let from year to year in the circumstances mentioned in section 6(2) or, as the case may be, 6(8) of the Valuation and Rating (Scotland) Act 1956 (ascertainment of gross and net annual values by reference to expected rent.)'.

Mr. Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 8, in page 10, line 39, leave out 'only'.

No. 22, in page 10, line 39, leave out from 'Wales' to end of line 30.

No. 9, in page 11, line 6, at end insert 'or if it is, in the opinion of the committee or, as the case may be, the Lands Tribunal for Scotland, equitable so to do'.

Mr. Canavan

The aim of the amendment is to widen the opportunity for comparison between properties in Scotland and those in England and Wales for the purposes of valuation without—as the Bill presently proposes—the need to prove that there is insufficient evidence on Scotland for comparability. Before the Bill was published the Government issued a White Paper in which they referred to complaints that they received from many interested bodies, particularly sporting organisations in Scotland, and to anomalies between valuation in Scotland and that south of the border. The net effect is that many sporting organisations face a much heftier rates bill in Scotland on their properties than similar organisations and properties south of the border.

The Government's White Paper clearly gave the impression that their aim was to eradicate that anomaly. They made specific reference to the effect that it would have on sport. Unfortunately, they produced clause 15. It does not do anything like meet the good intentions expressed in that White Paper. It would appear that the Government have deceived many people in Scottish sporting circles. They built up false expectations and many people thought that they were obtaining a concession from the Government which would enable them, when making representations to the appropriate committee or tribunal, to make comparisons with similar properties south of the border.

It now appears that in most cases they will have no such opportunity, because the committee or tribunal can turn round and tell the person or organisation making the representations that it is sorry but that there are enough football stadiums, indoor bowling rinks and race tracks in Scotland for adequate comparisons to be drawn on a Scottish basis without going south of the border. I see that the Minister wants to intervene, and I shall give way to him, but I hope that he will do me a favour and give us the assurance that he failed to give in Committee—that clause 15 will definitely have a beneficial effect on sporting organisations in Scotland.

Mr. Ancram

I shall make my own speech in my own time. The hon. Gentleman has been making assertions about football grounds and race courses. As he knows, I made it clear in Committee that where there was adequate rental evidence available in Scotland the powers of clause 15 would not be available. Where there was not adequate rental evidence, the person who felt aggrieved would be able to use the provisions of clause 15. I do not know of any football grounds or race courses that are let. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be able to give us some examples, as he is making such statements. If he cannot give us examples of adequate rental evidence, he cannot claim that the clause will not work for those people.

Mr. Canavan

In the first part of what he said the Minister merely repeated what I said, that if the committee or tribunal considers that there is adequate evidence in Scotland it will deem it to be irrelevant, whatever evidence is produced from south of the border.

Mr. Ancram

Rental evidence.

Mr. Canavan

I hope that when the Minister replies to the debate he will give a categorical assurance to all sporting organisations that have made representations on this matter. If no stadiums, race courses or indoor bowling rinks are rented out, an assessor could take a notional rental figure out of his head and say that if they were put out for rental the management could get so much for rent, and use that figure to assess the rateable value of the property. The Minister is shaking his head, and I look forward to hearing his reply. There was a great deal of confusion in his skull in Committee, and that caused a great deal of disappointment to many sporting organisations and individuals in Scotland, who felt let down by clause 15.

If the Minister means that if there are no football stadiums or few sporting properties that are rented out in Scotland, that will automatically mean that the person making representations to the tribunal or the committee will be able to call in evidence rentals from south of the border for similar properties, I should welcome a categorical statement to that effect.

Mr. Ancram

That is what I said in Committee, and I shall say it again now. What is more, if there is no rental evidence available in England, the applicant will be entitled to look at the net annual value in the register in England and treat that as rental evidence, so this is even stronger than the reassurance for which the hon. Gentleman asked.

Mr. Canavan

In other words, it will be possible for a football club or an indoor bowling club or whatever to make these representations. The Minister did not go as far as saying that in Committee. He was hesitant when we asked him explicitly whether the clause would be of benefit to sporting organisations or whether it would simply be left to the discretion of the committee or the tribunal. Neither the Minister nor any hon. Members will be sitting on the tribunal or committee, but we are charged with passing this legislation. My amendment is much tougher than the Bills. It will improve the opportunities for all organisations, not just sporting organisations, to make comparisons with the situation south of the border.

