HL Deb 12 March 1970 vol 308 cc964-9

6.37 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [Ascertainment of gross value of dwelling-house]:

LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR moved Amendment No. 1: Page 2, line 9, after ("and") insert (" without prejudice to any right under section 69 of this Act to make a proposal for the alteration of the valuation list so far as it relates to any particular hereditament")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 1. At the Committee stage, both here and in another place, some criticism was expressed of the clarity of the passage in this Bill which I am now seeking for the second time to amend. For the Committee stage I tabled a pair of Amendments which were intended to remove the possible ambiguity I thought I had detected. But the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, told me that in fact they would somewhat alter the effect of the Bill. That was not my intention, but I am sure he was right because he had had the advantage of the advice of Parliamentary Counsel.

I have therefore tried again with a new Amendment which I hope he will agree is of an entirely declaratory character. If that is so, I do not think it can be open to the criticism which he levelled in Committee: that by its adoption the effect of the Bill would in any way be modified. This short passage has given a good deal of concern during the passage of the Bill through both Houses, and I shall be greatly gratified if the noble Lord is able to accept this Amendment, for then the work that has been done on removing any possible ambiguity will have been well worth while. I beg to move.


My Lords, I am delighted to further the perseverance of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, in this matter, and indeed am at one with him in his Amendment. It is designed to put at rest the doubts he himself has expressed: that the protection given to the valuation officer by the last six lines of Clause 1(1) of the Bill would have the effect of preventing a ratepayer from challenging his assessment in the ordinary way. This is not the intention, and never was, and the Government have given various assurances about this during the passage of the Bill through Parliament. The words are intended to protect the valuation officer from attacks like those in the recent Peachey case—or, to be more precise, Regina v. The Paddington Valuation Officer, (ex parte Peachey Property Corporation Limited, 1966) which involve the valuation officer's duty to prepare and maintain the valuation list according to law rather than his calculations on individual assessments.

The words which the Amendment introduces preclude any possibility of doubt about this matter. The six lines are declared to be without prejudice to any right under Section 69 of the General Rate Act 1967 to make a proposal for altering an individual assessment, which is the means provided by that Act for enabling ratepayers to appeal against their assessments. I therefore advise the House to accept this Amendment.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, and I think your Lordships' House will have done a small but useful piece of work in making this Amendment, because it will give some reassurance to ratepayers who, if the clause had remained in an unamended state, might have felt that part of their rights were being taken away or endangered.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

6.41 p.m.

LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR moved Amendment No. 2:

After Clause 1, insert the following new clause:

Amendment of section 9 of General Rate Act 1967

". In subsection (1) of section 9 of the General Rate Act 1967 the words "the rating authority may refund that amount or a part thereof" shall be amended so as to read and shall be deemed always to have read, "the Kiting authority shall refund that amount or the appropriate part thereof and the amendment of the valuation list on which a refund under paragraph (a) or in appropriate cases paragraph (c) is made shall be deemed to have had effect as from the commencement of the period in respect of which the refund is made."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 3 is consequential upon this Amendment, No. 2. With your Lordships' leave I will not explain this Amendment at any great length because it is identical with a new clause which I moved in Committee. I withdrew that new clause on an assurance that I received from the noble Lord. The point in this Amendment, as the noble Lord perceived at the Committee stage, related back to a judgment given by your Lordships' House in its judicial capacity not so many weeks ago, and in Committee the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said: I do not think it would be right for me to give any considered reaction to it yet, or to the matter as a whole.

The noble Lord continued: I would ask the noble Lord to let it ride a little longer while we have a look at it."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 19/2/70; c. 1301.]

My Lords, that is what I willingly agreed to do, but I was disappointed in my hope that the noble Lord might, after this further consideration, table a Government Amendment. He has not done so, and therefore I have once again tabled this identical new clause in order to give the noble Lord an opportunity of telling us what has been the outcome of the further consideration which he promised to give. I beg to move.


My Lords, the purpose of the part of the proposed new clause which interests the noble Lord and the House is to alter the effect of the value in the valuation list for the purposes of the Rent Acts. In a recent case before the House in its judicial capacity (Rochwell v. Gwynne Trusts Limited [1970] 1 All E.R. 314) it was held that the procedure under Section 9 had no effect on the value in the valuation list for the purpose of determining whether a tenant had the benefit of a protected tenancy under the Rent Act 1965.

The purpose of the Rent Act 1965 was to restore security where it had been removed by the Rent Act 1957; in other words, to dwellings that had been controlled before that Act was passed. In the meantime, however, as a result of the rating revaluation of 1963, the old rateable value limits had become inapplicable and new ones therefore had to be set. These, which were £400 inside and £200 outside Greater London, were deliberately set high to preclude any risk that dwellings covered by the old limits might fail to be covered by the new. It was realised, of course, that the provision of this safety margin would mean that some dwellings never subject to control would become subject to regulation, but it was felt that the extension of the benefits of the Act to some tenants for whom they were not designed was preferable to running any risk of excluding from these benefits any tenants for whom they were designed.

