HL Deb 06 April 1976 vol 369 cc1632-5

[No. 3]

Clause 1, page 3, line 6, leave out subsection (9) and insert— (9) This section shall have effect for any rate period (within the meaning of the General Rate Act 1967) beginning after the end of March 1976; and any proposal of the valuation officer made during the year beginning with the 1st April 1976, if it could have been made on that date had this section been then in force, may be made so as to have effect as of that date, and section 79 of the General Rate Act 1967 (which relates to the effect of alterations in the valuation list) shall apply accordingly.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 3. The purpose of this Amendment is to ensure that any proposal made during the 1976–77 rate year to assess caravans and site as a single unit, and also any alteration to the valuation list as a consequence of such a proposal, may be effective from 1st April 1976, notwithstanding the fact that the Bill will not receive the Royal Assent by that date. Without such a provision, much of the benefit of the Bill in 1976–77 would be lost, since rating authorities would have to levy rates on each separately rated caravan for the period up to Royal Assent, and on the new composite assessment for the rest of the rating year.

Admittedly, the provision is retrospective, but the retrospection should be very slight, and certainly is more technical than real since the Bill has been before Parliament since before Christmas, and those affected will have assumed that it would be in force for the whole of the rating year 1976–77.

Moved, That this House doth agree with the Commons in the said Amendment.—(Baroness Birk.)


My Lords, there is here a point of principle to which I ought, briefly, to allude, since there is an element of retrospection, and retrospection is something with which in principle we on this side, and many noble Lords on the other side of the House, I think, do not agree. The Bill has been under pressure of time since the outset. It is a function of Government to get their legislation through on time. While we accept that no great injustice has been done or courted by the fact that local authorities have assumed that this law would become law without alteration, none the less we should say that it should not be taken as a principle.

I say this because it is very easy to move from small things to great, once the principle is established. In agreeing to this Amendment, and in appearing therefore to agree also to the principle of retrospection, I must put it firmly on the Record that this is not to be taken as a precedent for the acceptability of the principle of retrospection in any form of legislation whatsover. We wish to be helpful in this matter, but we do not wish to give hostages to fortune. Having said that, I am pleased to accept the Amendment.


My Lords, my noble friend on the Front Bench has said exactly that which I wished to say. While he says that this piece of legislation should not be taken as a precedent, unfortunately retrospective legislation has become almost commonplace. Whether or not this particular piece of legislation is a precedent, it remains somewhat unfortunate that, because of technical difficulties, certain tenants of caravan sites might, even for a small amount of money, be held responsible because of this particular precedent.

There is very little that can be done about this on this occasion. Nevertheless, it is important that the point of my noble friend is borne in mind. Furthermore, it is very important that those who conceive this type of legislation, who put it through, are left in no doubt that in future this retrospective attack should not be allowed to go by default. Those of us who have any interest in these matters will take every opportunity to remind whichever Government happen to be in power that this is acceptable in technical terms, but in principle it cannot be acceptable. I hope that, in the event, greater care will be taken to ensure that the people involved are not subjected in this way.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, both noble Lords who have spoken on the principle of retrospection are pushing at an open door, because I entirely agree with what they said. All I say about this Bill is that part of the reason for the time it has taken has been, quite rightly I think, to meet some of the points which I mentioned in Committee and on Report in this House, and which I felt ought to be incorporated to improve the Bill, and to meet, as well, points raised both in this House and in the other place. So one would have been faced with rushing through a Bill which was far from satisfactory, or with trying to meet many of the points raised, which were considerably complex in many respects; and in doing so to be something like—hoping that this will get Royal Assent certainly before Easter—about two weeks slightly out of date. But on the principle mentioned by noble Lords I certainly concur.