I shall refresh the Minister's memory and that of other hon. Members on some of the anomalies. I notice an hon. Member from south of the border, the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo). In December, just before the Bill received its Second Reading, I had a letter from the president of the Falkirk indoor bowling club, enclosing some statistics given to him by the Scottish Indoor Bowling Association, which said: To make the simple comparison, the rateable value of Auchinleck Indoor Bowling Club is £19,747, as against similar clubs in the north-east of England which have rateable values as follows: Hartlepool, £4,513, Teesside, £5,735, Darlington £4,972. The rateable value of Auchinleck indoor bowling club with premises similar to those of comparable English clubs is three or four times greater.

Complaints are not confined to the sporting world. I have received complaints from the Central Region Licensed Trade Association. Mr. Prentice, the secretary, has told hon. Members that the rates of licensed premises in Scotland are out of all proportion to what hoteliers and publicans in England have to pay. Everyone knows the difficulties that the tourist trade in Scotland is experiencing because of the Government's failed economic policies. Any stimulus would be welcome.

One of the most glaring anomalies concerns football stadiums. Glasgow has at least three large football stadiums. Ibrox park has a rateable value of £82,500, Celtic park has a rateable value of £64,800, and Hampden park one of £55,000. I do not compare Scottish grounds with Wembley stadium, because I am sure that people south of the border regard Glasgow as part of the provinces, like Manchester.

The rateable value of Manchester United's ground is £37,000. Everton's rateable value is £30,250. Leeds United has a rateable value of £28,650 and Anfield, Liverpool one of £27,000. In London, Arsenal's rateable value is £30,500. Rateable values of stadiums in Glasgow are double those of similar premises south of the border, and sometimes even three times greater.

Football clubs are suffering from the economic recession. If we could eradicate the anomaly, football clubs would be helped, as would indoor bowling clubs. Other hon. Members have race courses and other sporting facilites in their constituencies and will cite examples of anomalies.

The anomalies are not confined to sport. Anomalies between Scotland and England exist in relation to housing, office premises, shops and other commercial premises. Two or three years ago the Government tackled the anomaly in the rating of external industrial plant and machinery. I did not agree with what they did, but they claimed that Scottish industry was at a disadvantage and removed the anomaly by derating external plant and machinery in Scotland. Several Scottish local authorities, including Central regional council, were disadvantaged because they were deprived of revenue. The industrialists who benefited mainly were the big multinational companies such as BP and ICI.

In this case, many small businesses are involved. Many small and medium-sized enterprises and sporting organisations are finding it difficult to make ends meet. If amendment No. 23 were accepted and this anomaly were eradicted, not just big business interests would be helped; it would be of considerable benefit to Scottish ratepayers in general.

9.45 pm

Many people in Scotland feel let down by clause 15 as it stands. The Minister shakes his head, but he cannot but admit that my amendment is superior to the clause as drafted. It would enhance the opportunity to make comparisons with what happens south of the border. If, in turn, that helps to eradicate the unfair anomalies that exist between Scotland and south of the border, that would be of great benefit, particularly to Scottish sport.

The hon. Member for Dumfries, (Sir H. Monro) spoke out vociferously, courageously and eloquently in Committee. He was so persuasive that he even managed to get Opposition Members to support him. Unfortunately, his gifts of persuasion were lost on some of his own colleagues, most of whom are not present tonight. They have no interest in sport, whereas the hon. Member for Dumfries obviously has.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Malone) hardly opened his cheeper during the entire Committee stage. His sole contribution was to leak a gossipy piece to The Sunday Times in an attempt to discredit me. In fact, I had been up all night constructively fighting against the Bill and was trying to improve it, yet the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South was on the verge of breaching parliamentary privilege by giving snippets of gossip to The Sunday Times. Fortunately, the newspaper checked the story with me and got the true version from Hansard. Many of us had been up throughout the night when, for much of the time, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South had been lying outside on a bench paralytic and horizontal.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that paralytic is a medical term and that it has nothing to do with drink.