The effectiveness of this safety margin is shown not only by the fact that it has never been suggested to the Government that any dwelling subject to control before 1957 is not now within the rateable value limits of regulation, but also by the recent case that was decided in your Lordships' House; namely, that of Mrs. Rodwell. The flat she occupied was never subject to control, and had it come within regulation, as it would have done had she submitted her proposal for re-assessment before the end of March, 1965, this would have been entirely by virtue of the safety margin to which I have alluded. The appropriate day for the Rent Act 1965 was March 23, 1965— the day of the publication of the Bill. This date was chosen purposely to preclude attempts to get rateable values revised so as to alter Rent Act coverage. In this at least it resembled the Rent Act 1957, and the intention in this respect was made clear when an Amendment, which later was withdrawn, was put forward in a Committee in your Lordships' House with the object of postponing the appropriate day to the date when the Act came into force.

The recent House of Lords judgment has established that the provision in question is operating as intended. The appropriate day fell almost exactly two years after that on which the current valuation list was made available to the public; namely, April 1, 1963, so that people had had ample time to inspect the list and, if they thought that their dwelling was over-assessed, to propose reassessment which, if approved, would have led to the alteration of the list with effect from before the appropriate day. This was certainly the case with Mrs. Rodwell who, by March 23, 1965, had been the tenant of the flat in question for some 16 months.

In his Opinion in the case of Rodwell v. Gwynne Trusts Limited, Lord Pearson said: If such refunds could affect the status of a dwelling-house for the purposes of the Rent Acts, a dwelling-house which had been un- protected for several years might suddenly become protected and great complications might ensue. Such consequences cannot reasonably be supposed to have been intended by Parliament. The most serious of these complications stem from the fact that certain acts which are lawful in respect of unprotected tenancies—for instance, selling them—are offences where protected tenancies are concerned. So that retrospective coverage could mean that persons who had engaged in transactions lawful at the time were retrospectively made offenders, liable to penalties and to having recovered from them money lawfully received at the time of payment. Nor would it be fair to people who might have liked to continue in occupation of unprotected dwellings but who, appreciating that the law did not authorise this, moved out on the expiry of leases which their landlords were not prepared to renew, if we were subsequently to reverse the decision of Parliament so as to permit this on behalf of people who had refused to do likewise.

In sum, then, there is no reason to think that the Act of 1965 failed to give protection to anyone that Parliament meant to enjoy this, and there is good reason to think it succeeded. Its extension of security to some tenants outside the intended scope of the Act was expected and is acceptable, but is not in itself an argument for reversing a decision of Parliament in order to provide security for other such tenants. Whether the field of security created in 1965 was broad enough is, of course, another question, but the widening of this field is something which should be undertaken only deliberately, comprehensively, and after careful weighing of the benefits and disadvantages of doing so had established good reason for thinking that such an extension would do more good than ill.

The Government set up last year a Committee under the chairmanship of Mr. Hugh Francis, Q.C., to review the working of rent regulation, and one of the matters it is examining is the coverage of security of tenure. Comments on this broader question cannot be made properly in Parliament or, indeed, I would say, elsewhere, until the report of that Committee has been received and considered. That was a rather long explanation of the reasons for which, last time round, I resisted the Amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, and I hope that with that more considered reaction he himself may be content to feel that it need not be pressed at this stage of the Bill.


My Lords, I have listened as carefully as I could to the detailed and full reply the noble Lord has been good enough to give to me. I would certainly make no complaint about its length. This is effectively the third time that I have raised the general issue in your Lordships' House, and I frankly do not feel that I can press it further or endanger by any action of mine the passage of this Bill, which in general I thoroughly welcome.

I should like to make just one point. I think that in our debates there has been some implication that the lady whose name has been mentioned and whose case came before your Lordships' House had been somewhat negligent in not making the proposal for the alteration of her assessment until after April, 1965, when, as the noble Lord said, she had been for 16 months a tenant of the flat. I am informed that up to the end of March, 1965, her rates were, for some reason that I do not know, paid by her landlord, and therefore the fact that an alteration in the assessment had been made did not come to her notice. Many of us would notice an alteration in the valuation of the property we occupy only when we perceived that we were having to pay rates on it at a different level. That is the explanation for the delay in her making the proposal. But I am not suggesting that that makes a difference to the case that we are arguing here; I simply wanted to put that on the record. As I say, I do not feel that I can press the Government further on this matter, and I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.