Mr. Canavan

I obviously meant it as a medical term, Mr. Speaker. In addition, the hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Hirst) had a go at me in my absence when I was addressing a miners' meeting in Stirling in an attempt to save Polmaise colliery. As a result, I was unable to be here for the guillotine debate. The hon. Gentleman said that my contributions during one of the all-night sessions had not been completely rational. I stand by what is in black and white in Hansard, rather than on any distorted version by the hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden. He, too, was unconscious for at least part of that all-night sitting, or if he was not unconcious he was only semi-compos mentis.

Unfortunately, we cannot on this occasion go through the night, because of the guillotine, but I hope that we can end with some constructive unity, with the hon. Member for Dumfries and I fighting for Scottish sport and supporting my amendment.

Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)

I shall make only a brief intervention, because time is not on our side. I want to go over one or two points that we dealt with in Committee, but which are still important.

There is no doubt at all, as the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) implied, that there were great expectations from the White Paper that clause 13 — or, as it now is, clause 15 — would improve the position of Scottish race courses, major stadiums and other subjects that are important in Scotland, which were accepted by the White Paper as paying significantly higher rates than the equivalent in England and Wales.

The hon. Member for Falkirk, West gave many comparisons from the Standing Committee, and I shall not go over the differences between race courses and football grounds in Scotland, but, broadly speaking, their assessment is three times higher in Scotland than in England and Wales. The Minister took immense pains, over several Committee sittings, to explain that clause 13 would, in fact, do what the Government intended, and that was to allow the sports bodies or race courses or other subjects to use the rental evidence as a comparison between England and Scotland. His firm words tonight have been of immense help to me in assessing the value of clause 15. I hope that when he winds up shortly he will tell us again, in his own strikingly clear words, what clause 15 will do to implement the White Paper, because, despite our prolonged discussions in Committee, the race courses, major football stadiums and many of the voluntary sports clubs still do not think that the clause will do what the Government wish it to do. Since the completion of the Committee stage, I have received letters showing that they are still concerned and do not understand how clause 15 will work in their favour. All I want my hon. Friend to do tonight is to spell out the matter for the last time so that there is no doubt about it.

My hon. Friend explained in Committee that the revenue principle in England would be converted into rental evidence to be set against the contractors principle in Scotland, again as rental evidence. Frankly, relatively few subjects will have rental evidence to provide. Many of the grounds are owner-occupied, the race courses are owner-occupied, and many of the sports grounds either pay a nominal rent or, again, are owner-occupied. So I hope that the rental evidence will be so sparse that we will be able to use the comparators with England, where the assessments are much lower.

I hope, therefore, that the Minister will spell the matter out once more, so that there is not a shadow of doubt that the White Paper will be implemented through using the comparators of England and Wales.

Mr. Dewar

This area of law is one of considerable complexity, in which few of us have any personal expertise. Certainly I do not pretend to have any such expertise. I enjoyed some of the discussions and arguments in Committee, and I felt towards the end that I had an inkling of the bones of the valuation system—or, rather, a better inkling than I had at the start.

This is an obscure matter, and I entirely take the point that was made by the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) that there is still a great deal of anxiety among a number of sporting interests, in particular—although, of course, it goes much wider than that—who feel that their rateable values put them at a distinct disadvantage as compared with comparable units south of the border. Despite what the Minister has said so far, and despite what he may say in the remainder of this debate, I suspect that those doubts will continue until we see what effect the proposals have in reality, when the Bill is enacted, on the financial burden which is such a disadvantage to race courses, football grounds, indoor bowling clubs and all the other people who have anxiously and understandably lobbied us on this matter.

I have tabled several amendments, and amendments Nos. 8 and 9 in my name strike at the same end as amendment No. 23 which my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) has propounded. The idea was to try to close the gap between the statement in the original White Paper, which gave the impression that there would be an unqualified right of comparison with hereditaments in England and Wales in Scottish valuation cases, and the heavily qualified right of comparison which emerged in clause 15 where there has to be an inadequacy of rental evidence in Scotland before the comparison can be introduced. That real gap is the basic cause of anxiety. It was to strike at that that the amendments in my name and that of my hon. Friend have been tabled.

As I understand the Minister's case—I hope that I am not crudely over-simplifying or misunderstanding it —in at least a number of areas of tension, particularly race courses and football grounds, there is an inadequacy of rental evidence and that is why the contractor's principle is used in order to fix the rateable value. In that situation the criteria in clause 15 would be met and we are nearly in the position — so nearly as to make no difference—where if the contractor's principle has to be used in Scotland because of the paucity of rental evidence it will fall within the qualification of clause 15 and the comparison with England and Wales will be in order. Therefore, the Minister is reasonably confident that those areas where the contractor's principle has led to the anomalies and financial differences will benefit from the comparisons. I do not wish to push the Minister into absolutes because I realise that he will not carry out the law. That is a matter for the assessor, the lands tribunal and the local valuation committee.

What the comparisons will mean—I made this point in Committee and I make it again — is a matter for speculation because the large gap at the moment in rateable values between England and Scotland at least partially reflects the fact that there has not been a revaluation in England since 1973 whereas Scotland has kept largely to the quinquennial revaluation cycle until the recent hiccup because of the Government's abortive pledge for domestic rating reform. Once that revaluation takes place in England, or once there is an upgrading when the comparison is made, as must be done under clause 15, the dramatic differential, which is the foundation of many of the hopes of people looking at the comparison north and south of the border may be seriously eroded.

As I understand it, the basic hope is that where the contractor's principle has led to anomalies it will go and we shall be able to import under the amendment to section 15 of the 1963 Act the kind of comparison evidence, not only of rents but also of valuations which the football grounds, race course owners and other various interests feel will be of help.

If I have fairly stated that—I hope that I have—it may be that we shall see some help with the particular anomalies in the Bill. I hope that I have because it is on that basis I am prepared to look reasonably sympathetically at the position. May I say in passing that I do not think that one could possibly support amendment No. 14 at this stage? I do not suppose that the hon. Member for Dumfries will push it at this stage. To move on a one-off base for race courses to the revenue principle would be an anomaly that would create great difficulties. I do not think that the hon. Member would seriously wish to push that suggestion.

10 pm

If the Minister can say that I have rightly understood the case he is putting, and that he shares my hopes, and is reasonably confident, I would not press the matter to a Division at this stage. However, I want another assurance from the Minister, and I am sure that he will be prepared to give it. First, I hope that he will be prepared to look at further representations, or to hold discussions with interested parties during the remaining stages of the Bill when it goes through the House of Lords, if there are worries that he is over-confident in his expectations. Secondly, if it turns out, despite the hopes, that the anomalies remain as apparent as they now are, and that the difficulties are as serious as they clearly are at present, despite the effect of clause 15, I hope that he will give an assurance that he will be prepared to reconsider the situation at some future date. I hope that he will monitor it on a running basis, and will not regard this as the final full-stop to the argument. If his hopes are dashed, and if we do not get the kind of progress that he is confident will come from the attack on the contractor's principle in the way that I have described, I hope that he will be prepared to start further conversations and see whether an early opportunity can be found to reconsider the question. If he can give those assurances, I will advise my hon. Friends to let the clause pass in its present form, at this stage at least.

Mr. Lambie

I support the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan). I believe that the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), and the people connected with the supportive groups who have made representations to us, are being conned by the Government in this clause. Members of Parliament have received representations from Ayr race course, Auchinleck and Ardrossan indoor bowling clubs, and Bob Kelly, the chairman of Celtic football club, in support of the other senior football clubs in Scotland. They have all been demanding a reduction in the valuations based on a comparison with similar valuations in England and Wales. In the White Paper, the Government gave the impression that they would listen to the representations, but, now that we see the wording of the clauses in the Bill, I am not so sure that that is so. I should like further clarification from the Minister.

Mr. James Hamilton (Motherwell, North)

I should like to advise my hon. Friend that the chairman of Celtic football club is not Bob Kelly, but Desmond White.

Mr. Lambie

I apologise, and I thank my hon. Friend for clearing up the matter.

It is impossible to make a legitimate comparison between the valuations in England and Wales, and those in Scotland, because the people carrying out the valuation are different, as is the period of the valuation. As has been stated, the Inland Revenue completes the valuations in England and Wales and, because of pressure, revaluation has not taken place in England and Wales since 1973. In Scotland the assessors, who are nominally employed by the regions, but are independent of the regions, carry out the valuation of properties. Because they have a specialist interest, and that is their only interest, they have ensured that revaluations have been carried out in Scotland every five years, except during the period when there is a two-year delay. It is therefore impossible to compare valuations in Scotland with valuations in England and Wales because of the time lag, and the different methods of carrying them out. I put it to my hon. Friends, and to Conservative Members who are worried about the clauses, that they should look hard at how the assessors in Scotland have been operating in comparison with those in England and Wales, and other areas, with regard to properties in the region, and in Scotland.

Following the 1978 revaluations, I received representations from the ratepayers of Troon. They formed the Troon action group on rates. We joined the right hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger)—now the Secretary of State for Scotland—who was associated with the Ayr ratepayers' group. We organised a delegation to visit my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. Mackenzie), who was the Minister of State at the Scottish Office with special responsibility for valuations and rating. The right hon. Gentleman and I complained about the actions of the Ayr assessor in fixing valuations in Ayr and Troon that were well outwith comparable valuations in other areas of Strathclyde and other areas in Scotland.

At that time, we were trying to get comparisons between valuations in Ayr and Troon with valuations in Fife. We visited my right hon. Friend and appealed for an inquiry into the action of the assessor in Ayr. My right hon. Friend said that he was in favour of an inquiry, but that it could not take place until we had been through all the processes of appeal to the local valuation appeal committee and the land valuation appeal court. Unfortunately, before that inquiry could be held, there was a general election in 1979, with a change of Government.

The right hon. Member for Ayr suddenly found himself not only a Member of Parliament but the Secretary of State for Scotland. He forgot about the deputation that he and I had led. He said that it was impossible to hold an inquiry because the assessor was independent, even though he was employed by the Strathclyde regional council. I advised the rate action group to appeal to the local valuation appeal committee, but that appeal was turned down. The group then appealed to the land valuation appeal court. However, because of the money involved, only 50 ratepayers took part in the block appeal. They won their appeal and obtained a substantial reduction in valuation, which meant substantial reductions in their rates. That proved that the criticism of the present Secretary of State and myself about the assessor was correct.

Following that, 600 ratepayers from Troon submitted a block appeal on the ground that the new decision affecting the original 50 ratepayers should be taken into account. The court said that, although the ratepayers might have a case about being over-valued, they were time-barred because they had not put in their appeal at the time of the revaluation in 1978.

I hope that the Solicitor-General for Scotland will confirm that when the Bill becomes law, the Troon and Ayr ratepayers who were denied the opportunity of revaluation will be paid retrospectively from the time that they made their appeal.

In Committee the Solicitor-General for Scotland stated initially that the Troon and Ayr ratepayers were not entitled to retrospective payments but, when my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Craigen) intervened, the hon. and learned Gentleman was advised by his officials that the Secretary of State for Scotland had guaranteed that the ratepayers would be paid retrospectively. I hope that the Solicitor-General for Scotland will state this evening that he will ensure that the Troon and Ayr ratepayers — unfortunately, I no longer represent them now that they are to receive a large payment—will be paid retrospectively.

The hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) has been conned. I received today a letter on behalf of the Troon action group on rates and the Ayr and District ratepayers association which was sent to Mr. Robert Calderwood, the chief executive of Strathclyde regional council. It states: we write to make a formal complaint against the actions of the Strathclyde Regional Assessor since revaluation 1978 on the grounds: — 1. of his intimidating and obstructing domestic ratepayers in their valuation appeals; 2. of his consistently refusing to disseminate information legitimately requested; 3. of his complete disregard for Her Majesty's Judge's opinion that 'the ratepayer is entitled to an intelligible explanation of the method employed in the valuation of his or her property'". There is further criticism in a similar vein.

Whatever laws we pass in this place, they will not be implemented until we change the system that maintains the independence of the assessors in Scotland. My former constituents found that they could not challenge the assessor because it would be too costly to take him through the process of appeal.

Instead of introducing the Bill and dealing with the various clauses and amendments, the Government should scrap the Bill. Why do the Tories not do what they said they would do in 1979 and abolish the rating system? I think that that should be done. We should abolish the system; but the Tory Government do not have the confidence to do so. We are perpetuating anomalies that first arose at the end of the middle ages, and they can be ended only by getting rid of the rating and valuation system and moving on to block grants, which would allow local authorities the independence to decide how the moneys should be spent.

That proposal will not go down well with local government officials and assessors. If the Government are not prepared to do that, they should scrap the assessors' department in Scotland and allow valuations to be undertaken by the Inland Revenue in the same way as in England and Wales. If the Inland Revenue is allowed to undertake valuations throughout the United Kingdom, the Government will receive legitimate comparisons.

We are being conned this evening by the Government in the same way as the ratepayers of Troon and Ayr. The con will continue unless the Solicitor-General for Scotland tells us that the Troon and Ayr ratepayers will be paid retrospectively. If that happens, justice will have been done and the promise made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. MacKenzie) in 1978 will finally have been carried out.

Mr. Ancram

I shall deal first with the issues raised by the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Lambie), who asked about the Troon ratepayers. Clause 16, which deals with that problem, will operate as from two months after this measure receives the Royal Assent. An appeal lodged then could lead to a reduction in rateable value from 1 April this year. Clearly, that must depend on whether the Bill gets through in good time. Because of the hon. Gentleman's hard work on behalf of the Troon and Ayr ratepayers and the keenness that he has shown tonight to see them receive the benefit as soon as possible, I look forward to his support in the Lobby on Third Reading.

The hon. Member for Cunninghame, South asked what had happened since the 1978 revaluation. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State asked the Scottish Valuation Advisory Council to review the outcome of the 1978 revaluation and to review appeal procedures to be effective from 1985. The provisions in the Bill have in part resulted from that review. When the hon. Gentleman refers to the Bill as a con, he might ponder upon that point. I hope, too, that when some of the organisations for whom he spoke tonight find that they benefit from the Bill he will withdraw his suggestion that the Government have deliberately conned people on that issue.

I shall deal first with the general point. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) set out his view of my view of how the provisions will work. He was correct, so far as I followed him. However, I shall carefully read Hansard to check what he said. The hon. Gentleman appreciates that the issue is complex and if II find that there is an area where he was not on all fours with the view that I put forward. I shall write to him. The hon. Gentleman was basically correct in saying that the clause tries to achieve a position in which an applicant can turn to English valuations—not just English rental valuations as at present — if no adequate rental evidence is available in Scotland in order to achieve a fairer valuation than that which they believe has been achieved under the contractors' principal.

In cases where adequate rental evidence is not available—many cases mentioned tonight fall into that category —the provision will be available to benefit those applicants. I cannot be categorical about who will benefit as I said many times in Committee. I must be fair to the House and say that it depends upon the circumstances of each applicant, the basis of the original valuation and whether adequate rental evidence is available in Scotland. It would be wrong for me to say today that this football club or that race course will be covered, and I am sure that the hon. member for Garscadden would not expect me to do so.

Mr. Canavan


Mr. Ancram

Ishall not give way because time is short. The hon. Gentleman has made a lengthy speech.

Although I cannot say that, I can say that the provisions are available to help in the circumstances that I have outlined.

I shall raise a further qualification, which was referred to by the hon. Member for Garscadden. Where a net annual value is taken from the English register, the court must have regard to the time at which that value was ascribed. That must be right because, to claim a valuation that is so historically out of date and which would then pertain in Scotland for the next five years whatever happened in England, would create an equally anomalous situation. I believe that clause 15 brings about that improvement.

The amendments go much further because they ignore adequate rental evidence available in Scotland. It is a fundamental principle of valuation law that where rental evidence is available it is used to estimate values, because rental evidence is real evidence, of what somebody is prepared to pay in rent. To ignore the best evidence available, which in those circumstances it must be, would make a mockery of the word "valuation".

The amendments move away from that principle and undermine the basic principle that must underpin Scots valuation law. For that reason, I ask hon. Members to follow the lead of the hon. Member for Garscadden and not to press the amendments.

I believe that the clause as it stands fulfils the commitment that we made at the election.

Mr. Canavan

No, it does not.

Mr. Ancram

Applicants told us that their competitors south of the border were rated much lower. Valuation north of the border was on the contrators' principle, whereas south of the border the principle was quite different and the applicants could do nothing about it. We are giving them the chance to do something about it if their complaint is justified. That was our commitment, and the Bill fulfils it.

Amendment negatived.

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